has been open less than two months and its beers are already in more than a dozen restaurants and bars on the Eastside. For owner and head brewer Kirk Hilse, the initial success is all the sweeter because he’s making a name for himself in his hometown.
“I graduated from Woodinville High School back when it was new. When it came time to decide on a location for the brewery, I could afford Georgetown or Woodinville,” he said. Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood is hip, but he was drawn to his home turf: “It was a no brainer.”
Hilse opened his brewery and small tasting room late last year next to Haight Carpet (near McLendon Hardware), with tap handles that he made himself. Because it’s just a two-person business -- just Hilse and recently hired sales manager Jim Lanning (he’s also a certified beer judge, former executive officer in the Cascade Brewer’s Guild, the oldest homebrewing club in WA state, and a homebrewer in his own right with over 175 batches brewed)-- he kept the tasting room décor stark and simple and focused instead on keeping the place as clean as possible. When you walk into a brewery, he said, it shouldn’t be smelly.
The emphasis at Twelve Bar Brews is making good Northwest-style ales, Hilse said: “I just don’t like malty beers; I set out to make beer I like to drink.”
With more bars and restaurants adding Twelve Bar Brews to the lineup, it seems a lot of people share his tastes. In addition to being on tap around the Eastside (at restaurants that include The Alehouse & Eatery, Preservation Kitchen, and ), Twelve Bar Brews is available at the brewery six days a week, with free tastings and sale of growlers (half-gallon glass bottles of beer). The refillable bottle costs $5; another $8 will get if filled with choice of the ales on hand.
“It’s giving people draft-quality beer at home for $2 a pint,” Hilse said.
Hilse has been home-brewing for 18 years, with his eye on eventually opening his own microbrew business. In the interim, he worked as a senior employee for a manufacturer of hard disk recording workstations (where he got his small business experience) and then an engineer at Microsoft, while perfecting his brewing technique on his spare time. He still uses his home-brew equipment to grow his yeast for the brewery.
Of course, making a good-tasting beer is only half the challenge of getting a new brewery open. There was the hurdle of finding a bank that was willing to give Hilse a small business loan, no easy feat in the current economy; after four months he finally found a local bank that specialized in small business loans. Then there were hurdles he had to jump get licenses from the state and permits from the city (Woodinville is notorious for being difficult to deal with).
“It was a challenge,” Hilse said. “But the [Woodinville] building inspector I worked with was really great about telling me what I was going to need to do at each step.”
He tries to make his beer as sustainably as possible. He uses much less water in the process than many brewers, and his spent mash (a grain-heavy byproduct of the brewing process) is given to a local farmer, who feeds it to his livestock. And being a native son, Hilse said he looks to support other Woodinville businesses whenever he can. "McLendon's and I have a really great relationship. They must love me, I've spent a lot of money there."
His dream is to open a brew pub in Woodinville, with “better than average pub food,” but that’s on hold until the economy improves.