CATHLAMET — The taproom at River Mile 38 Brewing bustled Thursday afternoon as gallons of beer were poured, canned, labeled and boxed up.
In an assembly line fashion, the brewers and business partners prepared the company’s popular brews, like their “Aye Aye IPA” and “Hard Over Hefeweizen,” for later distribution all over Southwest Washington and Oregon. Based on the energy in the room and the amount of beer flowing through the taps, a visitor wouldn’t have guessed the six owners had just agreed to put the business up for sale.
In fact, business has been booming for the small brewing operation, located just on the edge of the Echoman Slough Marina. And that’s the problem.
The brewery, Managing Partner Richard Erickson said, is too successful and has become too much work to keep up with. When the operation started just three years ago, it was one barrel − 31 gallons − of beer at a time. River Mile 38 now produces 400 barrels a year.
River Mile 38 Brewing is the “victim” of the success of craft beer making in Washington. According to the Washington Beer Commission, in July 2007 the state had about 97 operating breweries. A decade later, the commission lists over 300 breweries across the state.
All six partners at River Mile 38 have full-time jobs outside the brewery, and none of them are looking to retire just yet. But the demand for more beer and more taproom hours is tough to fulfill.
So the six − Richard Erickson, brewer Andy Lea, brewer Steve Sharp, Barry Aiton, Rob Stockhouse and Danna Speer − have agreed to put the brewery up for sale. They’re asking $550,000, and they’ll wait until the right buyers come along.
And who might that be?
“We have no idea,” Erickson said. “We’re not in a rush (to find someone). We’re fine. We’ve all agreed that we’re going straight forward like no one’s going to buy it.”
Right now, the taproom is only open 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and on Thursdays during the summer.
“It’s not fair to the town, and it’s not fair for what we’ve done to just let it sit here,” Erickson said. “So we think it’s time for a young couple, two guys, husband and wife, whatever, to come in here and take this thing over and take it to the next level.”
Once sold, the brewery comes with everything: equipment, recipes, the rest of a 20-year lease on the building, inventory, and a brewer’s assistant, Kalani Silva.
“Selling a business because it’s too successful is unheard of,” Erickson said. “It was very tearful coming up with the decision to sell it. We had several meetings. We would sit for hours and talk about it.”
Erickson said he does hope that whoever takes it over remembers that if it weren’t for the community, River Mile 38 would never have been started: when raising capital to start the business, the partners rounded up 100 “founders.” Each founder pitched in $250 to help with start up costs, and in return would receive a growler that they could refill for half price ($6 instead of $12) for life.
“We tried to assure everybody that we’re going to stay on it , and whoever buys it is going to fulfill our mission,” Erickson said. “It’s community first, profits second. And if they don’t do that, then we’re not going to sell it to them. Because the community supported us, and that was the whole purpose of it.”
Danna Speer, Erickson’s daughter, is the only partner that doesn’t live in the area. She has a family and business located just outside of Dallas, Texas. She visits three to four times a year to help with canning and staffing behind the bar, and she also manages the company’s social media presence.
“I’m a little sad about it,” Speer said. “It’s just a really fun community. And now there’s so many people that know me. They give you a hug and say they’re glad to see you back. It really does feel like your own little ‘Cheers.’ “
Partner and taproom manager Barry Aiton joked that he would gladly stay on to help with “quality control.” All the partners agreed that they’ll miss their ‘clubhouse,’ but they’ll all be nearby.
“We will stay involved at least through six months to make sure that the switch over is smooth,” Erickson said. “And then we’ll probably negotiate for free beer for life, so we can double check them make sure they’re doing it right.”
“We think it’s time for a young couple, two guys, husband and wife, whatever, to come in here and take this thing over and take it to the next level.” — Richard Erickson River Mile 38 Brewing Co.