Aviator Ale Vice-President and General Manager Dusty Wyant, shown here with the company's product line, says the company is growing by leaps and bounds with more than $1 million in sales already this year.
by Jeff Switzer
Celebrating the one-year anniversary of their first brews, the young Aviator Ale brewery is in the middle of their second public stock offering, a charity recycling program, and riding the wave of the popularity of their five ales.
"One of the reasons we located in Woodinville was the great cottage industry with the wineries and the breweries," said Dusty Wyant, vice-president and general manager of Aviator Ale. "The area is known for its high-quality beverages. When people say 'Woodinville,' to a certain extent they automatically associate it with wineries and breweries, and that's positive for us."
The company owns 1.3 acres across from Columbia Winery purchased before the first stock offering. While a definite timeline has yet to be developed, Wyant says they plan to build a brew pub and a showcase brewing facility, testing new brews and ideas to stay ahead of the market.
"It's hard to do that with a large brewery," Wyant said. "With a small facility, we can make real small batches and test them out and see what people like and don't like."
Getting off of the ground
Jim Bernau, president of Nor'Wester Brewing Company and Willamette Valley Vineyard, sent Wyant out to pilot Aviator Ale after the 1994 stock offering. Those two "sister" companies share market and industry knowledge and some supplier negotiations, though are separate companies.
Aviator Ale, which previously went by the name Seattle Brewing, began with a public stock offering in fall 1994, raising $2.5 million and gaining 4,700 owners. Now they are in the midst of their second offering to raise $1.5 million to buy more tanks, increase capacity, and provide working capital.
"We had a public stock offering to involve beer enthusiasts in the company," said Wyant. "People really love our beer and that's why we're growing so fast."
Aviator used those initial funds to build a 20,000 square-foot production facility in the industrial part of Woodinville, which was completed in June 1995. The facility came on line Aug. 19, 1995, bottling began the Tuesday after Labor Day, and by December 1995, their ales were in 12-ounce bottles with the full line available this past January. The facility produces just under 40,000 barrels each year.
The company only has 20 employees in production, sales, and distribution, and while the company does have stockholders, Wyant says it still needs to be run like a small business to remain economical.
"We run a pretty tight ship, Wyant said. "Everybody does multiple things. We're a small group and have to pitch in to do everything."
Of the nearly 40,000 barrels produced out of Woodinville each year, 70 percent are six-bottle packs and 30 percent are draft for kegs. Wyant said their distribution is primarily in Washington State, amounting to 90 percent of their sales in the Puget Sound area.
"We're beginning to sell more and more beer east of the mountains, to Idaho and Montana," he said. "Hopefully sometime this fall, we'll roll into Oregon and a bit into California."
Ale and aviation
As a salute to the history of microbrews and aviation in the Northwest, Aviator Ale began their company with the theme of airplanes produced by Boeing Co.
"The Porter label has a great story behind it," Wyant related. "After Normandy, some fighter pilots refitted their Spitfires and Hurricanes to be able to carry kegs instead of bombs. They then flew the kegs over to the troops as a morale booster. This was a great combination of our two themes."
Aviator's number-one-selling brew, both in draft and bottles, is their Amber Ale, a traditional-style brew which features Boeing's B-17 bomber on the label. Their Hefe Weizen is crafted with traditional Bavarian techniques and features the "courageous Bush Pilot;" Aviator's Honey Brown Ale, a malty chocolate brew featuring a barnstorming biplane, uses local blackberry honey to give it a smooth flavor.
A Spitfire, refitted with kegs rather than bombs, adorns Aviator's Porter, a smoky nut brew with a chocolate finish. Their India Pale Ale, featuring the Boeing Clipper, uses Tettnager and Cascade Hops and is brewed to the classic 1700s British style.
Awards and recognition
As a relatively young brewery, Wyant says they've only sent their ales out to be judged twice, winning awards each time. Their Winter Warmer and Honey Brown Ale won silver medals at the 1996 World Beer Championships in Chicago.
"First and foremost, we make a good beer," says Wyant. "Now that we have 12-ounce bottles, we're definitely going to send them out. We could have sent kegs, but it would have cost a lot more. We always try to make the best tasting beer possible. Our Amber and Porter are great representations of those two beers."
When asked what the best part about running a brewery is, Wyant's first response isn't the beer.
"It's the people you meet," he said. "Most people in the brewery business are pretty fun. When we're out in the public, at a tasting, a festival (or for us, an air show!), people are really interested in the business. But the second best thing is the beer."
Aviator Ale has a retail area and sells from its brewery in Woodinville's industrial area, 14316 NE 203rd Street, open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. They have regularly scheduled tours at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and by appointment at 487-0717.
Third in a series of features on the wineries and breweries which attract so many to the Woodinville area, ending with a grand finale look at Chateau Ste. Michelle, which is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year.