"It was funny because some people called us the Facebook brewery."
In 2010, the hype for Bellevue's first locally owned craft brewery—Bellevue Brewing Company (BBC)—began to build. Founder and owner, member John Robertson was flattered by the excitement, but recognized the disappointment in their delayed opening.
They had 2,000 Facebook fans before the first draft was poured … in December 2012.
But the wait, well, it was worth it.
John worked in commercial real estate for 20 years, and enjoyed beer as nothing more than an enthusiast, until he decided it was time to have a little fun. "I always had fun in ale houses," John says.
So he and partner Scott Hansen—founder of Leavenworth Biers, which later merged with Fish Brewing in Olympia—met at the Bellevue Club in late 2009 and pitched ideas. Although Scott took some convincing, Bellevue's lack of brew houses (Rock Bottom being the only one, which is a national chain and now owned by Gordon Biersch) he eventually conceded, with the idea that the future of BBC would have a community-driven mission—an outreach program for the city's youth.
"We very quickly ran out of excuses not to do it," John says.
But from that initial plan in 2009, to the open house December 13, 2012, and official grand opening December 20, 2012, there were setbacks due to investors and city planning.
The city hadn't approved a brewery since Rock Bottom, and John says BBC became the opportunity to really learn how it all comes together—with the anticipation that more may be built in the future. So new investors were secured and the city finally signed off on the plan, and six months later, BBC opened.
The vision was simple; John wanted a place with world-class beers, delicious, fresh food, a relaxed taproom and a place for families to decompress. BBC is rare in that minors are welcome until 8 p.m., and after that, the brewery takes on a more PG-13 rating, though no one will be shooed out.
"There's a lot of pent-up demand here," John says, "for not only great beer and great food, but a place like ours, that's not like downtown."
The space is open and exposed, with an industrial feel and plenty of stainless steel, and a window that offers a look into their 30-tank brewing room. "Fancy is not one of our core values. We put all the money that we would've put in fancy into our beer," John says.
With an average alcohol content of 6.2 percent among their Flagship Series of five beers (425 Pale Ale, IPA, ESB, Scotch Ale and Oatmeal Stout), there's nothing weak about the drinks, either.
When creating the beers with head brewer Tony Powell, John knew they had to start strong. Of the process, John says, "If we come out with a bunch of weenie beers, people are going to come out and say, 'That's what I expect from Bellevue.' So I decided, let's just come out and punch everybody in the face."
They're now backfilling into the lower percentages—the fours and sixes—and their 425 Pale Ale is a bit tamer at 4.8 percent.
In addition to the Flagship Series, BBC creates Brewer's and Seasonal Series. September wraps up the Bellevue Blonde, and beginning next month, a Brown and Baltic Porter will be available, which John says, "feels like you're drinking silk."
The guys have never brewed a test batch, instead choosing ingredients and standing by them. "I'm pretty passionate about how certain beers should taste, based on what I've had in the past, and Tony is an expert dialing that in," John says.
Flavor profiles are complex, and BBC is also enthusiastic about pairing, with a menu heavy on soups, sandwiches and pizzas, and famous for on-site smoked meats: pork, beef, turkey and lamb, braised in BBC's handcrafted beer.
The labels on their new bottles and soon-to-be-released cans all have pairing suggestions, which John says, "is the next step in beer evolution."
This is mostly due to beer's elasticity with recipes, John says. "The wine people will hate me, but beer is an order of magnitude more complex than wine. Beer's taste and flavor profiles are more unique.
"Beer is just more diverse because you have more ingredients that go into it. The wine guys will just want to tear me apart, but bring it on."
In speaking to diversity, the BBC has signed with a distributor to get their product everywhere in western Washington and seven counties in Oregon, including the beer-proud Portland area—both through drafts and packaged product.
Don't worry about John and the guys forgetting where they started, though. Now that they're nearing their one-year anniversary, they have more resources to help Bellevue youth, in the form of offering auction items to raise money for schools, using their corporate allies to offer internships and offering opportunities to help teens learn how the world works before "they get spit into it," John says.
And it's only the beginning. Big plans are currently in the works.
John knows there's a vast future ahead of all of them—of BBC—of Bellevue and the handcrafted beer industry. "This is like planning a trip to the moon," John says of BBC's opening. "We've already achieved a measure of success from just launching."
Or, from pouring that first Bellevue brew.
5 REFLECTIONS: JOHN ROBERTSON
Favorite activity at the Club: Weight-lifting, with cardio thrown in for good measure.
Personal quirk: I'm compelled to try and pronounce street signs out loud while in Hawaii. (I went to University of Hawaii).
Perfect day: Sleep late, big family breakfast, motorcycle ride, outdoor grilling, pour a craft beer, light up a cigar and spend time with family around the fire pit.
Favorite beer season: Fall and winter for complex beer styles, and also for fun pairing.
Favorite beer pairing: Bone-in rib eye on the grill with our IPA.
Michael Matti is a Seattle-based photographer who shoots everything from architecture to weddings.