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Plenty on tap as Bellingham celebrates its craft beer industry

Members of the Bellingham Senior Activity Center sit together as they try some of Wander Brewery's beers as part of the "Trail Hop'ers" outing Tuesday, July 7, at Wander Brewery. Local breweries are expecting to see plenty of groups dropping in during Bellingham Beer Week, which runs from Sept. 9-18.
Members of the Bellingham Senior Activity Center sit together as they try some of Wander Brewery's beers as part of the "Trail Hop'ers" outing Tuesday, July 7, at Wander Brewery. Local breweries are expecting to see plenty of groups dropping in during Bellingham Beer Week, which runs from Sept. 9-18. The Bellingham Herald

One of Bellingham’s booming industries in recent years is throwing itself a party.

The 5th annual Bellingham Beer Week is Sept. 9-18, continuing its tradition of spilling well over seven days. A number of events are planned: Kulshan Brewing’s Olympic Beer Games, Chuckanut Brewery’s Oktoberfest, Boundary Bay’s birthday block party and plenty of tours and tastings. A complete schedule can be found at BellinghamBeerWeek.com.

The event is being organized by Tap Trail, which has a website focused on providing news and information about the Bellingham craft beer industry. The goal this year is to draw in more people from the region, including Canada, said Scott Pelton, co-owner of Tap Trail.

“The events being thrown by our breweries, tap houses and distributors are pretty amazing. Who wouldn’t want to come for 10 days of craft beer celebration in this town?” Pelton said.

While the weak Canadian dollar puts a damper on most retail industries in Bellingham, locally produced beer continues to grow and diversify. It wasn’t long ago that Bellingham basically had one brewery – Boundary Bay – but in recent years, seven more companies have established breweries inside the city limits. Three breweries – Stones Throw Brewery, Structures Brewing and Gruff Brewing – have opened their doors within the past year.

The breweries in Bellingham produced more than 22,000 barrels of beer from July 2015 through June 2016, representing about 5 percent of the total beer produced in Washington state during that period.

While craft breweries are quickly opening across the state, Bellingham is a bit unique for its sudden growth, said Annie McGrath, executive director of the Washington Brewers Guild.

“Bellingham has a great history when it comes to craft brewing, particularly with the success of Boundary Bay,” McGrath said.

One reason small craft breweries have thrived in the state is because they can self-distribute, McGrath said. Making direct sales to retailers allows small brewers to form relationships in a community.

“We’ve enjoyed support from the state legislature, which sees (craft) breweries as a job creator that uses other Washington products,” McGrath said.

The upcoming beer week has become about more than beer. Several local restaurants are getting involved with food/beer pairings, including an Uncommon Pairing event that’s being organized by Ciao Thyme for Sunday, Sept. 18. Pelton said they also are working with local hotels to offer tourism deals to encourage overnight stays.

For those interested in learning about the many different beers made in Bellingham, Pelton said one way is to pick up a Tap Trail map, which comes out the first day of Bellingham Beer Week. Going to the breweries and asking for 5-ounce tasters is also a good way to figure out what type of craft beer tastes best, he said.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

BELLINGHAM BEER PRODUCTION

The number of barrels of beer produced in Bellingham from July 2015 to June 2016, according to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. A barrel equals about 31 gallons. Note: Stones Throw Brewing, Structures Brewing and Gruff Brewing have been open less than a year.

▪ Kulshan Brewing Co. (both breweries): 7,399

▪ Boundary Bay Brewery: 6,045

▪ Aslan Brewing Co.: 4,064

▪ Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen: 2,764

▪ Wander Brewing: 1,633

▪ Stones Throw Brewery: 146

▪ Structures Brewing: 115

▪ Gruff Brewing: 19

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