As many of you know, we recently announced Bellingham’s next brewery, Subdued Brewing Company. This comes on the heels of Fairhaven’s Stones Throw Brewing making amazing progress on their incredibly unique brewery.
Years ago, Subdued co-owner Dave Morales and I toyed with the idea of opening a brewery ourselves, but reality set in and it just wasn’t going to happen. I like to think the idea was ahead of its time, but the real reason was the brewery gods were keeping it from happening. They were waiting for Dave and Chris to open Subdued Brewing. The beer gods are always right.
Chris and Dave will be the first to tell you that they are a long way off and there is much to be done. But we wish them luck and we’ll be the first to welcome them to the Tap Trail when they are ready!
Dave Morales and Chris McClanahan, were kind enough to let us interview them and they wanted to answer separately, so you can get to know each of them. It is edited for length.
Why do you want to open a brewery and where will it be located?
Chris: Well, every day in a brewery starts with cleaning and ends with cleaning. Cleaning floors, cleaning tanks, cleaning hoses, cleaning kegs, cleaning glasses, cleaning drains, cleaning parts, eventually cleaning self. Oh, did I mention that it is always wet, humid, cold and hot all at the same time? It’s this glamorous lifestyle we seek.
We are exploring the Fountain District as the location for Subdued Brewing. The space that is being evaluated is the current Gifford’s Market space at the corner of Elm and Monroe Streets. The operative word here is evaluated. The current tenant is super nice and works very hard each week. She is not going anywhere in the immediate future. So, please, do not go in and pester her about ‘when is the brewery coming?’ Instead, just stop in and buy something from a kind lady and a local small business.
Dave: We both love the brewing community, wanted to be at a point in our lives where we were doing something that was important to us and that we enjoyed, and believe that there are underserved pockets of Bellingham that need a place where neighbors can gather, have good fresh beer, and relax.
Why “Subdued Brewing”?
Chris: At one point we had close to 400 names in our database. Oddly enough, one of them was “Isis Brewing.” The word Isis meant nothing at the time. But, since we will be dealing with the Feds, it probably wouldn’t have been a great choice. Basically, we wanted a name that resonated with the local community, but to others in our region was perhaps just another word. As it is our intent to be very locally focused, why not?
Dave: It’s a little play on the phrase we all know and love. And it’s us, really. We’re not looking to be all things to all people. A destination for good beer and good people. Hopefully something the area can stake claim to and be proud to have in their neighborhood within the community at large.
How will Subdued Brewing fit into the Columbia Neighborhood and the greater Bellingham community?
Chris: It’s not only the Columbia neighborhood, but also the Lettered Streets and Cornwall Park neighborhoods from which we hope to attract customers. Plus, Dave and I live in Sunnyland, so all of our friends there are invited! When we were looking for a space for the brewery, the biggest criteria was a physical location in which locals could safely bike and walk to and from. We want our taproom space to be a relaxing place for locals to meet up with their families and neighbors to enjoy a pint and perhaps take home a growler. Lots of bike parking…children welcome…community-centered.
We also know that great businesses exist because of the support of the local community. Therefore, we want Subdued Brewing to be an active extension of the community and strive to find meaningful ways in which to give back. It is our intention to do so with the local neighborhoods that surround Subdued Brewing.
What are the next steps to making Subdued Brewing a reality?
Chris: Over the last 8 months, we worked diligently on research and development of our business plan utilizing various resources in the industry and locally. We now have all of our state and local business licenses in place and our legal team in Seattle just wrapped up the Operating Agreement and Subscription Agreement for Subdued Brewing, LLC. While we have verbal commitments from investors, our formal fundraising campaign just kicked off in earnest as all the paperwork is finally complete. At the same time, we have an architect looking at the space and developing conceptual drawings. In the coming weeks, a few local general contractors will also be visiting the space. We recently applied for our Conditional Use Permit and have our public meeting scheduled for Monday, August 20th. There are many items going on simultaneously in addition to also brewing recipe prototypes for various beers.
Dave: We just became legally able to accept investor money. So that’s really the focus right now. But oh man. There are so many hurdles still to come. New ones every day. There are contractors to hire, negotiations to take place, equipment to order, mass construction work to be done, permits to gather, agencies to deal with…I could go on all day, really. This isn’t something you enter into lightly, and it’s not something that happens overnight.
