Building a Brewery: A check in with Stemma Brewing

By |2019-01-16T14:13:51+00:00January 16th, 2019|

Over the last few months, Jason and Kim Harper have been working hard to make their dreams of owning and operating a brewery, a reality. We’ve been with them since they nailed down a space late this last summer, and as they’ve had a brewhouse delivered (previously owned by

Photo by Alex Powell

Cloudburst Brewing and Silver City). A couple months later in the process, one thing is clear; Stemma is coming into their own and showing Bellingham who they want to be, despite the challenges of opening a new business.

Stemma, Latin for written family genealogy, has become not only the name for the new brewery, but a theme throughout their entire business model. Jason, an avid homebrewer over the last number of years, learned to brew from his father, Mark. In the future, Jason and Kim hope to have their children, or even employees become larger parts of the business.

Since we last checked in with Stemma, the Harpers have made some serious progress. For one, the brand is finally on it’s feet, meaning they have a logo, merchandise (which you can find here), a website, and social media. They’ve also created a better idea of what the space will look like, located at 2039 Moore St.

Photo by Alex Powell

Right now, the space is essentially a large warehouse with a desktop computer and blueprints, but is about to become so much more. Primarily, priorities have been demolition, plumbing and adding massive amounts of cooler space, both behind the bar for the tap system, as well as in the brewery for the 312 kegs they are having delivered this week. There will be an additional entrance on the other side of the building, and more windows for added natural light.

As well as seating around the 22 foot bar, there will be seating throughout the taproom, maintaining the coffee shop atmosphere that Stemma was originally shooting for. In other words, this will feel less like a bar and more like a family-friendly place to enjoy a pint and a scoop of ice cream.

Photo by Alex Powell

That’s right, the ice cream is still happening. Primarily for the purpose of making beer floats with signature Harper (soon to be Stemma) recipes like the vanilla bean milk stout, but also for the sake of being a brewery that also serves ice cream.

The front side of the building, facing the parking lot, will have a large roll up garage door that opens to a patio. Jason mentioned having windows that look into the brewery, too. This way people can see brewing in action while they enjoy a pint, or they can take a brewery tour, which the Harpers hope to host often. On these brewery tours, you might just run into Cascade and Calypso, the adorable brewery kittens. Just an added bonus.

Photo by Alex Powell

While Stemma seems to be moving right along in a lot of ways, there are always obstacles to face when you open your own business. In the Harper’s case, these challenges include the federal government shutdown America is currently facing. In short, Stemma submitted their licensing application on Christmas Eve, which typically takes 90 days to be approved. However, the federal government shut down on Christmas, meaning their application is in limbo indefinitely.

As of now, there’s no end in sight for the shut down. However the Harpers have a plan if they continue to make progress and are in a place where they could open sooner than their licensing allowed them. If Stemma is in a position to open before their licensing is approved, they could operate as a tap house on a state level, meaning they could put on other people’s beers and collaborations distributed by the counterpart brewery. For instance, if they got a tap house license and did a collaboration with Brothers Cascadia, friends of Jason, and Brothers Cascadia distributed it, they could have it on draft in their temporary tap house (that would also be temporarily 21+ only).

The shut down has complicated licensing for new breweries as well as labels for new beers from existing breweries.

Luckily in the meantime, there is a long list of things to do to move forward.

There’s more demolition to be done, plumbing to be installed, refrigeration to be constructed, oh yeah, and a taproom to be built. The Harpers’ and Jason’s parents, Mark and Allison, have all had a hand in contributing to the progress of Stemma. For example, Jason will work closely on recipe writing with his dad, an award-winning homebrewer. The Harpers’ daughter Makenzie? She wants to drive the forklift.

Beyond direct family ties, the definition of “stemma” has grown for the Harpers. Part of their merchandise launch included the First Generation Membership. Some of the perks included in the membership include Stemma buying you quarterly crowlers (32 oz can growlers), 2 monthly pints or flights, discounts on merchandise, and special invitations to Stemma events and parties. This membership is essentially built for sharing Stemma and your love of craft beer with friends and family.

Photo by Alex Powell

For Kim and Allison, the biggest challenge has been the immersion into the unknown, and the things out of their control, like the government shutdown. Despite those challenges- talking with all of them, it’s hard to ignore the sense that this is a highly-involved, full family passion project. The Harpers still cross their fingers for an early summer opening, with potential for collaborations before then.

With more and more projects getting done each day, more buzz around Stemma opening, and more progress being made towards the creation of Stemma beer, Jason, Kim, family and brewery cats are anxious to get to early summer. Keep your ears open for more news on Stemma in the meantime as they work hard on becoming a part of the very special brewing community we have in Bellingham.

About the Author:

Layne Carter
Tap Trail's Assistant Editor, Layne Carter, grew up in Spokane, Washington but has spent the last five years in Bellingham studying journalism at WWU. When she’s not beertending around town, you can find her biking, drinking beer or biking to a number of local breweries for a beer.