The Edwards Agency

Business

Redhook visitors experience 'atmosphere of the valley'

David Mickelson

Redhook Ale Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer David Mickelson wants people to enjoy the Woodinville location and the atmosphere of the Sammamish River Valley whether they buy a beer or not.
Photo by Jeff Switzer/Woodinville Weekly.

Redhook Ale Brewery by Jeff Switzer
The two-year-old Redhook Ale Brewery in Woodinville, together with its Forecasters Pub, has nearly 400,000 visitors each year. They come for the craft ales, the tours, and the atmosphere of the Sammamish Valley, famous for its wineries, its landscape, and its view of Mt. Rainier.
   They arrive on tour buses, by car, by bike and on in-line skates, and they haven't stopped coming since Redhook opened its doors on Aug. 1, 1994.
   And from a production standpoint, the brewery is just getting started. It is also just completing a major expansion project.
   The Woodinville location was in part the inspiration of financial planner David Mickelson, a longtime resident of the area who had a history of biking the trail to the wineries.
   "I had eyed this property for awhile," said Mickelson, now executive vice-president and chief operating officer. "We came here because of the tourism and the beautiful atmosphere of the valley. We plan to continue fostering that beauty and add to the experience by beautifying the grounds."
   Redhook, operating out of its Fremont location, has invested $30 million in the location. The company constructed an 88,000-square-foot production facility and public house on the 17 buildable acres of a 22-acre parcel on the bank of the Sammamish River next door to Columbia Winery.
   The final 14,000 square feet are expected to be "significantly completed" by the end of the year, bringing production up to 250,000 barrels each year. Those driving by are familiar with the large piles of dirt which seem to be, and actually are, moving back and forth. Their weight is used to gradually compact the peat-based ground, allowing the manufacturing and production facility to be built without pilings, as was necessary with the rest of the site.
   Mickelson's vision is to also add a small amphitheater, possibly for free outdoor theater and music.
   "I want people to come to this site to enjoy themselves whether they buy a beer or not," he said. "I'd love to see the day when it's safe to get from the trail to here. Right now it's not."
   He noted that the city and county are working towards a westside soft trail and a bridge across the river other than 145th, and shares the vision of a unified trail and safe access along and across SR-202, where speed limits were reduced last year from 50 to 45 MPH to increase the safety at the request of the city, the wineries, and Redhook.
   Mickelson says it isn't enough, and would prefer a 30 MPH zone and maybe a landscape strip, though the two seem far off for the state-maintained highway. Redhook is, however, finishing a left-turn lane down the middle of SR-202 in front of their entrance, as well as upgrades to the railroad crossing as mitigation requirements.

Redhook's history
   Paul Shipman and Gordon Bowker founded Redhook in May 1981 with an eye to creating a niche for specialty ales. Brewing out of an old transmission shop in the industrial area of Ballard, they sold their first pint of Redhook Ale on Aug. 11, 1982. Their Blackhook Porter followed in June 1983. Spring 1984 heralded Ballard Bitter, and they installed a new bottling line in 1985, which was quickly outgrown by demand.
   Redhook moved into the old 1908 Fremont Car Barn and renamed it The Trolleyman in 1988, installing state-of-the-art equipment and going on line in September that year. The company jumped from production of 93,700 barrels in 1994 to 158,700 in 1995, and looks to increase by at least another 30 percent this year.
   That translates into $16.2 million in 1994 and $28.4 million in 1995. Once the new production facilities are on line in Woodinville, Redhook will be able to produce 250,000 barrels annually.
   With a fully-automated bottling line turning out 450 bottles each minute, Woodinville has only about 70 employees, mostly manning the 375-seat Public House, where fresh, house-made Northwest cuisine is the fare, but the star of the show remains the ales.
   Unlike national brewers who tend to do 90 percent bottles and 10 percent draft, Redhook has maintained a 50/50 split between kegs and packaged ales.
   In October 1994, Redhook formed an alliance with Anheuser-Busch for distribution of its ales. No longer a microbrewery, the "regional specialty brewery" set its sights on bigger markets and went from nine states to 29, and will soon be in 44 states.
   One quarter of Redhook is held by A-B, but remains separate and distinct, while Redhook has established many direct relationships with its wholesalers.
   "The strategic alliance with A-B allowed us to grow much more rapidly into newer and distant markets," Mickelson said. Redhook's expanding markets will get a big boost this fall when its new East Coast brewery comes on line.
   "Cataqua," Redhook's new brewery and pub in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, takes its name from the Piscataqua River near there. Architecturally, it's nearly a cookie cutter facsimile of the Woodinville facility. It opened on July 4, 1996, and with its 125,000 square feet, it will have a capacity similar to Woodinville's 250,000 barrels when it begins production in October.
   The Woodinville brewery is Redhook's quality control center, and Shane York, a Redhook Ale brewer for 11 years, is critical and passionate about his craft. York says often the first part of the day is tasting from each of the vats to ensure consistency, and that everybody is involved in quality control, making "the filterman just as important as the bottlers."
   "One bad experience will negate 20 good experiences. We can't afford to take that kind of risk. If it's bad, it doesn't go out," York said.
   Redhook has seven brews it offers year-round: Redhook ESB, Ballard Bitter, Blackhook Porter, Wheathook, Hefeweizen, Double Black Stout, and Redhook Rye. But then they get creative each October with their Winterhook, and continually experiment by offering their Blueline in the pubs.
   Redhook adheres to Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law requiring beer be made from four ingredients: malted barley, hops, yeast, and water. Following Paul Shipman's lead, Redhook Ale has stayed true to the craft.
   "(He) has made sure we have always stayed on top. We've always had everything we've needed to make the best beer," York said.
   Redhook has tours, special events facilities, live music, a pub with outdoor seating, and a retail area. Call 483-3232 or visit their extensive World Wide Web home page at http://www.redhook.com.

Fifth in a series of features on the wineries and breweries which attract so many to the Woodinville area.