For Mark Dunford, Jerret Botch and Michael Ernst, their friendship led to a common love for craft beer, and eventually a burgeoning brewery business. It’s a friendship forged in fermentation and it all started in a strange place: church.
Dunford was pastor of a Seattle church where Botch and Ernst were congregants. They formed a friendship that soon turned into a hobby: brewing beer. They’d get together for Bible study and then share a pint one of them had brewed.
Friends and fellow beer drinkers started to take notice, and soon the three went pro. Dunford, Botch and Ernst opened Hemlock State Brewing Co. in 2015 out of Botch’s Shoreline garage. Now, they’re taking it to the next level. The trio will host a grand opening of Hemlock State’s new brewery in Mountlake Terrace at 5 p.m. May 17.
“We are so excited,” Botch said. “The Mountlake Terrace community has given us so much support over the past eight months of planning and construction and we can’t wait to shake their hands and serve them beer.”
Hemlock State’s new brewery is in a 2,600-square-foot space on the first floor of recently built mixed-use building two blocks off I-5. Inside is a curved bar, plenty of window seating and a brewhouse made up of six 7-barrel fermenters and a 15-barrel brew kettle. Since they shut down beer production last July, Dunford, Botch and Ernst have been working on the space, from design and planning to construction and finally brewing.
Going from the garage to a brick-and-mortar commercial space can be a difficult transition for brewery owners. Just ask R.J. and Kristi Whitlow, owners of Marysville’s 5 Rights Brewing, who took years to finally make the move this past March.
Finances and brewing system logistics can be big hurdles, but location is often the most difficult factor in finding new home. The trio of Hemlock State owners found that to be true. Using a boundary of Shoreline to the south, Mountlake Terrace to the north and Woodinville to the east, they looked for a suitable space for a year. Often rents were too high or places were either too large and industrial or too small for the size of taproom and brewhouse they desired.
But what they found in Mountlake Terrace was just right: a new large space with a built-in customer base and a future that likely will include streams of commuters walking right past their storefront.
“Mountlake Terrace is investing in building new spaces,” Botch said. “They are going somewhere with a downtown core and this area. For us, it’s exciting to be part of the vision and transformation of Terrace.”
The evidence of future imbibers is all around them. Just outside Hemlock State’s doors is construction on 56th Avenue to widen the road for increased future vehicle traffic, and just a few blocks away is the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center and the future site of the Terrace Link Light Rail Station. Above the brewery are 160 apartment units, with 128 planned next door, and neighboring businesses include a hip Vietnamese sandwich shop, and hair and beauty salons.
As Mountlake Terrace’s downtown area grows up, literally, the city is encouraging more restaurants and breweries to call the city home. With only one brewery in town, Diamond Knot’s second location, Dunford said city leaders showed real interest in bringing Hemlock State into the fold.
“The city worked with us and offered things we didn’t even know about,” Dunford said, adding that the city worked to grant Hemlock State an occupation permit early so they could start to brew in anticipation of the grand opening date. “Clearly they want us here.”
The three friends started homebrewing about a decade ago, and after a few years, with the encouragement of friends, decided to turn their hobby into a part-time job by starting the business in 2012. It took nearly three years before they opened the brewery out of Botch’s garage in Shoreline, using a brew system cobbled together from garage sales, fittingly. The response was positive.
“We had a cult following, mostly friends and neighbors who would stop by for a pint or a growler,” Botch said. “It went over better than we thought.”
Botch, who worked in diabetes research, and Ernst, a project manager at a video production company, recently quit their jobs to brew full time. Dunford, a print/graphic designer, will continue to work as the brewery gets its legs under it.
As for the beer, the focus will be on balanced ales like their flagship blonde, amber, IPA and Belgian rye. Botch said they’ll work in experimental beers like their chai-infused porter to provide diversity, but the focus will be on creating consistently good beer.
“We’re not really into gimmicky beers,” Dunford said.
The church Dunford served at and where the three met is no longer around, but the brewery the trio started is going strong. There were some challenging points along the road when they asked themselves if they should keep moving forward, but every time the answer was yes.
“We just couldn’t leave this alone,” Botch said. “We never reached a dead end. Doors just kept opening for us.”
If you go
Hemlock State Brewing Co. opens the doors of its new brewery, 23601 56th Ave W., Suite 400, Mountlake Terrace, at 5 p.m. May 17.