In case you don’t recall, back in July, a Kickstarter project was formed for The Bellingham Beer Lab. This Beer Lab would be an entirely cooperative non-profit brewery, recruiting homebrewers to come in, brew something great and donate 100% of the profits earned to a charity of their choice. After a month’s time and with 162 backers behind them, the Bellingham Beer Lab was able to raise $26,035, exceeding their $25,000 goal. Just like that, the Bellingham Beer Lab is one step closer to becoming Washington’s first ever non-profit brewery.
So how did this ambitious project get started in the first place? Well, the initial idea for the Bellingham Beer Lab began four years ago with Josh Smith, Zach Brown, and Jim Parker. These three pioneered the initial planning and campaigning of their membership-based cooperative brewery. Unfortunately, plans fell through and the Bellingham Beer Lab was not able to successfully open its doors. Fast forward to 2015, and the Local Public House was presented with the opportunity to expand into the next building over. Initially, Rob, Tom and Ben of The Local thought to maybe focus on expanding their microbrewery Menace in the space, but as you may have guessed, they instead came up with a plan to give the Bellingham Beer Lab a second chance at opening. With some changes, of course.
The guys from the Local have big dreams for the Bellingham Beer Lab. “We want to create an educational platform,” Rob Whitney explains. Whitney hopes for the BBL to be a resource in all things brewing; from mentoring homebrewers in taking the next step into commercial brewing, to even letting people who have no brewing experience come in and shadow Menace to “show what brewing is.”
While the Bellingham Beer Lab may be a learning resource, you have to be an experienced homebrewer to claim a brewing space. The BBL will be starting with four core homebrewers who Rob, Tom and Ben trust to consistently create great beer. The fifth will be selected through the Bellingham Homebrewer’s Guild, which is how they will continue to select their homebrewers thereafter. Not only must you be a member of the Guild, but you have to have some credentials to back up your beer. “We don’t want people who say ‘I’ve brewed once, I want to brew commercially,’” Whitney remarks. “If it doesn’t taste right, it won’t go on tap.” Whitney explains that part of the educational platform they hope to build is helping homebrewers incubate their brand and create great beer. “We want to provide the building blocks for brewers.” That being said, if you want to be one of the Bellingham Beer Lab homebrewers, get connected with the Bellingham Homebrewers Guild and start practicing.
By now you may be thinking, “If all of the proceeds go to local charities, how will the Bellingham Beer Lab create revenue?” Well for starters, the staffing will be entirely volunteer based. Also, the staff is working to get all their ingredients completely donated, something they believe is possible since the Bellingham Beer Lab will be a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, meaning all donations will be tax deductible. The only costs to running the Beer Lab will be the general upkeep bills, however, Whitney is confident that the revenue of the Local can substantially cover the expenses of the Beer Lab. Business at the Local has been booming, and with the expansion extending their capacity from 80 to 200, The Local Public House will have the room to succeed even further.
With the initial fundraising behind them, the Bellingham Beer Lab has shifted into a state of intense planning. Currently, Rob Whitney is hard at work putting together all 162 backer packages from their Kickstarter campaign. This includes shirts, pint glasses, stickers, mugs, and so much more. By late fall this year, the Local Annex bar will be open in its new space, and early next year, the BBL is hoping to have a preview night of the Beer Lab for all their supporters. Backers will get a chance to tour the space, see where the brewing will happen, and get a first look into Bellingham’s first nonprofit brewery. If all goes according to plan, the Bellingham Beer Lab will be open for business by early fall 2016. So, if you think the Local’s lineup for Bellingham Beer Week this year is insane, just wait until next year when the Local and the Bellingham Beer Lab plan to go even bigger.