MLT’s Hemlock State Brewing on tap to welcome customers in January

What started as a friendship a few years ago for three homebrewers quickly became a full-fledged business that involved making beer in a Shoreline garage. Now those three friends are upping their game, converting more than 2,000 square feet of commercial space in Mountlake Terrace’s Arbor Village complex into a new production brewery and taphouse.

The three hope to begin making beer in their new space next month and open for customers in January.

Hemlock State Brewing Company is the creation of Mark Dunford, Jerret Botch and Michael Ernst. “Seeing this coming in physical form is pretty crazy for us,” said Dunford. “Even just putting the stickers up on the (window) glass was beyond exciting for us.”

The three have collaborated since 2012 and run Hemlock State Brewing out of Botch’s Shoreline garage since 2015; their beer proved so popular that hopes for expansion brewed quickly.

“We ran that location for three years just being open on Saturdays, selling most of what we would make in a week,” Dunford explained. “We started looking at this space (in Mountlake Terrace) in April 2017; we’d been looking to expand probably a year before that.”

Due to having just one fermenter in the garage, Hemlock State Brewing was restricted in its volume of production, including being able to produce a keg of ale for bar owners, stocking their brews only every few weeks. In addition, state liquor regulations limited sales of their beer onsite to growlers (64 ounces). With a growing demand from customers wanting a place to simply enjoy a glass of beer and from local bar owners interested in purchasing more kegs, the search for more space was on.

“This solves both problems: gets production up and allow pints to be sold here,” Dunford said of the new Mountlake Terrace location.

Two ground-floor business suites of Arbor Village are being converted to support brand-new 7 1/2-foot-tall fermenters and other equipment needed for commercial beer production. The new location will also allow Dunford, Botch and Ernst to expand the type of beer they brew.

“We had 15 different ales that we did out of the garage,” Dunford explained. “Ales can be fermented at roughly room temperature whereas lagers need to be under 38 degrees — without temperature control on your tanks you can’t do that. But with these guys, they’re jacketed, so we can run coolant through them and refrigerate them so we can get the yeast to act the way we need it to. So we can do lagering here.”

While the brewery will have a cold room for storage and space for customers to sit, sip and relax, the business will be without one element that might surprise some visitors — there will be no kitchen for food service. That decision was made after consulting with some other brewery owners in Washington state.

“What we kept hearing coming back was the restaurant model is not the model that’s working best right now,” Dunford said. “So from a business standpoint it made more sense to just do the taphouse.”

Without food service, Dunford pointed out that customers will have the option to do something not allowed at restaurants: “By not having a restaurant we’re able to allow people to bring food in,” he stated. “So you can order a pizza and have it delivered here — or order us one too.”

Dunford also noted that making Hemlock State Brewing Company a taphouse will distinguish it from one of Mountlake Terrace’s most successful new businesses of the past few years, Diamond Knot Brewpub @ MLT.

“We love the guys up at Diamond Knot,” Dunford said. “We think they’ve got a good model that’s been working for them there. So the beauty of this is you have a model where if you want to go out to eat, Diamond Knot’s fantastic. It’s good pub food and you can grab a great beer there. Then if you want to bring something in or grab a pizza at Pagliacci or whatnot and bring it in, you can (here).”

Hemlock State Brewing hopes to help with the food options that could be brought into their taphouse. Dunford, Botch and Ernst are trying to get city officials to approve the idea of allowing rotating food trucks to park outside the business on the corner of 236th Street Southwest and 56th Avenue West.

The three Hemlock State Brewing owners said part of what drew them to the Town Center District of Mountlake Terrace was the development that city leaders are hoping to see in the area.

“We were encouraged by what Mountlake Terrace is doing with the downtown corridor,” Dunford said. “We looked at a variety of areas — we had a really good real estate agent who was aware of what was going on with this and kind of aware of the opportunity of being on the corner of what they’re doing with 236th and what they’re doing with 56th.”

“We felt like it’s a good place to kind of lay down some anchors, lay down some roots,” he added.

And landing a spot on the ground floor of Arbor Village, a five-story mixed-use building with four floors of apartments overhead, has its advantages, Dunford pointed out.

“From a business standpoint, there’s nothing like having customers upstairs,” he said.

For Dunford, Botch and Ernst, Hemlock State Brewing Company is no longer a hobby; the three are determined to make the brewery/taphouse a success. They sold all their old brewing equipment and closed down the garage site last July in preparation for the Mountlake Terrace opening.

Also, Botch and Ernst are quitting their day jobs (as a UW dialysis researcher and a Microsoft project manager, respectively) in order to work at the brewery/taphouse full-time. Dunford will continue working as a graphic designer at CRISTA Ministries for now.

“We signed a 10-year lease with two five-year options, so we intend to be here arguably 20 years plus,” Dunford concluded. “We’re planning on the long term.”

— Story and photos by Doug Petrowski

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