Northwest Beer Guide: Washington Beer Guide: History: Anacortes: Established in 1994, The Anacortes Brewery

In 2014 the number of registered craft breweries (in Washington state) was 234. In 1994, the number of registered breweries was 34. Of those breweries that opened or were operating prior to 1995, only 15 are still in operation. One of those breweries, celebrating their 20th year in business, is The Anacortes Brewery.

On a warm 70+ degree day in July 1994, several investors (including Paul Wasik and Linda Spicher) opened a brewery. Located at 320 Commercial Avenue, the brewery owners sought to provide the town with something never seen before: beer in Anacortes. Looking back, founding owner and brewer Paul Wasik recollects aloud the early days of the brewery.

- It all began at a home brew club -

Back in 1993, when the United States was getting used to words like "microbrew" and President Clinton, a young naval shipmen named Paul Wasik had dreams of opening a professional brewery. Then again if you asked anyone who was a member of the local home brew club, the Fidalgo Island Brewing Society or FIBS for short, they would speak of Paul's enthusiasm.

One of those who shared his enthusiasm, for both the sea and brewing beer, was Bruce Backlund. Bruce, like many residents of Anacortes, was an avid seaman. Working together, Bruce and Paul collaborated together to open Anacortes's first brewery.

After inspecting several locations, and with the addition of a third investor (Lisa Spicher), the Anacortes Brewery settled at 320 Commercial Avenue. Shortly afterwards, Paul contacted  Vince Cottone to assist with building the brewery.

Back in 1994, Vince, was one of a handful of brewery architects and brokers. More often than not, a developing brewery or brewpub would contact someone like Vince. With a portfolio of over 35 brewpubs and a few breweries, Vince had the proven experience to develop Paul's dream of brewing professionally.

The first thing Vince did was contact Ed Ripley, of Ripley Stainless Ltd. with design specifications for the 7 barrel brewery. Located in Summerland, British Columbia, Ripley Stainless was the closest brewery manufacturer. Almost 6 hours later, Paul and Vince arrived at Ripley Stainless with blueprints in hand. Arriving at a price and delivery date, Paul returned home to Anacortes to wait for the brewery's arrival.

As the delivery date drew closer, news spread throughout Anacortes of its soon-to-be operational brewery. This was soon confirmed as the *brewing system, delivered on a flatbed semi, made its way along Commercial Avenue. As this was Anacortes's first brewery, Ripley Stainless founder, Ed Ripley, traveled with and assisted with the brewery's installation. Soon it was operational.

Then a warm, Summer day in July, the city of Anacortes embraced its newest celebrity, the Anacortes Brewhouse. From mid-1994 through early 2000, the brewery supplied the region with another option in the ongoing battle for drinkers' palates.

- Rick Star and Allen Rhoades -

Around the same time (in the early- to mid- 90's) two Boeing Company employees (Rick Star and Allen Rhoades) were in the midst of supplying a developer with a brewpub of their own. Designed as the anchor for a commercial and residential development in Kenmore, the two were on their way towards their dream. Unfortunately the Development suffered numerous setbacks, in light of historical and environmental concerns.

Back in the early 90's, as the country learned about "grunge music", a young Allen Rhoades migrated to Seattle to work for the Boeing Company. As someone with experience as a Tooling Engineer (in the Aerospace field), Allen began work on the F-22 Raptor project. For Allen, work at the Boeing Company paid the bills. It was his 10 year love affair with home brewing where Allen ultimately saw himself. Fortunately for him, a fellow Boeing employee shared his interest in brewing beers at home.

Like Allen, Rick moved to Seattle to work at the Boeing Company. After graduating from Loyola Marymount University with a Business Degree (with an emphasis on Marketing), Rick took an internship position during the 1980s at Hughes Aircraft in their Space and Communication division. There Rick learned the ropes and was eventually promoted to Engineer within the Hughes Helicopter Division.

When he wasn't working on satellites, Rick was a member of the nationally-recognized Maltose Falcons. During his tenure, Rick transitioned from brewing with extract malt to all-grain. For most home brewers, the transition is vital if you wish to replicate your favorite beer.

Eventually Rick accepted a Manufacturing Engineer position on the F-22 Raptor at the Boeing Company. There he met Allen Rhoades, who was a Tooling Engineer on the same project. One could say the professional communion for work inspired their later collaboration in brewing.

