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Optimism is literally fueling this brewery's growth. Also, a cautionary tale

Read time approx. 4 min.

Just Tapped

It is no secret that The Taster Tray is based in Seattle. We always aim to share news from all across the nation of beer, but sometimes we find the most compelling stories in our own backyard. This week we present two stories of national interest, spawned in Washington state.

Another Craft Brewery Acquired, Kinda

Seattle’s Optimism Brewing operates the largest brewery taproom in Washington state (by square footage). It is also the state’s largest taproom by draft beer sales. In the current craft beer environment, that’s a great place to be. This week’s news that Optimism Brewing plans to close came as a surprise.

As much as it announced the closing, this story was about Stoup Brewing, another Seattle-based brewery, taking over Optimism Brewing’s location. The Optimism part of the story saddened many people. The Stoup part of the story delighted many people. One brewery is closing, and the other expanding. Along with the huge, beautiful, lucrative taproom, Stoup Brewing will also take over the 20-barrel brewing system and considerably increase its brewing capacity. The deal should close later this summer.

Photo via Optimism Brewing.

Gay Gilmore and Troy Hakala, who founded Optimism Brewing a decade ago, also own the building. They will continue to do so. It’s an extraordinary building in a thriving part of the city. They purchased an old building—a former car dealership—in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood with the specific intention of building a brewery. It took quite an investment, and a lot of time, but the dream of Optimism Brewing came to life. Now, the brewery’s founders are moving on, saying that they’re happy to hand off their creation to another brewery.

Photo via Optimism Brewing.

“People thought Troy and I were crazy to build such a large taproom in the middle of the city, with a focus on causes and community. We are so proud of what we’ve accomplished with Optimism and grateful to our customers all these years. Stoup has what is required to scale the business to the next level.”

Gay Gilmore, Optimism Brewing co-founder.

The lesson? Folks usually assume a brewery closes because of some sort of failure or hardship, but that’s not always the case. The taproom at Optimism Brewing is thriving. For whatever reason, the owners are moving along. It’s their prerogative. Another lesson? If you can own the building in which you build your business, own the building in which you build your business. Real estate ownership is a rock-solid and often lucrative business proposition. A brewery, on the other hand…

Skagit Valley Malting Pulls the Plug

It came out of nowhere. Skagit Valley Malting (SVM), a boutique maltster in Washington state, suddenly closed last Thursday and has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Unlike other types of bankruptcy, this means the company is done. Not getting restructured. Just done. They’ll liquidate the company’s assets to cover at least some of the debt.

The worst fallout, Skagit Valley Malting’s employees are suddenly jobless. The ripple-down effect impacts breweries and distilleries now facing unfulfilled orders. Farmers in the Skagit Valley, some of whom started growing barley because of SVM’s existence, no longer have a local maltster to buy their barley. SVM was, perhaps, the largest boutique maltster in the Western U.S. and now it is gone.

The company was based in Burlington, Washington in the fertile Skagit Valley. For folks familiar with SVM, the sudden and complete closing made no sense. The malts it produced were beloved by many brewers and even more distillers, not just regionally but beyond. Reports say that the customer base was growing at a rate of ten new customers per month. So what gives?

Skagit Valley Malting ran into financial difficulties, spurred in part by a need to expand production to meet demand. Last Thursday, everything stopped abruptly. The board of directors apparently saw no other way out and pulled the plug.

The lesson here? Business is business. We won’t presume to know what happened behind SVM’s closed doors. Apparently, something about the way the business was managed at the top levels went wonky. Filing for Chapter 7 would suggest as much. The best part of the beer business is the beer, the worst part is the business. Sound business management is something too often ignored in the realm of craft beer. Consider Skagit Valley Malting's demise a cautionary tale.

Say What?

On last week’s Tray, we talked about Anchor Brewing and the discontinuation of Anchor Christmas Ale. The news hit folks pretty hard. It generated some feedback. Indeed, the nation’s original seasonal craft beer will be missed.

stevendbailey@... said, “Anchor Steam is the beer that was always in the fridge growing up. I've drank their Christmas beer pretty much every year as an adult. I'm reading a book about the brewery right now. This dark saddens me. Help Anchor, Fritz. You're our only hope.”

janaumann@... said, "I am truly saddened to hear that Anchor Christmas Ale will no longer be produced. I always have a gathering with close friends in December where we drink fresh Anchor Christmas ale, and I grab one or two out of my cellar from previous years to do somewhat of a vertical tasting. Drinking flights of Christmas ales with close friends was a special time for me. Christmas Ale will be missed. I keep rooting for the little guy amongst all of these mergers and acquisitions. Anchor has always been one of my favorite breweries. I am one of the many sad customers to see it go!"

This week's Taster Tray was composed by Kendall Jones.