The Curious Case of Aslan Brewing

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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…

The Upstarts

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.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Great points Scott I like your take on it. I agree, their beer isn’t my favorite, but a couple of them are “good beers”. I do like the brewery itself, the culture, attitude, ambiance and I like the food. I’ll continue to support them and give them a chance to grow and prove that they can also make great beer!

  2. I really hope Aslan pulls it off. I would love to love their beer. Unfortunately, I do not. I believe it was their Berliner Weisse that I tried at the downtown Oktoberfest. My response at the time was that Bud Light may be more flavorful. I can’t account for their popularity because no one I know is a fan of their product. At this point, their only value (to me) is helping to keep some of the crowd size down at Wander and Kulshan. Maybe I’ll try their stuff again next year but with the current and soon to be local-brew options in Bellingham (Wander, Kulshan, Gruff, Stones Throw) I’m not feeling the urgency.

  3. They should call it Assland because their beer taste like ass. The Berliner Weisse is the only beer that was worth drinking. All the rest taste the same, overly hopped to the point of being undrinkable. Now there is a brewery in Belligham that is worse than Boundry Bay Brewery, and I thought that would be impossible.

      • Actually I really like beer, but I like my beer to not just taste like hops. I understand the fascination with hoppy beers. Speaking with many of my hop headed friends there is this misconception that if something tastes strong and bitter then it is strong alcohol wise, and that beer has to taste strong to be strong. This is simply not true.

        My local list would be this.
        1. Wander
        2. Kulshan
        3. Chuckanut
        4. North Fork
        5. Menace
        6. Boundary
        7. Assland
        Gruff deserves an honorable mention for their blond that took people choice at April Brews Day. Now there was a well balanced Blond Ale. I expect good things from them.

  4. I can always find something to drink and enjoy at Aslan (or any of the other local breweries for that matter). And the food options, service, and ambiance are pretty solid as well. I wandered in there with friends during circus night and had a blast. I enjoy making the rounds, hitting a different brewery every weekend. The growing diversity of styles in Bellingham keeps it fun.

  5. For never brewing on a commercial system before and being less than five months old, I think they are doing wonderful. All of the other brewery’s around here are at least a year old besides Wander, and they have been brewing longer than Aslan’s counterpart. Not only that but I have tried beers from the start, and consistently checking back in and trying their beer since and let me tell you, Frank has been constantly getting better with each new batch of a regular beer he’s put out, as well as with his new beers and I think that is one of the most promising things to see in a brewer. They are learning and they are taking things by storm and I feel that is an amazing trait. So before you are so quick to down talk Aslan, remember the brewery is still a baby, and a year from now I have a strong feeling they will be taking the Bellingham beer scene by storm!

    Cheers guys, and regardless, this is Bellingham- there should be no room for bashing and unconstructive criticism. If you have feedback hit them up and let them know how they can become better so we can help local business survive and thrive to it’s fullest, & who knows, maybe even put Bellingham in the map for the beer big leauges 😉 Constructive criticism is something everyone needs and can grow from!

    Thank you Scott for speaking out in a true journalistic manner, it is truly appreciated we need more of that.

  6. I have tried Aslan a few times, but, have about given up on the beer. Not saying it is bad, but defiantly number five on my Bellingham brewery list. It is a tough place to have just ok beer.

    The space is fantastic, love the light. But (If I’m honest) the food is expensive, the beer is expensive, and it has a pretentious feel.

    Hope they improve, but if they have a little goup of people who like them, great. Less people to compete with seats with with at wander and chuckanut 🙂

  7. i have rather large personal issues with the owners of this establishment. First off, I don’t like their beer. As far as the fresh hop – tastes like a lager. I also know they sold a keg to a local establishment and whatever it was that came out of the keg tasted like stale tortilla chips and when the bar asked them to take it back, they told them to keep selling it but wouldn’t charge the bar for the keg. Bad business if you ask me.

    These trust fund babies often come to my place of employment late at night black out drunk and I’ve actually had change THROWN at me as a tip. So much for working in the industry.

    I have zero respect for these guys and will never spend a penny at their business.

  8. I hope they rise to the challenge! Their beer is passable but the brewery space is really beautiful. I love to see how companies respond to criticism. There are always opportunities to be better.

  9. I was wondering why their beer was so bad and a poster above spelled it out for me. They never brewed before opening the place?? Maybe they should take some of that trust fund/weed grower money and send their head brewer to sielbel.

  10. Am I the only one who feels as though that out-of-left-field review by Caleb Hutton and the Bellingham Herald was a bit harsh?
    It’s as though he used his position in journalism to leverage some personal attack against the business. In fact, the article itself appeared to be half-baked upon recollection from random “quotes lifted from my notepad” he took the day before (i.e. sometime after the flight, dozen ales, and two growlers to go).
    It’s not that I agree or disagree with the review, I just think it’s overall pretty tasteless in my opinion and lacks any signs of professional objective journalism. Was any attempt made to extract a single positive experience? Nope, just a pure bash session to a captive audience. Does this sound professional..? Let’s order a flight of beer and a dozen ales, hate on it so hard that I have to log all my witty descriptions down in a journal, order two growlers to go “for further testing” then write an article about how horrible MY experience was.

    Look, I’m not saying their beer is the best in town.. at-all. In fact I really don’t care for it above the other local options. But they certainly didn’t deserve such a cruel, unprovoked review like that. This is Bellingham, and I’m proud (as I’m sure we all are) to live in a town that has nothing but love for our local community and local business owners.
    Good on Aslan for having such an ambitious plan go to fruition. Shame on the Herald for publishing an article which cast them in the light of simply being… Haters.

  11. “Trust fund/weed grower money”? It sounds like a lot of people in Bellingham should actually meet the owners and learn about how Aslan came to fruition. They’re are great, well-meaning guys. Their beer does need work (talk to any one of the owners and they’ll acknowledge that), but it’s certainly not “shit” or “F” grade beer. If you’re a beer lover there’s at least a couple styles they brew that you can enjoy. I LOVE the Gargoyle Fresh Hop. And the Pumpkin Ale they just put out is delicious too. Their newest seasonal brews are showing that they are figuring it out and the beer is improving. Aslan offers something different than the typical brewery experience we’re used to in this town, which I think is really great for Bellingham. We have some amazing beer here in town (Chuckanut gold at GABF!!) and I look forward to seeing the brewing community grow and diversify. Great article with some great points, Scott!

  12. I’m just curious why a company that is passionate about beer would spend soooooo much on aesthetics and infrastructure before having a solid product to bring to market. It is nice to have businesses in Bellingham that work with their base and community to do good, and in turn people support their business, but that has nothing to do with the actual quality of the product. The timing of this article makes it seem contrived to a skeptical mind.

  13. They do have a cool space and have made a huge improvement to what was prior a garage – it’s great to see businesses moving in and giving old building a face lift and new life! And while that is all good – i have yet to enjoy a “good beer” from the brewery. And why settle for an average brew when there are so many very tasty choices available – well, I suppose to support the work they are undertaking – and hopefully this leads to a better brew cuz what they are serving up now is a home-brew. I’d agree with the poster above who encouraged them to spend some $$ on getting the head brewer continuing education – this town is good to local businesses – and groovy cool space and vibes only get you so far – college kids don’t have a ton of expendable income and most vacate in the summer – so best to get on the ball now and turn that reputation around! Here’s to you guys getting it done…

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