In this episode, I'm in Birdsview, Washington speaking with Father/Daughter Brewmasters Bill Voigt, and Julie Voigt, at Birdsview Brewing Company.
Birdsview Brewing Company is family owned and operated and opened it's doors in 2006. Located in Skagit County, Washington on State Route 20, also called The North Cascades Highway, this tiny brewery is home to ten taps of their own varieties of beer from their seven barrel system.
The brewery was built by Bill Voigt in the style of a yurt. The space features growlers from all over the Pacific Northwest, and beyond. The taproom also has a performance space where local acts feature during the summer. When the weather is nice, head on outside to their out door space to enjoy their beer in the grassy picnic area, where the interview for this episode took place.
Podcast Created and Hosted by: Aaron Johnson
Recorded on location at Birdsview Brewing Company, Birdsview, Washington.
Editing & Mixing by: Aaron Johnson
Theme music by: A:M (Aaron Johnson & Danny Moffat)
Theme music mastered by: Previn Naidu @ Gonzbull Mastering
Bill: My name is Bill Voigt. I am the owner brewer.
Julie: And I’m Julie Voigt and I am one of the brewers.
Bill: She’s also my youngest daughter.
Aaron: Where does the name “Birdsview” come from?
Bill: Well, this particular area, about a mile and a half up the road closest to the river from here, there was actually a town called Birdsview. It was founded by a local timber bearer named Birdsey Minkler. There was a hotel, a store, a sawmill and it had a ferry that would cross the river. It burned down years ago and they never rebuilt it. But the name Birdsview stuck. We just kind of took that name and – because we’re in the Birdsview area.
Julie: Yeah, and anybody from around here will tell you this is not concrete. We have a concrete zip code but this is Birdsview.
Bill: Yeah, we’re in the concrete mailing area but not …
Julie: And we actually have in our field out there the original Birdsview railroad sign.
Aaron: Yeah, I was going to say. Yeah, because the bike trail that runs parallel to the highway here, that used to be the rail line, right? Through here?
Aaron: How long have you been at the site? Because this site is beautiful on the highway.
Bill: This July, we will be 10 years.
Aaron: Cool. Why did you start brewing here?
Bill: Well, because I live right over there and it seemed like a good place to start a brewery.
Bill: Ten years ago, I was home brewing and I never expected it to be what it is today.
Aaron: Did you just start home brewing for fun?
Bill: Yes, I did. Yeah. You want to hear the whole story?
Aaron: Yeah, yeah. Let’s hear the whole story. Yeah.
Julie: It’s a fun story.
Bill: I used to be a member of the volunteer fire department here in Birdsview.
Bill: And one particular year they had a raffle for a shotgun and I happen to win the raffle for the shotgun and of course my wife being anti-gun as she is, told me, “Well, you’re not going to have a gun in the house.” I said, “But yeah, it might come in handy for safety purposes.” But anyhow, she won out like she always does anyway and instead of taking the $300 for the shotgun, I bought a home brew kit and the rest is history.
Aaron: What was the first batch?
Bill: Oh, the first batch of beer I made was an American ale and I did all the – I read up and the Joy of Home Brewing. If anybody wants to start brewing, I recommend that book. But anyhow, I got all my stuff together first before I got any equipment and once I did that, then made my first batch of beer and about every 10 minutes, I was checking the fermenter to see if I had any action going on and of course I didn’t because I knew it was going to take at least 24 hours. The next day, I came on. I checked on it and it was alive. It was a living thing and it was so cool. I just felt like a mad scientist because I created that.
Aaron: Was it an all-grain or was it just …
Bill: No, it was just a kit. It was an extract. Initially that was my first brew batch and then when it was done, I put it in the keg and I stuck it in the fridge and carbonated it up and then two weeks later, I poured a glass and it was real beer. I mean holy crap, it was real beer and I had three of those beers and I got a nice, warm, fuzzy buzz and I said, “Hey, no more Budweiser for this guy.” That’s all that happened. Yeah.
Aaron: Were you lucky enough to try that first batch?
Julie: I don’t know if I did. I think I was like 16 at the time. No, I was – so I was maybe 14 at the time.
Bill: She didn’t partake in it way back then.
Julie: No. And I’m kind of kicking myself now because he did this all in a shop where he had a pool table and everything and so I used to go out there and hang out with my friends all the time and there was a full fridge of beer and I never had time to get into it. I’m so disappointed in myself now.
Aaron: So when did you start brewing with him?
Julie: I actually just celebrated – the end of last month, March, I just celebrated my four-year brewversary.
