This Saturday will mark 3 years of Wander Brewing on Dean St. in Bellingham, WA. But Chad and Colleen Kuehl and the whole team have extended their reach well beyond their offshoot street along Whatcom Creek. They have created amazing beer after amazing beer that is being recognized not just locally, but regionally, nationally and internationally.
They run a well oiled team that makes one wonder how so much goodness comes out of such a small crew. Twelve people work at Wander Brewing. They produce enough beer to keep all of Bellingham happy – is it enough? And just enough to tease Seattle and the surrounding region with their diverse array of bottles and draft.
Colleen and Chad have developed a crew that is full of not only expertise, but friendly faces. Hope Collins, Wander’s Bar Manager, was Tap Trail’s 2015 Best Beertender. Lou Waldmeir, Brewer, won this year’s inaugural BBW17 Beer Market Sweep. We can thank Colleen’s hiring for putting together a team that is over half women, something we need more of in the craft community.
Chad told me he and Colleen have learned a lot in building their team and community these past three years
We have constant and growing responsibilities to our employees, our customers, and the community as a whole. With a successful business comes the responsibility of helping the people around us grow. That is a never ending thought that is always on our minds.
Wander Brewing started off as an empty industrial space on Dean St., sandwiched back in the corner between an odd array of businesses and above Whatcom Creek. I’ve lived in Bellingham for 20 years and before Wander Brewing I didn’t even know Dean St existed. Initially, I thought it might be odd to be so out of the way. But when I met Chad and Colleen and they were hard at work building in that massive empty warehouse, heard their vision for the space and what they wanted to do I was excited and intrigued.
Up until Wander, every brewery had a similar aesthetic and layout. You’d walk into a taproom with four walls and might check-in, or walk past, a podium to get your seat. The brewhouse would sit in a different room with maybe a window you could see the brewer and tanks in. Breweries have determined that seeing and being apart of the brewing experience was key to the “craft” in craft brewing. When Chad told me the brewhouse would, essentially, be apart of the seating area, or at least not separated by anything more than a fence, it occurred to me this would be a very different space.
When you do things differently, people may not notice overtly, but they respond implicitly. The layout reminded me of my first visit to Upright Brewing in Portland. I was sitting in the brewhouse amongst the tanks, seated at tables on a cement industrial floor, drinking a pint. I felt connected to a place I’d never been. It was intimate. The unique and the no-nonsense layout put the beer at the forefront of the customer’s experience and stripped away what they felt was extraneous. If craft beer is anything, it’s “Put the customer and the beer at the center of what you do.” They did that. But differently.
Chad and Colleen, 2016 World Beer Cup
But that’s just the space. I’m a brewery lover and not a beer nerd, but Chad and Colleen will tell you, the beer is at the center of Wander Brewing. Chad brings a precision that is executed across a multitude of styles. Steam beer, The Barrel Project, sours, saisons, stouts, collaborations, cans, bottles, foeders and their burgeoning coolship project are all signs that Wander likes to play with the many toys that are at their disposal. Chad tells me that Wander is likely as big as it will get, at 2,000bbls a year. They are happy to bring jobs to the community and see their beer in various spots around the region, including a recent entry into Boise, ID.
Wander won 10 awards in 2016, with Wild Warehouse leading the way. Let’s reflect on that one beer and what is has, most prominently, won.
And get this, Chad and Colleen, are married! They did all this while being married. I’m married, in business with my wife (Mindy does Tap Trail’s books, taxes, accounting, etc.), but we don’t own a brewery together, and our little side business can be tough on us. Chad and Colleen are a heck of a power-couple.
Wander’s logo is often thought to be a sail boat, or a compass. It’s actually a paper airplane. When you throw a paper airplane it floats, loops, glides and spins its way to its destination. A paper airplane goes many directions before finding its home and, hopefully, lands safely. After three years, it’s safe to say Wander’s airplane has made a safe landing on Dean St. beside Whatcom Creek and into the Bellingham craft beer community.
As business owners, Bellingham feels smaller than it looks on paper. The beer community might look large, but it is small and tight knit. – Chad Kuehl, Owner Brewer, Wander Brewing
Today Wander Brewing is releasing Mango Antlers IPA in $13 16oz four pack cans and on draft. It’s an eponymously named IPA because it’s fermented with…mangoes. The antlers imagery is a play of their past can releases.
Saturday’s 3 Year Anniversary will have an armada of food trucks and the release of another bottle from their Barrel Project, Pearywinkle. It will join the ranks of their numerous other bottles. On that day, they will also be tapping a number of special beers from their cellar (Warehouse?). Who knows what goes on tap?! Their “Olympic” bonfire will be lit and music starts at 5pm. Grab the family and come down to celebrate 3 years of Wander Brewing this Saturday. All day.