Bellingham Beer / Credit: Heather Hulbert

Bellingham Beer / Credit: Heather Hulbert

Bellingham’s craft beer scene will always be one of collaboration and teamwork. We’re seeing more beer collaborations between our breweries. I often see brewers drinking at other breweries and talking each other up. It’s a beautiful thing. Bellingham’s brewing community is a wonderful place for community and support.

But one of the biggest concerns I hear around the Tap Trail is when (if?) the fraternity of craft beer community in this town will no longer be as communal as it currently is. As we grow bigger will it start to fracture? Will all the breweries love each other all the time? Do they currently?!

My short answer, from my stand point, is an emphatic “YES!” Support and collaboration is ripe in Bellingham’s brewing community. I also know that the increasing number of breweries in our little community will lead to inevitable competition and challenges. But,

I want our breweries and brewing community to embrace it and not run from friendly competition and growth.

How do we maintain friendships amidst our differences? I’ve seen the occasional crack in our craft beer community’s support. I’ve heard passing slights, gossip, or a missed opportunity to speak up for a brewery or individual. But we shouldn’t expect open and respectful criticism – There is a way to do it.

We’re at a very important crux in Bellingham’s craft brewing future. We want to see Bellingham’s craft beer community not only grow in collaboration and support, but watch our breweries challenge each other. This juxtaposition requires a specific mindset that includes balance, humility, openness and fortitude. It’s not just a mindset of openness, it a mindset of confidence and knowing who you are in the brewing community.

Every good relationship is supportive, but it is also about creating an environment where you bring out the best in each other by challenging one another to grow. BUT it must be done in a loving and supportive fashion. We need to allow others to fail, help pick them back up when necessary, and respect differences. Critiques and observations are essential to growth, but are tone deaf if they aren’t done with authentic concern for the other person (brewery, tastes, etc.) Too boot, we should be open to criticisms. Let’s hold each other, and ourselves, accountable on gossip and behavior that is below our lofty potential!

Friendly and respectful competition should be welcome between our breweries – it shouldn’t be avoided. Our breweries are starting to diversify in style, experience and palate. Differences CAN bring conflict, but we can prepare ourselves to embrace those and learn from them. We shouldn’t be building a craft community that has walls built on style, snobbishness and closed mindedness. That’s not good for any community, not to mention our craft beer family. So much of Bellingham’s culture flows from our breweries and beer community, so it’s important we start with ourselves.

Breweries are incubators of culture, discussion and transparency. All three of those are tools required to ensure healthy growth. I challenge everyone in the craft community (brewers, drinkers and admirers) to send us in the right direction and make sure we grow as a community. With great power comes great responsibility and it’s incumbent on us to let each other grow, but accept the growth comes from challenges and respectful transparent criticisms. It’s up to us to make Bellingham’s craft beer community as strong as it can be. If we start now we’re going to be unstoppable. Keep up the work Bellingham, there’s much more to do.

Do you have experience from other craft beer communities? Have you watched them grow from infancy to maturity? How did they fare? What did you see them do? Let’s learn from each other.