‘Quite a leap of faith’: Family’s taproom opens in Clinton

The Hanson family has weathered the COVID storm and has at last opened their taproom in Clinton.

While road-tripping with their longtime friends Bob and Patti Stallone, Jeff and Erin Hanson talked about the usual stuff: beer, breweries and business. The Stallones, founders of Whidbey Island’s Thirsty Crab Brewery, were looking to get out of the brewery business and had a question for the Hansons: Did they want to get in the beer business?

Soon after returning home to the Pacific Northwest, the Hansons decided to jump in with both feet. Or shall we say claws.

“This was quite a leap of faith,” Erin Hanson said.

That was 2018. Fast forward nearly four years, and the Hansons and their brewery have finally opened a new taproom in Clinton. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Along with learning a new business, they had to battle COVID, lockdowns and supply chain issues, delaying much of their plans.

“We would have opened our doors earlier, but COVID made that impossible,” Jeff Hanson said.

Thirsty Crab Brewery — yes, the Hansons kept the crustacean-themed name — has been filling taps around south Whidbey Island since 2015, when the Stallones started it. But there was never a place to call home. That is until now.

The new cozy taproom is within walking distance from the ferry terminal, up a short hill. It has a sizable outdoor patio with covering and plenty of room to grow — and best of all tons of passing traffic.

“We looked at different locations but this one just fell into place,” Erin said. “The location is great. It’s right off the ferry and on the east side of the road so that drivers don’t have to cut across traffic.”

The Thirsty Crab plans to host an official grand opening over the Fourth of July weekend.

A freshly poured blonde ale sits in the window at Thirsty Crab Brewery. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A freshly poured blonde ale sits in the window at Thirsty Crab Brewery. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Despite not having a taproom until recently, the Hansons have been brewing beer under the Thirsty Crab moniker and distributing it to local restaurants and taprooms since taking it over. To increase production, Jeff turned an outbuilding on the family’s property located just a few miles from the new taproom into a state-of-the-art brewing space. He bought a brewing system from Everett’s At Large Brewing and purchased a couple of 35-barrel fermenters from a brewery in Moscow, Idaho.

Jeff’s background in construction paid huge dividends in not only building out the brewery, but also the work at the taproom. Instead of having to wait for contractors to get work done, Jeff could jump on it and make it happen. He used beautiful black walnut wood felled on a local farm to build the bar, a table and the backing of the taproom’s taps.

As for the beer, that was more complicated. Jeff dabbled in brewing, but turned to son, Nate, to be head brewer. Not the most experienced brewer, Nate relied on tried-and-true recipes from former owner Bob Stallone early on, and then began expanding the brewery’s beer list as he gained experience. He also received sage advice from Jesse Duncan, who co-owns Seattle’s Figurehead Brewing and lives on the island.

“Jesse has been a huge resource for us and a big help setting up the brewery,” Nate said.

Nate said he’s matured as a brewer over the past couple of years, using the time during COVID to dial in recipes, incorporate new equipment to the brew system and prepare for the increased demand that opening a taproom promised to bring.

Currently, Thirsty Crab has a wide range of beers on tap, from the usuals — IPA, amber, pilsner — to more adventurous fare like a schwarzbier and a maibock that is a collaboration with Whidbey Island meadery Hierophant. Nate has plans to branch out to newer styles and make a kettle sour with local fruit, a fresh hop made from hops grown on Whidbey Island and a beer made with spruce tips from a tree on the Stallone property.

The Thirsty Crab is a family affair for the Hansons. Along with Nate, their daughter, Kacie, works behind the bar and helps with marketing.

Erin Hanson shows off one of the custom bean bag toss boards available to customers at Thirsty Crab Brewery in Clinton. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Erin Hanson shows off one of the custom bean bag toss boards available to customers at Thirsty Crab Brewery in Clinton. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“We’re a very close-knit family, so it’s natural for us to work together on something like this,” Kacie said.

For years, the Hansons have been a very active family on the island. Along with Jeff’s construction business, Erin is a hairdresser and Nate and Kacie were active in sports, horseback riding and volunteering. Now they’ve channeled that energy into delivering tasty beer and a welcoming environment for their patrons.

“We feel lucky to be able to work with our kids every day,” said Erin, “and truly blessed to be in such a supportive community.”