Interview by: Mark Sugiyama - Eclectic Arts Magazine
All Photos (except Grand Opening): Seattle Next Door (www.seattlenextdoor.com)
Grand Opening Photos: Courtesy of Dirty Bucket Brewing (www.dirtybucketbrewery.com)
Dirty Bucket Brewery is a new Nano brewery in Woodinville, WA. Founded by brothers Steve and Chris Acord, along with Steve’s wife Sharon handling the books, the brothers Acord held their official grand opening on April 14, 2012, from 11am – 9pm.
I arrived at 11:30am and the place was already packed. Dirty Bucket was pouring five beers (!) – Dirty Blonde, Dirty Amber, Filthy Hoppin’ IPA, XXX-tra Filthy IPA, and their Black Lab American stout. Both pints and taster flights were available.
An appearance by the deputy mayor of Woodinville capped off a great grand opening celebration. I enjoyed myself so much, and more importantly, the beers, that I followed up with Steve about doing an interview. I stopped by Dirty Bucket on April 28th to chat with Steve about all things beer.
EA: Steve, thank you for doing the interview. Let’s go all the way back - what’s your background?
SA: I was born and raised in California, the Modesto area. I was in the California National Guard and got activated in 1998. I ended up in Italy during the whole Kosovo campaign. Right when it was time for me to get out of the service, 9/11 happened. So, the military hung on to me a little bit longer and I transferred to Hawaii.
EA: Thank you for your service. It’s appreciated.
EA: When did you get into the whole home brewing process?
SA: During my time in Hawaii. I never really thought about home brewing but a neighbor had a kegerator. I thought the beer was really good and he was like,”oh thanks I made it myself.” And I thought he was bullshitting me (laughs). Once he showed me what he did, I was like that’s pretty cool and that’s how it started. I wasn’t even doing five gallon batches back then. I was doing like one and a half or two gallon batches on the stove top, you know? The first batches tasted like absolute crap, too. I started to read up more on it, educate myself, and it progressed from there.
EA: What kind of beer were you drinking prior to home brewing your own?
SA: Oh gosh, let’s see. I was drinking (paused to remember) Michelob Amber Bock. I always liked Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada – especially since I was from California and they were right there.
EA: How long did it take you to dial in your home brew recipes?
SA: A few months, I’d say, before I was comfortable giving it to friends and such. It was all bottled too. I wasn’t kegging anything when I started. Once I started kegging, I never wanted to see a bottling line again (laughs) as it’s so time consuming. Our flagship beer, Dirty Amber, my brother Chris designed the recipe for it. Our Filthy IPA was another recipe that we had dialed in back then.
EA: When did you make the move to Washington state?
SA: I got out of the service in 2005. Back when I was living in California, I was working for Costco. So, when I got out of the service, I wanted to work for them again. I applied at the corporate headquarters and got rehired and that’s what brought me to Washington.
EA: So do you still have a full time job?
SA: Yeah, still have a full time job with Costco.
EA: In the future, when do you see yourself working at the brewery full time?
SA: Realistically, probably at least a year and a half, maybe two years. The brewery doesn’t pay the bills right now. This is something I wanted to venture into and eventually make it a full time business and expand with a production facility.
But because it doesn’t pay our bills, I can control our growth, which is nice. I can control our marketing, everything. I don’t have to rush to make ends meet. I’m going into this relaxed and I enjoy brewing.
It’s amazing how many calls I’ve received already. Restaurants, pubs, bottle shops, saying “I want to be your first account, we want to carry kegs of your beer”, just amazing. We’re not even ready for a wholesale distribution yet but when that time comes I have eighteen (tap) handles ready to go. When I’m ready to move in that (expanded) direction, I will. We’re enjoying keeping the tap room stocked right now.
EA: I was kind of surprised when I came to the grand opening that you already had five styles of beer ready to go. Most new breweries usually have one or two of their own beers and some guest taps. So I thought it was ambitious that you guys came out of the gate with five beers.
SA: We’re a small brewery. We already had people looking at us wondering what we had to offer. I wanted to let them know that we’re ready. One thing about brewing on a small system is that I’ve got nine fermenters. So I can have nine different beers going at one time. That’s what was important to us to be able to have a variety going.
It’s interesting you get excited about a brewery opening. For me I don’t go to a grand opening to taste some other breweries beers. I go to a new brewery to try their beers, to see what they’ve got. Having a grand opening on a larger system, you’re only as big as your fermenters. So if you only have one or two fermenters, you can only have one or two types of beer. With a small system and nine fermenters, I can pour five beers or do double batches of four beers. That’s what we wanted to offer on our grand opening.
We put out our bests players (beers) that we knew were solid and have them ready. Outside of the pale ale which was just released two weekends ago (right after the grand opening); we had been brewing the other beers we offered for years. We know that they’re...
SA: Yeah, and well received. People liked them. So we weren’t intimidated by anything. Well, having 300 people show up on the grand opening was a little intimidating (laughs). I told my brother that if someone comes into the taproom and says they don’t like any given beer, that’s because they don’t like that style of beer. It’s not because it’s a crappy IPA or pale, it’s just that they’re not IPA drinkers.
We brew everything that we enjoy drinking. We don’t brew a lot of wheat beers because we’re not big fans of ‘em. If I brew something that I’m not passionate about drinking, that passion isn’t going to go into the beer. My brother is passionate about ambers and pales. Even our blonde isn’t your ordinary blonde. When I go to a pub, I rarely order a blonde. But, we add spices to it to add character and our own spin on it and it’s been a huge success. I can’t get over how many people have been drinking it.
So, there were no surprise batches of beer on the grand opening. There were some surprises in terms of the processes along the way to get Dirty Bucket open. Oh my God, we we’re scrambling on some stuff. Randy, the brewer from Snoqualmie Brewing, has been an absolute saint! He’s been an amazing, an amazing mentor, whether he knows he has been or not (laughs). Any time I have a question it’s almost like he’ll drop what he’s doing and help.
I travel extensively for my job with Costco. Everywhere I went around the country, either the brewery owner or the brew master would be so inviting. They’d take me in the back, show me their equipment, answer my questions, etc. Other than one person, we have been blown away by the industry itself. It’s a tight community where everyone wants to help each other.
A good example: somebody saw my quote on Facebook from Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head Brewery, Milton, Delaware) and passed it on to Sam. (Dirty Bucket has the quote “Starting small but dreaming big” painted on their brewery wall which is a quote from Sam Calagione – Mark) First Sam emails me and tells me how honored he was and I’m thinking to myself “are you kiddin’ me?” Then he actually calls and says, "if there’s anything you need or I can help you with, give me a call." Sam then put me in contact with his brewery manager and it just blew me away, very overwhelming. He said “you’re going to love it - the craft brewing industry is great place to live.” So to have that kind of reception, that kind of welcome, I want to pass that on. I want to keep that sentiment going.
Brickyard Brewing is opening up real soon here in Woodinville and anything I can do to help them with their processes with getting open, I’m happy to do. I want to make sure I pay all that good will forward, you know? To payback what all the brewers have done for me.
EA: I’ve often said that if you’re a new brewery in Washington, one of the best aspects is that as soon as the word gets out, people will come check out. It’s not like a restaurant or a local retail business where just getting people in the door is difficult, beer people will give you a chance if you’re a new brewery.
SA: Yeah! I mean we had people from Portland here on the grand opening. Vancouver BC. I was just blown away.
EA: Do you have any future plans to do something with the other eastside breweries?
SA: Yeah we are. Twelve Bar, Brickyard, and us – the three from Woodinville, will be doing something together in August. Pike Brewing is going to host us. They’re calling it the breweries from the “Wood Hood” night. So that’ll be fun.
I would love to do collaborative beers with other Nano breweries. I want to do a north - south collaboration with Doan's Craft Brewing in Vancouver BC. We both brew on the exact same system. Beaux’s All Natural Brewing in Ontario. They’ve been really great to me, too. I’d like to do something with them. They’re a large scale brewing company but I still want to do something with them. Sort of a David and Goliath type of collaboration.
EA: It’s great to see the eastside coming alive with all these new breweries. I grew up in Kirkland and there was nothing out here except Redhook. Mac N Jack’s too but they didn’t have a tasting room. Then eventually Black Raven in Redmond, Jim’s place Foggy Noggin, and then Twelve Bars, and so on. I’m out in Edmonds now.
SA: We actually brewed our Dirty Amber down at Gallagher’s (Where You Brew) in Edmonds before we had our system. We did a large scale batch there just to test it and see how it scaled out as a large batch.
EA: Is there anyone else locally that you’ve talked to that helped in terms of getting Dirty Bucket open?
SA: The guys at Woodinville Whiskey Company. Woodinville is a beast of its own in terms of trying to open a business, let alone a brewery. They were really helpful with the process like, “okay, when you get to this step, this is what’s going to happen” that sort of thing, kind of giving us a heads up of what to get ready for from the city. It helped me to budget a lot of things with that sort of information.
And, again, the guys from Snoqualmie Brewing - Randy and Kevin have helped out the most. Right before we had the grand opening here, some of our beer was flat. I mean water flat. Come to find out we had a leak on one of our CO2 tanks so we weren’t getting the pressure that we thought we were getting. So we had to jerry-rig this little contraption with a penny to get things back in business.
We literally had to stay here one night force carbonating kegs. Two days before the grand opening! So, yeah, it was a mad dash to the grand opening, for sure. But those guys helped me keep my cool and got me through it.
EA: So where do you want to see Dirty Bucket in a year?
SA: Other than getting out more in the community, the brewery itself won’t really change. As far as the business end of things goes, I want to be much more involved in the community. We’re going to be at Hops n’ Crops in Auburn. I definitely want to do a lot of charity stuff, things that make a difference. We’ll be at the Shoreline event that benefits 4-corners.org in August, too.
When people come into our brewery, I want them to be able to see it, smell it, everything, the whole process. I want Dirty Bucket to be almost like it’s your brewery. One of our beers, our oatmeal stout, was named by a fan before we even opened. We had a contest on Facebook for that. We like engaging our fans. We’re going to do a fan IPA where the fan can bring in their hops and we’ll wet hop an IPA using their hops and put it on tap here.
I also want to get involved with the home brewers clubs in the area. Maybe do a competition and whoever wins allow them to come over here and brew their beer on our system and put it on tap here as a guest tap. Their friends can come drink their beer at Dirty Bucket.
EA: I like that. It’s really, really grassroots.
SA: Yeah, absolutely.
EA: Will you be at any of the Washington Festivals this year?
SA: We’ll be at the Washington Brewer’s Festival at Marymoor Park in Redmond this year – over Father’s Day weekend. I haven’t committed to any of the other Washington Commission events yet. I may do the new Everett one as I have a lot of friends in Everett.
EA: What beers do you have coming up down the line?
SA: Irish Red coming up real soon. We have an Apricot Blonde – around middle of the summer. We’ll probably release that after the Washington Beer Festival. We have a porter that we’re going to release in late summer. We’re going to be aging that one with Woodinville Whiskey’s barrels so that’ll be a fun one.
We’re trying to do something with the local Washington fruit growers. They’ve reached out to me. They want to do a hard cider. The Rainier cherries – we want to play around with those in a fruit beer.
EA: Have you guys messed around with a pumpkin beer for October?
SA: Yes, that’s a definite yes. We have a pumpkin coming out for sure.
EA: I saw that you guys already have a label for a Cascadian Dark Ale. When is that coming out?
SA: Yes! You’ll get a chance to try that Friday night at the Washington Brewer’s Festival. That will be our Friday only beer. It’s called Full Nelson.
EA: How do you manage to work both your day job and brew beer/open the tap room?
SA: Well, with my job for Costco, the traveling is to our warehouses at least once a quarter. So on those travel days, the taproom might be open only Friday and Saturday (and closed Sunday). We may open Thursday night just to offset the Sunday closure.
I have to plan the batches too. My brother Chris lives in Indiana. He flew out for the Grand Opening. Brewing wise right now I’m a one man shop. My wife helps with the taproom when we’re open. Chris will fly out for the Washington Brewer’s Festival – help pour. Be here for all the fun stuff (laughs).
So I’ll go to work around 6:30am. I’ll get off around 2:30pm. Come here and brew and then leave around 9pm. I’ve been working that schedule all week, just trying to get these kegs filled.
EA: I saw that with the grand opening, you ran out of beer. What time was that?
SA: 4:30pm. We opened at 11am that day. I was expecting maybe 150, dreaming of 200 people that day. We had a little over 340 people show up that day seemingly all at once. I was like are you kidding me? We were overwhelmed by the support and it just blew me away - absolutely amazed by the support.
My brother designed all of our labels and such, that’s what he does for a living with marketing and design. So we got the hype going for the brewery and then our Facebook went nuts and then the Washington Beer Blog piece just raised the exposure that much higher. Then Woodinville Weekly did a piece on us. It was crazy but it was fun. It was a good problem to have!
We set out on the grand opening with eighteen kegs. We thought that should last until about 8:30pm. 4:30pm man we we’re blowing foam. I felt bad that we had to close early.
EA: I know the following weekend after your grand opening you were only going to be open on Saturday but you ended up opening Sunday too. Is that right?
SA: Yeah. The Woodinville wineries had the Wine Passport weekend going on around here. I knew we’d be busy but not as busy as the grand opening. We had a nice steady stream of customers on Saturday. And one corner of the market I forgot about was the wineries themselves. On Saturday night after pouring wine all day the last thing they wanted was a glass of wine. So a few of the wineries brought their staffs here on Saturday night and just winded down the day with our beer as a way to thank their staffs for all the hard work they did on Saturday.
Then they asked about Sunday and I thought, well, I might as well open, designate X amount of kegs. If we sell out, that’s alright. If not, they’ll stay in the cooler. We weren’t as busy as Saturday but we had a steady stream of people come in again, made just a little less money than on Saturday, all in all a great weekend.
EA: Where do you see things in five years for Dirty Bucket?
SA: Our original small system here will always be in use. When we move onto a larger system, that’ll be the production side and the original system will be the pilot side. We will continue the tradition of what we started. We will continue being involved with the community. We will continue making one off beers. Listening and incorporating fan feedback. If our fans our telling us, say, via Facebook don’t brew that crap or we did a pilot version and the majority of people didn’t like it, we’re going to listen to that information.
You know if someone has, say, a wedding coming up and they want a certain beer that we don’t have in production, we can brew it for them, a special order type of beer.
And you know it’s a small batch. If something isn’t working, I’m out fifteen gallons of beer. I’m not out thousands of gallons like a production brewery. It makes a big difference.
EA: Are you guy’s members of the Washington Beer Commission and the Washington Brewers Guild?
SA: We are members of both. The Senior Director of the Washington Beer Commission was here on the grand opening and was blown away. Here we are a ½ barrel system and there are 300 people out there.
EA: Do you have anything coming up for Seattle Beer Week?
SA: We will have our XXX Extra Filthy IPA back on tap here in the taproom. That’s also the same time as American Craft Beer Week. We’ll be running a promotion that if you come in wearing your Dirty Bucket t-shirt; you’ll get $3.50 pints (check the website or Facebook for more details – Mark). We’ve also been invited to a brewer’s night during Seattle Beer Week.
I live in Sammamish so I go to Malt N Vine (awesome bottle shop in Redmond – Hi Doug! - Mark) all the time. They were just here last weekend. They invited me to do a brewer’s night there so we’re working the details out of that, too.
EA: I really like your approach to the business, about keeping it with your roots and such…
SA: After traveling around and talking to so many different people, I talked with my brother and he was like “so should we do this?” And I said, “Chris, the only difference between those guys and us is that they did it. That’s the only difference. That’s it.”
You listen to their stories they all started in their garage, their basement, you know? And it was like, screw it, let’s do it. It’s what we’re passionate about. So we made it happen.
When I look back, even though we’re brand new, I think of all the people that helped us, words of encouragement, it’s just amazing. I want to continue that. Let’s make everyone successful, not just ourselves. That’s one of Sam’s (Calagione) philosophies.
I actually asked his assistant if they minded that I put the quote from Sam on the wall here. I didn’t want to get in trouble putting Sam’s name up on my wall. And she started laughing. She was like “oh my God, wait until he sees this”. It would be awesome if Sam came back out, endorse Dirty Bucket.
EA: Do you ever think the craft brewery industry in Washington will ever peak?
SA: The good thing about craft beer in Washington is that we’re not Budweiser, meaning we’re not making the same beer over and over again. You have these local breweries, like Elysian, that I look up to, that are constantly coming up with new beers. They’re big production facilities but they keep inventing new beers. As long as we can continue to come up with new, innovative beers, and keep innovation alive, it’ll never peak. As long as we, as brewers, continue to be passionate about innovation and creating new beers, I honestly don’t see how it can peak.
The only exception would be if Dirty Bucket just made a blonde, an amber, and an IPA. If we just let ourselves stagnate. But, that’s not what we’re about. We will continue to make beers that we love to drink, create new beers for people to try, and have fun in the process.
Steve and Dirty Bucket Brewery have been invited to a Brewer's Night at The Brave Horse Tavern on Sunday May 13th at 6:00pm.
Much thanks to Steve @ Dirty Bucket Brewery for taking the time and to Kendall @ Washington Beer Blog http://www.washingtonbeerblog.com for re-posting this interview.
Dirty Bucket Brewery
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