Thursday, June 16, 2011

Airway Brewing is Really Taking Off!

Alex Dittmar and his wife have successfully beaten the odds.  They built a ground up business in a remote location (Kent, Wa.) during the worst recession in modern history.  In a recent conversation, he told me that they started out with a year lease on a business space in order to cut bait should the brewery fail.  This is a very realistic view of the market as so many bars and restaurants don't last a single year.  I am happy to report that they have passed the year mark and are now looking at a 5 year lease.  Airways is also adding a bistro to the mix.  Here is an email interview Alex was kind enough to grant The Beer Authority.

Phil- Beside your own delicious beverages, what is your current favorite beer?

Alex- It depends on the day, time of year and location. If I'm in the mood for something light, I'll go for a Chuckanut or Bitburger Pilsner. Darker, a Diamond Knot Possession Porter. Hoppier, you can't beat a local, Washington IPA. Elysian is the brewery that always has something pleasing for me. Same with Silver City.

Phil- How long has Airways been producing beer. How did you get into this industry?

Alex- We moved into our current location in October of 2009, brewed our first batch on January 31, 2010 and opened our doors on March 4, 2010. I started as a home brewer, won some nice awards for my beer, and decided I could produce a product just as good, if not better, than some of what was out there. It took a couple of years of planning before we finally decided to do it.

Phil- Checking your website, it seems there is some remodeling going on in the tap room? I did notice a date of June 9 as the ready date. I just happened to notice it is June 9. Are you on schedule or do drinkers have to bring protective eye wear?

Alex- We did open the tap room on June 9th on schedule. That doesn't mean we're done. I'd say it's about 90% done, with most of the remaining items purely cosmetic. The only big thing left is to install the new draft system, which has to wait for the new walk-in cooler to arrive. We hope to have everything in place by July 9th, when we have our expansion party. As far as protective eyewear, that's always a good idea. And, bring power tools too.

Phil- There seems to be no lack of young, craft breweries in the Northwest. Have you found the climate to competitive or is it more like a large family?

Alex- I come from two very competitive industries - radio broadcasting and the airlines. The collaborative nature of the brewing industry has taken some getting used to. I'm still a little shy about asking for help. But, when I do, my fellow brewers come through with flying colors. For example, we don't brew our Starliner Stout in 7-barrel batches that often, so to spend a couple hundred bucks for yeast that will get thrown out impacts  our costs in a significant way. The nice folks at Big Al's have given me a spare pitch of that yeast twice now. They don't have to, but they're really genuinely nice people and have been happy to help.

Phil- What are the most challenging aspects of running a business like yours? What are the best parts?

Alex- Our biggest challenge right now is how to balance our tap room needs vs.. our distribution desires. We don't distribute a lot, but when we do, we like to keep our customers happy and stocked with our beer. Until our new 10-barrel system gets here in August, that balancing act gets really tricky. The best part of this business is our customers. We've been blessed with a really nice group of regulars in our Kent tap room. And, it's always fun to welcome new people as well.

Phil- How many employees do you have?  Which employee would you say is the weakest?  If he/she were to get fired can I have their job?

Alex- By the end of the month, Including myself, we'll have two full-time and three part-time employees. When we open our Bistro in downtown Kent in mid-summer, we'll add more than a dozen new folks. We fire tap room favorite Greg daily - sometimes multiple times - and sometimes even the customers get in on wielding the hatchet. If you hang out at the tap room long enough, I'm sure you can have his job for the five minute intervals he remains fired until we rehire him.

Phil- It seems that, if you were not a brewer, you would be an aviation collector.  Can you share with us some of the airplane parts that you have procured for the brewery?  Also, why the airline theme?

Alex- We have a 747 nose cone hanging on the wall in the brewery. That's my prize eBay find. Soon, we'll add a spiral staircase from an old 747. Haven't decided where to put that yet. Then, there are the various small airliner parts - 727 flap sections, 707 posters, etc. Classic airliners is our theme, and I love finding decorative items to support it.

The airline theme came about because I've always been a big jet guy. In addition to my Farrah Fawcett Majors orange swimsuit poster, as a kid, I had posters of airliners on my bedroom wall. Big planes have always fascinated me and still do.


Here is a list of Airways' regular taps.  They also carry many special and seasonal Brews.

    * T-Tail Blonde Ale™
    * Jet City ESB™
    * First Class IPA™
    * Starliner Stout™
    * Sky Hag IPA™

Stop by and check it out.  Here is their address:

And be sure to check out the web site:

Thanks, Alex, for taking the time to correspond with me.  See you soon.