Building a Brewery: Stemma’s journey to opening day

By |2018-11-28T06:00:38+00:00November 28th, 2018|

It’s Thursday night and you randomly scored a babysitter. Wondering what to do with your spouse with the few hours of free time that you have, you naturally decide to get a few stamps on your Tap Trail passport, right? Soon enough, the number of breweries on the passport will grow by one more, Stemma Brewing hopes to enter the scene in a matter of months.

In fact, they’re getting ready to begin construction stages in their Moore St. location.

// Photo by Alex Powell

The last time we checked in with Stemma and owners, Jason and Kim Harper, was late September when they had just locked down a taproom space and brew house equipment. (Fun fact/refresher for those of you who haven’t read about their introduction to the Bellingham beer scene: their brew house was previously brewed on by Silver City as well as Cloudburst Brewing, appropriate for Stemma’s Latin namesake of “written family genealogy.” In other words, Stemma is symbolic for passing something down from generation to generation.)

Since then, the (true) rumor of Stemma’s eventual opening has traveled quickly by word of mouth and social media.

“We are starting to get our name out there on social media and it has been awesome to see who is following us. It has also been really fun to meet a total stranger and mention that we are starting a brewery, and they already know about us.  Our roots are home-brewers and it was really awesome to have the BHG (Bellingham Homebrewer’s Guild) host a meeting in our empty space. We got to share our vision and dream with our brewing community,” owner Jason Harper said.

// Photo by Alex Powell

Stemma is easily found on Instagram @stemmabrewing, often doing shoutouts to beers and ciders that Jason and Kim have recently been enjoying as well as major updates on their journey towards opening their own brewery.

This appears to be the more fun part of opening a brewery, seeing as how the process has some major challenges as well. In September, Jason had mentioned that they had been learning a lot about copyright laws and making sure they were following the rules when it came to copyright. Now, as Stemma moves closer to construction, the Harpers are working out even more detail-oriented and logistical nuances. Whether that be the purchase and re-branding of keg shells bought from other breweries, all the way down to the drains that will eventually be installed in the brew house, Stemma has a long ways to go but are reaching the days where things fly by.

While many of us feel antsy to try Bellingham’s latest new brews, it will likely end up feeling like Stemma will be open in no time.

According to the Harper’s, opening a brewery is much more beyond just making beer and figuring out the best, most efficient and marketable place to sell it in. While those may be the two largest factors of starting a successful brewery in the long run, the opening stages include things like applying for loans/getting investors, negotiating life insurance policies, waiting for permits, loans and business licenses to clear, all the while focusing on how to design your ideal business space.

One day may be spent comparing prices for a forklift, while other days are spent moving equipment around their warehouse space. Since the purchase of their space, Jason and Kim have worried about echo and noise carrying too much, making it too loud on busier days. Upon the meeting of the Homebrewer’s Guild, they were happy to find out that their insulation job had worked. Put simply, it was one less thing to worry about.

// Photo by Alex Powell

Logistics and details can definitely be the more grueling part of opening a business, whether it’s a local brewery or a flower shop or a cafe. Jason and Kim have been learning from each experience in order to work towards their goal of a Summer 2019 opening.

“We have surrounded ourselves with great professionals to help, but still no one cares about the business the way we do. We have a clear vision of what it is gonna take to make it, and we are consistently having to challenge the answers we get and not take no for an answer. Nothing is standard so at every turn I hope to get a “this is the best way to do this” answer but instead I get 10 different “this is the best way to do this”.  You really have to do a lot of your own research,” Jason said.

The Harpers are still hoping to make a family-friendly, coffee shop-like space that appeals to large groups and solo beer drinkers alike in Bellingham. Being right off of I-5 at their Moore St. location makes them an easy spot for the thousands of beer tourists that visit Bellingham each year, too.

Bellingham’s beer community has been growing quickly over the last five years, but as more breweries open, the higher the standard is for things like bringing something new and different to the table. At Stemma, you’ll be able to find some lower ABV beers among some of Jason’s past home-brew award winners, like his Lemon-Cayenne Lager and his Vanilla Bean Milk Stout.

There’s no doubt that the brewing community is competitive in Bellingham. Even more so, Jason and Kim are looking forward to further integrating into the community of breweries and their employees over the next year.

// Photo by Alex Powell

“The [best part has been the] amount of community support and people genuinely excited for us and Stemma Brewing. I’m also really enjoying the process. Everyday is something new and exciting and challenging,” Jason said.

The Harpers are hoping to have permits for construction in the next couple of weeks. Giving Bellingham a look as to what it’s like to open a brewery, like the less glamorous, operational and day-to-day stuff, has been a reality check. Community members like Jason and Kim are dedicating their time and money to create a space in their neighborhood that can serve as not only an outlet for their passion in craft beer, but a gathering place and spot to unwind over a pint.

// Photo by Alex Powell

To see craft beer operate on so many different tiers is a special time to be a beer drinker in Bellingham. With each permit that gets approved, loan that closes, fermenter that is purchased and installed, and eventually batch that is brewed, Stemma is one step closer to being a neighborhood staple and part of Bellingham’s unique brewing community.

Keep your eyes open as Stemma’s story develops and we are able to add more to the Building a Brewery series. In the meantime, follow their Instagram to see what they’re up to day-to-day.

 

About the Author:

Layne Carter
Tap Trail's Assistant Editor, Layne Carter, grew up in Spokane, Washington but has spent the last five years in Bellingham studying journalism at WWU. When she’s not beertending around town, you can find her biking, drinking beer or biking to a number of local breweries for a beer.