Before Kipp and Bradly Strong opened their new brewery in Monroe, they tested the concept out on some friends. They built a small out-building on their property, installed a small home-brew system and started making beer.
Then they invited their friends over — with one small caveat.
“We were like, ‘here, drink this, but you gotta tell me how it is — truthfully,’” said Kipp. “Our friends and family were our first customers, and they really helped us dial in our recipes and give us the confidence we could do this.”
The Strongs opened their new brewery, Bugu Brewing, in a strip mall in Monroe in late October. The brewery is a family affair as father and son Kipp and Bradly run the day-to-day operations, son Ian helps with promotion and design, and mother Debra works behind the scenes on logistics.
“It’s really amazing to be able to do this and do it as a family,” said Kipp. “There’s no one I’d rather do this with than them.”
Bugu’s name comes from an insider brewing term. Bu:Gu is the brewing ratio that compares bitterness units to gravity units in a beer. The ratio helps brewers measure the balance of a beer between bitterness and sugars and make sure it’s not going too far in one direction — unless that’s the plan. It’s a fitting name to go with Bugu’s motto: “Find Your Balance,” which shines bright as a blue neon light above the bar.
That motto extends to their beer, which is balanced and more sessionable than a lot of modern craft beers. For example, Bugu’s flagship IPA, Big L’s, is on the low-end in terms of bitterness and not the big hop bombs that many Northwest breweries churn out.
In collaboration with his dad, Bradly does most of the recipe building and daily brewing for the brewery. He learned the basics of brewing from Kipp, who has been homebrewing for 15 years, but really developed his brewing knowledge and experience attending Cardinal Craft Brewing School at Skagit Valley College.
“It was a great experience,” Bradly said of attending Cardinal Craft Brewing. “The teachers are really passionate about beer and you not only learn how to make beer but so much about the business of running a brewery.”
Bradly also cut his teeth working at a host of breweries, including San Luis Valley Brewing in Colorado, and local breweries Farmstrong Brewing and Bickersons Brewhouse. Those experiences helped him convince his dad to speed up the timeline of opening their own brewery. Kipp retired after 28 years with the Seattle Police Department in May and the father-son duo immediately began the process of opening their brewery despite the pandemic.
The Strongs take a deconstructionist philosophy to brewing. Bradly enjoys taking the puzzle pieces that make up classic beers, shuffling them and re-making the picture. He’ll take a traditional base, add or change adjuncts, alter processes, and experiment with ingredients.
“I look at a beer and think how can we change this up, keep it balanced and drinkable, but make something new,” Bradly said. “I love it when someone comes in and says they’ve never had this type of beer before.”
Bugu wants to be a central part of the Monroe community. They are big on collaboration and sourcing ingredients locally. They’ve reached out to the other area breweries, including Dreadnought Brewing and Good Brewing, for advice and collaboration ideas, and are sourcing the vast majority of its grains from Skagit Valley Malting, the craft maltster that Bradly became familiar with while attending Cardinal Craft Brewing.
Bugu’s first beer collaboration was unique and decidedly not local. Instead of collaborating with another brewery, Bugu created a beer, a brown ale called Sugar in the Creek, with the Nashville jam band Bendigo Fletcher. Ian Strong went to school with the lead singer and the brewery connected with the band to setup a brew day after their recent Seattle show. Members of the band came in, helped make the beer and then posed for photos before leaving for their next show in Boise.
“This is the really fun part of being a brewer,” said Bradly.
The vibe the Strongs want to create at their brewery is akin to what they had in their backyard. A chill place to hang out, drink a beer, play a board game or have a good conversation. The brewery doesn’t serve food but welcomes outside food and is kid friendly.
“This is all very similar to what we were doing before when we were just inviting friends over to drink our beer,” Kipp said. “We just expect them to pay for it now.”