There aren’t many craft brewers who can say they literally built their brewery from the ground up. But Derrick Nordberg, owner of Cowiche Creek Brewing Co., can and he used his own two hands to do it, too.
For Nordberg and his wife Maria, Washington’s Yakima Valley has always been where they call home, with both of their families having a background in farming. And with Nordberg’s family growing apples, they pretty well had an endless supply of fruit, leading them to make cider prior to even considering homebrewing or opening a brewery.
“At one point we just said, ‘well, we know how to make cider now, let’s try making beer,’” Nordberg says. “We already had some of the equipment, so we researched what else we would need, got the ingredients and tried our first batch.”
After that initial batch in 2012 from an internet recipe, the couple realized if they wanted to learn how to brew the right way, they would need to replicate commercial brewing systems, so they started the process from scratch. “We started testing ingredients one at a time,” Nordberg says. “We were brewing the same beer, one after another to understand all of the ingredients that went in it. We only changed one variable for each batch.”
As they continued to teach themselves how to homebrew, entirely by trial and error, they started to run out of space, realizing they quickly needed a solution. “We were brewing so much beer, handing it out to family and friends,” Nordberg says. “But at that point, it was taking over the house. Every closet had fermenters and it took over a parking spot in our garage.”
BUILDING A BREWERY
Construction on what became the Cowiche Creek brewery and taproom began in 2015, but because the concept of the business was new, the project was on a shoestring budget. Although Nordberg had built their house on the same property, building a brewery was a new challenge, but he was up for it. The taproom opened in 2017, after the Nordbergs spent years on construction, even building the brewhouse and keg washer on their own.
“When I built our house, I said I will never build another building again,” he says. “We had the tools and the permitting knowledge, and the only way to afford it was to do it ourselves.”
The brewery’s property is surrounded by the hop bines the Nordbergs planted in 2013, coupled with picturesque views. “Farming has always been primary for us, and we were having a hard time getting the hop varieties we wanted on our schedule,” Nordberg says. “We wanted to learn more about them. We use them for fresh hop, and we wanted the beer to be made around the best pick time for that particular variety.”
Now, the Norbergs brew two fresh hop beers in September — one with hops from their own land and the other from hops grown on the farm where Maria works as a food safety manager.
GROWTH OF THE BUSINESS
Since opening, the brewery has doubled in size, and the focus has switched a bit. Originally planning to be a distribution brewery, with a minimal focus on their taproom, the taproom is now open five days a week and the Nordbergs work with local nonprofits to host events on-site, but they have even more up their sleeve as they welcome craft beer lovers and open their home to the community.
As the couple continues to live up to their slogan of offering beer “made the farmer way,” they planted 20 acres of barley to be able to produce a fully estate-grown beer. In addition, a specific permit will now allow them to operate a kitchen on-premises, becoming the only farm in Washington to have a brewery and a restaurant on its property.
“We have the land, the space and the knowledge,” Nordberg says. “Now we’ll be able to grow the produce going into our menu too. We focus on our local community. Our taproom is our core, telling the story about what we can do with beer.”