In this episode, I'm in Seattle, WA in the neighborhood of Ballard at Lucky Envelope Brewing speaking with Brewer Barry Chan & Director of Operations Raymond Kwan. Started in 2014 this small neighborhood brewery focuses of making some German inspired beers, but not afraid to explore other styles as well.
Podcast Created and Hosted by: Aaron Johnson
Recorded on location at Lucky Envelope Brewing, Seattle, WA
Editing & Mixing by: Aaron Johnson
Theme music by: A:M (Aaron Johnson & Danny Moffat)
Raymond Kwan: My name is Raymond. I'm the Director of Operations, and co-founder.
Barry Chan: My name is Barry. I'm the Brew Master.
Aaron Johnson: How long ago did Lucky Envelope start?
RK: We formed our LLC in 2014, but we didn't open our tasting room doors to the public, until May of 2015.
AJ: And where does the name Lucky Envelope come from?
RK: Name comes from the Chinese tradition of the elderly generation giving the younger generation the red envelopes filled with paper money. Particularly, during Chinese New Year, but you might also see it during major life milestones and events such as getting married, or having a child, or graduating school. The act of giving the envelope, and roughly translated from the Mandarin word for the envelope, it means red pouch, red envelope, which some people refer to as the lucky envelope.
AJ: Right. Whose idea was it to open the brewery anyway, and get things started?
BC: It was a combination of the efforts between Raymond and myself. Ray has always... He always wanted to own his own business. So when you get down to the nitty-gritty of operating a business, it doesn't really change from one business to another in a lot of respects. That's was his passion, and mine was always brewing. I was a home brewer before I started. We started conversing when we were pitching business ideas, and we always kinda came back to a brew pub, or a sports bar, and then we kinda scaled it back at some point to a brewery, because we realized that we are not restaurateurs. And the restaurant business is notoriously difficult to function, and to make a profit.
AJ: So how long were you home-brewing before then, Barry?
BC: I started home-brewing in 2008. I got my first home-brew kit from Bob's Homebrew in the university village. It's actually how a couple breweries in our neighborhood started. From there, started doing extract batches and getting into the processes, starting to understand the chemistry behind it. And from there, I went to All-Grain, and then started entering some homebrew competitions, started doing well there, and just kind of followed that dream that a lot of people follow.
AJ: Raymond, when you tried Barry's beer, did you think, "Oh yeah, this is something really good here"?
RK: Yeah. I had started helping Barry with his homebrews, in a very minimal fashion, probably in 2011, 2012 time frame. That was a few years after he started. While I enjoyed the process and helping out, definitely more a fan of just drinking the beer at the end of the process. Fell in love with his beers from the get-go, he is a big German lager fan, and those are my favorite styles of beer, so really happy with that.
AJ: How did you decide then to open up in this neighborhood?
RK: When we were first looking for our property, we definitely looked at various neighborhoods around town. Both accessible by vehicle, but others that were a little harder to get to. And we landed with Ballard, one because there are other breweries in this neighborhood, there's actually nine of us now, there used to be 10 when we first started. It was essentially one of the destination points for craft beer drinkers and we felt like being in a community and in a neighborhood with such a high density of breweries was a very positive thing. We're all friends with each other, we're all supportive of one another. And so this location seemed to be a really good fit with what we were going for with our brewery.
AJ: And when you opened, how long did it take you to get some response from the community, and how long did it take you to get some regular customers?
BC: I'll say that the response of the brewery was very positive. People definitely appreciated the fact that we had our lager right out of the gate, which a lot of people said was risky, but we had faith in the processes that we have and it turned out really, really well. Ballard has... There's a very dedicated group of beer consumers that wander in the Ballard area, on a very regular basis. So our stream of regulars started relatively early. They make the rounds in between the other breweries, and then stop at our place. But then we have a couple people over time that kind of built up that rapport.
AJ: Raymond, what's the size of your tasting room downstairs?
RK: Our tasting room is probably about 900 square feet. We have an outdoor patio that we open up in the warmer months, and with that patio, we're probably upwards of 75 to 85 people.
AJ: Is your local neighborhood and community your main target area? Or are you shipping beer across the state yet?
RK: Currently, we have our tasting room here in Ballard, and we also distribute our beer via wholesale channels around the Seattle area. And so we're regularly on draft at local bars and restaurants, and bottle shops. We're hoping that by summer of 2017, we'll be on retail shelves as well.
AJ: Has anything changed since you've opened, in terms of the style of beers you're doing, Barry? Or are you still sticking to that kind of traditional German model?
BC: We definitely explore other styles. One of my personal favorite styles of beer is that German lager style. For me, it was my goal to generally have a lager on tap in the tasting room as much as possible. So far, we've been able to accommodate that. We have an IPA, our ENIAC Mosaic IPA, which has kind of become our flagship. A nice staple beer that fits the Northwest palate. In terms of the other beers, a lot of those are ones that I've developed as a home-brewer, but they kind of round out the profile for beers that people might like to drink. We generally have a darker beer, we have our red on tap now, which has been very well received.
BC: What I will say is, we do have a pilot system, that we try to brew on very regularly which... It's my old home-brewing system. It's a 15-gallon system. That's a lot of the ways that Josh, our assistant brewer, and myself, get to play around with beers. And then we can also use that as a vetting process in the tasting room, where if we think the beer is of good quality and it's something that we could produce on a higher level, we can release it in the tasting room, see how the feedback is and then we can decide if we want to scale it up to a larger batch. I would say overall my methodology for crafting beer hasn't really changed where it's... Brew a lot of different beers or hone in... And the recipes that are successful you want to hone in on, get them dialed in and then you can scale it up and get it out for larger distribution.
