“Life is just a little more honest after two beers,” states a poster on the door of the 2 Beers Brewing Co. tasting room. Called “The Woods,” the new tasting room is decorated with warm grain-sack light fixtures and wood slats that bring the ceiling low, giving an intimate feel to a spacious warehouse. And the crowd packed into the room makes the party feel even more cosy. A lively bunch of loyal followers are here to celebrate 2 Beers’ sixth anniversary, and 2 Beers isn’t holding back.
“Who wants to win free shit?” shouts Joel VandenBrink, owner and founder of 2 Beers Brewing Company, standing tall on the bar. The crowd cheers and he draws raffle tickets from a steel bucket. Outside, Where Ya At Matt food truck serves codfish po’boys and crumbly cornbread with honey butter. A woman at the door greets people while partaking of chocolate cake, and nearby chats the head taster, Dan, who is easy to spot in a crowd with a roman number “VI” shaved into the sides of his head. Everybody’s in the mood to celebrate.
This isn’t any normal night for the young brewing company. In addition to celebrating an anniversary, they’ve unveiled a new logo, new cans, and new labels for their entire line of products, which are sold Central Market, PCC, Whole Foods, QFC, and other bottle shops. They’ve also released a Sixth Anniversary IPL (a hoppy lager), and Overhang Bourbon Aged Imperial Porter, the final beer in Two Beers Brewing’s Alta Series. And on top of all that, Joel just opened Seattle Cider Co. (“Seattle’s first cidery since Prohibition”) next door, in August.
Joel moves quickly on projects he’s excited about. In March he got financing for a 5000-square-foot lease, and by August the line of customers waiting for his cider was going “out the door.” Asked if he’s got any other projects coming up, Joel widens his eyes as if to say “Lemme get a break first,” but then points to his head. “There’s a pinball machine up here,” he says.
So how did a beer guy end up making cider? A few years ago, Joel was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which is exacerbated by gluten, a key element in beer. Rather than letting this disease derail Joel from the business he loves, he started thinking about cider as an alternative for a fast-growing number of people with gluten intolerance or allergies. “It is and it isn’t,” Joel said about gluten intolerance as a growing problem. “There are a lot of gluten-intolerant wannabes,” he jokes, but adds, “Nobody’s going to feel as good when they’ve got gluten in their system…Cider is just fructose. You’re gonna feel better drinking that.”
He plies me with glasses of the Semi-Sweet, the Dry, and the seasonal Pumpkin Spice cider (a fragrant showcase of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg). When asked if he finds a gender divide between male beer drinkers and female cider drinkers, he says there used to be a lot of that, but now the lines are blurring. “A lot of guys come in and order a beer, and they bring their significant other who orders a cider. By the second glass, the guy’s drinking the cider.” With beer, he tends to find an 80/20 ratio of male to female drinkers, but with cider “it’s 50/50.” All his brewers drink the Dry, and Dan, the head taster, waxes poetic about its clean, pleasant acidity. Unlike other sweet ciders, the Dry has 0 Brix (the unit of measurement for how sweet something is). “It reminds me of champagne,” a guest remarks.
Joel talks about his cider as if it’s more than just a tasty beverage. Because of his experience with Crohn’s disease, as well as two of his brewers recently being diagnosed with Celiac disease (another condition exacerbated by gluten), Joel views his cider as a product that helps gluten-intolerant people have a good time who couldn’t otherwise partake. The company also donates to Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.
But Joel’s connection to the community goes all the way back to the start of his business. “I started a business because I believe local business can and does give back to the community,” Joel says. “If I can keep my dollar in the community, that dollar goes a long way…I make money and give money back to the community.” The company uses Washington State grains and hops “as much as possible,” Joel points out. The new logo for the company incorporates the urge to “Drink Local.”
March of Dimes is another organization close to Joel’s heart. The company pours free beer at major events for March of Dimes. “My mom used to go door to door for them,” Joel says. “I’m second-generation.” The company also donates its beer to the annual Turkey Bowl at West Seattle Bowl.
The company also donates their time for trail restoration with the Mountaineers, and beer and proceeds to the Washington Trails Association. “We try to find charities we really associate with,” Joel says. Hiking gear adorns the company’s new logo. “Everybody here hikes,” says Caitlin Braam, 2 Beers’ PR and marketing consultant, looking around at the bartenders, some of whom wear plaid lumberjack shirts, and the tasting room, painted with evergreen trees on the walls of “The Woods.” “A lot of hikers, a lot of back-packers.” Do they take their own beers on the trail? You bet. The brewers favor, of course, the Trailhead ISA.