- It started over a few beers at Cooper's Alehouse -

Like many friendships, Rick and Allen discussed their love of brewing beer while consuming a couple of pints. Often the conversations would involve the next recipe or the latest beer. Eventually the two would brew beer together in Allen's garage. Combining their equipment, Allen and Rick grew their combined 10 gallons of beer, into a 31 gallon mini-brewery. Back in those days the term pico or nano didn't exist. But this is exactly what Rick and Allen were doing.

But it wasn't long, after a trip to the "Fall City Microbrewery Festival", that Rick and Allen were inspired to start their own business. Naturally the two assumed if their friends liked their beer then a hospitality/brewery would succeed. Unfortunately for the duo, neither of them had any experience brewing beyond 31 gallons of beer at a time. As luck would have it, paired with a trip to Canada, the two would learn more about what they needed to get their business off the ground.

While in Canada, as a guest judge, Rick met up with Paul Wasik and Linda Spicher. As it turned out, the two were opening their own brewery and restaurant. The location, in Anacortes, would prove convenient given the proximity to Rick's sister-in-law's house. Eventually Paul and Rick would have several conversations, before Paul invited Rick and Allen to brew in Anacortes. This invitation would last until 1996 when Paul's other occupation as a Naval instructor would take him away from his brewery duties.

- Buying and maintaining a legacy -

In 2000, the Anacortes Brewery and restaurant were put for up sale, after a failed attempt at Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring. With their business plan delayed indefinitely, Rick and Allen (along with a third partner) convinced Paul Wasik to support their bid to assume ownership of what would later become the Anacortes Brewery and the Rockfish Grill. Enhancing their eligibility Rick and Allen provided professional credentials in the form of education from Chicago's Siebel Institute (for brewing) as well as University of California Davis (for brewing), and culinary studies at Edmonds Community College (under chef John Casey). In the end, the brewery and restaurant was sold to Paul, Rick, Allen, and restaurant investor Linda Libby - with Bruce Backlund (and wife Cynthia) retaining ownership of the building.

From the beginning, the initial 4 investors invested their share of 'sweat equity', between the sanitizing of the brewery/restaurant, assumed ownership of utilities, and necessary paperwork (in the form of permits and licenses). Unfortunately for Paul and Allen, Rick would have to maintain his role as father, aerospace employee, occasional sports coach, and husband. Allen accepted this setback and worked under Paul Wasik before finally assuming the head brewer role. Sometime in 2006 Rick assumed his role as General Manager of the restaurant which also included management of entertainment (e.g. booking talent) and promotion.

Like Rick, Allen realized his limitations (between work and personal life) and selected an employee named Kevin Pierce to assist with brewing beer.  Allen would remain head brewer from 2000 thru 2010, during the Winter season while Kevin worked in the mountains. During that same time, Kevin received a brewery education through Chicago's Siebel Institute. By 2010 Kevin was promoted Head Brewer, with Allen taking a larger responsibility in managing both the brewery and restaurant.

Meanwhile working as a Naval instructor, Paul would continue to serve as a brewery consultant - providing Allen with recipes he produced prior to 2000.

Rick, not wanting to be forgotten for his brewing background, contributed a family recipe. Located in Germany's Main River Valley, Peter Kehl - distant Uncle to Rick - produced a dark lager called a Klosterbier. Brewed for a nearby monastery, Peter supplied his recipe, and assisted with developing a smaller version for the Anacortes Brewery. The beer turned into an immediate success with the locals and tourists. This was also the first time a Klosterbier had been brewed in the area.

After a few years, the trio (Paul, Rick, & Allen) purchased the building from Bruce and Cynthia Backlund.

- Reflections inspired by a pint -

Since 1994, the Anacortes Brewery has consistently rewarded the city of Anacortes for their patience and loyalty. In its 20 years, the brewery has maintained its mission of providing the area with sensory-satisfying India Pale Ales, refreshing lagers, and a willingness to make mouths pucker a little.

During that same time the Rock Fish Grill has provided locals (and visitors) with wholesome food, memorable entertainment, and local community sponsorship. This investment in the community has been reinforced with the acquisition of H2O in 2012. These two businesses (Rock Fish Grill and H2O) provide everyone something unique in the town of Anacortes.

Located at 320 Commercial Avenue, the owners and staff at the Anacortes Brewery, the Rock Fish Grill, and H2O, want to thank you for support, and look forward to seeing you again.

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