Kevin Klein traded a post-doctorate research job for brewing beer. His nano brewery, NW Peaks, is the smallest brewery in Ballard.
Ballard's smallest brewery offers lots of variety
Not a lot of people would go to school for many years and then suddenly give up a post-doctorate research job at the University of Washington to start making beer. But nanobrewer Kevin Klein did just that.
Operating out of a 900-square-foot space, Klein owns NW Peaks Brewery, the smallest brewery in Ballard.
"Having a microbiology background has actually helped out," said Klein, who opened NW Peaks Brewery on 17th Avenue NW 15 months ago.
"It's a little tight in here," Klein joked. "But it works."
Klein had been a home brewer for almost 14 years when he decided to go commercial.
"I wanted to keep it a hobby but at the same time, get a foot in the door of commercial brewing. The ball just started rolling and now it's still my full-time hobby but I want to make it a full-time job. All the money goes right back into the business," said Klein, adding that he's been living very modestly off his savings.
Klein said his first ever homebrew was a brown ale with a lot of flavor.
"There was no craze on hops back then yet," said Klein, who's originally from the Midwest. "I immediately joined a homebrew club, which is the best thing I've ever done. It’s just a bunch of beer geeks with different palates and lots of opinions. I learned a lot."
In all the years of brewing beer, Klein said he's only made a couple of batches that he considered undrinkable.
"Brewing beer can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be," Klein said, explaining that like baking, you can make it from a mix or from scratch.
Klein's homebrew soon became popular among his friends and family, and he started serving his beer at big parties and at his sister's wedding.
"I wouldn't have done that if I didn't feel the beer was a good competitor to commercial booze," Klein said.
An avid climber, Klein names his beers after mountain peaks he has climbed.
Holly was the first Northwest mountain peak he climbed, and also the name of his first commercial beer.
"It was a vesper bitter after a homebrew recipe," Klein recalled. It was also the beer he served at the Summer Beer Fest organized by the Phinney Neighborhood Association last summer.
Klein's beers are available in very small batches and he brews two new beers each month.
He offers a subscription program called the mountainbeers. Subscribers can come in and get a growler or two of a new NW Peaks craft brew every month.
"It's community supported beer," Klein said. "I'm trying to promote diversity and get people to try new things."
As a one-man operation it's convenient for Klein to have people come in and pick up the beer instead of having to distribute the product.
"Plus, subscribers get first dibs on the beer," Klein said. "It's darn good beer --diverse and seasonal."
But at the rate that he's making new recipes, he'll soon run out of peak names.
"Eventually I'll have more time to climb more peaks to name my beers," he said.
"Until then, I'm thinking of recycling some favorites so that people who missed out on one beer can have another chance to try it."
Klein said the brewing scene in Seattle is competitive but in a friendly way.
"We're all fighting for craft beer to be loved here. We push each other to make better beer and to create awareness in the consumers and grow the industry," said Klein.
The nanobrewery has been a labor of love involving many, many hours of work. And while he's yet to make a paycheck, Klein said he has no regrets.
"The beer in 2011 sold itself. There's nothing else I'd rather be doing," he said.
While getting a paycheck is his immediate goal, Klein said the ultimate goal is to expand and scale up some of the most popular beers for distribution.
NW Peaks is already available at the Amber Den, Shelter Lounge, and Serendipity but Klein hopes to have his beer featured at more local bars soon.
"I want to expand but I want to stay in Ballard," he said. "Ballard is a beer destination. The community is supportive and welcoming of local businesses and they have embraced my small garage atmosphere."
People can stop by the brewery at 4912 17th Ave NW Ste B to sample Klein's brews and take home a growler. Visit www.nwpeaksbrewery.com for more information.