It’s the morning of July 14th, 2022, and I’m sad and angry.
I did my once-weekly run through the posts on Instagram, which I seldom use and haven’t posted in for maybe 2 1/2 years, and ran across a note from my old friend, Jeremy Hubbell, owner of Geaux Brewing, late of Bellevue, Washington, now of Auburn, Washington. No, wait…”late” of Auburn, too.
I have written a couple of times, in the going-on fifteen years The Pour Fool has existed, About Geaux. I used to live in Bellevue – or, as I always call it, “Bellevoid” – which was to the Northwest Craft Beer Boom what the Sahara is to ice-skating rinks. There was ONE brewery in Bellevoid, an outpost of the highly-questionable Rock Bottom Brewing which, in that yuppified location near the Microsoft Sprawl of downtown, became basically a happy hour meat market that happened to make a few listless, predictable beers as a sort of moist courtesy to its customers, many of whom use brewer visits as lifestyle cred. In the mid 00s, Rock Bottom was joined by a second brewery, run by an enormous, self-aggrandizing fathead who was convinced that hiring a certain brewer would put them firmly into the beer stratosphere. (It didn’t) That was that for a relatively short time. Then, a youngish New Orleanian named Jeremy Hubbell, a technical and design consultant whose LinkedIn profile reads like this: “Specialties: New business development, product marketing, product management, product design, international business.” He had a successful business doing all this, in a large space in a small urban light-industrial/retail development, tucked away in a secluded side-street just outside of downtown Bellevoid.
But Jeremy also had a background in brewing and his wonky technical/design side meshed perfectly with the more geeky chemistry, equipment, and formulation side of making beer. So, he used over half of his design offices and turned that into a brewery. As a homage to his Big Easy roots, he called the business “Geaux (Go) Brewing” and used a few parking spaces out front to build a tiny beer garden to augment his lack of seating space inside the taproom.
Geaux did pretty well, considering that many, maybe most, King County beer fans never heard of it. Jeremy opened the doors and made some KILLER beers and relied on that to build an audience. I lived about a half mile way and it was on the route home from my office, so I was there a LOT. My only reasonable alternative was to drive across the 520 Floating Bridge and go to a Seattle brewery, because in Bellevoid, Geaux was IT. And the beers were largely as solid (or better) as 90% of the Seattle options. So, I tried everything they made, wrote about Geaux several times, talked them up to everyone I knew here. Some of the beers were bordering on transcendent. Tremé was a virtual template for a big PNW IPA. Poydras was a sorta smoky American Porter, upon which Jeremy later based a variation called Mesquite Smoked Poydras, which made me all warm and runny. Camellia, my favorite, was a drop-dead gorgeous Belgian IPA, all colors of fruit and spices and floral notes, and it found the inside of my DrinkTanks growler about a half-dozen times in two years.
Then, we moved. To Tacoma. Happy, because it got us out of Bellevoid, a truly sorry place, but sad because we left two things – ONLY two – that we really loved behind: Geaux and Broiler Bay Burgers, STILL one of the two or three best burgers I’ve ever found in the Northwest.
Then…Jeremy moved! To Auburn! FORTY miles closer to our new Tacoma manse. He first moved into a defunct grocery store space in downtown Auburn, finally found that financially unsustainable, what with a restaurant on premises, and finally moved out to an industrial neighborhood near the Auburn Airport.
No restaurant, so lower overhead but…well, no slight to my Auburn neighbors – because people should drink what they want – but down our way, the one and only place where craft breweries have a firm toehold is here in Tacoma. Auburn, Kent, Algona, Pacific, Federal Way, Covington…FOUR breweries, all together, and around here that is nothing. Only one of those has a real high profile, Airways Brewing of Kent. NO others in Auburn, a fairly sizeable town. Those communities are largely blue-collar. It’s a BudMillerCoorsPabst crowd. So, Geaux, with its lovely experimental ales, found only a small following…and, ultimately, not enough to make even the stripped-down airport location sustainable.
Geaux Brewing closed its doors last night. Because Jeremy announced it on Instagram, I found out at 6 p.m., while making our dinner, too late for us to cancel previous plans and Git To Geaux. Which I absolutely would have.
But, here’s the thing: Even though I’ve been a BIG fan of Geaux and even though it was a fifteen minute drive from my door, I didn’t do MY part of make sure that Geaux was making $$$, getting talked about, staying encouraged. I’m as busy as the next guy, I live 1.5 miles from one of my favorite breweries on the fuggen planet, E9 Brewing Company, and I drink less in general than I used to. I also have maybe a half-dozen tastings of received samples in an average week, so I got lazy and lost focus on my real desire to spend time at Geaux, maybe gradually nudge Jeremy into making Camellia again. (Which he stopped making, ostensibly because “it didn’t sell”. Sure. Bastard.) Also, even though we are very different breeds of cat, I like Jeremy. He’s smart and motivated and he had a leg up with me, to begin with, because he’s from New Orleans, where I used to live and work and dearly, dearly love. And he could make fuggen beer and was a nice guy, to boot.
