From hobbyist to Everett craft brewery owner

EVERETT — A highly visible location tops the list for most new business owners.

For Geoff Middleton, owner of Middleton Brewing, zoning was more important than being seen, because he was confident that he would be found.

“Craft beer drinkers are used to searching out these places,” Middleton said.

Middleton Brewing is tucked away at the back of the International Marketplace at 607 SE Everett Mall Way. Many customers are surprised that there are storefronts in what at first appears to be an alley behind a strip mall. But that didn’t stop Middleton Brewing from enjoying a full house for an Aug. 24 grand opening.

The two-story industrial space features a tasting room on the ground floor. The production area where Middleton works is in a loft. On certain days of the week, the tangy, moist scent of brewing beer drifts agreeably down to the tasting area. Sometimes this scent has fruit overtones or a hint of coconut or coffee. That’s because Middleton enjoys putting a spin on all of his creations.

“There isn’t a beer that we brew that doesn’t have some kind of adjunct to it,” he said. “You just have to look at our board. The stout that we have is a mint chocolate espresso. To the porter, we add pecans, almonds and coconut.”

Even the very first batch of beer that Middleton produced back in college, two gallons of blonde ale from a retail beer kit, was given a signature twist. He added fresh blueberries.

“There are so many great beers out there that are true to the style that I like to add my own little twist to it,” he explained. “That’s the great thing about craft brewing. It’s such an individualized product that you don’t have to throw out a broad generalized beer.”

Middleton also doesn’t rely on extracts to flavor his signature small batches. His Tangerine IPA, for example, uses a pound of fresh tangerines to every gallon of beer. Using real ingredients is more labor-intensive, but it is something that Middleton takes pride in and is something he knows that craft beer drinkers expect.

It’s the sort of quality he used to look for himself before he took the plunge and decided to make his own beer. Middleton had been a hobby brewer for years, sharing his batches of home brew with friends and family. But he couldn’t legally sell his product. He needed to open a small brewery to do that.

It was fiancee Danielle Nigro who convinced Middleton to go for his dreams. The original plan was to wait until Nigro had finished graduate school and then pursue opening a brewery. But craft breweries are popular right now and neither wanted to miss that window of opportunity.

“I just told him to go for it,” Nigro said.

Middleton’s next decision was what business model to follow. Craft breweries generally fall into two categories. There is the wholesale business that sells to restaurants, bars and stores.

“Then there is the brew pub business model where you are set up to sell in your own space,” Middleton explained. “That’s where the profit margin can be best.”

He chose the brew pub model but decided not to offer food right away. The challenge of setting up the brewery was enough to deal with for the first few months. It wasn’t really difficult to get all of the information that he needed to actually open the business though, Middleton said. City, state and federal officials proved helpful and welcoming.

“Everyone says the licensing aspect is difficult but I had no problem,” Middleton said. “It was just time consuming. The federal was super slow, but it’s just one of those things that you have to plan for.”

The only difficulty he ran into was that it is such a unique industry that no one was really sure how much steam he was going to produce and what he was going to need as far as ventilation. In the end, he drew up plans for himself that were later approved. But there were no set guidelines for him to follow.

Family and friends stepped up to help him finish the inside of the building. No outside contractors had to be hired. Other craft brewers were generous with advice. In just a few months, the business was ready to open.

Middleton Brewing is now open seven days a week, and Geoff Middleton is there every day, even though he still works for his family’s painting business. He has already planned four six-month benchmarks for the company.

“This first six months is just settling in,” Middleton said. “And we’d like to upgrade some of our equipment.”

The second six-month benchmark revolves around food. A simple three-item menu is already in the planning stages. The next step is to start distributing and bottling. This involves federal labeling approval and is quite a significant undertaking, Middleton explained.

The two-year benchmark is the most significant because that is when his lease will run out. Middleton will need to make some big decisions at that time based on how this first two years of business pan out.

For now, he is content to brew beer in his own brewery and to welcome the many customers and craft beer fans that find their way to the back of the International Marketplace. Middleton Brewing will also attend the Snohomish Brew Festival Oct. 25-26.

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