Driving through Sunnyland on a cold November morning, if you’re taking the long way, you’ll probably pass Kulshan on James St., Twin Sisters Brewing on Carolina St. When you loop around to pass Homeskillet, if you turn on Humboldt, there’s a brand new building that was once upon a time intended to be an office space. Now, it will hold two new businesses seemingly made for specifically for Bellingham, one of which is a brand new brewery coming this spring, Otherlands Beer.
Otherlands Beeer is the brainchild of Karolina Lobrow and Ben Howe, a couple who will soon both be living in Bellingham, and for now split time between here and Portland for the buildout of their brewery. Located on Humboldt in the Sunnyland neighborhood, Otherlands is a split level space in a duplex building. When you walk into this space and picture a brewery, it makes a lot of sense. The minds behind the masterpiece have it set up to have the brewery on the first floor, along with seating and a standing bar. Upstairs is more cafe seating and their kitchen.
Ben, who has spent the last twelve years in American craft brewing, spent four years working as a brewer at Cambridge Brewing Company. He moved on to start his own farmhouse ale and lagering project, called Enlightenment Ales, but continued bartending at Cambridge. Karolina, who worked at Cambridge as a bartender, had just moved to the east coast from Bellingham, where she went to Western and lived for about 6 years.
After Enlightenment Ales’ space was bought by Wynn Resorts to be turned into a casino, Ben took an opportunity to brew in rural Denmark. His opportunities to travel to Germany, France, and of course his time in Denmark all play a role in the beer Otherlands is bringing to Bellingham.
Upon his return, Ben and Karolina decided to move back to the west coast. This brought Ben to Wayfinder Beer, which many of us Bellingham beer drinkers are familiar with especially if we love lagers. Over the last two or three years, the two have been brainstorming Otherlands, which is inspired by all of their beer ventures– whether it be Ben’s experience in France, or both of their adventures in Denmark and Germany.
“It was really formative in saying ‘here’s lager beer, here’s farmhouse beer, it’s totally different.’ We spent a while going through Bavaria and it was super clean, super fresh versions of the beers I knew in America. Then I went to Franconia on a friend’s suggestion, and it opened my eyes to lager bier and what it could be– this huge, very yeast forward, flavorful, very rustic, so three and four dimensional. It tickled the same fancy as I feel about farmhouse ales,” Ben said.
If you’ve ever been to Europe, you may have stepped into a cottage-like cafe which is really someone’s house. They serve you like you’re family sitting around a fire, like they haven’t seen you in years. Otherlands is looking to provide a similar experience through food, beer and eventually coffee in some form or another (espresso is a passion of Ben and Karolina’s).
“Otherlands is inspired by years of work in the industry as well as our travels and experiences abroad, in other cities and places. We’ve had this dream for a while and the idea for a couple of years has always been to create something we both really love, which is a cozy, welcoming, community-oriented cafe and guest house experience where you can have excellent beer, excellent food and really enjoy the company of your friends and neighbors and meet folks,” Karolina said.
In other words, one may enter Otherlands and feel like they’ve opened a fantasy novel, looked at the map at the imaginary village, and visited the village pub. I mean, it will still look like a Bellingham brewery, but beer drinkers will feel the coziness, the warmth, and the magic of connecting with community members and neighbors. Food will be available, and heavily inspired by Ben and Karolina’s European trips. Otherlands will offer European street food-inspired spreads like cheese and bread boards, pierogis, frites, falafel sandwiches and more.
As far as beer, Ben’s experience in Boston in combination with his time in Denmark and years at Wayfinder, will all heavily influence the beer he chooses to add to the Bellingham market. In an effort to keep things simple while still try and appeal to several layers of beer drinking audiences, Otherlands will have 5 or 6 beers on draft. This may include a couple lagers, a couple farmhouse ales, something dark and an American-style hoppy beer. In other words, there’s something for everyone, but they want to pay homage to the styles they were most excited about when it came to expanding their beer horizons years ago.
“That was a very big influence on us,” Ben said. The way that beers were served at the places we went, little guest houses attached to breweries. You’ve never met these people before, you don’t speak the same language, and they treated you like family.”
As for Karolina, Bellingham was the place where she became a craft beer drinker. This was in the days where the biggest brewery was Boundary Bay, in fact Karolina once brought a Boundary Bay Scotch Ale all the way to South Africa and drank it on top of a mountain. It was her favorite beer ever, which gives you a feel for the time and place in which Bellingham craft beer sat then.
Upon moving to the east coast after college, she had her eyes opened to various traditions that existed within craft beer. In some ways, the Pacific Northwest was a leader in craft beer. However at the time, the east coast led us in the productions of farmhouse ales, saisons, and more traditional styles. This broadened Karolina’s horizons, making her further appreciate more traditional European styles including lager bier.
Call it fate or serendipity that these minds met in the middle ground that was lager bier. Whatever it was, it brings us to Otherlands. It was never a matter of whether or not Ben and Karolina would start a brewery, it was only a matter of when and where.
“Bellingham continues to be a wonderful, beautiful place to live and I think sharing the best places in the Northwest and what that place looks like, making sure that was part of our lives is part of what drew us here, too,” Karolina said. Karolina has family close by as well, which is where she draws a lot of inspiration for the Otherlands concept.
“Part of what we hope to bring to Otherlands stems from my family background. My whole family and myself immigrated to the US from Poland when I was about 5- and we spent some time back and fourth between the two places,” she said of her Polish roots. “We are drawing from some of the food and old world folk traditions from Polish culture, and that will be reflected in our beer, food and atmosphere.”
Between the cozy and intimate location, a small tap list full of strong beers, a food menu with several European inspired street food on it, it sounds like Otherlands hit’s a whole other group of checkboxes on Bellingham’s list. A strength of the beer community in Bellingham is the fact that everyone has a very different concept and vision and brings different things to the table, making it more complimentary than competitive. Thus far, Ben and Karolina have felt incredibly welcomed by Bellingham beer folks. Many breweries are willing to answer their questions about entering this community, and Otherlands is all ears.
“I’ve been an American craft brewer for 12 years and have been drinking American craft beer for much longer than that,” Ben said. “While I love American craft beer, traveling and getting to see the way other cultures treat beer, and experience beer, and have it ingrained in their culture, that really inspires us. That’s a big part of what Otherlands is.”
Speaking trajectory, Otherlands hopes to be open before Bellingham Beer Week. They are currently in the buildout phase and continue to inch closer toward their goal every day. We are so excited to see what the future of Otherlands holds, and will likely continue to follow them on their journey toward opening day!
Congratulations and welcome to Bellingham, Otherlands.