Aaron: Was that back on the home brew kit or was it your first …
Julie: No, it was in here. Yeah.
Bill: She came to me four years ago and said, “Hey dad, I would like to learn how to brew,” and I said, “Well, you know, Julie …” But she was working here. Before that she was …
Bill: … bartending and waiting and helping her mom in the deli and I was really hesitant about that. At the time I said, well, you know, there’s a lot of lifting involved. It’s hot. It’s sweaty. It’s a lot of labor. I don’t care. I thought about it for maybe a day or two and I said, OK, well she’s very persistent about it. She wants to do it still. I said, OK, I’m going to stick her in the cooler, filling kegs and cleaning Grundy tanks.
Aaron: The fun jobs.
Bill: Let me tell you, I hate doing it. I hate doing it. I think Julie likes it because she puts her headphones and she doesn’t care. But – so I stuck her in the cooler and I showed her what to do. To this day, she’s still there. She’s still doing it and so yeah, that was her sort of initiation.
Bill: And she passed with flying colors and she never ceases to amaze me.
Aaron: What does she bring to the whole process that you think you wouldn’t have come up on your own?
Bill: Well, she brings a whole another level of ideas to the process. A lot of the new beers that we’ve made have been her idea initially.
Aaron: And there’s a lot of taps in there too.
Bill: Yeah, yeah. And so we talked – we talk back and forth about ingredients to use and what would she try and sometimes it isn’t always 100 percent agreement because she has different ideas than I do and that’s great and that’s how it should be. But yeah, it’s fun brewing with her. We would get along just fine and yeah …
Julie: I think we make a good team. I feel like he was kind of stuck in a rut before with just keeping up with what we had on tap, what people liked and I kind of wanted to come in with a different approach and try some things that weren’t – all of our staple beers kind of branched out a little bit. For the most part, I think we’re pretty much on the same page with recipes and things like that.
Bill: She likes her beers a little bit more hoppier than I do.
Julie: I’m an IPA fan.
Bill: Which is fine and in fact, we made the anniversary beer for her – for our anniversary, we made an oatmeal pale ale and actually it turned out quite well.
Julie: Yeah, it’s gone now.
Julie: It was my favorite on tap.
Aaron: So do you brew every batch together or do you kind of alternate …
Julie: We do because he’s not ready to leave yet. I keep telling …
Bill: I mean she’s more than capable to do everything on her own. But then she put me out of a job.
Aaron: Well, because you built this place yourself, right?
Bill: Yeah, yeah.
Aaron: How long did it take to create this?
Bill: It took a year and a half to finally get it done and it was kind of a huge undertaking. I had help from my brother and I had help from my mom and without both of them, it never would have gotten done.
Aaron: Why did you choose this design of the building?
Bill: It’s a style of a yurt. The main tap room is octagon and the brewer room is a hexagon. So the tap room is about 1000 square feet and the brewer room is about 400 square feet. I wasn’t sure exactly what sort of a building I wanted to create initially in the beginning. I knew I want to do something different and a friend of mine from Marmot, Bob Sinqu. I was talking with him one time and he brought down some photographs of a shop that he built up in his place in [Indiscernible] a small little shop. It was an octagon yurt design and I said, “I like that. Can you make that like 10 times bigger?” So that’s how that came to be.
Aaron: What sort of advantages do you get from the structure?
Bill: Well, there’s no interior supporting walls. It’s all open, and the roof supports itself. So the more weight on the roof, the stronger the building is. It’s what Attila the Hun used to travel with back in the day. He would set up his yurts and they pick them up and they move them. Of course we can’t move this one as easy. They were able to move theirs.
Aaron: Did you think it would be as successful as you have been at this location?
Bill: No. No. I had no clue. I didn’t even do a business plan. I just had an idea and I kind of tell people it’s kind of like when my wife and I first got this thing going, picture the two of us standing on a bridge looking down at the water far below and we just kind of held hands and jumped together and hope that we would hit deep water. That’s pretty much what we did. I really didn’t think it would be how it is today.
Julie: So they’ve both been self-employed for the last 30 years.
Bill: Yeah, yeah.
Julie: But they had never run a restaurant brewery before. So this was kind of a whole new undertaking for sure and I think we’ve definitely learned along the way a lot of things together because he’s just kind of like – has an idea and wants to go for it and we will figure it out after whereas the rest of us are kind of like, well, maybe that’s not always the best approach.
