It’s not surprising that Bellingham, Washington’s Aslan Brewing Co. is one of the fastest growing breweries in Washington State. The four owners of this organic brewpub hit the ground running after they opened their 15-barrel brewhouse and kitchen downtown in 2014. Less than three years later, Aslan has launched distribution of its cans across the state and expanded to a 30-barrel system with significantly more fermentation-tank space. The brewery is on track to brew 12,000 barrels in 2017.
Despite this massive growth, the atmosphere at Aslan Brewing is much more what you’d expect from a local pub or a draft-only nano brewery. Its tasting room is capacious but cozy, with long wooden tables for community seating and a modest bar with a chalkboard tap list. The walls of the two-story building are peppered with vivid canvasses from local artists, and there are perfectly pruned green plants placed throughout the space.
The beer list at Aslan is more akin to a smaller pub, too. In addition to Aslan’s five flagship beers, there are more than ten rotating beer styles on tap. Depending on the season, this list includes several hoppy and barrel-aged beers, Chai Milk Stout, Aslan’s Dunkelweizen, the Classic Light Lager, and the Disco Lemonade Berliner Weisse, for which the brewpub’s kitchen makes homemade woodruff syrup.
All those beers are all-organic, adds Aslan GM and Co-owner Patrick Haynes. “There’s not an ingredient that has touched our brewhouse that wasn’t USDA organic certified. We’re committed to always be organic.”
Aslan is also committed to making really great beer. Since its opening, Brewmaster and Co-owner Frank Trosset has created more than 130 recipes on the original pilot system. These varying batches, “in the pursuit of the perfect beer,” represent experimental ingredients and new beer styles but also simple tweaks on mainstays to dial in details. The five favorites that came out of this process were Batch 15 IPA, Dawn Patrol Pacific Ale, Ginger Rye Ale, B’Ham Brown, and American Stout, which are now all of Aslan’s flagship beers.
Batch 15 is brewed with 2-row and wheat to create its light and opalescent appearance. It’s juicy and citrus forward—and unfiltered, as are Aslan’s other IPAs, to spotlight the rawness of its organic hops.
“Unfiltered hoppy beers are the only hoppy beers in my opinion,” says Trosset. “It’s funny; there is this craze for New England–style IPAs right now, but if you talk to any of the pioneers in that region, I doubt they go around tooting their horns claiming that they are making that style of IPA. It’s more of a philosophy of making that style of beer. I love unfiltered hoppy beer, but I don’t claim that mine are New England style. I like mine to be slightly more bitter.”
Also not included within most style guidelines is Aslan’s Dawn Patrol Pacific Ale, a refreshing, medium-bodied rye beer with subtle pineapple notes. The Pacific ale style has really yet to be defined, though a few other breweries, such as Stone & Wood in Australia and Good Life Brewing in Bend, Oregon, are also labeling their beers as such. Generally speaking, Pacific ales are cloudy and golden-colored with a big fruity aroma and a refreshing finish.
“I don’t really like to get hung up on ‘style,’ but Dawn Patrol doesn’t really fit well within any style that I am aware of,” says Trosset. It’s brewed with a bit of caramel malt, and other than a small amount of Cascade and El Dorado hops in the whirlpool, its hopping happens in the fermentor.
“Our Dawn Patrol is mildly bitter and fruity,” Trosset says. “And it has a depth and complexity to it that is hard to explain,” he adds, attempting anyway. “It was born out of my first attempt at making a fresh-hopped beer. I used only fresh hops for the whole process, so the bitterness was hard to predict. It came out fruity, mild, complex, hoppy, amazing. The re-creation of that beer without fresh hops has been a three-year [project] that is still being perfected. But it’s about the journey, not the destination, right?”
Dawn Patrol’s balance of malt and hops and its clean, crisp finish make it a great match for many of the brewery’s kitchen offerings. Like its beers, Aslan’s food is completely organic and from a sourced collective of Washington farmers. It includes poutine, burgers, several rice and vegetable bowls, and churros. Every item on the menu is thoughtfully paired with one of Aslan’s beers.
“We believe our brewery is the complete package,” says Haynes. “We hope on some level to be leaders in the organic movement.”
Aslan’s lion logo, in case you were wondering, is not a reference to the famous C.S. Lewis children’s book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Aslan is a Turkish word that means lion. Aslan’s four owners—Haynes, Trosset, CEO Jack Lamb, and Trosset’s brother and Director of Sales, Boe Trosset—stumbled across it when they were writing the business plan.
“When we were deciding how to brand ourselves, we determined that we wanted to have a mascot,” Haynes says. “We liked the idea of a lion—it’s a powerful, regal creature. We wanted to establish ourselves prominently in Washington’s beer and food scenes, be king of the jungle.”
Beyond organic ingredients, Aslan’s tribe is deeply committed to protecting its jungle—well, really, its forest in the surrounding Bellingham area. “A lot of us moved here for the outdoors,” Haynes says. “Personally, I moved here to ski Mt. Baker. We’re just a bunch of outdoor junkies. It was natural for us to associate the brand with the outdoors.”
Aslan became a Certified B Corporation in 2016. (B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.) Also, last year the brewery donated 15.5 percent of its profits to local nonprofits and community organizations, many of which support environmental causes. For every kWh of electricity the brewery uses, a kWh of clean energy will be produced and put onto the grid through Arcadia Power. The brewery is a Downtown Improvement Gardens (DIGs, for short) steward; it captures water from the roof to water its outdoor rain gardens, sunflowers, hops, and raspberries.
From core beers to core values and down to every last detail, Aslan is very much an expression of its owners’ convictions. “We built this brewery with our bare hands,” says Haynes proudly. That was no small feat, either. The historic McBeath Building that the brewery occupies had to be renovated before the brewhouse was installed—both to preserve its history and reduce construction waste.
Haynes says people are often surprised about his age. “I just turned 31,” he says. “Our majority owner is 27, our head brewer is 32, and our fourth partner is also 31. It seems our continual drive, credit that to our ages or not, has turned heads with people. The businesses and beer lovers in this community have been very welcoming.”
Next for Aslan is a new barrel-aging facility and tasting room that will open down the street from the brewery’s original location on Forest Street later in 2017. “We believe that at a certain size, you start losing your soul,” Haynes says, explaining that the “certain size” is different for every brewery. For Aslan, Haynes says he and the other co-owners are comfortable with growth as long as they can stay committed to organic ingredients and stay focused on their community. “We are big believers that together we’ll continue to help cultivate Bellingham’s amazing beer scene.”
PHOTOS: COURTESY ASLAN BREWING CO.