Chris Noskoff does a little bit of everything at Kulshan Brewery. His official title is Systems Manager, but on an average day he tackles all the projects the brewery needs done from cellar work, to merchandising and marketing. I sat down with Chris Noskoff in Kulshan’s taproom on a weekday morning to find out how hiking and backpacking flavor the brewery’s beers.
The taphouse’s green walls are decorated with black and white photos of Mount Baker, which Noskoff aims to climb once a year. The brewery even takes its name, Kulshan, from the Lummi name for the glaciated volcano. A love of the outdoors has led the brewery staff to prioritize sustainability and conservation in business practices.
“We get donation requests daily,” Noskoff mentions, “and we haven’t had to turn anyone down.” That morning, Kulshan received a shipment of promotional pint glasses to benefit Northwest Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. The taproom plays host to fundraisers for area organizations, and has become a hub for local events.
Noskoff’s climbing adventures began after he took Skagit Alpine Club‘s Beginning Mountaineering Class. He went on to lead the class as an instructor, and is now an active member of the 55 year old climbing club. For many years, his only goal was the summit—but now with his family on the trail with him, he prefers day hikes and backpacking. Some of his favorite trails in the region are Chowder Ridge and Cougar Divide. High, ridge-line trails along rocky spines with panoramic views of mountains and sky.
The backcountry is a perfect place to take a break, gain clarity. “We’ve produced a lot of great ideas for the brewery in tents and on trails,” Noskoff laughs. A few of those ideas might even have come while he was taking a break in the collapsible chair he packs on the trail. He claims that one-pound luxury item is the most surprising thing in his backpack—a can of beer however, “is the 11th essential, of course.”
So how does backpacking translate back to the brewery? “Both brewing and hiking require problem solving and innovation.” In the ever expanding craft beer market, innovation is crucial. Kulshan’s innovation is especially seen when it comes to conservation. As with hiking, the brewery wants to leave the craft beer scene better than when it was found. One of the ways Kulshan brewery reduces waste produced during the brewing process is sending spent grain to area cattle farmers. Another use Kulshan has found for its spent grain is, well, make more beer. They recently used the spent grains from a batch of barleywine—a high alcohol content beer that requires an abundance of grain—to brew what they call a “small beer.”
During our meeting, Noskoff also described the new grain silo which was soon to be installed into the corner of Kulshan’s beer garden. The grain silo helps the brewery to be more efficient—cutting back on labor time and waste production. On brewing day, it was surprising how quickly empty grain bags could fill a dumpster. The next big changes for the brewery will be the way Kulshan beer gets into the hands of local beer drinkers. A newly installed growler filler will help the brewery to fill by machine the same number of growlers a day, they were previously filling by hand in a week’s time. The dozen locations at which craft beer drinkers will be able to find Kulshan’s beers is a contrast to the refrigerated case in Bellingham’s Backcountry Essentials where the first crate of growlers were sold outside of the brewery.
And the first few cases of Kulshan’s Bastard Kat IPA in cans went quickly. “Our main drive for canning our beer was the outdoors,” Noskoff said. Portland’s Northwest Canning, a mobile beverage canning service, first worked with Kulshan to can the Collaboration Beer produced for Bellingham Beer Week in September of last year. With the success of cans taking off in the craft beer market, Kulshan plans to expand beyond their flagship beer to canning the rest of their brews as well. Hopefully soon, Chris Noskoff will be able to stow a can of Kitten Mittens Winter Ale—his favorite of Kulshan’s beers—into his backpack to enjoy on the trail.