It happened much sooner than David Vitt expected, but Kulshan Brewing Company is undergoing a major expansion with a second Bellingham brewery.
Construction recently started at a 12,000-square-foot building on 1538 Kentucky St. to convert a former auto supply warehouse into a production brewery that includes a taproom with a capacity of 120 customers.
Floor drains and other infrastructure, including a mezzanine, are currently being put into the building. The brewing equipment is scheduled to arrive this fall. If there are no construction hiccups, Vitt expects to have the brewery ready by early next year.
The Kentucky Street brewery will handle the high volume production of Kulshan beer, including its IPA, while the current James Street brewery will concentrate on producing the seasonal brews. All Kulshan beer will continue to be available at either brewery, so customers at James Street won’t see any changes to the menu or how it operates.
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The key change for the brewery is in capacity. Production at the James Street brewery has been at capacity for a while, making about 3,000 barrels a year. Initially the Kentucky Street brewery will produce around 6,000 barrels a year. At capacity, Vitt estimates the Kentucky Street brewery will produce 15,000 barrels a year, a production level similar to that of Boundary Bay Brewery.
Vitt expects to hire about 10 employees once the Kentucky Street brewery is finished, adding another 10 employees when the brewery reaches capacity.
As for the new taproom, Vitt said he’s not sure what to expect when it comes to a customer base. It’ll have the same format as James Street, with Kulshan serving beer and relying on food trucks for meals. Being a much bigger brewery than at James Street, the new location could be a destination spot for those on Bellingham brewery tours. He also noted that many people work in the area with few restaurant options, so he might draw a bigger lunch crowd. The Kentucky Street brewery will have televisions installed for sporting events, a feature the James Street brewery doesn’t have.
Along with being able to provide more kegs of beer to local restaurants and bars, the increased capacity will allow the company to boost its canned beer production. It currently produces about 300 cases every 20 days; the beer is sold at several grocery stores in Whatcom County.
Vitt wants to grow the canned beer operation. As far as beer quality, Vitt doesn’t see much difference between bottles and cans. The main selling points with cans, he said, are the more convenient packaging for customers and something more likely to be recycled.
Kulshan Brewing Co. was an immediate hit when it first opened on James Street in April 2012. It has gone through a few expansions in its first two years.
“It’s been a pleasantly wonderful surprise; I never expected a big expansion so soon,” Vitt said about the company’s growth. “Now that we’ve been at it a couple of years, the growth is more manageable, but we need more room.”
It’s not just Kulshan that’s been growing. Both Boundary Bay and Chuckanut Brewery have expanded. And the craft beer boom has led to the recent openings of Aslan Brewing Company and Wander Brewing in Bellingham.
Updates on the construction can be found on Kulshan’s Facebook page.