The Pacific Northwest has a long history of defying convention. During the Prohibition Era, an ex-lieutenant of the Seattle Police Department, Roy Olmstead, made a name for himself illegally importing and distributing Canadian alcohol in the Puget Sound are. Known as “the Good Bootlegger,” Olmstead did not follow the footsteps of other bootleggers at the time in engaging in other facets of organized crime. Instead, he ran his bootlegging ring like a business, selling only bonded liquor, taking care of his employees, and giving the people in the South Sound what they want.
Olmstead’s success in the Pacific Northwest was enough for people to call the region the “Wet Coast.” It was this story that inspired Bryan Copeland and Aaron Johnson to open up their own brewery and pay homage to a turbulent time in American history. Calling themselves Wet Coast Brewing, Copeland and Johnson took Olmstead’s “good” behavior and made a brewery worth taking the time to visit, and visit often.
Copeland and Johnson met a decade earlier as firefighters at the Lakewood Fire Department (now West Pierce Fire and Rescue). “Aaron had been home brewing for a year or so and I was just getting into it,” says Copeland. “So we started brewing together and it turned out we were pretty good at it. I think every home brewer probably dreams about having their own brewery at some point. After a couple years brewing and having our beers received really well by our friends and family and the boom of craft beer we decided we wanted to make a go at it.” Once Copeland and Johnson secured a location in Gig Harbor, Wet Coast Brewing started on their first batch in May of 2015, opening the doors to their taproom a month later.
“Gig Harbor felt like a natural fit for Wet Coast,” explains Copeland. “In the Harbor, there seems to be an enriched sense of community. Gig Harbor is also a very active community, with strong ties to the outdoors, artisan crafts and a variety of other draws that are extremely complementary to craft beer.”
The taproom itself is simple with an industrial feel to it, not unlike the speakeasies of the 1920s. At any given time, there are nine Wet Coast beers to choose from, as well as a rotating cider handle. From the taproom, guests are able to see the brewery itself through large windows. Wet Coast brews on a 3.5 barrel steam-fired brewhouse built by Portland Kettle Works. They also have four 7-barrel fermenters, and three 7-barrel Brite Beer Tanks. As it stands now, Wet Coast Brewing produces around 700 barrels a year, which is quite impressive considering they’re only making 3.5 barrels at a time.
“We like to brew ales and lagers inspired by the Northwest,” explains Copeland. “We try to brew to style while still making our beers fun and flavor forward, and really focus on making the cleanest beer possible.”
The styles Wet Coast Brewing offers are, for the most part, standard for craft breweries in the region, from their bright and crisp Line Jumper IPA, to their award winning Sneak Thief Milk Stout. However, they have also wandered into the relative unknown with beers like the Oat & Bine OPA, which is a pale ale brewed with 25% oats (the result of which is alarmingly delicious).
“It’s a really cool time to be a beer lover,” says Copeland. “Being a small brewery, it’s hard for us to get too tied to a production schedule. And that really gives us the ability to be creative and brew some styles that not too many people do. I think Aaron and I have a bit of a ‘less is more’ approach to brewing, where we really enjoy showcasing a specific hop or malt variety while still producing beers that are interesting and fun.”
These interesting and fun beers have earned Wet Coast Brewing quite a following. It is not uncommon to see their beer on tap at locations where South Sounders take their beer seriously, such as Pint Defiance, The Copper Door and The Red Hot. “The community has been amazing to us,” says Copeland. “We’ve made a lot of great friends since opening and developed some great relationships.”
The outlook of Wet Coast Brewing remains positive, including some ideas to offer more of what they’re already good at. “Without getting too deep into anything, we definitely are working on plans for expansion to include increased production and wider distribution. We’ll have more to report on that in the next couple of months.”
Wet Coast Brewing will be celebrating their two year anniversary in June, complete with an anniversary party on June 24. During the event, the folks at Wet Coast will be showcasing three bands, a BBQ truck and a couple special beers just for the occasion. During the party, they will also be raising money for Communities in Schools of Peninsula.
Wet Coast Brewing’s tasting room is open Wednesday through Saturday 12:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. and Sundays 12:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.