This past week was controversial for the Bellingham Tap Trail. It started with a scathing review of Aslan Brewing‘s beer by the Bellingham Herald. The article was highlighted by terminology like “work in progress” and then evolved to much stronger language like “rotten lemonade” and saying drinking a bottle of ketchup might taste better. The grading from the journalist ranged from a D to a full on F.
This raised the brows of Aslan and brought out the teeth of it’s supporters. It is Bellingham’s first bad beer review that I know of in a newspaper and it just happened to be directed towards a business with some passionate supporters.
So what is the deal with Aslan?
We’ve all heard the Jekyll and Hyde response to Aslan, but why so much hate and yet so much love? I’m glad they are here because they’re bringing controversy to our little boutique town and controversy breeds change. Energizing your base is a very crucial element to any successful business. If our brewery poll showed anything (check out the sidebar on our home page), it was that Boundary and Aslan have the two most energized supporters. When you have a powerful base you can accomplish wonders, but only if they are properly motivated.
Aslan’s owners never had any commercial brewing experience. Before they opened I heard rumblings from those in the local beer industry that their lack of experience would bite them in the ass. My gut response to the status quo telling upstarts and the inexperienced that they won’t make it is usually to say, “Screw ’em.” I like seeing the underdog win, but that doesn’t always mean they will. They nearly built the entire BEAUTIFUL brewery with very little outside help (I only superficially researched that), they’ve created a steady list of successful weekly events, they’ve contributed to their community and their supporters love them. It’s also crossed my mind that people don’t think Aslan deserves what they’ve got because they didn’t go through traditional channels (they aren’t from the brewing industry.) When you buck tradition you’re bound to stir up controversy. On the other side of the coin, those traditional channels hone a very intricate and detail oriented craft.
Beer Nerds Vs. Brewery Lovers
I agree the beer needs work. But, oddly, the Herald article didn’t point out Aslan’s delicious and solid fresh hop option, Gargoyle Fresh Hop. I’ve even heard someone I consider a well known beer nerd say their Berliner Weisse, the beer that was so poorly reviewed by the Herald, to be a “good beer.”
This town is full of a “Beer Nerds” and it’s also full of what I will call “Brewery Lovers.” Beer Nerds understand what makes a beer good: The proper balance of hop to malt, mouth feel, citrus vs. floral, serving temperature, lovibond, etc. Brewery Lovers enjoy good beer, but more so, embrace place making, community contribution, ambiance, identity, good food, branding and much more. I am not a Beer Nerd. Yeah, I’ve home brewed and I’ve had a few solid batches, but I’m not a technician.
I’m a Brewery Lover. I am a fan of brewery culture, the community it creates and the diversity it produces, which is the reason I was drawn to this Bellingham Tap Trail venture. I wanted to support the communities breweries create.
Agree with them or not, I’ve talked to so many in Bellingham who really enjoy Aslan’s beers, but don’t enjoy those from, say, Wander or Chuckanut. Chuckanut Brewery, a 2 time GABF “Small Brewer” in America winner, doesn’t seem to have anywhere near the foot traffic that Aslan has. People are drawn to the ambiance and community that Aslan has created within it’s walls. Chuckanut’s beer is in another league, but if succeeding at owning a brewery was just about beer…
I like upstarts and those that create a stir. I expect them to take the community’s response and adjust where they see fit, but I’m also excited to see how Aslan changes Bellingham’s beer culture. They are attracting a whole different set of beer drinkers. Controversy is what you’d expect from young, intelligent, energetic and inexperienced business owners who enter into a beer market with such venerated breweries and experienced brewers. This is trial by fire.
If you own a brewery, take your knocks, improve and keep on moving. And if your a Beer Nerd or a Brewery Lover speak up. Your input makes all our breweries and our community better. Want to take it one step further? Talk to the owners about your issues and work to strengthen our Tap Trail.
Only time will tell how Aslan does, but I see the review in the Herald as an opportunity for them. They can choose to take it personally, or they can capitalize on it. Do something unexpected in response: Create a beer tasting competition, or invite the journalist who wrote the review for a pint and a chat and share it on social media, create a round table discussion on Bellingham beer culture and where it should head and how we’re going to get there (I’ll moderate!).
Beer Nerds and Brewery Lovers, this is YOUR Tap Trail. Make it a good one! One thing is for sure, there is always trail work to be done. Let us know what you think in the comments below.