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Major expansion in the works for downtown Bellingham distillery

Chuckanut Bay Distillery to move to Cornwall Avenue

Matt Howell, co-owner and head distiller of Chuckanut Bay Brewery, talks about the business' upcoming move to a bigger space on Cornwall Avenue later this year on Wednesday, July 5, in Bellingham.
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Matt Howell, co-owner and head distiller of Chuckanut Bay Brewery, talks about the business' upcoming move to a bigger space on Cornwall Avenue later this year on Wednesday, July 5, in Bellingham.

A local distillery has big plans after buying a three-story downtown building.

Earlier this year Chuckanut Bay Distillery bought the building at 1309-1311 Cornwall Ave. for $715,000, according to property records on the Whatcom County website.

The 18,000-square-foot space will be a much larger home for the distillery, but will also have a tasting room and cocktail bar, said co-owner Matt Howell. The plan is to move in later this year, with additional work to put in a restaurant happening later. On the top floor, the company plans on having an event space to host parties and weddings.

The current distillery is in a 3,000-square-foot space at 1115 Railroad Ave., near Boundary Bay Brewery. The front entrance of the distillery is in the back alley.

When the company began looking for a larger space, a top priority was to stay in the downtown district.

“It’s our home,” Howell said. “We want to give the community a place to be and give people a chance to engage with us.”

11,000 estimated number of bottles produced by Chuckanut Bay Distillery in a year.

The Railroad Avenue distillery opened in 2013 and has steadily grown since, producing about 11,000 bottles of spirits a year, including bourbon, vodka and gin. It also makes a variety of specialty bottles, including Krampus, Muzzleflash whiskey and a coffee liqueur called Old Busker. The distillery’s spirits are available in many Washington stores, restaurants and bars, as well as in Arizona and Canada.

With the new space, Howell said the distillery will have the potential for a five-fold increase in production. It’s also important to the owners to help revive a key block of Cornwall Avenue.

Distillery_Facade
An architectural rendering of the new site for Chuckanut Distillery aims to reintroduce some of the building’s original exterior. Urbanadd Architects Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

“We’re talking about an area that was the heart of the community,” Howell said. “It now has a number of retailers staying, so foot traffic has increased. We hope this (new facility) will bring more people.”

The building itself was built in 1905 and has been home to many retailers. That includes JC Penney, which was in the building in the 1950s before it moved across the street, according to Chuckanut Bay Distillery’s website. Other tenants included a meat shop, restaurant and various clothing stores. With so many different tenants over the years, the space has become a bit disjointed, but has great “bones,” Howell said.

The cocktail bar will have some interesting features, including a catwalk area that gives customers an overhead view of the distillery production area. Howell said cocktail bars are coming back in style as people learn about and try different concoctions.

As work begins on the new location, the distillery and tasting room on Railroad Avenue remain open for tours.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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