Matt Stromberg and Kristine Birkenkopf recently opened SAAL Brewing Co. in the old west end fire hall in Stanwood. (Aaron Swaney)

Matt Stromberg and Kristine Birkenkopf recently opened SAAL Brewing Co. in the old west end fire hall in Stanwood. (Aaron Swaney)

Historic west end fire station becomes Stanwood’s first brewery

Camano Island’s Matt Stromberg, a veteran brewer with Scuttlebutt, will be making the beer at SAAL Brewing Co.

One of Snohomish County’s most experienced brewers has opened Stanwood’s first brewery in the city’s historic fire station.

Matt Stromberg, co-owner of SAAL Brewing Co., made beer at McMenamins and Scuttlebutt Brewing for more than two decades. Now he has his own new taproom and restaurant in Stanwood, which he runs with partner Kristine Birkenkopf. SAAL, pronounced “sail,” is an acronym that stands for Stanwood Artisan Ales & Lager.

The brewery, which will be housed in an adjacent garage, is not yet operational. But the taproom offers a dozen beers from independent local breweries, and the food menu includes burgers, wraps, sandwiches and salads. Stromberg said he plans to get the brewery up and running in 2020.

Stromberg will be running the brewery, while Birkenkopf is in charge of the taproom and restaurant.

“What you see in the taproom and kitchen is a reflection of Kristine’s creative vision,” he said.

After 18 years at Scuttlebutt, Stromberg left the Everett brewery last year. He said he was doing more administrative work than beer-brewing, and he wanted to get back to doing what he loves best.

He reconnected with Birkenkopf, an old friend from Seattle, and together they looked for a building in the Stanwood area. Stromberg lives on Camano Island and wanted to open a brewery close to home.

“My commute is 10 minutes now,” Stromberg said, comparing it to his previous commute of 40 minutes to Everett.

Last year they stumbled upon the old West Stanwood Fire Hall built in 1929. The building had taken on a second life as Leatherheads Pub & Eatery, a firehouse-themed restaurant after a pair of retired firefighters bought the historical landmark in 2009. Leatherheads closed in 2018 after nine years in business.

As a former McMenamins employee, Stromberg isn’t a stranger to themed brewpubs. The Oregon company has made a business model out of taking old buildings such as Anderson School in Bothell, and turning them into themed brewpubs, restaurants and hotels.

“I like that themed brewpub model, and this is a really cool building with great history to it,” Stromberg said. “We wanted to embrace the history of the building and the people who brought it to life.”

They decided to keep the firefighter motif. The building features red painted walls and firefighter memorabilia, including a large red firefighter emblem on the floor that greets visitors, equipment like axes and wrenches hanging on the walls, a squat fire hydrant, and the original brass firehouse pole.

Stromberg and Birkenkopf did make some changes to the restaurant. They knocked down a short wall between the bar and seating area, put up some fresh paint to brighten the atmosphere, and reorganized the kitchen. They also expanded the patio, put in a new draft system and installed new floor drainage.

At Scuttlebutt, Stromberg learned how to create a family-friendly pub atmosphere. “We configured the bar so that kids could sit up there and have a root beer right next to Mom and Dad,” he said.

When they’re ready to brew, SAAL’s brewing system will start out small. Stromberg plans on producing a number of classic styles, including lagers, classic IPAs and dark beers.

If you go

Stanwood Artisan Ales & Lager, 10209 270th St. NW, Stanwood, is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Call 360-629-0102 or find SAAL Brewing Co. on Facebook for more information.

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