If you’ve been around the block in the Bellingham brew scene, you know that each brewery has a style of their own. Aslan has a knack for citrus IPA’s, Wander has sour-ing down to a science, Menace’s Chili Bravo spicy brew is hard to beat. With so many breweries that have such different things to offer, I had no idea what to expect from Illuminati Brewing Co.
The bases in the Bellingham brew community seem pretty covered, but Illuminati managed to set themselves apart in more ways than one. For one, their location is unlike that of any other brewery in town. On Hammer Drive, by the Whatcom Humane Society in the Sunset neighborhood, the space between Illuminati and other breweries in town feels large comparatively. That means there’s nothing else like it in the area, making it a growing hub for the Irongate business park’s after-work beers.
I sat down with Bill Kimmerly, co-owner with his wife Jenny, of Illuminati and it’s winery counterpart, Masquerade, and head brewer Ryan Flood, to check in after week one of Illuminati being open. Flood previously brewed at Kulshan, and just got on board with Illuminati a matter of weeks ago. So far, the partnership between Flood and Kimmerly has been a success. Both of them have an affinity for true English-style beer, something they plan on focusing on.
“I think we both have the desire to make and promote old-world brew styles. A lot of the beers that we make are English style, in most of our beers using strictly English grain and strictly English hops, and a bit of an American twist, meaning the ABV may be on the higher side, but the ingredients are very true.” Kimmerly said, who has been homebrewing since 1981.
The first week was more than satisfactory according to Kimmerly. Illuminati sees the most action around end-of-workday times and weekends so far, to be expected. However the opening also offered a lot to learn from as well, such as the divide between the beer and wine crowd.
We sat at one of eight or so tables running parallel to the bar, a deli counter on one end of the room, and a door to a wine tasting room for Masquerade on the other. Kimmerly thinks that the crowds will kind of self-segregate, but it’s definitely not impossible that there could be a table full of six people, half of them enjoying a glass of Masquerade wine, and half of them enjoying a pint of Illuminati beer.
It’s actually been a bit of a journey for those like Kimmerly, wanting to produce both beer and wine in the same establishment.
Kimmerly explained that the Liquor Control Board used to require a physical wall between establishments where beer and wine were made. A great example of this is Two Beers brewing in Seattle, and their cider counterpart, Seattle Cider Company, since cider is produced under a wine license.
For Illuminati, the recent change in law has clearly paid off. Now, if they keep track of their beer sales separate from their wine sales, Illuminati Brewing Co. and Masquerade can co-exist with the same license holder.
“It’s definitely taken combined business to a new level, which will eventually allow us to do a lot of fun things.” Kimmerly said.
Lots of people online have inquired about the name Illuminati on Facebook. What was the inspiration here?
“Initially we were looking for a brand that went alongside Masquerade…Masquerade is mysterious but fun, Illuminati is mysterious but dark.” Kimmerly explained of the intriguing name he chose for the brewing side of things.
Flood, as the head brewer, promises that dark doesn’t necessarily represent the brew style they’re going for, however. In fact, Illuminati is managing to set themselves apart beyond just their location and their focus on English style beer. They’re planning on taking it one step further with having a few different cask taps at their brewery.
Not that no brewery in Bellingham has ever done cask, but specializing in cask and having more than one cask tap is something we have yet to see. Hopefully, these hand-pumps will be installed in the next six or eight weeks.
“I think Bellingham really needs a brewery who is going to really commit to cask and do it right.” Kimmerly said.
Both Flood and Kimmerly hope to educate Bellingham beer drinkers and encourage them to draw their attention to a new style of beer. Whether that means doing so by word of mouth, a discount day for cask beers, or eventually a local cask festival hosted at the brewery, Illuminati will surely be spearheading the hand-pump movement.
Illuminati has released a pale ale, a golden ale, and a scotch ale. Because there are three fermenters, there will more than likely be beer being released in sets of three. Coming up next are new IPAs and an English Dark Mild.
As with every brewery in Bellingham, we’re all wondering what their plans are for the next year.
You’ll be able to enjoy their three cask taps and a more developed deli counter in the upcoming months. Beyond that?
“Make beer.” Flood said.