A chat with the owner of one of Spokane's newest - and largest - craft breweries

click to enlarge DEREK HARRISON PHOTO
Derek Harrison photo

It's an unusual origin story in the Inland Northwest brewery scene. Bret Gordon decided he wanted to open his own commercial brewery. Then Gordon decided he wanted to open his own commercial brewery in Spokane — a place he had never lived.

He was living in his native Southern California at the time and working at the Bruery, a large production brewery in Orange County. Before that, he studied brewing at the University of California San Diego and was the brewer at a brewery in Santa Monica.

He moved to Spokane to avoid being a small fish in a large sea of breweries, which is arguably the case in cities like San Diego and Los Angeles. Instead, he wanted to be a part of a community he thought had plenty of room for growth. It's what led to the opening of Lumberbeard Brewing, a 20-barrel brewhouse on the east end of downtown.

We talked to Gordon about his decision to open a brewery here, and his plans moving forward. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

INLANDER: Why did you choose Spokane as the home for Lumberbeard Brewing?

GORDON: I started coming up to Spokane in 2000. My sister went to college here. I have another sister who now lives here. I have some cousins who live up here. I've been coming to Spokane for 19 years, so it's always been a part of my life.

Living in Southern California, the brewery scene there is pretty packed full. When I decided I wanted to start a brewery, I came up to Spokane, went to the breweries and felt like there's a huge opportunity here. I think the beer scene in Spokane is growing. It's on an upward trajectory, but I think it has a ways to go. To be a part of something growing and booming sounded like an exciting opportunity. To not just be another one out of 40 million breweries.

When you say the local beer scene still has "a ways to go," what do you mean?

The quality of beer in Spokane and just the size of the breweries. You look at the population of Spokane, there's places that are much smaller with huge breweries. Much smaller cities with many more breweries. Some of the breweries like Whistle Punk, Hidden Mother, Perry Street have raised the bar of beer in Spokane, and they're continuing to get better and better and better. I think people are starting to figure out, "Oh, that place does make better beer than that place" and they can tell the difference. Spokane is finally growing into a place where the beer can be good, and I think it could be a beer destination.

How are you going to hold Lumberbeard to that standard?

Coming from places that make beer on a consistent basis, I have somewhat of an idea of what I'm doing — at least I like to think so. Hiring Tanner [McKinlay, formerly of River City Brewing] was awesome because he has experience working in breweries, he knows what beers should taste like, he knows how to clean. We're having a quality control program with us tasting the beer every step along the way, and then at the very end, we need to make sure that this beer is good and not just serviceable.

Part of it is just experience. When I was a homebrewer, I totally thought I knew what I was doing — and I did make good homebrew. Then when I got into a commercial setting, I was like, "Whoa, this is very different." There's so many things that I didn't think about, and all these things matter a lot more on a large scale.

What are some of your first goals for the brewery?

Our plan is to distribute off the get-go. I'm going to self-distribute. I want to keep it as local as possible, for as long as possible. Basically inundate Spokane with Lumberbeard beer, and then grow as quickly as we can. I think Spokane wants to drink local, but there aren't as many breweries that can supply it. Most breweries are big enough to supply their own taprooms and that's it. We want to be able to supply every restaurant and bar that wants our beer and also our own taproom.

Are you planning to can or bottle your beer as well?

Yeah, I mean, the growth and the packaging kind of go hand-in-hand. We're doing just kegs for now. The next level of expansion will probably be a canning line and more fermenters. ♦

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About The Author

Derek Harrison

Derek Harrison is the Inlander art director. He has received national recognition for his editorial layout. A graduate from Washington State University, he is a Spokane native with a background in editorial design and photojournalism.