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Washington State's first co-op brewery opens in Seattle

SEATTLE -- Seattle can add one more microbrewery to its growing list -- one that's serving up something unlike any other.

Flying Bike Brewery opened its doors this week in Greenwood. The brewery, at 8570 Greenwood Avenue North, is a cooperative, meaning it is owned, controlled, and operated by its members, instead of investors.

"We have the opportunity to create what I think is the best beer in Seattle," said Ryan Vanderpol, former president of the brewery's board of directors. "We do that because we're not just two or three people deciding the different beers we brew. We have 1,500 members who decide the beers."

Each of those members spent $150 to join the co-op during the past four years, earning voting rights on everything from what to serve on tap to how to decorate the brewery and more. Members submit ideas for beer recipes, which are then voted on by the group.

Similar to REI and other co-ops, members get dividends after the end of the year, based on the company's profits.

"We're actually kind of doing things backwards. Most places start as a one or two-person operation. They build from the ground up. They build a customer base," said Kevin Badger, who is president of the board. "We've kind of inverted that and built up with our membership base as our beginning customer base."

Many of the co-op's members have also volunteered their time to physically remodel the Greenwood space, which was once a coffee shop, Badger said. One man used reclaimed wood from the brewery's demolition to build the bar's high-top tables; others laid tile in the walls or jackhammered the floor to help build a drainage system.

"People really like (our) model. They're not trying to make money for one or two investors," Badger added. "They're trying to make money for the community of people that are part of the co-op."

The brewing industry in Washington State has a $4.2 billion impact, according to the Washington Beer Commission. There are more than 240 breweries statewide.

"(We're the) first in Washington. It feels wonderful and it adds to the curiosities that people have about it," said Kevin Forhan, Flying Bike's head brewer, who has 25 years of experience in the industry. "We own ourselves. We are a true co-op."

Flying Bike had a soft opening this week, with a public opening planned for Aug 15.

"It's an open project, a work in progress," Forhan added. "We don't know what's going to happen but we know it's going to be a lot of fun and we hope to make great beer."
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