Seattle’s Can-do Brewery: Hilliard’s Beer

Much has been written already about Hilliard’s Beer, so I’ll try to keep this post brief. I first learned several months ago that construction was underway at Ballard’s newest brewery, so I’ve been keeping an eye on their progress. I was pleased to learn about the grand opening two weeks ago, and this past weekend Spouse, Daughter, and I were in the neighborhood so we took the opportunity to stop by and visit…

The story is pretty straightforward: home brewer pursues dream of producing beer on a commercial scale; leases some space; installs brewhouse; brews beer.

This is pretty much how every micro-brewery in the Seattle area gets their start; but then the fun begins. It’s one thing to produce good beer – after all in this area there’s an awful lot of it out there – it’s another thing entirely to get it into the mouths of beer drinkers.

Every time somebody comes up with the latest mouse trap – in the case of Seattle’s beer scene that generally means the greatest IPA ever brewed – the newbie goes on tap at the area’s favorite alehouses, and somebody gets bumped. Get bumped too many times and eventually you go bye-bye.

So, before I ever set foot in his brewery, I was impressed by Ryan Hilliard’s business plan: don’t get sucked into the IPA wars; avoid the finite tap conflict; get your beer into the mouths of beer drinkers at the peak of freshness and in the most efficient way possible.

That means brewing something outside the box, packaging your beer in cans – not bottles, and selling it to the consumer through specialty bottle shops, markets, and grocery stores.

As Ryan stated, the vast majority of beer consumption takes place at home, not in bars and restaurants, so his model hits the bullseye. And I would add that since this model works so well for shitty beer like Bud/Miller/Coors… It should work like a charm for a good beer… Like Hilliard’s.

From auto service shop to brewery

So far the execution has been very good; just look at how the former auto service shop from a defunct Chevy dealership has been transformed into the brewery.

As business partner Adam Merkl put it to me; as much attention to detail went into designing an energy efficient, easily expandable, modular brewhouse, as went into the exterior design of the building, the logo, can design, etc.

There’s no denying the taproom design is very imaginative; and I don’t think it was terribly expensive to put together. However right out of the gate it puts the Hilliard’s Beer taproom at least on par, and in many instances exceeding what the other production breweries’ have to offer.

Taproom

Taproom

Keep in mind I have visited every one in King County, and a good number in Snohomish and Pierce too, so I know what a good job Hilliard’s has done. Still, at the end of the day, it’s all about the beer.

It remains to be seen how that will be six months, twelve months from now, but I have high hopes (I do like to be able to buy local craft beer at my local QFC; and in cans, even better).

It’s early days yet but I believe Ryan and Adam are on to something. Right now the Amber Ale is available in cans, and small batch Stout and Scottish Blonde Ales are available at the brewery taproom, along with a killer root beer for the kids. Soon the brew that I believe will really differentiate Hilliard’s, and excites me the most – Saison – will be available in cans alongside the Amber.

We sampled the Amber and what might be the last batch of draft Saison before future batches go into cans. I am pleased to report that both brews are worth seeking out. If you can’t make it over to the brewery, look for the distinctive Hilliard’s cans in your local bottle shop or market.

Distinctive cans

The taproom is a fun gathering place. The industrial chic theme is great, the company lively, and the beer is good. Whenever we’re in Ballard during opening hours you can be sure we’ll be dropping by.

Also, on the strength of the small batch brews, I think I can say with some confidence that further down the line we can look forward to some unusual and innovative beer in cans. I wonder what window of opportunity Hilliard’s has before the other guys wise up and ditch their 22 oz glass bombers in favor of 16 oz aluminum tallboys. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Hilliard’s Brewery, located at 1550 NW 49th St, is an easy Fueled by Beer trip: use the map below to figure your optimum transit routing and itinerary.

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