Craft breweries – and craft beer drinkers – are everywhere. The love of high-quality, small-batch beers is embraced around the country, but particularly in the Pacific Northwest. Washington State ranks second nationally with 256 craft breweries and 405,131 barrels produced in 2014. Thurston County is home to at least six craft breweries. And while they boast unique styles, most have one thing in common. The founders started as homebrewers, crafting batches in their basement or filling bottles in their garage.

rocky top homebrew
Everything homebrewers need to craft a batch of beer can be found inside west Olympia’s Rocky Top Homebrew.

My family isn’t immune and our garage holds a designated shelf (or two) filled with stainless steel pots, yards of tubing, mysterious coils of copper, and giant spoons. While these items are foreign to me, they represent a beloved hobby for my husband. While he doesn’t brew as much as he’d like, a Saturday spent in the garage cooking a batch with his buddies – watching temperatures and timers, proofing yeasts, scooping grain, and of course sampling – bring peace through a project producing delicious results.

For the past 15 years, the numerous supplies to nurture this hobby have come from Rocky Top Homebrew. Located in West Olympia, the dedicated homebrewing shop was opened 15 years ago by Dave Pendleton. If the name rings a bell it’s because Pendleton, like so many others, has made the leap from brewing at home to brewing as a business. He is the head brewer at Dick’s Brewing Company, a 20+ year anchor in the craft brewing scene located in Centralia.

Pendleton, a Montana native, opened Rocky Top in 2000 after graduating college and relocating to the Puget Sound. His timing was perfect. Homebrewing as a hobby was on the rise. “I learned to brew with my dad when I was in high school,” Pendleton shares. His interest continued and spurred the opening of Rocky Top. The shop grew in size and reputation and customers visited for both consistently high-quality ingredients and supplies and for sound brewing advice from Pendleton.

“We’ve built a relationship with the homebrewing community by taking the time to educate them and to answer their questions,” he shares. “Offering the best customer service we can keeps us number one on people’s lists for supplies.”

rocky top homebrew
Larry Pendleton and his daughter Carol O’Sullivan have been running Olympia’s Rocky Top Homebrew since 2008.

For ten years he built these relationships until one day a position opened up for a brewer at Dick’s Brewing. “I thought the interview would just be good practice,” recalls Pendleton. But after 5 minutes of talking with Dick’s Brewing founder, and former homebrewer Dick Young, he had the job. “Dick just said, ‘So, can you be here at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning?’ and of course I said no problem,” he laughs.

While the transition to brewing large scale batches was challenging, he had an excellent mentor in Young and worked hard to learn the systems in the established brewery. The biggest surprise? “I lost about 30 pounds,” shares Pendleton. “It’s hard, physical work brewing batches that big.”

dicks brewing
The Pendleton family, (from left) Carol O’Sullivan, Katie Pendleton, Dave Pendleton, Larry Pendleton, and Alice Pendleton celebrate during the 1st Annual Beer for a Cure.

Despite achieving the homebrewers dream of working full-time for a successful craft brewery, Pendleton’s established business at Rocky Top Homebrew was still a priority. He knew he needed continuity of knowledge, customer service, and supply for the Thurston County homebrewing community. Luckily, Pendleton’s original source of brewing inspiration had moved to town – his dad.

Larry Pendleton had retired and made the move from Montana to Olympia to be closer to his kids. Larry, along with Pendleton’s sister Carol O’Sullivan, a fixture at Rocky Top for years, took the reins and have continued to foster the homebrewing culture in our area.

Larry’s experience with brewing began later in life than his son’s. “About 19 years ago, my wife gave me a homebrew setup for Christmas,” he recalls. And while he started slow at first, brewing with Dave at home in Bozeman, Montana, he now cooks up a batch every three weeks or so.

“I’ve never brewed the same beer twice,” he admits. “I like to experiment – it’s part of the fun.” And while his tastes run to more traditional beers, he easily guides Rocky Top customers to a wide variety of ingredients to create beers with exotic flavor profiles.

Rocky Top’s customers range from the novice just starting out to experienced homebrewers. Whatever their stage, brewers find the highest quality grains, ground in-house, a variety of hops, malts, yeasts and even ready-to-brew kits on the well-stocked shelves. The shop even carries supplies for wine, mead and soda.

Larry echoes what most homebrewers enjoy about the hobby. “I love the fun and joy of making a product from start to finish that’s tasty and I can share with friends.”

dicks brewing
The panel of judges tastes homebrews during Dick’s Brewing Company’s Beer for a Cure Homebrewing Contest.

This passion has fueled several local brewers to launch from Rocky Top Homebrew customers to craft brewery owners including the brewers behind Top Rung Brewing, 3 Magnets Brewing, and Triceretops Brewing Company.

One venue that helps this transition is the annual Dick’s Brewing Company Beer for a Cure Homebrewing Contest benefitting Lewis County Race for a Cure. In its fifth year, the contest allows homebrewers to submit their favorite brews for judging by a panel of experts (Larry and Dave included). The winning recipe will be produced by Dick’s for a limited release at the Centralia tasting room.

Top Rung Brewing’s Hose Chaser Blonde was a past winner and is now a foundation beer for the Lacey brewery. Rules for entry can be found on the Dick’s Brewing website and entries can be dropped off between September 1 – 12 at both the brewery and Rocky Top Homebrew. Winners will be announced on September 19 at the Beer for a Cure event at Dick’s Brewing tasting room from 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

If the aroma of yeast, malts and hops fills your home on certain Saturdays and puts a smile on your face, then swing by Rocky Top Homebrew for fresh supplies. Dick’s Brewing is calling all homebrewers to give it their best shot. Who knows? You could win, realizing the homebrewers dream: your beer on tap for all to enjoy.

Rocky Top Homebrew
1617 Harrison Ave NW in Olympia
Tuesday – Friday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email