Longtime home brewers ferment hoppy new business in Clinton

Ogre Brewing co-owner and brewer Royce Baker pours a glass of Cascade IPA

Tucked away in a garage space next door to Bailey’s Corner Store in Cultus Bay, two beer scientists are busy at work in their lab devising their next concoction.

These are early days for Ogre Brewing, South Whidbey’s newest addition to the growing beverage scene, but things are picking up steam. The brewery opened its tasting room on Friday so locals could stop by to sip the latest flavors from hoppy pale ales to light and smooth blondes. Their garage door is open every Friday and Saturday from now through the winter. Tasting room hours are 3-7 p.m.

The brewery is still officially recognized on paper as Bailey’s Brewing, although Jackson and Baker are working toward making the permanent change to Ogre Brewing. The brewers say they landed on Ogre Brewing due to their affinity for dark fairy tales, and when Jackson came home with a green ogre tattooed on his right biceps, the name was sealed.

But they aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves. Jackson and Baker are keeping things small; their brew space is a garage fit for two cars, and there isn’t much room to maneuver when the distillers and barrels are set in place. It’s just the co-owners who work the brewery at the moment, although they are considering hiring a bartender if business grows. They currently average three to six barrels, or six to 12 kegs, a month. Baker says they brew a barrel and a half at a time.

The tasting room is set up in a designated area in front of the garage with a few chairs laid out. The tap is along the wall where the walk-in refrigerator is. There’s no bar.

But, that’s part of the charm of Ogre Brewing — it’s small but personal. Beer aficionados will be able to chat with Jackson and Baker about the brews and be able to see the two friends brewing like they always have out of their garage.

“We’re DIY [do it yourself],” Jackson said. “We build and fix everything ourselves.”

Ogre Brewing regularly rotates the beers they brew, but they have a few mainstays. Ogre has a deal with Cozy’s to brew a special Cozy Ogre IPA specifically for the roadhouse, and regularly brew their Cascade IPA and Blonde Ogress. Rotating brews currently available are the Stout Ogre, Sound Dark Ale and their pilsner, and they’ve concocted lagers in the past.

Jackson and Baker are longtime South Whidbey guys. Jackson’s family owned Bailey’s Corner Store for years before it was bought by Ken Stange last year, and Jackson says the two grew up drinking beers in the backyard space behind what is now their beer laboratory. They’re looking to capitalize on that familiarity with Whidbey, and claim being part of the Whidbey community is key to business success here on the island. They say business owners can’t forget the locals, and have to create a product for them.

The friendly, laid back former cooks describe themselves as two pals who enjoy doing what they’re doing, and they figured they might as well make a business out of it since they already had some brewing years under their belt.

“We just started off as home brewers around 10 years ago,” Baker said. “We were friends with Mikey at Olde World Ales in Langley, but when he left we thought we might as well fill the void since we’re good at brewing beer.”

Ogre Brewing is sticking to tasting, growler-pouring (64-ounce jugs) and resale during the early stages of their business. They’re keeping the operation small before jumping the gun with more distillers and a larger seating area. If the tasting area overflows, customers will be able to hop over to Bailey’s to sip on their brews. Bailey’s also has a rotating Ogre beer on tap.

Jackson and Baker want to keep things small not only to maintain low operation costs, but to be able to more specifically cater to each batch. Having a smaller batch makes it easier to manipulate the taste, and the two can get more creative with each one. It gives the brewery a real home-brew feel.

“We’ve decided we don’t really want to leave the South End, because at some point you’re dealing with a distributor,” Jackson said. “We’re just trying to stay on the big side of small and make a beer for Whidbey.”

While there are other breweries on the island, Jackson isn’t thinking about how to beat out the competition. Rather, he’s thinking about collaborating with other on-island brewers down the line. Jackson’s grand image in his head is to contribute to making Whidbey a beer destination for travelers and eventually work with the guys at Double Bluff Brewing and Thirsty Crab Brewing to create a Whidbey beer festival. At the moment, though, Jackson is focused on refining the “finite art” of beer fermenting out of their little garage, barrel by barrel.

“We’ll eventually have to wrestle with that line — the more beer we make, the better off we are as a business, but can’t have it become so big where we can’t fulfill our artistic endeavor,” Jackson said.