Community pitched in to launch Darrington’s Whiskey Ridge brewery

DARRINGTON — One day in early March, Francine Hatley stood on the ground floor of this old logging town’s original City Hall building. She was surrounded by furniture, moulding awaiting installation, tools and plywood.

Behind a partly finished separating wall, more tools, lumber, burners and kegs of homemade beer in chest freezers.

For the first time in more than a decade, the old Darrington City Hall building, which dates to the 1940s, is getting a tenant.

Whiskey Ridge Brewing Co. is opening for business in the next couple of weeks, with just a few permits to be obtained.

The new brewery and taproom — a first for this old logging town, at least in recent memory — is more than just a business. It’s a labor of love for Francine and especially her husband and brewmaster, Jack Hatley.

“My husband needed a hobby,” she said, by way of explaining the brewery’s origins.

Francine was an avid martial artist, but she couldn’t get Jack interested.

What he did like, however, was craft beer. One Christmas about eight years ago, she surprised him with a home brewing kit.

The first few batches weren’t all that great, Jack Hatley said.

“I did a couple of extract batches before I started putting together a kit with whole grains,” he said.

Francine described coming home from work one day to find a lot more equipment had been moved into the garage.

The all-grain batches turned out better, but the continuing adventure in brewing was not without mishaps.

One morning Francine found the garage ceiling and walls stained because one of the batches had blown its top overnight.

Another day, she entered the garage and smelled singed fur. Their black Labrador-mastiff mix, Toby, who was Jack’s constant brewing buddy, had gotten too close to one of the burners.

(Toby, who died last fall, is still the official mascot of Whiskey Ridge, and will lend his image to the future label for their Dead Dog Rising Oatmeal Stout when the Hatleys start bottling it.)

With friends encouraging them to sell their beer, the Hatleys embarked on the quest to open a brewery.

They found the red tape associated with opening a business in Marysville, where they live, to be too onerous, however, and so they looked farther afield.

“The city of Darrington has pretty much bent over backward to accommodate us,” she said.

Bruce Blacker, the owner of Wild Edge Woods sawmill in nearby Oso, had leased the City Hall building, at 650 S. Emens St., from the city for $1,000 a year. He wanted to put a brewery on the ground floor, open a brewpub with a full food menu in the spacious upstairs room, and practice his own hobby, distilling vodka and rum, in the basement.

He was willing to rent the ground floor to the Hatleys for dirt cheap.

“The whole idea was to get the city of Darrington some kind of business in there that would draw visitors,” Blacker said.

The Hatleys are operating on a shoestring budget. Equipment and furnishings they found used, or they were donated. Francine Hatley said she and Jack had only used their savings and some money borrowed from his retirement fund at his day job with an aerospace company. No credit cards or other loans.

As is sometimes the case in Darrington, the Hatleys’ startup has turned into a bit of a community project. Blacker himself came in and installed of the walls while the Hatleys and their three sons did another one — they’d had to tear out all the old drywall and insulation because of mold.

Electrical and plumbing contractors agreed to staggered payments. Even the town’s mayor, Dan Rankin, came in and installed the ceiling to the walk-in cooler.

The result is still rough-and-tumble, as befits a shoestring operation.

One setback they had is that the compressor they got for free for a walk-in cooler turned out to be for outdoor use only, so they instead turned their planned cooler into a storage room with plug-in coolers and chest freezers.

Elsewhere the Hatleys are still working to get things ready. The floor is still unpolished concrete, and the walls haven’t been painted yet.

“It doesn’t have to be pretty. It will be clean and functional, though,” Francine said.

They’ll maintain a family-friendly atmosphere. Customers will be encouraged to bring in food to eat along with their beer. Whiteboards on the walls are for messages, recipe ideas, doodles or whatever strikes the customers’ fancy.

The Hatleys hope to have eight taps going by the time summer arrives, reasoning a cold pint will be just the refresher for hikers coming down off Whitehorse Mountain.

“Once we’ve been in business for a while we can start upgrading things,” she said.

Blacker, for his part, put his distillery plan on hold because his sawmill is busy suppling the wood for the “Treehouse Masters” show on the Animal Planet network.

But he thinks Whiskey Ridge Brewing could be successful.

“They should do well all through the summer,” Blacker said. “Winter is always hard up there when the pass closes.”

For now, with opening day looming, the Hatleys are just glad that a long-running dream is finally turning into reality.

Looking around the still-cluttered taproom, Francine smiled.

“It’s a welcome change to get this equipment out of my garage,” she said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4615; cwinters@heraldnet.com.

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