The good folks at Chuckanut Brewery had a great idea: Team up with Jason Oliver, BrewMaster of Devils Backbone Brewing Company of Virginia, for a collaboration brew of epic goodness. The owner of Chuckanut, Mari Kemper, invited me down to Chuckanut for brew day and I got to know Jason. Turns out it was a trip to Bellingham, 20 years ago, that helped steer him towards a career in craft brewing.

There we were, standing in one of the most lauded breweries in the US while two friends were reminiscing about their history in craft beer. Bellingham beer of 20 years ago was not the Bellingham of today, but it was right on the precipice – It was in 1995 that Boundary Bay Brewery had just opened it’s doors. Jason had come to Bellingham to take a ride on the Alaska Ferry. Before hoping on, he headed to a grocery store

I saw this whole aisle of amazing beer that we didn’t have on the east coast. I was amazed by the selection. If I go back and trace the dots, Bellingham was one of the first dots on my path to a career in craft beer. – Jason Oliver, BrewMaster of Devils Backbone.

“Actually, it was 20 years ago a few days from now!”, reflected Jason.

“I didn’t know that story!”, said Mari, owner of Chuckanut Brewery.

The foundation for a collaboration was started years ago when Mari and Will, owners of Chuckanut Brewing, met Jason at the 2009 GABF. It was Chuckanut’s first entry into the GABF and they won Small Brewpub of the Year. Jason and Devils Backbone won Small Brewpub of the Year at the 2010 World Beer Cup. That following November both Chuckanut and Devils were invited by the Weyermann’s (who are the Weyermann’s? Read these two articles!) to a big party in Nurnberg, Germany celebrating the close of Brau Tech, which is a huge brewing show. As many brewers in the industry do, they stayed in touch after.

Brewing is is very philosophical – Jason Oliver, Devils Backbone

When I walked into the brewery today Jason and Chuckanut Head Brewer Bryan Cardwell were pointing at a computer screen discussing the beer they’d brew. I have no idea how a collaboration brew works and didn’t want to interrupt. What do you even do? Do you each hold a bag of grain and pour it in together? It sounds so confusing!


Bryan showing Jason the Tap Trail as Mari looks on.

“So, how does this even work guys? How exactly do you collaborate?”, I asked.

“Well, we were just sniffing hops, we talk about malts and discuss styles. We decided to brew a Session Pils. Very drinkable, palatable, and relatively low in alcohol, “Jason responded.

“And it won’t look like a light beer,” Bryan added.

“So this is really a meeting of the minds. An opportunity to talk and learn?”, I asked.

“Collaboration beers are a great opportunity to not only brew a beer together, but to learn about other beers, styles and techniques,” added Jason.


Jason Oliver of Devils Backbone describing the collaboration process

Jason was a philosophy and history major in college and that passion for philosophy and varying modes of thought have once again found their home in craft beer. “Brewing is very philosophical. When we collaborate we are basically discussing our philosophies of brewing.” My undergrad concentration was in theoretical politics, so maybe craft beer people are philosophical after all.

Jason has been loving the huge surge the world of craft brewing has been experiencing. In his hometown of Afton, Virginia they have their own “Tap Trail”, The Brew Ridge Trail, named after the Blue Ridge Mountain. 5 breweries in a town of 15,000 people. People wonder if Bellingham can support more breweries. I think this is a testament to, “Yes, it certainly can.”

It just so happened that Jason was going to be passing through the Pacific Northwest for this week’s Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo in Portland. It was a perfect time to collaborate and return to the place that inspired a world class brewing career.