Not long ago, it seemed like a microbrewery was opening up at the rate of about one every other week, especially in hot bed states like Oregon and Washington. These days, openings are fewer and farther between, especially distributing package plants started by a long time brewer in the industry.
Jim Quilter, of Ellensburg, Washington, a small town east of the Cascade Mountains in the Kittitas Valley, put about $200,000 into getting his new Iron Horse Brewery up and running. Quilter is no beginner in the world of brewing; he started as a home brewer 25 years ago in his former hometown of Chico, Calif., where he had lived all his life, and had a day job as a school maintenance worker. In 1991, fortune smiled and he was offered an opportunity to brew beer for a living, and Quilter went to work for Sierra Nevada Brewery. For Quilter, it was a dream job come true. Quilter worked there for six years, as Sierra Nevada grew from 80,000 barrels per year to 250,000 barrels per year, with brewers working around the clock. His time at Sierra Nevada was a learning experience, though, and when he left in 1997, he didn’t leave the business. He worked at Chico’s smaller Butte Creek Brewery for a time, then at Mad River Brewing in Humboldt County, California.
His Iron Horse Brewery is located in a business park called the Ellensburg Incubator, a haven for startup businesses, and a retreat for Quilter after his original plans to open a brewpub in a former Ellensburg railroad depot fell through. He’s busy with four beers in his line-up – Rodeo Extra Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Brown Ale, and Locomotive Red Ale – beers he regards as his personal favorites. He sells kegs directly from the brewery, and he is supplying several local bars with his beer. His ambitious goals call for selling cases and six packs before the end of 2005.