Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen in Bellingham, Wash., is one of the few lager-focused craft breweries in the United States. Many craft breweries brew lagers on occasion, but few specialize in lagers. Compared to ales, lagers can be more challenging to brew, they take longer to ferment and they hog valuable fermenter space for longer periods of time, reducing a brewery’s capacity.
So why, then, would a craft brewery want to focus mainly on lagers?
“We make lagers because we love lagers!” Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen co-owner Mari Kemper explains. “We like how refined they are; and they’re very drinkable.”
Along with her husband Will Kemper, Chuckanut co-owner and brewmaster, the couple opened Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen in July of 2008. Since then, the brewery has been humbly cranking out an impressive lineup of award-winning, European-style beers using authentic ingredients and traditional processes.
Unbeknownst to many locals, Will Kemper is a legend in the craft beer world. He has worked as a brewmaster for countless breweries, including Thomas Kemper Brewing Co. (Seattle), Aviator Ales (Seattle), Norwester Brewing (Portland, Ore.), Orange County Brewery (Calif.), Mile High Brewing (Denver), Dock Street Brewing (Philadelphia), Capital City Brewing (Washington, D.C.), Lowell Brewing (Lowell, Mass.) and Red Bell Brewing (Philadelphia). For most of these breweries, he engineered and supervised construction and startup, and then he formulated recipes and trained the brewers to take over production after a predetermined time.
The Kempers even helped to start the first two Sierra Madre brewpubs in Mexico, and they helped to start Turkey’s first brewpub called Taps.
Will is a diploma member of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London, England, and he is an active member of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas (MBAA). He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, is an alumnus of the Siebel Institute of Technology in Brewing Microscopy and Microbiology, and he completed the first Masterbrewers Program from the University of California at Davis.
In the 1990s, he taught brewery engineering for the American Brewers Guild in Davis, Calif., and his video lectures are still being used by the Guild for their professional training courses.
Even though Chuckanut Brewery is just three years old, it has already made a name for itself. In 2009 and 2011, Chuckanut won the prestigious “Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year” award at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver.
At the 2009 GABF, it won two Gold Medals for its Dunkel and Vienna Lager beers, as well as two Silver Medals for its Schwarzbier and Pilsner beers. At the 2010 GABF, Chuckanut won two more medals – a Gold Medal for its Vienna Lager and a Bronze Medal for its Pilsner. And at the 2011 GABF, it garnered four more medals.
Adding to the brewery’s ever-growing accolades, it garnered a highly coveted Gold Medal for its Dunkel at the 2010 World Beer Cup. At this competition, a panel of elite judges from 26 countries judged beers from 642 breweries from 44 countries and 47 U.S. states. In total, 3,330 beers were entered into 90 beer style categories, making it the world’s largest-ever commercial beer competition.
Outside of Bellingham, Seattle beer lovers have taken notice of the brewery. Currently, 70 percent of the beer Chuckanut produces is distributed to Seattle restaurants and taphouses. In fact, the brewery even had to install new fermentation tanks to keep up with the demand.
Last year the 10-barrel brewery produced about 800 barrels of beer. But with the new fermenters, the Kempers hope to double that number this year.
Even though the brewery is once again at capacity, the Kempers, along with brewer Kevin Davey and assistant brewer Brian Cardwell, are not resting on their laurels. “We always strive to make things better,” Mari says.
Aside from continuously working to make the brewery and restaurant better and better, the Kempers are passionate about keeping their business a sustainable member of our community and our environment. The Kempers have had a longtime connection to Bellingham (they have owned a home on Chuckanut Drive for 17 years), and since opening Chuckanut’s doors in 2008, the brewery and restaurant works toward Zero Waste through the Sustainable Connections program, it recycles its spent grains with a local farmer, and it has a computerized brewery system that conserves electricity and water. Additionally, Chuckanut supports more than 100 nonprofits in our region.
Beyond all that, it just comes down to making people happy. “I love meeting people that really enjoy our beer,” Mari says with a smile.
Visit Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen at 601 W. Holly St. in Bellingham. For more information, call 360.752.3377 or visit chuckanutbreweryandkitchen.com.
ALE & LAGER DEFINED
Ale is beer made with top-fermenting yeast that is aged for relatively short periods of time at warm temperatures. Lager is beer made with bottom-fermenting yeast that is aged for longer periods of time at cooler temperatures. “Lager,” as a verb, comes from the German word “lagern,” which means “to store” or “lay down.” Lagers can be more challenging to make than ales because they are “cleaner” and tend to have more delicate flavors and aromas. Therefore, any subtle imperfections or off-flavors in the finished beer are much more evident.