There is a public meeting to discuss Subdued’s proposed location and to meet the owners this Monday the 20th, 6:30 pm at the Community Food Co-op’s Outreach Building on N. Forest St.
How long have you been home brewing and what experience do either of you have in the commercial brewing and craft beer world?
Chris: I have been a homebrewer since 1993 and have brewed over 400 batches. In 2001, my devotion to brewing quickly grew into a deep passion for understanding the entire process from beginning to end and how each step along the way can affect the finished product. I am also a recognized beer judge in the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) and I annually judge numerous regional homebrewing and professional brewing events.
Dave: I think I started brewing around 1991 or so. I moved to Seattle in 1996 and got lucky, as the Pike was hiring for their new pub. I got in waiting tables and spent every minute I could down in the brewery and working at Liberty Malt Supply. I went to Pyramid for a short stint, then back to Pike. Somehow I convinced Howard Koon (the original brewer at Boundary) to hire me in 98. So I moved to Bellingham and brewed there for a few years. A couple of places in Michigan, a stint at a distributor here in town, and then The Bottle Shoppe, a short-lived and underfunded exercise that sought to step up the beer availability here in town.
Why will Subdued Brewing succeed?
Chris: The first key to our success will be creating a great product in an authentic, thoughtful and artistic manner that allows the consumer the opportunity to experiment with unique flavor profiles that they perhaps have never tasted. Secondly, it is our intent to provide Belling-hamsters with an amazing space to hang out with friends and enjoy our beer. Finally, we want to have a taproom staff that is highly trained in how we produce our beers and the flavors perceived in the beer. All of our staff with go through what we call “Beer School,” an internal training program to fully understand how we produce our product and what each beer entails. Our staff will be the face of the business, and very important to our overall success.
Dave: I think that we complement each other well. We feel we can make beer that people will like to drink and serve it in a place people will want to patronize. We’re not afraid to push style boundaries and feel the potential location will draw people in. We’re not just looking to be another bar. We want to be a destination.
What are you the most and least excited about in owning a brewery?
Chris: Most excited about being able to share something we are passionate about with the Bellingham community. I’m least excited to have to make a decision to attempt to grow a beard or not. With all of the research we have done over the last few months, I still do not know what the degree of correlation is between good beards and good beers. I know I don’t do ‘good beard.’
Dave: I’m most excited to see the joy on people’s faces as they sit down with friends and neighbors, both old and new, and drink and talk about the beers we made. I’m least excited about the alarming number of checks that will be written in any given week’s time. Running a business, especially one involving alcohol, involves many other agencies and businesses that need to be paid. Ingredients, utilities, payroll, taxes, and on and on.
What sort of vibe and ambiance will your brewery have?
Chris: While our beers will be far from “subdued,” the word really sums up our vision of the type of space and the type of neighbor we want to be. Perhaps it is best here to say what we won’t be. We will not be a live music venue, a late night hangout, a dance venue, a place that serves hard liquor or a raucous bar. We want the sound of conversations and laughter among neighbors and friends to provide the ambiance of our space both indoors and outdoors.
Dave: A neighborhood gathering place to relax and chat, with food options available from the ever growing food truck community.
How long have you each been in the Bellingham community and how has the Bellingham beer community impacted your decision to open a brewery?
Chris: My wife and I moved to Bellingham in August of 2001. My wife is a professor at Western Washington University and we have a wonderful 11-year old daughter. I feel very passionate about this community. I travel a lot in my current job and when you see other communities around the country you really come to appreciate how fortunate we are to be a part of this wonderful community of Bellingham. In terms of beer community, our beer culture is top notch and continues to grow. Not only that, but there are so many passionate and caring people involved in the beer community at our local breweries, taprooms and bottle shops.
Dave: I moved here in 98, and with the exception of 2004, have been here since. Beer and Bellingham are one to me. I moved here to be a part of it, and have enjoyed it even when I was out of it. I wouldn’t live here if there wasn’t one, honestly. I love the beer community and the community that loves the beer.
