His college history class paper was on German immigration and the brewing industry; it was a choice he made because his grandfather always drank Pabst Blue Ribbon and Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve.
So Bolt Minister, then a history major at Washington State University Vancouver, thought it’d be a fun topic to write about. It turned into a spark.
“I went down a rabbit hole,” said Minister. “Once I started learning about the brewing industry, it just kind of took off from there.”
Minister and his wife started home brewing. And after finishing his program at WSUV, he no longer wanted to be a teacher.
“I wanted to get into beer,” recalled the brewer and owner of 54-40 Brewing in Washougal.
Minister launched his business in 2015, now with a brewery and taproom at 3801 S. Truman St. in Washougal and 54-40 Beer Lodge at 310 Second St. in Stevenson.
The brewery is working with local craft beverage distributor Kendall’s Pioneer and Browar Polska to sell his beer across Washington. Four of the brewery’s beers and seasonal brews will be available to craft beer retailers and taprooms around the state.
The regular beers include the Kölsch-style Kascadia ale, Red Zepplin amber ale, Half Cocked IPA and 1862 Mexican lager. The 4.8-6.5 percent ABV beverages are available in draft, as well as in 12-ounce six-packs.
The beer has already been requested across the state, from Bellingham to Spokane.
Kendall’s Pioneer and Browar Polska are local craft beverage distributors, owned by Ridgefield’s Corwin Beverage Co. So far, they are distributing drinks from seven different Clark County breweries, 54-40 among them. Kendall’s Pioneer serves retailers, bars and restaurants in Southwest Washington, and Browar Polska serves clients in the Seattle and Puget Sound area, as well as in parts of Eastern Washington.
The companies also will be distributing beer from Grains of Wrath Brewery in Camas. Both 54-40 and Grains of Wrath are members of the local brewers guild, a group of Southwest Washington brewers supporting one another’s crafts. The guild, North Bank Brewers, has become a community.
“It’s more than just friendships,” said Minister. “They’re these great relationships that we all build, and we all work together to help each other out.”
So if someone is short on hops, another might lend them some. If someone’s keg washer is broken, another brewer will let them use theirs.
“It’s an industry unlike anything else,” added Minister. The brewers are small businesses, but they also aim to make the region known for its beer so that they can all rise together.
“Everybody’s going to do both altogether,” he said.
Minister himself started his 20-year beer industry career in Oregon, working in Astoria and Portland.
“I thought of myself as an Oregon brewer for the longest time,” said Minister. But then the Southwest Washington native thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we gave a great name to Southwest Washington beer? Because why not?”
Breweries have popped up all over the region, from Ridgefield in the north to Stevenson and Carson in the east. There are 31 members in the local guild.
“It’s really heartwarming,” said Minister.
The craft beer industry has been a driving force for Corwin’s alcohol distribution divisions.
Sam Madrid, chief operating officer at Corwin, spent a long time working in big companies. If a big beer business needs hops from another beer business, they will be invoiced and made to pay before the supplies are handed off. That’s not the case in craft beer. What happens instead, said Madrid, is one brewer will lend another brewer hops and ask them to hand back hops when their shipment comes in.
“That’s what makes this industry so much different than corporate beer,” said Madrid. “It’s almost like going back in time.”
Madrid told the story of when a beer supplier came in to pick up stuff but didn’t have the money to pay, so Corwin said they’d take care of it.
“From a business model perspective, no one can compete with that,” said Madrid.
Kendall’s Pioneer and Browar Polska don’t operate like a big beer businesses, Madrid said. They know people’s names. Their products and their people set them apart. And the work being done is in their backyard.
“It’s not just the business,” added Stacey Jaques, director of human resources and marketing at Corwin. “It’s living and it’s community.”