As far as first years in business go, Timber Patch Brewing & Taproom had an uphill battle to reach its first anniversary celebration in March.
Opening just two weeks before non-essential businesses statewide were closed in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, owners Rich and Brenda French and Jim and Laurie Judd faced owning a brand new business in an uncertain situation. But out of the tragedy, they said, they experienced an amazing outpouring of generosity from the local community, who came in to buy beer and keep their unique offering alive in Morton.
“The local people were wanting to help us so we wouldn’t close down,” Brenda said.
“We really have to credit people for helping us make it through this,” Laurie said.
The roots of Timber Patch Brewing started with two friends who liked really good beer. The Frenches and Judds have been friends since the 1990s, meeting each other through kids and sports. Jim and Rich had long shared a love for good beer. One Christmas, they decided they would treat themselves to a homebrew setup.
“We told ourselves we’d save money,” Jim said, eliciting a laugh from all four of them. “It turned out we didn’t. But it was fun.”
The men said they have been all-grain brewing since the beginning. Many home brewers opt for the more-simple extract brewing, which uses a prepared malt extract dissolved into water to create the beer wort. In all-grain brewing, crushed, malted grains are steeped in water to create the wort, bypassing the need for the prepared malt extract and giving the brewer more control over the flavor. They have also always kegged, never bottled, their beers. There was definitely some trial and error along the way, they said.
“We made some really bad beer,” Rich said.
But as they got better at the craft, they began expanding. At first, they were brewing in five-gallon batches, then stepped up to 10-gallon batches. In 2019, they heard about a guy who was selling a commercial-sized brewing system, and Jim and Rich traveled to Walla Walla and brewed with him for a whole day. Two weeks later, they were offered the setup. Before they could start brewing with the larger equipment, they had to find a place to set it up. They decided to locate their brewery at the Judds’ home and basically built a building around their new equipment.
“They’ve got really good water at their place, which is good because it’s a key factor to good beer,” Rich said of their brewery location.
The idea of a taproom started slowly. They donated some beer to a farm-to-table dinner in Packwood and supplied the brews for a couple of local weddings. As more people tried their beer and gave positive feedback, the more they thought they should make it a business. It took them about 10 months to scout a location for a taproom. They actually first looked in Packwood, where Packwood Brewing is now located, and later found their spot on 2nd Street in Morton, high next to Van Cleve Ford.
The couples secured the location in December 2019 and were ready to open in March 2020. They said the business was brisk right away, but two weeks in they faced about eight or nine weeks of only being able to sell growlers and then restrictions for the next year to come.
“The fear and apprehension for all four of us was almost overwhelming at parts,” Rich said of navigating the pandemic as a new business owner.
The couples said all of them having other employment outside the brewery helped them stay afloat, as well as having fairly low overhead costs. The Frenches both work for Hampton Lumber and the Judds both teach in the White Pass School District. But over and over, they all praised their regular customers and the local people who came in to support their efforts and keep them going,
“The town’s support of what we’re doing has been really good,” Brenda said.
And COVID-19 brought some new ideas, they said. Through the winter, when outdoor seating only was allowed at restaurants, the couples added a fire bit and Adirondack chairs in the front of the taproom. With a total capacity of only 49 in the taproom, they said having to stretch themselves that way actually made them aware of other room they have to accommodate more guests during busy weekends.
“We hadn’t planned on having outdoor seating right away, but it kind of worked in our favor,” Brenda said.
The Timber Patch Taproom is open Thursday through Saturday currently. Before the pandemic, they had been open on Sundays and the couples said they hope to add Sunday hours back soon. They offer a rotating tap of at least five of their own beers, which right now includes their Phazed 3 hazy IPA, which was released when Lewis County reached Phase 3 of the state’s COVID 19-reopening plan, and Full Recovery IPA, a beer that was first being brewed when the Judds’ daughter, Jocelyn, was involved in a devastating skiing accident. She was told at first, she would never recover, but defied the odds. They said their IPAs are definitely their most popular beers, but they offer a full lineup including blondes, reds, wheats and porters. And they have developed a following, including the members of their “mug club” as well as regulars, some of whom seek them out from pretty far away.
“We have one guy who drives in from Ashford once a week to get three growlers,” Rich said. “He said it’s the best in the region, in his opinion.”
For now, the Timber Patch Taproom is the only place where fans can taste their creations. Since starting the taproom a year ago, Timber Patch Brewing has brewed a total of 3,100 gallons of beer but they said being a new business during a global pandemic has been a strange learning curve. They said figuring out just how much beer they need to make and have on hand is something they are still trying to get a handle on. They have had requests from local businesses that want to carry their beers, but they said they have so far said no because they want to get a better idea during more normal circumstances what the taproom’s volume of sales will be before they start brewing for other locations.
“We can’t take a chance of getting rid of too much of it,” Rich said of their beer supply.
In addition to Timber Patch beers, the taphouse also carries a rotating offering of hard cider from Mill Haus brewing in Eatonville. Since the taproom does not have an open kitchen, they also allow patrons to bring in outside food. Most opt for pizza from the Mountain View Wood Fired Pizza food truck in the parking lot.
“What’s better than pizza and beer?” Rich said.
The Timber Patch team hopes in the future to be able to get back to their original plans of having specialty nights, including live music, when COVID-19 regulations in the state allow.
About the Business: Timber Patch Brewing & Taproom
Location: 180 Second St., Morton
Hours: 4-8 p.m. Thursdays, 4-9 p.m. Fridays and noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays
Online: Look for Timber Patch Brewing & Taproom on Facebook