As owner of Ale Spike bottleshop, Chris Pepper used to be really good at selling other people’s beer. Now he’s learning how to hawk his own.
Pepper and his wife, Lyna, recently shut down their small bottleshop in a Stanwood strip mall and opened Ale Spike Camano Island Brewing in a roomy space near the Camano Island Airfield. Chris Pepper has been brewing for more than a year now, but he decided to push his chips into the center by going full time at the brewery and shuttering the bottleshop, which they opened in 2014.
“It was bittersweet closing the bottleshop, but it was the right thing to do,” Chris Pepper said. “Our loyal customers have followed us up here, and we’ve seen a lot of new customers as well.”
Instead of being in the hustle and bustle of downtown Stanwood, Ale Spike is now among the rolling hills of the Camano Island countryside. Pepper no longer pores over beer distributor’s new releases, but rather spends time honing his recipes and brewing batches of IPAs, porters and pale ales.
He credits his time running the bottleshop, though, with giving him the confidence to open the brewery.
“We learned so much opening the bottleshop,” Chris Pepper said. “Not only in terms of running a small business, but also the ability to try different beers from around the world. That went a long way in developing my palate.”
Ale Spike rotates 10 of its own beers on and keeps three guest taps open for another brewery, cidery and Diamond Knot’s root beer. That means Pepper is staying busy brewing on Ale Spike’s three-barrel system. On a recent visit, Ale Spike had a wide range of beers on tap, from a fresh hop SMaSH to a dry Irish stout, and two more, an imperial stout and double IPA, in the tanks.
“So far the feedback has been very positive,” Chris Pepper said. “But I’m still learning.”
Pepper credits his friendship with brewers like Diamond Knot’s Pat Ringe and former Scuttlebutt head brewer Matt Stromberg with helping him improve his brewing techniques.
The move from bottleshop to brewery is a strategic one for the Peppers. (Lyna is still involved at the brewery, but not as much as she was at the bottleshop.) Chris said that business was startling to dwindle at the bottleshop for a number of reasons. Part of it was logistical. Ale Spike’s location was small and they couldn’t serve food. Other issues included more choices for beer lovers and people’s changing habits.
With that in mind, Chris Pepper said he sees the brewery as part of their move to a hyperlocal beer spot that serves their neighborhood and immediate region.
“We want to be like the neighborhood English pub that brewed its own beer and locals would visit for a pint,” he said.
Future plans include expanding a back patio for summer; collaborations with Naked City Brewing, the other brewery on Camano Island, and a neighboring coffee roaster, Fofcee; and starting a mini-barrel aging program. Pepper has aged a couple of his beers in barrels from Arlington’s Bad Dog Distillery, including a honey blonde in a honey moonshine barrel and an old ale in a rye whiskey barrel. The old ale should hit taps in late December or early January.
Ale Spike Brewing, at 1244 N. Moore Road, Unit I-1, Camano Island, is open Thursday through Sunday.
Xylocopa, Watts Brewing: A black stout made with flavors of coffee and dark cocoa, this beer takes its name from jet-black carpenter bees. Available at this weekend’s Winter Beer Festival.
Solitary Series: Winter 2018, Watts Brewing: An imperial brown ale that shares the rich, toffee sweetness of a traditional English barleywine and the toasted malt notes of a brown ale. Available at this weekend’s Winter Beer Festival.
Creme Brulee Milk Stout, Lake Stevens Brewing: Roasted barley with flaked oats and lactose are doused with dark brown sugar, molasses and Mexican vanilla. Available on tap at the brewery.
Eagles Landing Pale Ale
Ale Spike Camano Island Brewing, Camano Island
Style: Pale ale
Stats: 6.0 percent ABV
Available: On tap at the brewery
From the brewery: Named for the brewery’s new location next to the Camano Island Airfield, Eagles Landing is made with Skagit Valley Malting Pilot malt and hops from Yakima Valley and the United Kingdom.