Getting your first few stamps on your Tap Trail passport right off the bat can be easy when you have a handful of places where you’re a regular. For instance, the Cornwall neighborhood has Wander, Kulshan, Twin Sisters and more right at their fingertips, easily walkable for a pint. But half of the fun of finishing your passport is much more than the brewery swag you win.
There’s a hope that, along with supporting businesses you love, you’re doing it for the experience of visiting places you’ve never been before, have been meaning to try, or are just a little out of the way.
In Tap Trail maps past, one of these places may have been Illuminati Brewing Company located in the Irongate Business Park on Hammer Drive. It’s sandwiched between a few other businesses making it easy to miss, especially for those of us who don’t make it into that neighborhood often. But for the hundreds of people working in Irongate, it’s a conveniently located happy hour spot, and soon to be serving lunch.
However, it’s a new year, and for Illuminati that means new beer. In fact, it means a rebirth for Illuminati in a lot of different ways.
The Illuminati brand has changed hands, as far as both brewers and ownership. Starting in mid-December, Illuminati received a major makeover on the inside of the taproom. As different as it looks to customers from the front-of-house side, there’s even more change happening behind the scenes.
The man behind Illuminati beer is now Dave ‘Flash’ Meadows, who had a large hand in opening Melvin Brewing Bellingham in the summer of 2017. He’s tall with a distinguishable voice, willing to chat your ear off about beer. In other words, his passion for making beer is immeasurable, and you can tell after even one conversation with him.
Meadows, who made countless tasty IPAs for Melvin, is essentially starting over in a new brew space. In the transition period between ownership situations, the brewhouse hadn’t been used for a while. All it took was some cleaning and customizing on Meadows’ end, and before the beer drinkers of Bellingham even knew it, there were four brand new beers on tap for Illuminati.
It’s up to Meadows and Illuminati’s new owner, Chris Luna, which direction they want to go with their beer. Each Bellingham brewery has done a fantastic job of finding a niche, whether it be a particular style of beer, brewing technique, or a specific flagship beer that has caught a strong following.
In the past, Illuminati has been the only one with a focus on Old World or English styles. According to Meadows, English yeast will still be a focal point, since he’s working with a strain no one else is using, but he’d like Belgians to have a strong presence on the tap list too. As with most Bellingham breweries, Illuminati will explore more styles than just their strengths. Meadows and Luna have been asked about souring time and time again, so Bellingham beer drinkers may see some controlled kettle sours coming from Illuminati every now and again. As far as something that will always be able to be found on tap, both Meadows and Luna love a clean and crisp pilsner.
While they’re working with a yeast no one else has, sticking to some classics, and bringing some newer styles into rotation, Illuminati is also thinking about what Bellingham wants.
“We’re gonna nail the IPA,” Meadows said. After working as the brewmaster for Melvin, brewing in Sweden for a number of years, living in Vegas and California, with many other projects and collaborations in between, there’s no doubt Meadows can make a killer IPA.
Having a reliable, crushable, and well-made IPA will be part of the tap list’s back bone. The rest of it will be partially dedicated to consistency, and partially dedicated to experimentation, two things Meadows is particularly savvy with. For instance, you may see some trendy or exploratory styles, like a Brut IPA, the overall focus will be quality, Luna reiterated.
Looking forward, Illuminati is working on getting a bigger brewhouse. They have the space; behind the bar and taproom is essentially a small warehouse, currently only occupied in a small corner by actual brewing equipment, the rest being storage for miscellaneous things used to open a brewery. A larger brewhouse would allow them to make enough beer to start distributing around Washington in the future, versus only being able to find their beer in the Illuminati taproom. With conversations in the works, Luna and Meadows hope to have a new and improved brewhouse by this fall. They’ll still keep the 4 barrel system they’re currently using,
The current biggest challenge isn’t the small brew system, however. It’s their camouflage in the Irongate neighborhood. If you’ve ever tried to visit Illuminati you know it can be easy to miss, and Luna is hoping to change that.
“The biggest challenge has been making sure people know we’re here,” Luna said. To remedy this problem, a large, backlit sign is on the way that will stick out from the side of the building. Once people are in the door, Illuminati is hardly recognizable. Luna, the owner of local construction company Construction by Champion, may have had a hand in remodeling the bar, making the rebirth of Illuminati Brewing even more exciting.
When the opportunity to buy Illuminati came along, all the cards were there. Since mid-December, Luna has been working on getting his bearings in the craft beer community, and has a strong team behind him. With Meadows in the brewery and good friend Ricardo Broberg, a task-force-of-nature who helped open several London bars and clubs over the years, these guys are the men for the job. It’s clear just walking into Illuminati, they’re all eager to talk about what’s to come and exactly what they’re doing to get there.
Beyond the sign making the brewery a more visible destination for beer drinkers, the interior makeover for the taproom, and new ownership and brewmaster-ship, Illuminati will also start serving barbecue in the near future. Luna, Meadows and Broberg have been working hard to make Illuminati a go-to lunch spot for Irongate employees. Instead of being out of the way, Illuminati will become a local hub for beer and barbecue. In fact, for those that live in the neighborhood, there’s a trail connecting James Street and Hammer Drive that’s easily walkable and bike-able. For those of us driving from the other side of I-5 or downtown, there’s an abundance of parking.
In short, Illuminati is low hassle, high quality, and the renewed sense of passion behind this project is hard to ignore. If you’re hesitant to finish your passport, the ten minute drive to Illuminati is well worth your time. Let your taste buds be the judge, but for now, look for collaborations, new beers on tap in their taproom, and for the big new sign, for Illuminati to be truly illuminated.