For nearly a decade, Hollis Wood was the face of Skookum Brewery. Tapped by owner Ron Walcher in 2012 to take Skookum’s beer to the next level, Wood ran the brewhouse like his own little fiefdom, churning out award-winning IPAs, experimenting with new styles and starting a barrel-aging program that became one of the most admired in the state.
With Wood now gone, Skookum is turning to a trio of brewers who plan to not only maintain Skookum’s strong brand, but build on it.
Max Neumann, Dave Kolbe and Savannah Diemer now run the day-to-day operation of the Skookum brewhouse at 17925 59th Ave. NE in Arlington. Both Neumann and Kolbe worked closely with Wood and have plenty of brewing experience.
“There’s more responsibility now,” Neumann said. “More recipe-building, more ordering, more paperwork. But this is truly a collaboration between all of us and we share the load, just as it was when Hollis was here.”
Walcher said he is confident in the new collection of brewers and said the brewery has always been bigger than just one person.
“The direction Skookum has and always will be in the people who make the beer, serve the beer, and, in the end, consume our beer,” Walcher said. “The brewers have latitude on creating their own flavor profiles as well as relying on recipes from the past.”
The new trio appreciates the trust Walcher has in them and that it goes with how he’s treated them all along.
“Ron has really been hands off so far,” Neumann said. “He’s really let us do our thing and told us to continue to do what we’re doing.”
Neumann and Kolbe had brewing experience before arriving at Skookum a few years ago. Neumann worked as a brewer at Woodinville’s Brickyard Brewing before it closed in 2018. Kolbe cut his teeth as a cellarman at Edmonds’ American Brewing.
While assisting Wood, both Neumann and Kolbe helped with recipe development, brewing duties and logistics. The time in Skookum’s brewhouse gave both Neumann and Kolbe expanded experience and taught them a lot about the art of brewing in the modern craft brewing world.
“We really learned a lot from Hollis,” Neumann said. “We never felt like we couldn’t speak up and say something in that process. We were able to bounce ideas off each other and it was a very collaborative environment. (Hollis) allowed us to spread our wings a little and see what could be done.”
That said, with Wood gone, both know that there is more pressure on all three.
“It’s a little different with everything on our shoulders,” Kolbe said.
For Diemer, working in a brewhouse is new. She’s been at Skookum for eight months and has grown into an integral role in the brewhouse, assisting Neumann and Kolbe and learning the trade at the same time.
Though new to brewing, Diemer isn’t new to working at breweries. She worked as a bartender at Bellingham’s Aslan Brewing for two years before arriving at Skookum.
“I had the chance to work a little in the brewhouse at Aslan and really enjoyed the experience,” she said.
The three brewers plan to continue Skookum’s track record of brewing hundreds of new, innovative beers each year and expanding its barrel program. In fact, the brewery is currently at its max barrel stock with about 100 oak barrels of beer, and is planning a big barleywine release later this month.
On the innovative side, Neumann was excited about a new beer the trio is brewing with Phantasm Powder. A powder derived from New Zealand Marlborough sauvignon blanc grapes, the powder, when introduced on the hot side of the boil, can give beers a white wine flavor and bring out the citrus and fruit flavors of the hops.
The beer, Sun Shadow IPA, has been a big hit.
Much like the restaurant world, the craft brewing industry has been upended by COVID-19. Customer behaviors, state restrictions and distribution channels have all changed. But owner Walcher said he is confident Skookum will navigate the changing world and come out even better.
“Like all small businesses we are trying to fit in a world where we have so little control,” he said. “Currently, we are pursuing more packaging options and distribution in new markets.”