Community is everything to Chris Bierman and the team at Gruff Brewing in Bellingham, Washington. “Community should automatically be factored into our everyday decisions,” says Bierman, a Bellingham native who co-founded his locally conscious brewery with longtime friends in August.
From collaborating on beers with other Bellingham establishments, such as The Racket Bar & Pinball Lounge, to hosting free ski and snowboard waxing sessions for the public at the brewery, Gruff makes sure to give back to where they came from.
Most recently, Gruff hosted their Pro Bowl Chili/Chowder Cook Off, where all proceeds from the event benefited Camp Fire Samish youth organization and one of its camps, Camp Kirby. Bellingham residents and restaurants alike were encouraged to compete for prizes, which included two free one-month passes to Bellingham Fitness.
One of Gruff’s future events coming up is their Fourth of July party. Equipped with a spacious patio area touting views of the Bellingham Bay, Bierman says the space will provide an ideal backdrop for the party and welcomes suggestions for other community-centered events.
Take the local focus to the brewhouse, Gruff also sources ingredients locally whenever possible. Malts from Skagit Valley Malting in nearby Burlington are used in many of the different brews, as is the case with the American Lager and Buzzard IPA.
According to Bierman, the mentality at Gruff is to always surprise their customers with what’s on tap. “We are constantly working our butts off to keep beer moving through our system to supply our tasting room,” Bierman says.
By keeping things fresh and interesting, customers can always taste something new and delicious when they come in for a visit, he says. But the demand for some of the more popular beers has forced the brewery to maintain a few flagship beers, like their East Coast IPA and a nitro cream ale.
With only seven months under the brewery’s belt, Gruff’s community stance is already making its impact. “We were homebrewing on weekends and it came to a point where the beer we were making was so good that we’d prefer to drink it over what we were finding in the store,” Bierman says of the process to make the dream a reality. “The entire idea just kind of snowballed from there.”
After committing to launching a brewery, Bierman and his crew spent three years building out Gruff’s Bellingham location by themselves. Bierman says they pieced together various aspects of the brewery with what they could afford out of their pockets.
“We [built Gruff] while all of us were holding down other day jobs,” he recalls. “We sacrificed a lot while consistently working 70 to 80 hour workweeks over many years, but we couldn’t be happier with the results.”