Hometown boy opens brewery in Woodinville

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Twelve Bar Brews 003 (2)
Photo by Deborah Stone Kirk Hilse likes the challenges of making beer and recently opened Twelve Bar Brews in Woodinville.
Kirk Hilse discovered microbrews in the early ’90s when they became all the rage in the Seattle area.

A recent UW grad, he would frequent the Latona Pub on Brewers’ Nights when local brewers would bring in their ales for customers to sample. Meeting the brewers inspired Hilse to attempt to make some beer on his own.

“One of my roommates and I put together a 10-gallon brewing system using old, beat-up kegs as cookers,” says Hilse. “The first batch we made tasted a bit weird, but it was good enough to drink. We began experimenting with brewing different kinds of beer and eventually, I built a nicer brew system that was much more effective. It became a really fun hobby.”

Over the years, Hilse honed his brewing skills and he often told his friends that if he ever decided to quit his day job, he’d consider becoming a professional brewer. “I saw it as a possible midlife contingency plan,” he comments. “I joked about it, but I was actually half-serious about someday opening my own microbrew business.”

In the interim, Hilse worked as a senior software engineer for a manufacturer of music recording equipment and then as an engineer at Microsoft.

Science has always been the local man’s strong suit and he refers to himself as a “mad scientist,” who enjoys the lab-like environment that brewing creates. “I’m fascinated by the processes,” he adds. “Making beer is a simple process, but it takes years to master. I like the challenges, and the final product makes me proud.”

It was after Hilse experienced a major career burnout that he turned to brewing in earnest and decided to open a brewery and small tasting room. In searching for a location for his business, there were basically two areas that attracted him: Georgetown and Woodinville.

Both were affordable in terms of commercial square footage, but with so many of his brewing friends in Georgetown, Hilse opted for Woodinville in order to minimize the competition.

Another compelling reason for his choice was familiarity with the area.

“I graduated from Woodinville High School back in ’86,” he explains. “I’m a hometown boy and this is home turf for me.”

The dream became reality for Hilse on November 1 when he opened the doors to Twelve Bar Brews. Located next to Haight Carpet and around the corner from McLendon Hardware, the brewery and tasting room has already created a buzz in the community. In a few short months, Hilse’s beers can be found in more than a dozen restaurants and bars on the Eastside and in Seattle. Currently, he makes three ales: India Pale Ale, India Black Ale and a five-grain Pale Ale.

“The India Pale Ale or IPA is malted towards the dry side, making it highly drinkable rather than malty and hard to get through,” notes Hilse. “It is quite pale in color and has a slightly toasted malt character. Five different hops are used during the brewing and dry-hopping for this IPA, giving it a moderately complex aroma with strong citrus and floral notes and a hint of pine.”

Hilse describes the India Black Ale as strong, with a relatively dry feel. It has hints of coffee, although there isn’t any coffee in the beer.

Pale Ale, the newest of the trio, is a made with rye, oats, two kinds of barley and wheat.

“It has a lot of flavor and it’s awesome in summer,” comments Hilse. “But, it’s actually selling well now.”

A fourth beer, Imperial Red, will be available in time for Valentine’s Day. Hilse says this one will be less bitter, but still retain a strong hops flavor. “It’s a maltier beer,” he adds, “and it’s the least dry of all the beers we make.”

Hilse emphasizes that his beers are clean and dry and serve as a platform for the hops, which he always likes to showcase. He feels their popularity is due to the fact that they’re very drinkable. Twelve Bar Brews produces 15 barrels of beer on an average of once a week. Hilse expects this number to increase when he gets more fermenters. The local man is delighted with the response to his product and notes that his business is growing by three times the rate he had projected in his initial plan.

“It’s exciting, but it’s kind of crazy,” he says. “Right now, it’s a two-man business, so we’re stretched pretty thin. We’re just focusing on getting our beers out around town and on tap locally.”

Down the line, Hilse would love to open a brew pub in Woodinville, but with the economy being the way it is currently, he knows that won’t happen for some time. Meanwhile, he’s quite content with his midlife career change.

For information: (425)482-1188 or

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