AJ: And what's the size of your main brew system?
BC: Our main system is a 15-barrel brew house.
AJ: And how often are you brewing?
BC: Right now, we are brewing about once a week. But as we continue to grow, we see it increasing. We have four batches in the next two weeks that we need to brew.
AJ: Raymond, are there any plans for expansion at the moment or are you just kinda happy with the size as it is?
RK: No. We set out with a 15-barrel system which is actually a larger system for a new brewery. The feedback we received when we were planning everything out was to go as large as we could afford. And so we took that feedback to heart and we got the 15-barrel system. We have three 15-barrel fermenters in the back of house that are operational. We just got a 60-barrel fermenter in that we're hooking up and hope to have operational in the next week or two. And we also have 15 wine barrels. We're starting up our barrel aged program. So there are a lot of avenues where we're moving towards right now in terms of expansion. So the barrel program is the new piece that we're adding in. And hopefully those beers will be ready to go in about six months.
AJ: Did you have any delays while you were getting set up? Did you have any problems with the city or permitting or anything like that to delay you from opening up here in the first place?
RK: I think like every other construction project we definitely had our hiccups here and there. Overall, the process was as expected. Not the smoothest process but also not the worst process. And I think that working with the federal government and the state government in terms of our liquor licenses was for the most part as expected. And then working with the city of Seattle on all of our permits, there was a lot of back and forth. But everybody was very open about communication and explaining why we had to do things a certain way. And at the end of the day, we just had to do what they asked of us and we executed. The build out took us about nine months, which was a little longer than we had hoped. But part of that was just the holiday season and a lot of our vendors not being available to do a lot of the work.
AJ: If somebody was wanting to go down this path, what would be some advice that you could give them?
RK: I think that business planning for one is a good option. There's a lot of local resources that we had engaged such as SCORE from sba.gov. They have a volunteer division of business mentors. And we leveraged a lot of those resources early on. After that, it was reaching out to local breweries and brewery owners who have gone through this process, and getting their feedback and input is highly beneficial as well. Even though we're all in the industry and we're all technically competitors, it's a very friendly industry and everybody wants each other to succeed.
RK: The stronger we work together as a group and the more successful we become, the stronger we all become in the future. This is a great industry to be in. And the best advice I think I can give is really reach out to all your peers in the industry because we're all willing to help.
AJ: What's one of your favorite beers that you're making at the moment?
BC: I'll say it's the beer I'm drinking right now, which is the Helles Lager. I like it specifically because it's a light German lager, not too hoppy, malt focused, and it's one of those beers that you can have at any time of the day. And it's not going to weigh you down and you don't have to plan your night out around it.
RK: I'm generally a German lager fan. So I'm obviously biased there. But if I had to pick another beer, it would be the Beardless Brewer Red Ale that we do.
AJ: Who in the local community is making beer that's really inspiring you at the moment?
BC: Well, since you know our preference for German style beers, the first one I think both of us can point to would be Will and Mari up in Bellingham and now Skagit Valley at Chuckanut. The quality of the beers that they're putting out is fantastic. And they have a really great program going.
AJ: Do you have a kitchen in your tasting room or do you have food trucks come by when you're open?
RK: So we do not have a full kitchen on site. Again, when we initially started discussing our plans for this business, we did consider a brewpub but quickly changed course when we realized we didn't really know the restaurant industry. City of Seattle is great. There's a lot of food trucks in this town. And we're able to secure food trucks for particularly our Fridays and Saturdays. And it's a great partnership and beneficial for both sides to have them here and they love coming here.
AJ: So with that then, what is your favorite food from one of the food trucks that come by to pair with one of your favorite beers?
RK: So I'm a big fan of Chavoya's hot dogs. They do your traditional Seattle dogs with cream cheese and whatever else. But they also do the bacon wrapped hot dogs and onions and kraut. And I love what they do. It's really simple. I grew up on the East Coast. So that is right up my alley. And I think it goes well with most of our beers, particularly our Two Pepper Pale Ale. It gives a nice little bite to it.
BC: For me, the food truck that sticks out of my head is Peasant Food Manifesto. Beth and her team, they do really, really interesting and tasty takes on Asian fusion food. And so they do this out of this world kimchi mac & cheese which I really like, and with that one I like to pair with our flagship mosaic IPA. It works out really well because mac & cheese is just a pretty heavy dish overall and then it's a little bit spicy from the kimchi with a little bit of tang but then you need something kinda heavy to balance it out, heavy in flavor but not too overwhelming in terms of body and things. So and IPA has a lot of that oomph that can balance out against a pretty hardy dish.
AJ: So since you've been here for a number of years now, do you think you would be able to see the same amount of success that you have if you were in another neighborhood in Seattle?
RK: If we were in a different neighborhood of Seattle I do think we'd see a similar amount of success. Seattle and the entire Pacific Northwest has become very popular for the craft beer culture. I believe in the Puget Sound area there's 70 breweries now, in Washington State, we have over 300 and then Oregon has another 300. So I think there's definitely areas of success all around Seattle right now. If we were in a different neighborhood, I'm sure we'd have a similar type of following of both fellow craft beer drinkers, people who are enthusiasts as well as people who just wanna try a new beer, who wanna try out a new tasting room.
AJ: Alright, well thank you very much.
RK: Thank you.