We recently pulled up a stool at Bellwether Brewing Company to talk with co-owner Dave Musser. In 2015, Musser and his friend Thomas Croskrey saw an opportunity to introduce more Old World beer styles into the exploding Northwest microbrewery scene. Three years later, Bellwether Brewing Company is serving up all kinds of Croskrey’s creative braggots (made with honey in addition to malted grains) and gruits (herbs instead of hops) in a repurposed mechanic shop, bringing unique flavor and a community gathering place to a neighborhood the city has recently invested in through walkability and intentional placemaking. We asked Dave a few questions about life and business in the Emerson Garfield neighborhood.
Were you looking specifically in this neighborhood to start a brewery, or did this just sort of happen?
We did specifically look in the Emerson Garfield neighborhood, where we’ve lived since 2005. My wife and I wanted to help revitalize this corner of Spokane. When we were opening, Kendall Yards was looking for a brewery. And we were like, "No. We want to be in this neighborhood." This building sat empty for 11 years, and we were attracted to the industrial space it offered. We’ve seen community happen around the brewery, new people moving into the neighborhood, and of course the recent road construction. There have been days where I'm like, "Oh. We should've went to Kendall." But overall, we're watching this neighborhood be transformed, and that's really fun.
So the hope for positive transformation in the neighborhood exists alongside the profit goals for your business?
Yes. When we started, we knew we’d evaluate the brewery from a triple bottom line perspective [a business model that looks to profits, environmental stewardship, and social/community value, rather than simply monetary earnings]. Obviously, we're a business. But we want it to be a blessing in this neighborhood. When the monetary side isn't happening with as much growth as we’d love, we can look at the other values and say, "Oh. Look. The neighborhood piece is happening.” And really, we have grown every month, even during the construction, through organic word-of-mouth and people finding community here and different beers they love.
What’s an example of the brewery innovating and being part of the neighborhood?
Unlike a lot of breweries, we’ve been about Old World beers: gruit ales, mixture brews, braggots, mead beers. There have been times where we haven't even had an IPA on tap. But it’s not that we don’t love IPAs. We recently did an IPA event where we did an IPA six ways. We did a base one and then five fruity additions to it, adding something different in each.
Brewing gruits (herbs instead of hops) has been one way to participate in the neighborhood. We do a neighborhood beer that includes herbs grown in the neighborhood by our neighbors. Before Germany introduced hops in the 1500s it was all herbs; so we’re getting at some forgotten beer flavors. It’s fun to see how Thomas integrates the neighborhood veggies and herbs to come up with a crazy good neighborhood beer: the Gru-It Ourselves brew.
We also have honey bees onsite because one of our regulars is an apiarist. The honey is incredible, and we’re excited to brew a house braggot with it soon.
Plus, for whatever we’re not growing and producing, we’re getting as many local ingredients as possible through LINC Foods. It’s fresher; it's supporting local economy.
How have you seen the benefit from sourcing through local farms?
First is quality. Sure it’s more expensive, but I compare it to this well-known local experience. You can taste a store-bought peach, and then you can go pick a ripe one at Green Bluff. Think of the difference.
Next is the relationship. My favorite example is James, a farmer up in Ritzville. His malt may cost a little bit more, but I open it and it’s so fragrant. And we brew with that malt. And then James comes in and says, “That's my beer." And he brings five of his buddies with him. And it's really fun having a farmer sit at your bar, because all the other customers love to talk to the person who grew what they are drinking. And so now everybody's at the bar, ordering his beer. And then James fills four growlers up because he wants to take them to friends back in Ritzville. You see where I’m going with this: in the end, I look at him, and I say, "That's the cheapest malt I've ever bought," because he just bought a bunch of his malt back, and so did the other customers around him. And together, we're stimulating his economy, and he’s doing the same for us. It feels good because we’re growing and making better-tasting stuff, and in the process we’re creating a local economy.