By Matthew Weaver
AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. - Bernie Düenwald poured one of his brewery's beers into a glass and took a long drink.
Düenwald is brewmaster of Orlison Brewing Company in Airway Heights, Wash., formerly the Golden Hills Brewing Company. The beers he makes are lagers, which he says makes them crisper and more drinkable than most customers might expect from a full-flavored beer.
Düenwald knew how to make good beer. But his company, launched in 2009, appeared poised to close last year, until investors Orlin Reinbold and Jason Miller saw an opportunity to expand and came on board in December, taking over as owners.
"The brewery turned out good, quality beer but the marketing plan maybe lacked," said Reinbold, also a seed dealer in Spokane.
"You can have the best beer in the world, and if you don't have the right kind of marketing behind it, you're not going to get where you need to be," he said.
The brewery distributes out of Spokane across southern Washington and along the Interstate-5 corridor. Discussions with another distributor would expand into the rest of Washington and into Idaho.
So far, the brewery's beers are available in bars and restaurants as draft beer, but will be available in grocery stores through the company's distributors. Around Sept. 20, the brewery will start using cans.
Düenwald said he's been selling about 600 barrels per year. A barrel is roughly 31 gallons.
The site currently has a 60-barrel fermenter and a 30-barrel fermenter. In September it will receive two additional 60-barrel fermenters, increasing production to more than 3,000 barrels per year.
Düenwald expects to order more fermenters next year. The goal is to expand and reach 36,000 barrels within five years, the site's capacity with enough fermenters.
Düenwald said the brewery uses roughly 60,000 pounds of malting barley each year, but could increase to more than 2.8 million pounds of barley. The malt comes from the Great Western Malting Company in Vancouver, Wash., which buys two-row barley from farmers in Washington, Idaho and Montana. Hops come from Hop Union in Yakima, Wash.
"I think there's a better connection between the beer you drink and the farmer who raises the barley from a microbrewery versus what we've seen in the past," Reinbold said.
Düenwald quit farming barley to work for Great Western in the early 1990s and then went to work for the U.S. Grains Council before returning to start the brewery.
In 1985, he was a charter commissioner of the Washington Barley Commission, now incorporated with the Washington Wheat Commission into the Washington Grain Commission.
Mary Palmer Sullivan, commission vice president, said Düenwald had a knack for thinking outside the box.
"Bernie was a visionary, he always had a different perspective," she said. "He was just a forward thinker and he was really passionate about barley."
Sullivan believes the brewing company could grow into an asset for the industry.
"There's not a lot of malting brewers that know from a farmer's perspective like Bernie does," she said. "Any opportunity for Washington barley is always one we're going to support and hopefully we'll potentially expand some acres."
Düenwald shares Sullivan's optimism.
"Now I own a smaller piece of a company that's going somewhere, instead of a big piece of a company that's treading water," Düenwald said. "Trust me, I like today's option much better."