As the Pacific Northwest has become an epicenter for the craft beer scene, Tacoma has kept right in step. With over a dozen breweries and plenty more pubs and taprooms, the city has lots to offer beer lovers. And for those looking to sample local brews from around the region, South Tacoma’s Edison City Alehouse is a standout. Situated off of 56th Street and easily recognizable by its playful signage, the taproom and bottle shop has a fantastic array of independent beers and brews, including the largest cider selection in Tacoma.
Adopting its name from a popular South Tacoma moniker, Edison City Alehouse has been a neighborhood fixture since opening its doors in 2015. A joint venture between long-time friends Robby Bessey and Andrew Babcock, the taproom and bottleshop’s guiding principle is “Local, Fresh, Independent.”
According to Robby, “We try to keep as wide of a variety of beer styles as we can at our shop. However, our overarching goal and preference is to focus on small, local, independent breweries and cideries. We strive to stock our shelves with beers that you won’t be able to find at regular grocery stores or convenience stores. This includes very small, self-distributed breweries that sell draft beer.”
But while the alehouse has become one of the neighborhood’s most popular establishments, Robby shares that they ended up in South Tacoma “in a roundabout way.” The business partners originally met 10 years ago at Seattle’s Latona Pub, where Robby was a bartender and Andrew was a regular. Robby moved on from Latona in 2012, eventually landing at popular Chuck’s Hop Shop, the largest craft beer bottleshop and taproom in the state.
By summer 2014, Robby was looking to change gears after 11 years of bartending. Drawing from experience working at popular establishments around Seattle, he started thinking about opening his own place. He was a big fan of the bottleshop model and began to envision how he could put own spin on it – a concept that would ultimately become the Edison City Alehouse.
Robby soon reached out to Andrew, a seasoned business owner and operator, to seek advice about opening a small business. From there, things took off pretty quickly. Robby remembers, “Once I explained my business plan to him, it didn’t take long for us to partner up and move forward.”
From the beginning, the emphasis was on creating a neighborhood bar with a curated list of local brews. “Our plan was always to try to mix the warm, community-oriented vibe of Latona Pub with the craft beer selection of Chuck’s Hop Shop,” says Robby.
Their search for a taproom started off in Seattle, but early in the process they began to consider options outside of the city. Soon, they learned of a turnkey establishment up for sale in the South Tacoma. “At the end of the day, the price was right and the opportunity wasn’t one we could pass up,” says Robby. While they were initially uncertain about how their model would fare in the neighborhood, “Tacoma has proven to be a great beer community!” adds Robby. “I really love how close knit everyone is, everyone in the industry knows each other and are friends.”
At Edison City Alehouse, you can enjoy beer and cider on tap or browse 10 coolers worth of bottles. Anything from the shop can be enjoyed on the spot or taken to-go in a growler or a crowler. Should you stick around, the taproom includes a dart board, board games and plenty of room to relax. While there’s no fixed food menu, barbecue from BBQ2U is served every Friday starting at 5:00 p.m., and other food trucks frequent the shop on weekends.
Beyond the universal appeal of good beer and a cozy taproom, Edison City hosts plenty of events throughout the year. Many have grown out of connections built over Robby’s time in the business. “I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of great people in this industry over the 16 years I’ve been a bartender and a lot of these relationships come into play when the idea of collaboration comes up.” Such collaborations have included everything from an anniversary beer brewed by Three Magnets Brewing to various special release projects.
The alehouse is also a member of the Bottleshop Collaboration Project, a partnership between local brewers and 11 regional bottleshops. The idea, which Robby helped hatch along with the manager of Chuck’s Hop Shop, is: “to commission custom batches of beer that would only be available at our bottleshops and at the brewery. The goal being to highlight the role of bottleshops in the industry and to differentiate small, independent bottleshops from more corporate actors in the industry.”
This year, Edison City also kicked off a carbon-neutral Earth Day event, continuing a tradition that Robby helped start at Latona. Robby explains, “The idea [is] that all the beer on tap for Earth Day is delivered to the pub by carbon neutral means.” In the 10 years that Robby has participated in the event, “We’ve biked kegs, wheelchaired kegs, sailed kegs from all over the Puget Sound region to Latona Pub. We were honored to open a Tacoma chapter of this event this year and look forward to continuing to build on our early success here year after year.”
Edison City Alehouse’s upcoming events will center around Tacoma Beer Week in August. On August 9, they’ll be doing a can release event in partnership with E9 Brewing Company, and on August 16 they’ll host their annual Sour Beer Fest. Robby adds, “We will also be doing a Shelton Brothers Importers event sometime around then that will feature a bunch of obscure draft beer that rarely if ever gets poured in Tacoma.”