Ask Skookum Brewing owner Ron Walcher what he’s learned in the 10 years since he and his wife, Jackie, opened a brewery out of their home down a dirt road near Arlington, and he’ll talk about what he misses most.
“It’s more fun to brew than to do the books,” said Walcher, with a chuckle.
Personally, Walcher may not brew very often anymore, but he oversees a brewing operation that has exploded since opening in 2007. Headed up by head brewer Hollis Wood, he has a three-man team manning the mash tuns and fermenters to create wild concoctions that use a wide range of ingredients, including hops from as far away as South Africa and New Zealand, and prized malts from as close as the Skagit Valley.
“We like to think of ourselves as just big homebrewers with access to amazing ingredients,” Walcher said. “We love to have fun.”
Skookum celebrated 10 years Jan. 21.
When Ron and Jackie first envisioned their brewery, they had a completely different business model. The two felt that Skookum would be a wholesale brewing operation, sending out cases of beer and kegs from their home brewery to bars, taprooms and bottleshops around the state. Instead, they became a destination brewery, much to the chagrin of their neighbors.
So they moved. In 2012, Skookum Brewery took over a large warehouse near the Arlington Airport that once was a Bayliner production facility. It was the best thing that could have happened to them. Ron said the move gave them what they needed most: refrigeration.
“What we really needed was refrigeration,” Walcher said. “When we moved it gave us 300 percent more space for refrigeration and more freedom.”
With more space to brew and store that beer, Ron, after brewing the very first batch at the new location, took a step back and let Wood take over the day-to-day brewing operations. The crowds continued to come. Visit Skookum on any night it’s open, and you’ll likely have to park in the overflow lot across the street. People from all walks of life visit the brewery to drink, commiserate and play cribbage, Ron’s favorite game.
“We get big crowds of great people,” said Jackie, who used to grind grains to prep for brewing while Ron was working construction during the first two years of the brewery. “We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Ron said that they’ve had a lot of help along the way, including advice from the owners and brewers at Diamond Knot Craft Brewing and Boundary Bay Brewing. His advice for young brewers? Have some small business experience and know what you’re getting into.
“This isn’t as easy as everyone thinks,” Ron said.
Ron and Jackie oversee much more than the grains and mash tun these days. It’s more about the books, the schedules and the meetings than the beer recipes. So, Ron has decided to build a boat. He jokes that he’s gone from building a brewery in a building where they once made boats to building one himself.
“It’s cheaper than a therapist,” said Jackie, with a laugh.