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Meet the Columnist: Brandon Fralic, Brews & Spirits guru

Blazing a path to a barstool near you

By Brandon Fralic CDN Contributor

When launching a new column on the regional beer and spirits scene, one should venture out and actually visit some local watering holes. Also ideally sample new brews, chat up the bartender for industry news and the like.

But this being 2022, I haven’t visited a single drinking establishment yet this year. Thanks a lot, omicron. Instead of sitting on a barstool, I’ve been sitting on my couch drinking Kulshan Coconut Kitten Mittens, obsessing over Wordle, and scrolling social media for news and entertainment.

Much uncertainty remains as we enter another pandemic year. As I’m writing this, several breweries and restaurants remain temporarily closed in our region due to rising COVID-19 cases. Despite this ongoing hardship, our local beer industry continues to grow. 

Otherlands Beer (a personal favorite) opened in Bellingham in 2020, followed by Beach Cat Brewing in Birch Bay. Kulshan Brewing opened its third Bellingham location, the seasonal Trackside Beer Garden, during summer 2021. These resilient new businesses are open today because of hard work and strong community support — continued support they need to survive.

Looking ahead, Whatcom County will welcome at least two new breweries in 2022. El Sueñito Brewing Company & Frelard Tamales aims for a spring/summer 2022 opening in Bellingham’s Sunnyland neighborhood. Darach Brewing will open in the former Firefly/Green Frog space on State Street in summer/fall. And Mount Vernon’s District Brewing plans to eventually open a taproom location in Ferndale. I look forward to welcoming all of these businesses soon.

But first, an introduction. This column will focus on brewery and distillery news in Whatcom County and the surrounding areas — including Skagit County and the San Juan Islands. Whatcom County is now home to 16 breweries (an ever-evolving number) and Skagit isn’t far behind. Distilleries dot the map from Everson to Edison and Eastsound.

I aim to write about beer and spirits in an approachable way for the average imbiber. I consider myself a beer enthusiast — not a snobby expert. More of a promoter than a critic. So relax, breweries — I won’t be overanalyzing your beers or handing out letter grades. Style-wise, I’ll try just about anything from hazy and West Coast IPAs to funky, sour, barrel-aged brews. These days, I prefer lower alcohol by volume session beers to boozy imperial stouts and triple IPAs. I have a soft spot for saisons.

Admittedly, I’m less familiar with the spirits world, so feel free to correct me if I misspell “whisky.” That said, I enjoy the occasional cocktail and look forward to learning more about local distilleries in the coming year.

So how’d I end up here? I grew up in the Skagit Valley before moving to Bellingham to attend Western Washington University in 2006. My Skagit roots remain strong — I steer my Subaru southbound most weeks to visit family and friends (shout-out to my Skagitonians!).

When I graduated from Western in 2009, Bellingham had two breweries — Boundary Bay and Chuckanut. Whispers of an enterprising third brewery were met with a mix of excitement and doubt. Could Bellingham really support another brewery? The answer, of course, turned out to be a resounding “yes.” Since Kulshan Brewing opened in 2012, a dozen or so breweries have popped up around town. I can’t think of a time when there wasn’t talk of a “new brewery coming to Bellingham” ever since.

I started writing about beer in 2013, when my partner, Rachel, and I kicked off our “trails and ales” blog, Beers at the Bottom. We spent our free time hiking and drinking beer, so why not blog about it? We set up a website, hiked to the top of Oyster Dome for our first “research trip,” and ran back down the trail to reach Boundary Bay in time for $2 happy hour mac n’ cheese. One thing led to another, and we eventually received our first print magazine assignment: a “Boots and Brews” feature in Washington Trails Magazine. That byline provided some street cred, and soon I was pitching beer & hiking stories to magazines and websites across Cascadia as an aspiring travel writer.

In 2016, we were offered our first book deal and began researching Beer Hiking Pacific Northwest. We paired 50 hikes with breweries in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, knocking out most of the research and writing in a four-month road trip frenzy. After this crash course in beer writing, I became Bellingham Tourism’s craft beer blogger — a regular monthly gig for over four years.

The pandemic took its toll on many local businesses, including mine. Budgets tightened, magazines folded and travel writers were suddenly out of a job. I’m excited to get back to work with a weekly column in Cascadia Daily News and look forward to what 2022 has in store. Cheers!

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