The pre-history of Chuckanut Brewery, founded in Bellingham, Washington in 2008 by Will and Mari Kemper, is in many ways the foundation of Lager brewing in the Pacific Northwest. How the Kemper’s came to accomplish all they have over the past 12 years came about by an even more amazing story: one of travel, opening various breweries, educating and consulting their peers, and bringing back the traditional art of European Lager brewing in America.
The Chuckanut story begins in earnest with the opening of Thomas Kemper Brewing, originally located in Poulsbo, WA. Founded by Andy Thomas and the Kempers in 1984, the brand was the first known production brewer of Craft Lager west of the Mississippi. While the company changed over time with the success of their Root Beer and other sodas, as well as a multitude of acquisitions, the Kempers moved on to new adventures in the early 90’s.
They first headed to the East Coast where Will worked as a brewery consultant, assisting Wheeping Radish in Durham, NC, the oldest craft brewery in North Carolina. Next, they helped set up the first Dock Street Brewpub in Philly, then the original Capital City Brewery in DC, and Lowell Brewing in Lowell, MA. Soon after, the Kempers returned to the West Coast, working with the Beers Across America group which included brewery locations in Portland, Oregon, Orange County, CA, and Denver, CO, among others. Will went on to help develop the first two breweries in Monterey, Mexico including Sierra Madre Brewing. Amidst all this travelling and consulting, Will taught Brewing Engineering at the American Brewers Guild (in Davis, CA at that time). Prior to opening Chuckanut, Will and Mari were called to Istanbul, Turkey to consult and assist with the first craft brewery to open there as well!
Returning to settle in Washington, the Kempers at last opened their own location, Chuckanut Brewery & Kitchen in 2008. Success was seen immediately as they won 4 medals at their first Great American Beer Festival in 2009 (a Gold for their Dunkel & Vienna Lager, and a Silver for their Schwarzbier & Pilsner), resulting in them being awarded Small Brewpub/Brewer of The Year. They once again won 4 medals at GABF in 2011 (Gold for Helles & Kölsch, Silver for Dunkel, and Bronze for Alt) and were awarded Small Brewery/Brewer of The Year. Over 11 years of entering competition at GABF, Chuckanut Brewery has been honored with 20 medals, and at least one every year (sans 2013) – a rare accomplishment. And we’d be here all day if we included all of the World Beer Cup and Washington Beer Awards attributed to Chuckanut as well. View the whole list of awards here.
One of the keys to Will Kemper’s success as a brewmaster lies within his need to modify and fabricate his own equipment in the early years, making him one of the most knowledgeable brewing engineers in modern brewing. Having honed and proven his skills as a brewmaster, that not only assisted in the fabrication, start-up and recipe creation of ~12 breweries, but also the training of his successors at each location, it’s no wonder Chuckanut has been so successful in crafting some of America’s best Lager beers.
And no story about Chuckanut would be complete without the lineage Will has created in the Pacific Northwest brewing world. Prior to opening the award-winning pFriem Family Brewers in Hood River, Oregon, Josh Pfriem served as Head Brewer at Chuckanut Brewery during that auspicious first year in 2009. Then in November of 2009, Kevin Davey joined Chuckanut where he worked 3+ years, later going on to start an award-winning Lager focused brewery of his own, Wayfinder Beer, located right across the street from Day One’s current headquarters.
Today Chuckanut Brewery operates two locations: their original Brewery & Kitchen (known as North Nut) located on Bellingham Bay, just Northwest of Downtown Bellingham, and a 20 barrel production brewery (known as South Nut) in Burlington which opened in October of 2016.
We are quite thankful to be the largest draft distributor and only distributor of bottled Chuckanut Brewery beers outside of Washington State! While we steadily have their award-winning Pilsner and Kölsch available in bottles and kegs, we also have regular stock of a number of rotating options including their Vienna Lager, Citra Leaf Pilsner, New World Ale and Single Hop Lager Series, plus seasonal options such as 2 Amigos Mexican-style Dark Lager, and a Summer Pale Ale, both out in bottles now. For a full list of beers brewed at Chuckanut, check out their Master List.
Stay tuned for more special releases and plenty of the highest quality Lagers in the country from Chuckanut Brewery, a brewery Day One Distribution is proud to partner with!