Courage. Power. Strength. These were all the qualities Frank Tosset and his partner Jack needed to take on their unconventional way of starting a brewery. They needed a powerful mascot that could help push them to where they needed to be. Aslan, the Turkish translation of lion, was the perfect representation of their brewery.
It has been a little over a year since the Herald gave Aslan failing grades on their beer and called them a “work in progress.” Since then, Aslan has only grown stronger; showcasing to the community that they are a force to be reckoned with and aren’t going anywhere. In the year and half Aslan has been in operation, Frank’s brewing skills have developed tremendously and Aslan has gained community support faster than I have seen any other brewery do before.
While incredibly harsh, owner and head brewer Frank Trosset agrees with the Herald that they were still just trying to figure things out at the time of the article’s release. Like many others in his line of work, Frank started off as a homebrewer. However, the jump from homebrewing to commercial brewing was not very smooth. Before switching to commercial brewing, Frank only had about ten homebrew batches plus a year of working on the Aslan pilot brewery under his belt. Not to mention, he had no experience working on a large commercial system and did not have a mentor in place to show him the ropes.
That being said, Frank admits that much of Aslan’s early operations were “guess and check.” All around the brewing station, you can see the bumps and scars of past mistakes. One of the large fermenters in the brewery has a sizeable dent left from a nasty fall it took. The ceiling has a large stain from a hop-filled geyser that shot up during one of their first attempts at dry hopping. Each mistake leaves a visible reminder of how much they have learned and grown in the past year.
As stated earlier, Frank started off as a homebrewer. One night after some drinking, Frank and his friend Jack had a typical “what do you want to do when you grow up” hypothetical conversation. Frank always dreamt of being a brewmaster, and Jack always dreamt of being a brewery owner. However, it wasn’t until Jack called him the following day to discuss plans that Frank realized that hypothetical conversation was very much grounded in reality.
Before Jack was ready to invest, Frank had to prove his brewing abilities and commitment to the project. After opening up an LLC account, Frank took out a small loan from Jack to start the pilot brewery and make Aslan official. In September of 2012, Frank started brewing in a warehouse on his amateur brewing pilot system (pictured left) for about a year. Immediately, the response he received from the community was overwhelmingly supportive.
By December of 2012, Jack was fully invested in Aslan. Together, the two added Pat Haynes to the team turned Aslan from a project to a functioning commercial brewery. “It was a complete leap of faith,” Frank explained. “Everyone had to be fully invested.”
While the guys behind Aslan were trying to figure things out, they really didn’t have the time or means to “perfect the craft” in the beginning. With a prime location right in the heart of downtown, Bellingham had its eye on Aslan. Frank knew every beer coming out in the beginning wasn’t a masterpiece, but “throwing beer away wasn’t an option, “Frank chuckled. “The silver lining is that people who tried us out in the beginning got to experience the transition to what it is now.”
Since opening their doors, Aslan has made phenomenal leaps. Not only is the quality of the beer getting more and more fine-tuned with every release, they have had tremendous success outside of Bellingham. Last winter, Aslan added Frank’s brother Boe as a partner and placed him in charge of sales and distribution. Aslan began canning beer and distributing throughout Bellingham and Seattle. The demand for their beer has been overwhelming in Seattle. So much, in fact, Aslan has purchased two new barrels and a canning line purely for distribution.
Looking back at the Herald article, Aslan came out stronger on the other side. Not to say it wasn’t discouraging, Frank explained “one person was allowed to get up in front of the entire town and tear your business apart.” However, on the day after the article came out, Aslan experienced its busiest day in the restaurant. The community came out to support Aslan and watch it grow, and grow it did. In fact, Disco Lemonade which was one of the beers the Herald gave a failing grade made it to the medaling round at the Great American Beer Festival!
In addition to the consumers, Aslan also received tremendous support from other members of the craft beer community. Bellingham breweries are one of the few industries in this world where there’s no competition; instead there’s community. Head brewers hang out at least once a month, exchange ideas and information, and help each other grow in the business. It was incredibly beneficial for Frank to be welcomed into such a community during a key learning point in his life.
The article pushed Aslan; motivating the team to prove everyone who doubted them wrong. The result is a more refined product and well earned spot in the Bellingham craft beer community. Aslan Brewing has earned the right to proudly say they have moved past the point of “work in progress.” Their initiation may have been shaky, but Aslan has lived up to its lion mascot and trampled all of the scrutiny victoriously.