Aslan Brings Organic Flavor To Bellingham Brewery Scene
When Jack Lamb and his friend and partner Frank Trosset founded Aslan Brewing in 2012, they were starting from scratch. Based out of a garage in the back of the Upfront Theater, the two men built a 5-gallon homemade brewing system and embarked upon their mission of crafting the perfect beer. Trosset brought his technical know-how and brewing experience to the project, and Lamb his knowledge of business and marketing. Lamb and Trosset were young, only in their mid twenties, but between the two of them they had the makings of a successful brewing company.
The first eight months of the company’s existence involved a lot of learning and improvising.
“We basically had to teach ourselves how to brew … on a commercial scale,” says Lamb, recalling the early days. Three weeks in, the partners added Pat Haynes to their team, who’s now the general manager at Aslan. The three men spent every day of every other week brewing. In that first eight months, they brewed over 130 batches – mostly ales.
At the same time, Lamb conducted market and demographic research to determine where they should establish themselves once they had outgrown the garage. They settled on a location on the corner of North Forest and Magnolia, leased the property, and spent another eight months completely remodeling the building from top to bottom. 20 months after Aslan brewing was first officially established, the Aslan brewpub opened its doors to the public.
The owners of Aslan Brewing are Pacific Northwest to the core. Each one sports a thick beard, can often be spotted in flannel. Lamb turned down a job at Microsoft in order to avoid being confined to a cubicle. He and Trosset chose to stay in Bellingham to open their brewery because they strongly identified with the community’s open-mindedness and focus on organic food. In Lamb’s own words, it was “good people, [and] good vibes.”
It’s no secret that Bellingham is home to its fair share of breweries. Alongside newcomers like Aslan and Wander Brewing are the well-established local giants: Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro, Kulshan Brewing CO, and the Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen. Despite all the competition, however, Lamb says the atmosphere among local brewers is supportive. When Aslan first got started, he and Trosset went to Kulshan and Chuckanut looking for advice.
“When we started we said [to the other brewers], ‘we’re new, we don’t really know what we’re doing. You guys are awesome; we’re not worthy.”
The veterans opened their arms, sharing their brewing knowledge, technical expertise, and even their yeast with the new guys. In the two years since Aslan got started, Lamb says, there has never been antagonism between them.
“It’s a fun, clean industry…so long as you aren’t Budweiser,” he laughs.
Lamb even believes that Bellingham has room for more breweries. His attitude is that if Bellingham had a brewery in every neighborhood, the city could become the Northwest’s destination for craft beer. In his opinion, the market could handle another five breweries before becoming saturated with local brew.
As for what sets Aslan apart amongst the competition, it’s all about being organic. The brewpub is a fully-certified organic brewery. Lamb wanted to make sure the ingredients for their beer came from farmers who had respect for their land and their products. The raw materials cost Aslan about three times what non-organic brewers pay, costs that Aslan doesn’t reflect in their prices. Lamb says it’s well worth it for them to ensure they produce the best quality and most sustainable food and beer they can.
The nurturing business environment in Bellingham has been kind to Lamb. At 26 years old he’s already a CEO, managing 37 employees. The road wasn’t always smooth, however. In the first eight months of Aslan’s existence, the company made efforts to reach out to customers on social media, and post pictures of their equipment and growing operation. The following they gained inadvertently caused one of their biggest challenges: for the first month the brewpub was open, its staff were nowhere near prepared to meet customer demand.
“The demand of the average person simply could not be met, which was really bad,” Lamb reflects. “A lot of people were left with a bad taste in their mouths.”
With time came experience, however, and the owners and staff have now found their groove. Servers have also used iPads to take orders since the beginning, cutting service time in half by avoiding a bottleneck at a point-of-sale location. They can also input orders and make corrections without leaving a table.
Although technology has been introduced in the storefront, the brewery itself remains manual. The managers believe this keeps them engaged with their craft, and affords them more control over the flavor of the beer.
“You lose the craft if you’re just punching in numbers and walking away,” explains Lamb.
Working at Aslan offers a lot to a prospective employee. Aside from the general perks, like a free beer after your shift and indoor bike parking, employees also gain practical skills, regardless of their position. Every employee at Aslan is required to go through the company’s ‘brew school’, where they learn the ins and outs of the process behind creating their product. Lamb believes that through the program, whether or not the employee remains in the industry, they’ll keep beer “in perspective” for the rest of their lives. He also offers one dollar kombucha in the back room, to offer his employees a healthy alternative to energy drinks.
In addition to providing great perks to for employees, Aslan also gives back to the community that supported it. In the six months since the brewpub opened, the company has already donated $5,000 in cash and goods to local charities. Although others might consider that amount a massive cost for a new business, Lamb stresses the need to show how much the company loves Bellingham.
“To me it’s so much more than just a cost,” he says passionately. “I think the value of donations and sponsorships is way higher than people think.”
Bellingham Will Always Be Home
The long term plans for Aslan are ambitious. In the next ten years, Lamb would like to see the company increase wholesale to the point where they can open up a distribution center in Seattle. That would allow the beer to be shipped along both the I-5 and I-90 corridors, providing a lot of new business. Lamb’s goal is to make the Aslan brand strong enough to outlast him as CEO.
The strong roots Aslan has in Bellingham aren’t going to disappear, however. The brewpub may well be the only storefront that the company ever opens, partly due to logistics. Mainly though, it’s because the managers consider Bellingham home. The brewery itself has plenty of room for expansion, with enough space to potentially more than double current production. If the city becomes Lamb’s envisioned Northwest beer hub, then customers will come to them, eliminating the need for another location.
Lamb even has an ideal order ready for customers visiting Aslan for the first time. For those with who don’t know what they want, he’d recommend the flagship Bellingham Brown Ale (the only brown made in the city) and a bison burger. More adventurous types might consider a seasonal offering, such as a pumpkin ale.
Regardless of your tastes in beer or food, Aslan has something to offer you. The company is continuing to grow, and looks to become a Bellingham staple. Given the company’s emphasis on providing quality organic food and drink, and giving back to the community, we’re lucky to have them around.