Whatcom Magazine

Whatcom at work: Kulshan Brewery readies second brewpub

On a brewing day at Kulshan Brewery, you won’t get even a whiff of beer fumes amid the gleaming steel tanks where yeast cells are doing their vital work on malted barley and other ingredients. An aroma of toasted grain hangs in the air, a bit like the smell of a freshly opened box of Wheaties.

David Vitt, Kulshan’s founder and general manager, says it takes about 21 days to turn raw materials into a glass of Bastard Kat IPA, the brewery’s biggest seller. Just three years after opening the brewpub at 2238 James St., Vitt is launching a second one nearby at 1538 Kentucky St.

While the craft beer business has exploded in the past few years, Vitt says the potential for growth remains enormous, as beer drinkers continue to shift away from the predictable flavors of mass-produced beers that still account for the vast majority of barrels consumed in this country.

“We’ve only been open three years,” he says, “but it’s obvious that there’s a market out there for our beer.”

Kulshan’s two breweries are designed to operate every day, but the brewing process typically is just three to four days a week. The rest of the work week involves cleanup, filtering and packaging.

At the start of the brewing process, under the supervision of brewmaster Tom Eastwood, milled grain is mashed and processed to extract the sugar — the stuff that feeds the yeast. A water-and-sugar solution is transferred to a sterile vessel for boiling.

Hops, oxygen and yeast are added to the mixture after it cools. The yeast cells then set to work, turning sugars into carbon dioxide, alcohol and other aromatic compounds as they multiply.

Once the yeast cells are done, the beer gets a few days of aging. Some of the remaining yeast settles out of the beer, and the rest is filtered out. Two-inch-thick orange rubber hoses snake over the concrete floor, carrying the beer from tank to tank.

Eastwood says Kulshan’s expansion is providing added brewing capacity that allows him to display creativity developing new varieties, while keeping up full production of Bastard Kat and other popular brews that customers demand.

One example: Eastwood’s “Full 90 Session Ale,” which uses a recipe that includes Hallertau hops to give the ale herbal characteristics typically associated with a Pilsner.

“Some brewers might want to try more spices and exotic ingredients,” Eastwood says. “I tend to be more meticulous and traditionally focused.”

Brewer Wes Finger says he puts in 10-hour days keeping an eye on temperature and pressure gauges as the liquid brews move from tank to tank and then to kegs and cans.

It takes about six people to keep the small James Street brewery running, and job descriptions are flexible, as they tend to be at any small business. On a recent afternoon, sales and delivery man Scott Persson was busy washing out kegs and growlers.

“One of my favorite things about working here is, everyone knows what needs to be done and is willing to help each other out,” he says.