Women have been a part of beer’s history from the very beginning. In fact, it was women who were the first to brew, the first to introduce hops to the process, and were the sole driving force behind the creation of beer. Over the years, however, women were pushed out of the limelight of beer, slowly turning the industry into a male-driven one.
This series on the Tap Trail fights for women to take back the spotlight. Bellingham is filled with tons of kick ass, beer-loving ladies, and it is time for the community to know their presence and their story.
This week, we highlight Colleen Kuehl, co-owner of Wander Brewing.
Chad and Colleen at GABF
Wander was founded by Chad and Colleen Kuehl in 2014, and has since then found immense success and has proved themselves to be a powerhouse of the beer industry. Winning countless awards, including a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival and a bronze medal at the World Beer Cup, it’s no question that Wander’s brews are some of the very best out there.
While they do work very collaboratively, Chad heads up the brewing side of things while Colleen runs the business side. Everything from accounting, finances, human resources, marketing, ordering, and SO much more is controlled by Colleen.
“There are many parts that have led to craft brewing industry’s success. A brewery isn’t successful just because of the brewers,” Colleen explained. “There are many other aspects of a brewery that contribute to its success.”
Just as Chad attended the American Brewer’s Guild to learn his craft, Colleen attended a six month Business of Craft Brewing program at Portland State University. This opportunity was provided by a scholarship from the Pink Boots Society, a non profit organization that supports women in the craft beer industry. Wander’s overwhelming success is not only a result of the incredible beer that’s brewed, but from the business practices Colleen has enacted as well.
After originally meeting in Iowa, Chad and Colleen moved to San Francisco where they initially became interested in wine.
“We always knew we wanted to open a small business together, but we imagined it would be a winery,” Colleen remarked.
However, Chad and Colleen slowly began to get more involved in craft beer.
“Sierra Nevada was the first craft beer I remember tasting and thinking, ‘wow, that’s different,'” Colleen recalled. A love of craft beer evolved into Chad and Colleen homebrewing together in 2007. “Something just sparked inside of Chad.”
At this time, the two were planning an incredible journey around the world. It was during this trip that Chad and Colleen became serious about opening Wander and developed their business model while overseas.
Upon returning to the states, their focus became solely about opening the brewery. For the two of them, opening a brewery was not just a job or business idea, but a lifestyle choice; working side by side toward a passion they both cared deeply about.
“We love working together,” Colleen shared. “We find inspiration from each other in what we’re doing every day.”
From the beginning, Wander has been a passion project.
“It’s not about growth, it’s about quality over quantity,” Colleen explained. “Just because you can buy more equipment doesn’t mean you should. There may be an opportunity to get bigger, but you don’t always need to take it. Our focus has always simply been to put out the best beer we can and be innovative with ourselves, our styles, and our business. Being so small, breweries are often pressured to keep putting out popular styles. We aren’t driven that way.”
It’s no secret that Bellingham’s craft beer community is uniquely close and noncompetitive. Along with the brewery itself growing, Colleen explained how she has enjoyed seeing the community side of the industry grow as much as it has.
“The brewing industry here is very special,” Colleen explained. “We’ve become very close with the other breweries in town; the people around us are our friends and supporters. In the end, you want everyone in the community making great beer together.”