Not many breweries can say they have won a coveted ‘Best Beer’ award within their first two months of being open. The feat is especially impressive when your brewery is located in a town like Bellingham, Washington, known for having almost as many breweries per square mile as it does trees. Bellingham has become a bastion of the craft brewery scene. But the saturation of the beer market in Bellingham didn’t deter Illuminati Brewing owner Bill Kimmerly when he decided to set up shop.
A veteran homebrewer and professional winemaker, Bill is no stranger to crafting unique and delicious alcoholic beverages. He started homebrewing in the 1980s, but didn’t make the plunge into commercial brewing until this year. His brewing endeavors have already paid off. Illuminati took home the ‘Best Beer’ award for their Lucky 13 Dark and Mild at this year’s Hoptoberfest.
Bill first stepped into the beverage industry in 2004, when he and his wife Jennifer decided to open the Masquerade Wine Company. They started the business in Eastern Washington and eventually relocated to Bellingham in 2010. For seven years, you could find Bill and Jennifer selling wines at their old location on Iowa Street. But as their time in Bellingham went on, Bill realized this was a beer town. He knew if he could add his skills as a homebrewer into the mix, his business would do better than it ever had.
“People can tell you the name of every single brewery in Whatcom County, but they hardly know there are any winemakers out here,” Bill says. “I knew if we opened a brewery it would be the best way to get new business and introduce more people to our wines as well.”
And he was right. Since Illuminati opened its doors, the Kimmerly’s have seen their business triple. He views his business model as one that can please everybody. Having both great wine and beer in the same place certainly has been a boon. But in order to allow Illuminati and Masquerade to function symbiotically, they had to relocate. There just wasn’t enough space at their old location to have a fully operational brewery in addition to their winery.
After some location scouting, Bill found the perfect spot. The complex, located at 3950 Hammer Drive in Bellingham, provides an ample amount of space to run both wine and beer production, and it has enough room to feature a separate tasting room for both libations.
Illuminati’s bar and Masquerade’s tasting room are adjacent to each other, separated by a door located in the middle of the building. Illuminati opened with three beers on tap. They now have up to nine, including one nitro tap. While Masquerade Winery pours many different types of wine, they specialize in wines of the sparkling varietals.
“We can make everybody happy now,” Bill says with a laugh. “And we’re providing our customers with something unique. We are currently the only business in Washington that produces both their own beer and wine from raw ingredients.”
Bill explains he does all the winemaking himself, with the exception of enlisting the help of friends during the crushing and bottling processes. The beer side of things runs a little differently. He hired former Kulshan brewer Ryan Flood to become his head brewer. Ryan does nearly all the brewing on his own, but the recipes are Bill’s and they collaborate when deciding just how to craft a new brew.
It’s easy to see Bill’s passion for beer. When he talks about it he truly seems excited – fired up even – and of course he should be. Winning ‘Best Beer’ accolades in your first two months of operation is something to be proud of. He says this win may be due to the fact that they are trying to break the mold of the Northwest brewing scene. They are approaching their beer a bit differently than the rest.
At Illuminati, Bill and Ryan specialize in creating English-style ales, types of beer that haven’t gotten much love in the India pale ale heavy Pacific Northwest. Bill says the best way to describe their award-winning Lucky 13 Dark and Mild is that it tastes like a low-alcohol content porter.
“It’s funny, at Hoptoberfest we poured more of the IPA we make than we did the Lucky 13, that is, before it was announced as the winner,” he says unsurprisingly. “We’re not against IPAs at all. We still make them but we’re focused on creating high-quality English ales using English-style malt and hops.”
Bill Kimmerly a wine guy? Or is he a beer guy? At the end of the day, it’s hard to tell – and that’s because he does both so incredibly well. One thing is for sure, producing world-class wines and award-winning beers under the same roof is a unique trait that will continue to prove successful for the Kimmerlys in the years to come.