For strong evidence that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all playbook for new craft breweries, look no further than Seattle. Two breweries in planning, Floodland and Unified, both are helmed by experienced brewers and both will likely be highly anticipated, but that’s about where the similarities cease.
Floodland is a solo endeavor from former Holy Mountain founder and brewer Adam Paysse, while Unified is—as its name would suggest—a joint venture from brewer Kevin Watson (ex-Hales Ales, Allagash and Elysian Brewing), Mike Baker (former founder and owner of Baron Brewing Company, founder of importer NW Beverage Group), Dean Hudgins and Ian Roberts (owners of The Pine Box bar), and businessman Larry Solomon. Ian Roberts and Mike Baker are also coorganizers of Seattle Beer Week.
Where Unified looks to be a confluence of its partners’ talents, Paysse says he’s founded Floodland to be “more a solo project than a collaborative effort.” Business models will also differ. Unified will open as a brewpub in the White Center neighborhood; Floodland will operate a bottle club model with no taproom at its facility in North Seattle.
Unified’s founders are playing their cards close to the chest in terms of what type of beer they’ll offer—”We’ll have both country and Western!” they joke—but do promise a mix of German, Belgian and American styles representing “a wide breadth of interests.” The cofounders emphasize that they want their business to be a part of the brewpub-as-community-center philosophy that’s been key to small breweries for decades.
“We’re all excited to help grow the entire neighborhood to be a destination for beer,” says Ian Roberts. “We’re excited to be a part of the community to really start working with everybody from music to shows to festivals.”
Owing to the cofounders’ long list of contacts in the industry, Unified also promises frequent collaborations and friendly engagement with other breweries.
“For those of us who have been around for 10, 15, 20 years, we remember what it was like to have more of a camaraderie in the industry,” says Mike Baker. “We want to be a voice that speaks to that and reminds people that this industry wouldn’t get where it is without the help of everyone. I think we’ll feel successful when we’re all smiling and having a good time and when we all support each other and help move this industry forward.”
If Unified seems like a party anthem where everyone contributes a guest verse, Floodland is one man’s laser-focused album. Paysse left Holy Mountain to concentrate solely on the mixed-fermentation, mostly barrel-fermented and blended beers he’s been hooked on since his homebrewing days.
“Floodland is me being able to showcase what I’m about and what my beers are about,” he says. “I like soft, balanced, drinkable beers. I think that there’s a tendency with American beers to go to the extreme flavor profiles and I really like that summer beer, that sitting in your backyard beer … but that doesn’t mean it should be without depth.”
Paysse has been brewing wort at friends’ breweries during the past months, then returning to his facility to fill his barrels with the wort and begin fermentation. He anticipates the first Floodland beers will be ready in November; in advance of that, he opened membership to his Oakworks bottle club in mid-July via the mailing list on his website, quickly filling the approximately 150 spots. (Sign up for the waiting list here.) The brewery will be very bottle-focused, Paysse says, because bottle-conditioning is a crucial piece of his beers’ development and fits into the winery-esque model he envisions for Floodland.
“The Bruery and Lost Abbey were doing bottle clubs really early on and taking aspects of the winery business model and incorporating it into the beer model. I really like getting the beer that way; when you have aged beer that doesn’t need to be consumed superfresh, a bottle club is really a smart model,” he says.
Though he won’t have a taproom open to the public, Paysse plans to offer periodic tours and tastings organized around the periods when bottle club members can pick up their beers.
There’s a sense of exclusivity there, in contrast to the neighborhood-steeped spirit of Unified. It speaks to the diversity of the brewery scene in 2017, a time when new breweries must have a clear vision of what they are and who they’ll appeal to if they’re going to succeed in a crowded marketplace. But one thing both breweries have in common? An obsession with the quality and individuality of what’s in your glass or bottle.
“I always talk about being intentional with the beer, beginning with the end in mind,” Paysse says. “The loftiest ambition should be to make beer that reflects what you’re passionate about.”
Ditto for Unified. “A lot of times, quick growth can be easy to come by as a new brewery and there’s a pressure to keep up with demand beyond your means. It’s important for all of us to really control the why’s and the how’s of our growth,” says Kevin Watson. “It’s about not cutting corners.”