Washington is for beer lovers. The state produces more hops — an integral ingredient for brewing beer — than any state, with well over four times as much acreage in hop production than the closest competitor.
Washington is home to some of the most decorated breweries in the country and holds third place for most breweries by state.
But not every part of Washington is as saturated with breweries as Seattle or Tacoma. Mason County has only two breweries, one of which has no taproom.
The other is Bent Bine Brew Co. in Belfair, and they don’t mind being the only kid on the block.
Bent Bine is owned and operated by the Masbruch family, brothers Tod and Tim, and Tim’s wife Colleen. While they’ve been in business since 2017, Tim has been brewing beer long before their brewery opened its doors.
Tim said he’s always been a fan of beer, but learned how to brew from a friend in Montana in 1986. He’s been making beer ever since.
“I got into home-brewing, like a lot of people, because I was interested in the way beer was made,” Tim said. “I wanted to learn more about the process, and making the beer myself was a fun way to do that.”
Tim started experimenting, trying to find new flavors and creating his own small batch recipes. What started as a hobby turned into a full-blown passion.
Slowly, a seed started to grow and before long the idea of opening a brewery took root.
“What started as a kind of dream became reality almost overnight,” Colleen said. “It wasn’t until we were picking names and looking for a location that it really hit, that this was really happening.”
The Masbruchs had intended to open the brewery in Key Center, but none of their options could host both the brewery production line and a taproom.
By the time they’d settled on a location in Belfair, they had settled on a new name as well. The original name, Vaughn Bay Brewing, was gone. But not forgotten.
“When you’re this excited about something you tell everyone you meet about it. Well, we’d told everyone about Vaughn Bay Brewing,” Colleen said. “The name got out there and even after we changed the name, we still had people looking for Vaughn Bay Brewing.”
Vaughn Bay Brewing even showed up on Google Maps, but instead of directing beer enthusiasts to the brewery in Belfair, it sent them to Tim and Colleen’s home in Vaughn. The issue has since been resolved, but Colleen said they still get the occasional unexpected visitor.
There are a number of unique advantages to Bent Bine’s location. The brewery sits on Highway 3, a major thoroughfare connecting Belfair, Bremerton and the Hood Canal. Tim says the traffic brings a lot of new customers each week.
A more inadvertent advantage comes from their neighbor, Mason County Sherriff’s North Precinct.
“Other bars in town talk about some of the folks who come in looking to make trouble,” Colleen said. “They know better than to come here.”
It’s a gentle reminder to everyone coming to Bent Bine to behave themselves and part of what allows the brewery to be so family friendly. “People feel comfortable bringing their kids because they feel safe there," she said.
Being the only brewery with a taproom in the county isn’t bad for business either, Tim said. But it does come with its own challenges.
Because there’s never been a significant presence of craft breweries in the area, many locals don’t understand the difference between a mass-brewed beer, like Budweiser, and the craft beers at Bent Bine.
“Beer culture and knowledge is a lot more common in places with an abundance of breweries,” Tim said. “People ask: Why should I pay $6 for a pint of your beer when I can get a Bud for $3?”
He sees this as an opportunity to educate people about the dedication and attention to detail that makes craft beer so popular. But the real key is finding what a person likes in the beer they already drink and introducing them to a craft beer that will appeal to those things.
“If a person tries the wrong beer, of course it will turn them off craft beer,” Colleen said. “We have to be experts on all things beer so we can find the beer they’re going to love, even if they don’t know what that is.”
Colleen believes there is a beer lover in almost everyone; some people just need the right beer to help them realize it. Finding the right beer for someone means you have to connect with people, and for the Masbruchs, that’s just as important as the beer itself.
Kristi Mabbott, a regular at Bent Bine, said that even if you come by yourself, you can always find a friend here.
“Tim and Colleen really try to get to know everyone who comes in,” Mabbott said. “It’s like a family.”
Colleen said the sense of community they’ve nurtured has paid off since the beginning of the pandemic shutdowns. Despite having the taproom closed prior to phased re-openings, she said customers were still supporting them with curbside growler fill-ups and keg orders.
“There have been some scary days since the start of COVID,” Tim said. “But people have shown their support of the vision we have for this place and that’s given us the courage to keep going.”
Mason County was able to enter Phase 3 earlier than most counties, which has allowed Bent Bine to open its doors in ways most breweries can’t yet. The brewery has adapted the taproom to meet social-distancing guidance.
Tim said the brewery has a responsibility to make it as safe as possible for people to visit but that people’s need for social interaction is important as well. The American Psychological Association reported that feelings of loneliness and isolation are increasing in the U.S. and these often have negative impacts on one’s physical and mental health.
It’s still unclear when it will be safe to fully reopen but with the recent spike in COVID-19 cases around the country, Tim and Colleen are worried that might not be for some time.
“We’re looking forward to the day when we have live music and people can bring their dogs in again,” Colleen said.
“We’ll get there,” Tim said. “It’s gonna be a party when we do.”