The collegial feel among the region's brewers is no secret, but it's about to be taken to the next level. The Incubator, which is tentatively set to open in November in the historic Luminaria Building downtown, aims to become a true a co-op brewery. The location has been the home of Pink Salvage Gallery since 2011, which will be closing when its lease ends on Aug. 31.
The Incubator will do exactly what any entrepreneurial facilitator is intended to do — help small breweries grow, find their stride and ideally leave the nest after two or three years. There are currently only a handful of co-op breweries in the country.
To start, there will be two breweries in the Incubator: Young Buck Brewing, owned by Cameron Johnson, and Little Spokane Brewing Company, owned by Joe Potter. The plan is to expand to house five separately licensed breweries within the first year, and Johnson says there's already a running list of interested brewers.
"I think we're really trying to achieve an environment of collaboration, where everybody is contributing to each other's success," says Potter. "I think that can come from both collaboration and healthy competition in the business."
Potter is leaving behind a lifetime of office jobs to become a full-time brewer, though he's been a homebrewer for about a decade, and Johnson has been brewing for almost six years. Both have been actively involved in the local brewing scene for years, including the Inland Brewers Unite group, which unites local home brewers and breweries of all sizes.
Potter and Johnson met in the IBU group, where the concept for the Incubator was born a few years ago over a few "what-if" conversations with their friend Chris Batten, local real estate developer and fellow brewing enthusiast. Now the concept is just a few months from becoming a reality.
"We're moving quickly. Our equipment is 90 to 95 percent ready, so we just need to start renovation," Johnson says.
The brewhouse will have an attached 120-seat taproom and patio in the front called the Steel Barrel, which may open up shop before the breweries. It'll host small concerts and serve in-house brews as well as other local drinks, a craft cocktail menu and small food plates. Nitro cold brew coffee and kombucha also will be on tap.
"The really unique thing about our taproom is that you'll be able to talk to the owners of the breweries about their beer when you come in," said Johnson.
According to Johnson, Young Buck Brewery will be highly experimental. His plans include imperials, IPAs and sours brewed in wine barrels.
"Since we're not a production brewery, we have the freedom to be very experimental with our styles and what we want to brew," he said. "Personally, I don't plan on brewing the same beer twice for at least a year."
Unlike Johnson, Potter doesn't plan to go too crazy right off the bat — he says he intends to create beers that people are familiar with, and craft them well. He particularly enjoys brewing American takes on British styles, but he also plans to brew porters, IPAs and session beers.
"We want to brew what we think people will enjoy," Potter says. "A lot of times I think the public kind of decides for you where you're heading with your beers. But maybe we'll surprise you a bit." ♦