I have been in love with fermentation since I brewed my first batch of hard cider in a dorm room closet.  For years I have half-joked about having a 10-year plan to open a winery, but it’s been a long time and that plan was still always ten years out.

That all changed when a cousin mentioned that he was going to open the first production brewery in Tacoma since 1979, and that he and his partners were looking for a relatively small amount of capital to get themselves up and running.  It didn’t really take much convincing of me (or my wife) to jump at the opportunity.

In the beginning

My cousin Ken started brewing beer with his college roommates.  After graduation, it wasn’t long before one of those beer-loving friends pointed out that the beer was very good, their beloved city of Tacoma was suffering from a noticeable lack of good local beer, and that they could all lead more fulfilling lives if they could find a way to turn their beer-making hobby into something that could pay the rent.  After what I suspect was relatively little discussion, a nameless brewery began to take shape.

The power of a name

For those who don’t know, Tacoma is the blue collar sibling to Seattle’s white collar technology hub.  Historically, the commercial heart of the city revolved around shipping, pulp mills, and two rather large military installations.  Honestly, not much about that has changed to today.  Ken and his friends wanted to pay homage to Tacoma’s history, and the brewery started to take shape.

It wasn’t long before family histories stepped in to wash away any remaining doubts about the brewery’s future.  Ken’s grandfather was a painter, and though unable to find much time for his art while he was in the service during WWII, he was able to express himself through nose art, those iconic paintings on the sides of military aircraft.  With images of his grandfather’s art in his head combining with a shared desire among the other founders to honor the service of so many of their family members, Wingman Brewers was born.

Don’t worry, the “wingman” pun wasn’t lost on them, either.

It only took one taste

I was never much of a beer fan.  I didn’t dislike it, but I rarely went out of my way to drink it, either.  That changed with my third sip of sour Belgian beer (it really does take 3), and suddenly a new horizon of beer flavors was opened up to me and I now proudly admitted to being a “beer lover”.  But I still didn’t like hops.  Or bitter.  Or so I thought.

When I first tasted what is now called Pocket Aces 2x IPA, I was being polite to my “kid cousin” who assured me that his beer would make me develop an appreciation for those little green flowers that can make beer as complex as the finest wine.  He wasn’t kidding, and I was hooked.

That’s why, when Ken approached me about needing some help raising money to buy equipment for his fledgling brewery, I decided to throw my lot in with him and the three other Wingman founders.  I didn’t really need to know that their business plan was sound, with a long term marketing strategy and half a dozen potential customers finding them via word of mouth before they had even started filing incorporation paperwork.  My wife did, but I already knew the secret:  Ken’s beer really is that good.

The early days

Starting the brewery has actually gone quite smoothly after some early troubles finding a landlord.  We even landed a location attached to the same well that provided water to the Heidelberg Brewery, Tacoma’s last production brewery, which has been closed since 1979.  Water is extremely important to beer, and I like to think that this connection to the past is a good omen.

Ken and the other founders were able to secure the services of ROTATOR Creative and Lance Kagey, a well-known local artist and designer, to design and build the brewery’s brand.  I must admit that it was difficult to stand on the sidelines and let the founders figure these things on their own, but I was blown away by the final product.

After a couple of emails with Lance and Jay from ROTATOR, I was able to put their ideas to HTML and the Wingman Brewers website was born.  It’s actually just a temporary placeholder, but I’m still pretty proud of the work from all of us involved.

The only thing left to do was wait.

The long wait

And wait.  It turns out that the longest process in starting a brewery is waiting for the US Government.  Our early (and apparently quite misguided) goal was to celebrate the brewery’s grand opening before Christmas in 2010, but maybe we can make it by St. Patrick’s Day of 2011.  We’re almost there — just a few more signatures.

The worst part?  The most interesting thing we’re allowed to do with our shiny new brewery is boil water.  I want to be able to taste that beer again.

What next?

Here are a few links for those of you who want to keep up to date on brewery news: