Washington's first member-owned brewery pulling pints again

Chris Maykut

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A pre-Covid evening at the Flying BikeCourtesy of the Flying Bike Co-op

By Bill Thorness, special to the Phinneywood Blog

When the Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery resumed pulling pints for in-house customers last June at 25 percent capacity, it included changes that we have become all-too accustomed to: separation screens between tables, an expanded outdoor sidewalk space, a screen at the bar for placing orders, and no more bar seating.

“We’re really working to make the experience as low-contact as possible,” said Neha Gandhi, board vice president.

The bathrooms received an extensive remodel, and while they were at it, the energetic crew refinished the bar top and all the table tops and gave those new screens a coat of paint.

Beer and biking have provided go-to relief for many people during the pandemic quarantine, and for the staff, board and membership of Flying Bike, it’s been gratifying to keep the Greenwood Avenue brewery a viable business.

Creativity and a federal PPP loan kept all 10 staff employed at their pre-pandemic level of hours. Energized members led a physical redesign so the brewery would be comfortable, safe and in compliance when allowed to reopen for seated business.

And—no small feat: “We’ve stayed open through this whole thing,” says Board President Tony Ridgeway, who led the all-volunteer board of directors with “basically another full-time job” to manage the changes.

If you’re not yet ready for public socializing, you can still help the brewery thrive. “Come by once a week and grab a growler or crowler,” Neha says. “Grab some beer for takeout and enjoy it in your backyard!” You might try the GPA, which does not involve taking a test. It’s the Greenwood Pale Ale, named for the neighborhood.

What’s really been sparking joy with the regulars has been the return of Bike Rye’d, a rye-based saison-style ale. Up next among a dozen-plus taps is a Belgian blonde ale. “They’ve really been hitting it out of the park lately” with the new beers, says Neha.

Next to brewing, revising physical operations has been the top task.

The staff has “rolled with the changes,” says Neha, and they’re vocal with appreciation about having their jobs when most of their other part-time gigs have dried up. They’ve also been key to the design changes, reviewing and guiding the member-led process.

Meanwhile, assistant brewer Jesse Young became a dad and took time off for his newborn daughter, so another assistant was brought on to help veteran brewer Kevin Forhan shepherd the ales.

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Courtesy of the Flying Bike Co-op

Member action has been at the heart of Flying Bike since opening its doors in 2015. That year, a crew of charter members led the brewery’s initial build. Today, 2,073 people have paid the $200 membership fee to become owner-members of Washington’s first cooperative brewery.

If you want to help even more, consider becoming a member, says the board leadership. “It’s one of the greatest ways for the community to support us,” says Neha.

Members get discounts, a logo t-shirt and pint glass and member-only events, and can participate in home-brew competitions, which hopefully can resume as we emerge from the pandemic. The funding also helps support the brewery’s activities, such as weekly charitable events. You can sign up online, and there is a payment plan if that investment is a bit much right now.

“Although it may seem expensive,” says Tony, “there’s a lifetime of opportunities!” And of course, you’ll be supporting the creation of refreshing, hyper-local beer.

Bill Thorness is a Phinney Ridge writer and charter member of Flying Bike.

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