Beer makers who have no home are referred to as gypsy brewers. Instead of buying their own equipment, they brew their beers using their own ingredients and recipes on another brewery’s equipment.
An unexpected hardship has forced Justice Brewing’s Nate McLaughlin into a similar position. But he eschews the title of gypsy brewer.
“I’ve been calling myself a homeless brewer,” McLaughlin recently joked.
It wasn’t supposed to go this way for McLaughlin and his dream. Over the past six years, he’s brewed his irreverent and interesting sours, Belgian-style ales and more out of a cramped outbuilding located in a north Everett back yard. Having looked for his own commercial space in Everett for years, however, McLaughlin was finally scheduled to move into his own taproom/brewery space along Everett Avenue in October.
It wasn’t an easy process. After securing a lease a year ago, McLaughlin had to jump through a number of hoops and wait nine months to finally get federal and state licenses approved. He also had to relocate all of his brewery and taproom equipment and perform modifications on the space, including hours of painting, patching drywall and removing old pipes.
That month, with all of his equipment moved in, he needed just one more sign off: an occupancy license from the city of Everett.
He never got it. City code enforcement officers informed McLaughlin that the building he was occupying was condemned and he had 24 hours to get all of his equipment out. Two weeks from officially opening his own brewery space, it was a big blow.
“I’m just disappointed,” McLaughlin said. “But I can’t dwell on the past. It was something I had no control over. I’m just glad we didn’t sink more money into the building and open and then have to close.”
Justice Brewing is for all intents and purposes no longer a functioning brewery. McLaughlin can’t return to the outbuilding on Chestnut Street he previously occupied and his equipment is scattered to the wind, taking up residence in his basement and breweries around town. After six years, Justice Brewing, which had a cult following in Snohomish and King counties, is being put on hold.
For one night, though, Justice Brewing will have a home of its own. On Dec. 9, friends and fellow brewers at Everett’s Crucible Brewing will host a Justice hiatus party. On tap will be beers that McLaughlin recently brewed at friends’ breweries over the past month, including Crucible, Everett’s At Large Brewing and Snohomish’s Scrappy Punk Brewing.
Homeless brewer, indeed.
“I feel loved for sure. Greg (Krsak, owner of Scrappy Punk) was like, ‘You’re liked,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know why?’ ” McLaughlin said, laughing.
“I guess I’ve always been down to help someone out. Now people have done that for me. It makes me feel good that we have tons of support.”
When Crucible Brewing co-owner and head brewer Dick Mergens saw the news on Facebook that Justice was closing down, he thought about another local brewery, Sound to Summit, stepping up to help host a party for 5 Rights Brewing. Having known McLaughlin since their days in the Cascade Brewers Guild in 2012, Mergens offered Crucible’s taproom for a party to send Justice off correctly.
“I was hurt when I heard the news about it,” Mergens said. “Nate’s been a buddy of mine for years, and I was excited for him to open in downtown Everett.”
Mergens has even offered to help keep McLaughlin brewing. Justice Brewing will continue as an LLC under state law, so McLaughlin could conceivably do some contract brewing at licensed breweries like Crucible.
“As far as I’m concerned, he needs to keep brewing,” Mergens said of McLaughlin. “I think it’s important that Nate’s name remains pertinent. If there’s anyway we can help him keep his beer out in front of people, we’re going to do it.”
McLaughlin, who worked in tech before becoming a brewer, said he’s open to the idea of doing some contract brewing and canning some beers to distribute around the region. But he’s also realistic about needing to find a job and pay the bills. Long term, he said he’s going to keep looking for a location in Everett that could house a brewery and taproom.
Until then, his equipment will continue to work hard for others. Erik Newquist, owner of Aesir Meadery in downtown Everett, is currently housing a number of McLaughlin’s tanks and his glycol chiller, a crash cooling system for large tanks. The system will allow Newquist to make his mead year-round, ultimately helping him double production.
“Nate was like, ‘Go for it,’ when I asked him if I could use the glycol chiller,” Newquist said. “That’s the kind of guy he is.”
Justice Hiatus Party
Celebrate Nate McLaughlin’s Justice Brewing one last time before the brewery goes on an indefinite hiatus from 5 to 10 p.m. Dec. 9 at Crucible Brewing, 909 SE Everett Mall Way, Suite D440, Everett. A number of Justice beers will be on tap and in cans and bottles, including Imperial Butterfinger Brown, the 14th Question and two versions of its Blondemnation.