Diamond Knot: A party 20 years in the making

Diamond Knot Brewing Co. celebrated its 20th anniversary on Oct. 15 with a special toast at its Brewery &Alehouse that is still located where the first batches of Diamond Knot beer were crafted over two decades ago.

The award-winning Mukilteo-based company can trace its roots back to two Boeing workers, Bob Maphet and Brian Sollenberger, who had formed a friendship at Boeing’s wine and beer club. Each man shared a love of home brewing.

In fact, Sollenberger was already brewing batches of beer in a leased 300 square-foot space behind Mukilteo’s Cheers Too pub, the same place that would eventually house Diamond Knot’s Brewery &Alehouse. Maphet joined him there.

“Between the two of them they launched the company with two beers on Oct. 15, 1994,” said Sherry Jennings, the company’s official storyteller. The beers were a Hefeweizen and an India Pale Ale. “At the time, in 1994, no one thought that anyone would drink an IPA. They thought it was too hoppy.”

Maphet and Sollenberger proved their critics wrong. The IPA turned out to be very popular. The Cheers Two pub was both the first and best customer for those two beers that were brewed just steps away from the bar.

These were the early days of what would later be known the micro-brewery industry. There were few small brewers in Washington State and few distribution laws. Early entrepreneurs didn’t know what to expect and had to be extremely adaptable in order to survive.

Diamond Knot grew as the industry grew, Jennings explained, adapting to changes along the way but never straying from their core values of good beer and treating people right.

By 1999, Maphet and Sollenberger acquired the Cheers Two space and opened the Diamond Knot Brewery &Alehouse. The addition of the restaurant was a turning point for the company, one that would lead to a slow but steady growth trend.

Aware that they would need a specialist from the restaurant industry to guide this new aspect of their operations Maphet and Sollenberger brought Andy Eason into their team. Eason is still vice president of retail operations today.

Demand for the product was also growing and Maphet and Sollenberger were still working at Boeing as well as trying to develop and produce beers and make deliveries. In 2001, they brought Pat Ringe on board to oversee the brewing operations and gave him the title of vice president of brewing operations.

At that time, the beer was still being produced in the tight quarters behind the Alehouse which was less than ideal. That early brewery’s capacity was only about 1,000 barrels. It was clear something would have to be done to increase production.

In 2004, Diamond Knot purchased a second Mukilteo property at 4602 Chennault Beach Road. That 10,000 square-foot facility became the Diamond Knot Production Brewery and Taproom. It is still open and houses the headquarters for the business.

With an increase in production space, Diamond Knot could now produce more of their own beers and were also able to brew signature beers for other businesses. For example, Fred’s Rivertown Alehouse in Snohomish, Diamond Knot’s first customer outside of Cheers Too, has their own Fred’s Rivertown Brown beer created for them by Diamond Knot Brewing.

The company continued in its slow but steady growth. Just before the recession, in 2007, the company took over the Camano Lodge on Camano Island and added a restaurant and alehouse there. The following year they opened a pizza house in Mukilteo that could serve families.

Jennings admits that it was a chaotic time for the company but they pulled through, reminiscent of the shipwreck that the company was named after.

That ship, the Diamond Knot, was a freighter carrying a cargo of canned salmon valued at over $4 million when it was rammed by another vessel. Against all odds, the ship’s cargo was saved before it went down.

The story of the incredible cargo salvage had impressed both Maphet and Sollenberger with its lesson in perseverance in the face of adversity. But the brewery’s most challenging time was yet to come.

In 2009, company founder Brian Sollenberger was found dead of a head injury near the stairs outside his home. It is thought that the 46-year-old hit his head after a fall. He left behind a wife, three children and many grieving friends and co-workers.

“It was a huge blow to the company and it was felt throughout the industry,” Jennings said. “Brian was definitely a character and one of the faces of the company.”

This sad event happened at about the same time that Diamond Knot began its production of bottled beer. Sollenberger missed seeing the sales distribution of his product expand into 12 states.

The next major change for Diamond Knot was the expansion and remodel of the Brewery and Alehouse. Completed in 2013, the project added family friendly dining to the original location. This allowed them to close the nearby pizza house and consolidate their Mukilteo food operations into the one restaurant.

“As we started off on that project, which was the project to end all projects, we were then offered a space in Mountlake Terrace,” Jennings said. “We waited for the expansion of the Alehouse to be finished then we jumped into building the Brew Pub at MLT.”

It opened in January 2014. Diamond Knot Camano Lodge was sold so that the company could concentrate their operations in Snohomish County, Jennings said.

In the 20 years of Diamond Knot, the company went from two friends home brewing together to almost 150 employees. They’ve gone from a few barrels to 8,000 barrels a year and name recognition across the western United States.

The one constant has been Bob Maphet. Maphet retired from Boeing in 2009 but remains company president and CEO at Diamond Knot. He still carries on the vision he had with his old co-worker to create great beer.

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