What Has Thurston County Been Brewing? What You Need to Know – Distilled

When settlers arrived at the damp and pristine forests of the South Sound, there were many things that helped them get through their long days of toil. A strong mental fortitude, a strong back, and at day’s end, likely a strong libation. It’s no secret that our region possesses some of the finest beers, ciders, and liquors around. It has always been that way, and the Thurston Craft Brewing and Distilling Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ) and its partners aim to ensure that it always will be.

What is an Innovation Partnership Zone and Why Is It Important?

In October 2015, Thurston County received Innovation Partnership Zone status. The zones are designated by the Washington State Department of Commerce, and there are currently 14 of them across the state. Each zone is unique, and the intent is to foster collaboration among businesses, organizations, learning institutions, and individuals surrounding a shared goal of boosting commerce through innovation.

“That’s the beauty of the IPZ,” says Michael Cade, executive director of the Thurston Economic Development Council (Thurston EDC), which administers the IPZ. “It allows us to coordinate our work and activities that support a unique feature of our local economy.”

Featured in this case is our region’s nearly 120-year history of brewing, and the emerging liquid arts of cider making and distilling, and the many entities that support this work. The mission of the IPZ, according to the Thurston EDC, “is to ensure a world-class source for craft-brewed beers, ciders, and craft-distilled spirits, made from locally sourced ingredients, by independent local producers, and distributed nationally and internationally.”

The mission is supported through an impressive cadre of partners: South Puget Sound Community College, City of Tumwater, Washington State University Extension, School of Food Science, private developers, grain producers, craft brewers, distillers, and cideries, just to name a few.

Innovation Partnership Zone Map
Innovation Partnership Zones extend across our state. They are designated every odd year, and the designation is good for four years, at which point the designee must re-apply. Photo courtesy: Washington State Department of Commerce

This multi-faceted project has achieved much success over the past four years since its inception, and meeting the goal of revitalizing the craft brewing, cider making, and distilling in our region has been bubbling right along.

What Has Been Achieved with the IPZ?

“The Community College took it upon themselves,” Cade says, “to work with the City of Tumwater to develop a curriculum for the Craft Brewing and Distilling degree program.”

If the IPZ is to meet its goal of becoming the brewing epicenter, some expertise is required. “We want to become THE center in Washington State,” Cade says, “or really the West Coast, for craft brewing and distilling. When people think of becoming a brewer or distiller, they’ll want to attend SPSCC’s new curriculum.”

Upon completion, students receive an Associate in Applied Science degree and coursework encompasses not only the miracle of fermentation, but all aspects of the craft beverage industry – especially the business side.

“What we find is so often companies fail not because of the brewing and distilling, but because of business practices,” says John Doan, Tumwater’s city administrator.

SPSCC’s program works hard to ensure that doesn’t happen and part of how it will do that is through location.

The Craft District

You may have noticed a new retaining wall in Tumwater off Capitol Boulevard. Just beyond that, John Peters and Mike Parsons, developers from Craft District, LLC broke ground on April 25 on the building that will be the hub of this project.

The building is located near the oldest part of Tumwater, along the Deschutes River where the city’s earliest industries were located. The site is now being referred to as “The Craft District,” and will include six mixed-use buildings. With a focus on regional craft producers, the buildings will house brewers, coffee roasters, retailers, and will be complemented by educational spaces and start-up incubators.

In the first building, the one currently under construction, 10,000 square feet will house SPSCC’s new program. It will be comprised of classrooms, a laboratory, production space, offices, and a conference room. Heritage Distilling Company will occupy the rest of the building with a new production and tasting room. The location provides a unique opportunity for these students, to “be in the room where it happens” and learn the craft working alongside industry professionals.

Innovation Partnership Zone-Work is Underway at the Craft District
Work is underway at a site off of Capitol Boulevard in Tumwater. It will be the home of the Craft District, six mixed-use buildings, the first of them to house SPSCC’s new program and Heritage Distilling Company. Photo credit: John Peters

Historic Preservation

Although new spaces are important, preserving the heritage of Tumwater’s brewing past is important, too. In fact, it’s the brand equity associated with Olympia Beer that leveraged conversations and led to Innovation Partnership Zone.

“A number of years ago,” Cade says, “we decided to take the strategic steps of bringing our area back to a sector of prominence,” and nothing signifies that early prominence better than Tumwater’s historic Brewhouse Tower.

“A week ago, the tower didn’t have anything, and now it has scaffolding and it’s wrapped in plastic,” says Doan. “The brick is being restored and it’s getting a new roof.”

“Rehabilitation of the tower is a key step in the redevelopment of the Brewery District,” Ann Cook, communications manager for Tumwater and tower restoration project manager states. “The Craft District project is a key part of revitalizing the area and bringing brewing back.”

Southwest Washington Regional Agricultural Business and Innovation Park in Tenino

The tower may be getting a new roof, but there are no ceilings that limit this project that the IPZ has started. A direct result of it, is a separate project in Tenino, the Southwest Washington Regional Agricultural Business and Innovation Park, modeled after the Skagit Valley IPZ, where a facility is being developed to allow for locally grown grains, produce, and meat to be turned into value-added products. This infrastructure would create a local pipeline of processing and distribution that will complement and enhance the work being done at the Craft District in Tumwater.

Researching Toward the Future

“Washington State University does great research,” Doan says. “They’re doing grain trials to find out what kind of grain would grow best in Thurston County to create a unique product from here.”

It used to be the water – and the craft brewing, cidering, and distilling that happens in our county proves that it still is – but it’s also the grain, the hops, the apples, everything that goes into the craft. Craft is a style, but it’s also a way of life. Farm-to-bottle, grain-to-glass, plow-to-pint.

“Every one of those partners has had a significant piece of strategy development in how they come together for the IPZ,” Cade says. “It’s a testimony to how we in Thurston County do economic development. We do it by partnership and we do it by collaboration.”

To learn more about the Thurston Craft Brewing and Distilling Innovation Partnership Zone and all that it encompasses, contact Michael Cade at the Thurston EDC.

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