Photo of Mari Kemper courtesy of Northwest Beer Guide.
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.
Mari Kemper is widely known in the industry as “the mother of craft beer.” She and her husband Will are the founding owners of Chuckanut Brewery – Will being the Brewmester and Mari overseeing the brewery and restaurant operations. While Mari and Will have been operating Chuckanut, one of the most highly decorated breweries in Washington since 2008, their role and power in the craft beer industry dates a whole lot further back.
In 1976, Mari and Will first decided that they wanted to own a brewery someday. Will was a chemical engineer and had taken up homebrewing as a hobby, but it quickly grew into a more serious passion.
When Mari and Will moved to WA State from Boulder, CO they decided to start their own brewery. Will met Andy Thomas at an environmental consulting company where they both worked. In 1984 Mari and Will decided to invite Andy and his wife Laura to join them in creating a micro-brewery on Bainbridge Island where the Kempers lived. For the name they decided to combine both last names to create Thomas Kemper Brewery. They quickly outgrew their first building and moved the brewery to an old meat packing plant in Poulsbo, WA.
Sadly, things got a little messy between the owners over time, as sometimes happens in partnership arrangements. It was decided that Will and Mari would separate themselves from the situation and the company. Because of a non-compete agreement, Will was forced to find brewing work outside the Thomas Kemper territory (basically outside the western US). So Will began his own brewing consultation business working on the East Coast first with Weeping Radish Brewpub in Durham, NC then onto Dock Street Brewpub in Philadelphia, Capital City Brewpub in D.C., and Lowell Brewing in Massachusettes. Meanwhile Thomas Kemper Brewery developed their sodas and sold the company to Pyramid. Pyramid then marketed the Thomas Kemper sodas more and sold the business to Thomas Kemper Soda Company, who then marketed it further and sold it again. Thomas Kemper beer has not been brewed since the 90’s, but the soda company continues to flourish!