What roles will each of you play? Do you have other active partners and what roles will they play?
Chris: Both of us will be part of the Managerial-Class of the LLC as brewer-owners but will wear various hats in running the day-to-day operations of the taproom and brewery. Another contributing business partner in this has been Patrick McEvoy. As many of you know, Patrick is the owner of Elizabeth Station here in Bellingham. Patrick has been an invaluable resource for us during the planning of the brewery. His sage advice and business sense continue to pay dividends for us in the planning of the brewery. Our Investor-Class Members will also be involved in larger decisions as well.
Dave: We’ll be needed everywhere. Especially in the beginning. We’re both “Owner/Brewer”. Do what it takes! We have partnered with Patrick McEvoy from Elizabeth Station. He has been and continues to be invaluable in the start-up phase. Once we’re open, he’ll act in more of a consulting role while Chris and I will run the day to day operations.
Do you own stock in Anheuser Busch-InBev, or have they offered to buy you out?
Chris: Strangely enough, we have not received a call from Anheuser Busch-InBev. So, they are now dead to us. We are now holding out until we hopefully hear from Miller-Coors…our new crush. Far better fit for us.
Dave: I’m more of a MillerCoors guy. We’ve been approached about brewing a local version of Blue Moon already, so we’ll just see where that leads us.
Are there breweries or brewers you can point to that best represent the brewing style of Subdued? What type of beer can we expect?
Chris: While we will have the seasonal standards like an IPA, pale and stout, an eclectic lineup of ales is what will eventually define Subdued Brewing. If I were going to pick one brewery that would describe us, Right Brain Brewing in Traverse City, Michigan comes to mind. Like them, we will dare to be different and challenge ourselves weekly with recipe development and brewery execution. Both Dave and I are Belgian beer junkies, so there will be some seasonal Belgian styles for sure. We will also be planning some unique one-offs and some collaborations with other breweries. Down the road, we also plan on having a rotating series of Saisons brewed with various seasonal ingredients sourced throughout the year. Starting out, however, our selections will be more standards until we are able to dial-in our recipes for those first few production runs and “learn to dance” with our brewing system.
Bottom line, we want all of our beers to reflect a personal vision. Some beers will favor hops, some malt, some yeast while others will do everything they can to balance the three. Some will be extremists, some incredibly subtle. But we want all of them to provide their own distinct attitude that will allow the local Bellingham consumer the chance to experiment.
Dave: Not really. We’re not reinventing the wheel. Like every brewery, we want to make the best beer we possibly can. We do our take on the brewing process and pay attention to details, especially the small nerdy ones that will differentiate us. We are going to try to think outside of the box a bit. I guess if I had to pinpoint a brewery or two I would say Right Brain in Traverse City, MI, or maybe Trinity in Colorado. As for types of beer? Sky’s the limit, really. Of course we’ll have the best IPA we can muster, but also look for Belgians and quirky stuff.
What size and type of system do you plan to brew on and what type of volume do you plan to brew on an annual basis? Who will make your brewing system?
Chris: We’ll operate on a 15-barrel system, made by Newlands up in BC. As for volume, we have numbers in mind in the business plan, but that really depends on who shows up and how thirsty they are.
Where do you see Subdued Brewing in 5 years? 10 years?
Chris: In five years, we hope to continue to have a happy and growing customer base. It is not our plan to become a large scale brewery in terms of production numbers and expansion. Objective one is to make great beer and get our investors paid off. What would make me really smile? It would be to look back in 10 years and see that our presence in the Fountain District helped to attract more local Mom and Pop businesses to the area.
What is Subdued Brewing’s spirit animal?
Chris: My Little Ponies Rainbow Dash and Sweetie Belle followed closely by Scott Pelton.
Dave: The naked mole rat.
Can you give my daughter a job once she is old enough? *She’s 2 months old
Chris: It seems kind of silly to wait. Brewhouse sanitation is of the upmost importance. 2 month old hands could really do an excellent job of getting into those hard to reach spaces that need cleaning.
Have her send her resume to my 11-year old daughter who has committed to being the ‘Director of Hop Additions’, a well-paying position of high prestige at the brewery.
Dave: Absolutely not. We’re only hiring illegals.