Bill: My kids bring more common sense or reality to the picture than I would. I would just get this idea and I say, “OK, let’s do it,” without thinking about it. But then I think a lot of people, if you think about doing something too much, you never end up doing it. You just have to just do it. Just go for it and take – the funny thing about when we were building this place, I don’t want to say it’s destiny but I just want to say that it seems like when you undertake a project, that you firmly believe in, it’s a dream you have, it seems like along the way especially when we were doing this, things just sort of fell into place a step at a time and it was almost like it was meant to be. But then again, that’s just my outlook on life.
Julie: Well, and that being said, we definitely have had our fair share of struggles and things that have happened over the years. Hit a couple of rough patches but we’ve …
Bill: As with any business, yeah.
Aaron: Well, we’ve talked about the success of it. You had recognition from the county, right? Like you were voted like best brewery in the county a few years ago and …
Julie: Best brewery and best – we tied for best live music venue too which is exciting.
Bill: Yeah. Skagit County government initially in the beginning – I kind of maybe did a few things that I wasn’t supposed to do along the way that wasn’t within the boundaries of what they were going to allow me to do and I kind of pushed those boundaries a tad bit and – but now everything is copacetic and the older I get, the more I realize that – that song, I fought the law and the law won, well, that’s kind of like that. The more you fight, then the harder they get.
Aaron: So if you had that recognition from the county, how far is your reach? Can you only get it in Skagit County or are you branching out?
Julie: No, we’re working with a really great distributor who’s based out of Bellingham. So we’re up in Whatcom County in a couple of locations, Snohomish county, Island County.
Bill: We have a small local area that we serve but – and Walton Beverage our distributor takes it outside the county which is good. We have a hard time keeping up sometimes with what they want.
Bill: That’s not a bad thing but we’re just dealing with it.
Julie: Yeah. It’s definitely a good problem to have.
Aaron: OK, good to …
Aaron: So where does the brewery go from here? Do you just keep the status quo and just focus on the local community or …
Julie: Hell no. I don’t want to.
Bill: Well see, that’s where we differ a little bit. Me myself, I am content with where we are because that’s me and I know what it takes to – the work involved. I truly want my kids to take it over and the direction they want to take it is fine with me. I will support them 100 percent. I will be there as an adviser, a consultant. But I would like to see them take it to the next level.
Aaron: And you were talking about kegs but I don’t really see space for like a bottling line or anything here, right?
Bill: We’re not that big.
Julie: Yeah. No, we don’t have that capacity yet. Not saying that we won’t ever but we’ve looked into like mobile canning or mobile bottling, things like that, to kind of get us out there a little bit more. But it’s difficult right now because …
Bill: A lot of people don’t realize that – it’s oh, that’s cool. I want to start a brewery and that’s great. I encourage anybody that wants to do it.
Julie: It’s a lot of work though.
Bill: It’s a lot of work and the big drawback for everybody is it takes so much money. I mean if you’re going to do it, great. But you better be prepared to spend the money that you – either you have friends or you – whatever, because it does take a lot of money and that’s why we’re kind of – we kind of do things as we can afford it. I would love to get a bigger system. I would love to put it in a production facility. But …
Julie: We’ve definitely talked about that but it’s certainly not something that’s going to happen tomorrow.
Bill: No. Right now we’re just trying to – we want to expand our kitchen. We want to put in a complete kitchen and that’s going to take a little capital investment on that end too. So it’s priorities.
Aaron: What is one thing that you would like anybody that would come to visit take home with them at the end of the day apart from a growler?
Julie: We are really fun. We are really cool and we make great beer.
Bill: Yeah, it’s all family and I like to think that people coming here for the first time see that and realize that oh, well, not too many places like that around.
Julie: We definitely try to create a fun, comfortable atmosphere for customers whether they’re regulars who come in every day or somebody who has never been in before. I think people pick up on that.
Julie: That energy.
Bill: I think so, yeah.
Aaron: What’s your favorite beer to pair with your favorite food?
Julie: Oh, man.
Bill: My personal favorite beer happens to be the golden pale. That’s the one I like and if I was to pair it with anything, I would probably pair it with prawns because I do like prawns.
Julie: I go back and forth. I really liked the OPA but now that’s gone. I like the GPA as well. I like the IPA too and my favorite food to pair it with is probably more beer.
Bill: Oh, yeah, salsa and chips would pair well with any beer.
Julie: Or pizza. We don’t have pizza. But pizza and beer, I mean are you kidding me? There’s no better combination.
Bill: Yeah, yeah. I think any beer goes good with pizza.
Aaron: All right, thank you so much.