The ultimate home brew fantasy has come to life at the corner of Broadway and Union. After spending years at Microsoft then striking it big with an online venture of their own, husband and wife Troy Hakala and Gay Gilmore have gone all in with their first non-tech venture overhauling a $6.5 million auto-row era building on Capitol Hill at Broadway and Union.
“We decided we didn’t want to do software, we wanted to do something we could see,” said Gilmore. “We just ran out of reasons to not do a brewery.”
The result is Optimism Brewing, a 16,000 square-foot brewery designed by Olson Kundig Architects that will create a major destination on rapidly changing E Union and give Capitol Hill its second cathedral of beverage. Optimism combines Hakala’s longtime passion for home brewing beer, the couple’s penchant for analytical tinkering, and a generous dash of entrepreneurial risk taking.
Optimism will hold its grand opening on Saturday, December 5th to coincide with the anniversary of the end of Prohibition. The brewery will start out slow with limited hours and days of operation. Check optimismbrewing.com for details.
The new brewery also will give Capitol Hill a new leader in independent beer brewing following 2014’s takeover of Hill-born Elysian Brewing by global beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev that split the Seattle beer community — and Elysian’s founders.
Since CHS first reported on Optimism in 2013, Hakala and Gilmore stayed relatively quiet on their bubbly vision for a “brewery, not a beer pub.” It’s a vision that has now materialized on multiple fronts.
Optimism will open with a slate of seven beers born of Hakala’s home-crafted recipes. While Hakala said he is striving for drinkability, Optimism takes an unconventional approach to its actual beer menu by forgoing any typical style names in favor of its own simplistic names paired with a few tasting notes and a picture of the beer. For instance, “One” is described as “toffee, English tea, hoppy” and “Black” as “bold coffee, cocoa nibs, roasty.”
Hakala said the naming convention is an attempt to push back against beer snobbery to open up a wider range of beers to people who might be otherwise be turned off by the sound of an “extra special bitter” or an “imperial stout.”
“I’m hoping America will come back to getting away from style names,” he said.
The menu will include two IPA’s, though Hakala said wasn’t sure if he could get away with dropping that beer’s familiar nomenclature. Eventually, he said he wants to expand into barrel aged beers and sours.
Optimism will also be experimenting with a no-cash register to keep the lines moving and tips that are rolled into the cost of the beer. Pricing is still being worked out. Expect the full-pour, 16-ounce pints to come in somewhere above $5 including transaction fees, taxes and the built-in tip.
Building on the no-pub theme, Optimism has no TVs, but the two-story wrap-around windows should provide ample people watching opportunities. Halaka is also hoping the windows will lure some thirsty First Hill Streetcar riders when the Broadway-running line finally opens.
Meanwhile, Optimism has no food service component. Instead, the owners will feature a rotating lineup of food trucks on a private courtyard that was carved out of the original building (a space that will also help ease the logistical issues of running a small manufacturing business in the heart of Capitol Hill). Customers will also be allowed to bring in any and all outside food, including delivery right to the brewery.
For more on the beer end of the equation, check out Washington Beer Blog’s write-up on the new brewery.
The project is part of a wave of big, food and drink investments on E Union pushing the Pike/Pine entertainment district south. CHS reported on the November openings of the new Renee Erickson trio of projects —Bar Melusine, Bateau, and General Porpoise Coffee and Doughnuts — on the street. Meanwhile, the a former thrift store has been transformed into the 12,500 square-foot Metier bike gym and cafe.
At 16,000 square feet, Optimism is capable of brewing 40 kegs of beer per run — significantly larger than most beer startups. By comparison, Optimism has nearly seven times the beer making capacity of Outer Planet Brewing, which was the first brewery to open on Capitol Hill since Elysian.
Inside, beer making takes center stage, surrounded by two large seating areas, the bar, and a kids play area tucked into a corner. Most of the wood in the bar was reclaimed from the building itself and the owners were able to retain the classic single-pane windows by installing heated floors to meet energy efficiency regulations.
After meeting at Microsoft, Hakala and Gilmore made a fortune when they sold Recipezaar in 2007, which paved the way for their brewery dream to become a reality. After aborting another online company, the couple turned their tech skills towards optimizing Optimism.
Hakala created his own software to record beer quality, ingredients, pH levels, and which equipment was used in each batch. Feeding into that system will be another tech inspired process: continual user feedback. Above the brewery, Hakala and Gilmore built a blind taste testing room where they plan to gather survey data to determine how to tweak their recipes. Attached to the tasting room is a laboratory, used for growing yeast and testing beers.
Optimism’s all gender neutral bathrooms were another innovation of sorts. After many meetings, Gay said she was able to convince City inspectors to allow a setup that features one large room of single stalls, half with toilets and half with urinals.
Wanting to stay close to home and part of a neighborhood community, the couple said Capitol Hill was the only neighborhood they considered for launching the brewery. Prior to finding the Broadway location, they were under contract to open in the building currently occupied by the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room. Ultimately the Broadway building was a better fit as the brewery could operate entirely on one level, Hakala said. And unlike the corporate managed coffee facility, Optimism may actually become the true Capitol Hill Willy Wonka drink laboratory where a passion for product outweighs typical corporate restrictions.
“This isn’t our first business so were not trying to eek every last dollar out of it,” Gilmore said.
Optimism will be open Thursday-Friday from 3 PM-10 PM and Saturday-Sunday from 11 AM-10 PM. You can learn more at optimismbrewing.com.