I let down the side. I was just as responsible as everybody in South King County and Tacoma who enjoyed Jeremy’s beers and the OutPost of NoLa vibe for showing that enjoyment, repaying it in tangible ways. And that leads me to this…
YOU, reading this, have this same responsibility, whether you’re in King County, Washington, or Henrico County, Virginia, or Fulton County, Georgia, or Vancouver Island, B.C. for SUPPORTING the breweries YOU like and want to continue to enjoy. NO, emphatically, you do NOT have ANY obligation to support ALL craft breweries. If you prefer Airways and you live in that vague area halfway between the Alex Ditmar’s Airways and Geaux, go to Airways. But GO to Airways, if you expect Airways to keep making that stuff you love. Those who love Geaux should get their asses over to Jeremy’s place as often as possible. Those who love The Rickety Cricket in Kingman, Arizona, should GO to the Cricket. You don’t need to shoulder the load for every single brewery. But this is NOT just about breweries. That winery, that burger joint, that hair salon, that movie theater, that bar, that spa, that candy store…it is categorically NOT enough to just think kindly of them, to offer eulogies when they fold. These are small businesses I’m talking about. If you don’t hit the local CostCo for three months, there are a TON of folks to pick up the slack. If we value Small Businesses, as we all SAY we do in all our drippy Lip Service to Small Business Saturday, then that Saturday HAS TO be every day. Dead easy to stroll into your local grocery store, amirite, and snag a sixer of Goose island – pardon me, “Anheuser Busch Chicago” – 312. You send that money not even to Chicago, which would be bad enough, but it ultimately winds up in Belgium and Brazil, where Anheuser Busch’s parent company, AB/InBev, is headquartered. How much more time will it take you to go to your favorite LOCAL, independently-owned craft brewery and pick up a FAR better beer? Most even have cans of bottles these days, even here in Washington(!), just in case ya forgot the growler. And an increasing number have crowler machines and will can ya up ANY of their tap beers in about two minutes.
The excuses are dwindling.
Jeremy’s Instagram note indicates that he hopes to eventually find a good affordable space in which to resurrect Geaux. Honestly, in this area, his best shot is here in Tacoma. I hope it happens, sooner rather than later. I’ll damned sure support it, even if just buy beers and give ’em to my grandkids, several of whom are now of an age at which grandpa is beginning to get Useful for them.
The downside of all of this is the current influx of young drinkers who want, demand!, that breweries satisfy their unevolved yen for pastry Stouts and hard seltzers (AAAAAAARGHHH!!) and milkshake IPAs that taste suspiciously like the Saturday morning juice boxes that these newly-enfranchised drinkers recently graduated from…or have they? I submit not. Brewers like Jeremy, who know and value what the term “beer” actually means (water, yeast, hops, grains, judgment) are finding it increasingly necessary to pander to childish tastes to stay solvent. This is NOT as big a problem as I suggest here. With certain notable exceptions, no current brewery fails to offer “real beers”, even if their taplist is predominantly infused confections. But it IS what creates “buzz” in the current sense. If street talk means anything – and it does, as popularity translates directly to dollars – the names of breweries HAVE TO get around. Those who just open the doors and hope for word of mouth USUALLY go kaput.
Jeremy is a more reserved personality and doesn’t relentlessly promote Geaux. His opposite is my friend, Dave Lambert, of Slippery Pig Brewing, in Poulsbo, Washington, who weathered Covid by being aggressively creative in thinking up ways to get people to interact with The Pig, even in the fat middle of the quarantine. Their weekly Spaghetti dinners to go. Mixed drinks in mason jars, crowlers and growlers and jars of tap beers, delivered curbside. Prizes, contests, al fresco dining just as soon as it was possible, OUTSIDE, in our miserable Washington dripfest winters. He has a wonderfully bizarre event every Sunday morning called “Beer Church”, beers, breakfast, and Big Ideas discussed and hashed out together. It is a brilliant idea, executed with tongue firmly in cheek and sets The Pig apart from any other brewery in the Northwest…Dave was and remains as on his game of promoting his business as any small business person I have ever seen. And it worked. Slippery Pig is in a town of just about 10,000 people, with FOUR other breweries within its tiny city limits.. Auburn is over 80,000. And STILL, against all those odds, Slippery Pig survives…and Geaux is Gone.
This same contrast cuts across all business types. I have one winemaker friend who is just as reserved and crusty as I am and another who constantly promotes his winery in ways that NO other winery in America has even approached. He is in perpetual motion, touring and pouring and talking up wines, partnering with musical acts and record labels, producing music and dance performances IN his Eastern Washington winery and his Seattle tasting room. And his label is known, now, nationally. The more reserved friend? GORGEOUS wines but not anywhere near as well known.
This is what it takes, today. You have to be the freakish offspring of P.T. Barnum and Robert Mondavi. YES, absolutely, there are instances, even today, in which the sheer inescapable quality of the wines or beers or whiskeys does create a fervent demand and drive the brand into prominence. Hill Farmstead, in Vermont, has achieved astronomical success with little of their own, self-generated fanfare. In wine, there is an unending parade of Shiny New Baubles: Mollydooker, Bedrock, Screaming Eagle…currently Analemma, Tank Garage, Idlewild, etc. Breweries like Toppling Goliath, Tree House, Angry Chair, Great Notion…BIG buzz but how good are they really? Answer: VERY good but that’s relative. MANY breweries are VERY good or BETTER. I’ve tasted most of Hill Farmstead’s core beers, now, and they are exceptionally good. But in that same agrarian/experimental groove, I’ll take Alesong and Farmstrong and Casey, any day. But Hill got the buzz going sooner and they’re the ones being slobbered over. And the ONLY ammo MOST breweries have is hard work, excellent quality and a LOT of self-promotion…whether the personalities involved are comfortable with it nor not.
That’s their end, the owners’ task. Ours? Back up the “thoughts ‘n’ prayers” with visits, purchases, YOUR dollars. As long as we, as a society, are going to embrace capitalism, that is just The Way It Works.
Jeremy…I apologize. Open the doors again (Please!) and I will drag my ancient ass off the sofa and Show Up.