Twin Sisters Brewing Company does not have the typical origin story of a craft brewery – initially intended to be a taproom with food trucks, Twin Sisters has become a staple of the Bellingham, WA community and has a growing fan base within the Pacific Northwest. To learn more, we sat down with Catfish, Head Brewer for Twin Sisters, to discuss his journey in the craft beer industry.
Tell me about yourself. What’s your background, when did you first hear about Twin Sisters, and how did you become involved?
I started brewing as a homebrewer when I was living in Japan. The beer scene in Japan is predominantly light lagers and I wanted to be able to also drink American hoppy beers, so that’s how I got started in brewing. There’s a pretty small yet tight-knit community of homebrewers in Japan, and from that small community, I was able to start working at breweries over the summer while I taught during the school year.
In 2013, I applied for a brewing job with Chuckanut Brewery and moved with my wife and three kids from Japan to Bellingham, WA. Once in Bellingham, I eventually transitioned into a position to brew for Twin Sisters. I started brewing for Twin Sisters in February of 2018 before the official opening in August of that year. I worked with the former Head Brewer, Tom Eastwood, and once he left about a year after the brewery opened, I took over as Head Brewer.
When did you realize you wanted to work in the craft beer industry?
I would say when I was home brewing in Japan, I began to imagine myself working in the industry. It’s a very common dream among homebrewers to one day see your beers on store shelves.
Tell us about Twin Sisters. How did the brewery get started? When was it founded?
Prior to officially opening in August of 2018, Tom had been working with the owners for about eight months, converting what was then a woodshop and construction storage space into a brewery. Otherwise, the owners had begun creating a foundation and plan for what Twin Sisters Brewing would be in early 2017 and eventually began brewing in June of 2018.
What was the first beer you drank?
When I was younger, one of my best friends was very proud of his (Boston) Irish heritage, so I vividly remember drinking a lot of Guinness. I was living in Cape Cod at the time, so we would go to the package store and pick up a crate or whatever we could afford.
What’s your all-time favorite Twin Sisters beer?
I would have to say our Pilsner. I used to enjoy the bigger-bodied, hoppier beers, but I have become a huge fan of good lagers. To me, Pilsner is the perfect beer; crisp and refreshing but balanced hoppy and bitter. If I’m out having a beer, it’s most likely a Pilsner.
What is Twin Sisters Brewing’s best-selling beer?
Usually, our most successful beer is the Successor, a delicious hazy IPA focused on Simcoe and Citra hops. It’s not as hazy as your typical hazy IPA, but the balance is amazing with it being not too bitter and having strong tropical fruit flavors with a little bit of dankness.
We recently released another hazy IPA that’s a benefit for salmon restoration called J-Pod, which is named after one of our local orca whale pods. Ten percent of J-Pod’s proceeds go to benefit salmon restoration in the area – we’re very proud of that beer. It’s actually outsold Successor since its release. We’re excited to be able to help the local ecosystem and community in this way; and it’s a great beer!
What is your favorite beer to brew?
That’s a tough question. It’s always fun to try new things when you’re brewing – we brew quite a bit of IPA and lager, so it’s fun when we get to brew dark beers or sours. Outside of that, I love being able to collaborate with other brewers, either having them come into our brewery or going out to their operation and seeing what kinds of hurdles they have to overcome to brew their beer. Those are the best kinds of beers to brew because you get to nerd out with somebody who’s just as passionate as you are.
Twin Sisters was initially going to be a taproom with food trucks and instead turned into a restaurant, beer garden, as well as a taproom & brewery. What do you think inspired that change?
It was a gradual progression from the initial idea of a taproom with food trucks. If you have seen our space, there were originally two buildings – one very large building and one small building. The owners saw that if they were going to have food trucks, they would also need a commissary kitchen to supply the trucks, and then gradually realized that with a kitchen it was practically a restaurant already. They also realized if they were buying beer from local breweries to have in the taproom, it would make more sense to brew their own beer. That thought process ended up creating Twin Sisters, which is now home to a restaurant with a full bar, a massive beer garden, and taproom and brewery.
Speaking of your beautiful facilities, has the restaurant’s full bar influenced any of your brewing recipes? Or vice versa?
There is a bit of a crossover, more so from the brewery to the bar. One of our bar managers is deeply interested in craft cocktails and is always trying to find ways to incorporate our beers into his cocktails. We have an unfiltered lager brewed with strawberries so he’s currently working to mix that into a cocktail, as well as a variation of the same lager brewed with raspberries that he is incorporating into a mojito. I have to say it tastes pretty great!
Where can we find your beer? What is your most successful channel?
We self-distribute and have a great following down in Seattle currently. Our two sales reps have been making great strides in the Seattle and Tacoma areas. We’re also getting great feedback from bottle shops in North Seattle and are excited to continue our expansion!
What do you see as the next big trend in the craft beer industry?
I think that IPAs are going to be around as a major player for the foreseeable future, but I do believe craft lagers are coming up and will become more prominent with improved quality and refinement. All of the brewers take great pride in our lager program at Twin Sisters; it’s the beer we enjoy drinking.