One year, 250,000 pints of Optimism


Hakala and Gilmore, left, along with the Optimism crew (Images: CHS)

Happy birthday to brew, Optimism Brewery.

Optimism Brewery opened its doors at Broadway and Union in December 2015 and is celebrating one year of making beer on Capitol Hill this weekend.

Gay Gilmore, who founded the brewery with her husband Troy Hakala, said they always dreamed of opening the brewery in their home neighborhood on Capitol Hill, and the support they’ve received has been hugely rewarding.

“The response has been so awesome, we just want to say thank you,” Gilmore said.

In the first year, 61,000 people visited Optimism’s taproom, and the brewery has sold 1,000 barrels or 124,000 250,000 pints of beer. In addition to Capitol Hill-brewed beer, Optimism’s-16,000 square-foot brewery has become a popular space for politicians, city officials, nonprofits, and residents to hold parties and events.

Optimism has also been part of a growing wave of Capitol Hill businesses changing the way restaurants, bars, and brewpubs handle tipping. At Optimism, tip and tax are all rolled into the price of a beer.

Optimism’s Jocelyn Lescarbeau said in the first year the business focused on brewing and serving its beer exclusively out of the enormous taproom and brewery that transformed out of an old auto row-era building on the backside of Pike/Pine.

But fans can look for Optimism’s beers in other bars and restaurants in the neighborhood and city soon as the brewery plans to begin distributing its beers locally, bringing Optimism’s method of labeling with flavor descriptors and a photo instead of style names to more people. The labeling style has led to more exploration, the Optimism crew says.

“People have tried beers that they may not normally try,” Lescarbeau said.

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While bartenders have been filling growlers brought in by patrons (Optimism doesn’t sell its own), the brewery is hoping to start selling crowlers, a can of beer filled and sealed on site, in the coming weeks, offering another to-go option. You may have seen one of the countertop canners at work at Chuck’s.

With Optimism ruling as the biggest independent brewery on the Hill since Elysian sold to global beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2014, changes to the neighborhood’s beer scene are coming. Elysian is planning to overhaul its space on Pike and 13th, and Redhook is opening a brewpub about two blocks from Optimism later this year.

Lescarbeau thinks the changes will present the neighborhood with a “good energy and a good vibe” and doesn’t expect Optimism will experience any negative impacts.

“We play well with everyone in the neighborhood,” Lescarbeau said.

Hakala and Gilmore opened the brewery after spending years in the tech industry. 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.

The brewery opened with a slate of seven beers born of Hakala’s home-crafted recipes and now has brewed 30 different beers focusing on traditional styles with modern takes.

“We’ve tried a lot of different types,” Lescarbeau said. “We want to continue to expand what we offer.”

Their most popular beers are the Zest, a citrus IPA and One, and ESB style beer, which Optimism is brewing in stronger Imperial style to release on the anniversary.

Along with the new beer on Saturday, Optimism will offer brewery tours every half hour from 1 PM to 3 PM, Wood Shop BBQ will be selling food outside the beer-only joint, and the first 200 guests through the door will get a free Optimism glass.

A portion of Optimism’s proceeds from the birthday bash will go to The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy.

Optimism turns one!

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5 thoughts on “One year, 250,000 pints of Optimism

    • Optimism is a great addition. So many new things here are exclusive and really expensive. It’s none of those things and a good place to hangout for all sorts. Try focusing on the getting better part.

    • Don’t get me wrong. I love Optimism. It’s a fantastic space for many reasons, including the fact that you can fit a big group, bring outside food, the quick credit card only, no tip service, the acoustics, etc. Not to mention their badassly progressive bathroom setup.

      I just think it would be even more awesome if their beer was more than passable, and if they would just call an IPA an IPA and call a stout a stout.

    • Yeah I like hanging out there, it’s lovely. If the beer continues to improve I’ll hang more. Also it seems like their radical genderless restroom design is working just fine, so well done.