I’m a firm believer in the saying, “the bigger the dream, the more important the team.” So when I heard about five guys — Chris Baum, Chad Roberts, Karl Vanevenhoven, John Cope and David Paulson — starting up the new Varietal Beer Company in Sunnyside, I was more than interested to learn their story.

It turns out that after combining all of their individual experience within the beer, hop and farming industry, they became the proverbial dream team of beer. Chris’ roots are in wildlife biology, but he started homebrewing in 2003, which led to a profession in brewing beer by 2012 when he took a position at Snipes Mountain Brewery. He then brewed at Bale Breaker for a time before taking on the role of head brewer at Varietal. Chad also brewed at Snipes Mountain, but left to focus on learning more about hops and the craft beer industry by joining Yakima Chief Hops, where he still works as planning manager by day, while also juggling the role of sales manager and co-taproom manager at Varietal. Hailing from Indiana, Karl is also a co-owner at Varietal and the chief operations officer at YCH, where he’s worked since he moved here in 1998.

John, a freelance designer, has been working in marketing for the Yakima fruit industry since 2006, and now wears many different hats at Varietal including design, marketing, quality control and co-taproom manager. Then there’s David, who moved to Yakima in 2004 after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. “David brings a financial and accounting background to Varietal and while he may keep the books, he is our evangelist and helps out throughout the organization,” says John. David just left his day job at YCH to focus on Varietal full time.

So how did this crew find each other and why did they pick Sunnyside as their location? It began in 2012 through their connections at the Beer Shoppe and Snipes Mountain. With a mutual love for beer, hops, and the craft beer industry, they began to work together to help Snipes Mountain become the most successful company that it could be. After achieving this milestone together, they knew that they would have no problem creating their own successful beer. “The genesis of our project started with Mighty Tieton, and an old CA (controlled atmosphere) room they were using for storage. We had been looking for somewhere to do an all barrel, wild and sour beer project as a side gig, and the stable temperature of that space was ideal. However, it wasn’t financially feasible, as even such a small-scale operation required too much capital to make the space appropriate for our needs,” says Chad. Then, an opportunity in Sunnyside emerged that they just couldn’t pass up. “Our break came when Chris was approached by Jay Hester, Executive Director for the Port of Sunnyside, to talk about a prospective location in Sunnyside, as part of revitalizing the downtown core,” he adds. “As soon as we visited the space and really understood what the Port had to offer, the decision was easy. The project would morph to something large scale, something far beyond anything we had dreamed of. We will still maintain barrel-aged sour and wild beers as one of our mainstays, but we will also focus on making high quality hoppy beers. The lower Yakima Valley is the agricultural core of the area, so we were going to be in the heart of the people and products we love!”

We got together recently so they could tell me more about themselves and Varietal. They each contributed to the answers below.

Varietal Beer Company: What a cool, different name! How did you guys come up with it?

“Varietal is a horticulture term similar to “cultivar” used to describe fruiting plants and organize the specific set of features they present. It’s usually associated with wines and wine grapes, which grow throughout the Columbia River Basin and Yakima Valley in Washington. We chose the name for a variety of reasons: We can apply it to the wide variety of hops grown in the Yakima Valley, the wine barrels we use for aging beers and the local fruits we are using in our barrel aged wild beers. And we chose “beer company” rather than “brewing company” because our project involves unique beer that is aged and blended rather than simply brewed and fermented.”

What do you think will bring people in your doors and set you apart from other beer companies in the Valley?

“Varietal is a family and dog friendly brewery with a goal to provide different and unique beer to what is available generally in the lower Yakima Valley, as well as a barrel program that shares the local treasure of wine barrels and fruit grown here. For being a major fruit growing region, the Yakima Valley does not have much in the way of fruited beer options. We want our beer to be fiercely local: made for the people who live and work here. We believe that’s the real future of beer. Additionally, we want to bring a spirit of collaboration to brewing in the area. We owe so many people for their knowledge and assistance in getting this business started. We can pay them back by continuing to partner with the community.”

How has the reality of the project changed from the original dream?

“We’ve encountered delays, problems, and missed expectations like anyone would. The often-repeated mantra within the brewing community is that “It’ll take twice as long and cost three times as much as you planned,” a warning which has pretty much rung true. Due to delays outside of our control, our building’s renovation was finished six months before our brewhouse was installed. This was something that to many industries would have meant potential catastrophe. But our neighbors and family in the brewing community opened their doors and let us come in and brew on their equipment to sell through our taproom. Between collaborations with brewers like Single Hill and others across Washington state, and the love Bale Breaker, Bron Yr Aur, and Snipes showed us by allowing us to brew on their equipment, we will forever be humbled by the generosity shown to us. In the last month our efforts are starting to come together as we get our brewhouse dialed in so we’ll be fully operational and brewing our own beer in-house.

The people in our lives that have helped us open, from our mentors to our customers are the first prize we’ve snagged from all of this work and it’s been rewarding — we love finally being able to give back. The first batch from our new brewhouse will be ready in a couple of weeks and that’s going to taste like the best beer ever to us and we can’t wait to share!”

We as individuals have the choice every single day whether to make our lives worth living and our work worth remembering. And this group of men has done this since they started working together some six years ago. They’ve shown that working together as a team can truly make the difference between average and extraordinary. Here’s to trying that first batch of extraordinary beer made in Varietal’s own brewhouse and for proving that when the going gets tough, the tough never give up.

Varietal Beer Company is located at 16 East Edison Avenue in Sunnyside. Hours of operation: Wednesday - Sunday with varying hours. Call (509) 515-2222 for more information

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