Arbor Crest Wine Cellars is getting into the beer business.
The Spokane Valley winery has long planned on pouring house-brewed beers at its Cliff House tasting room to accompany its award-winning wines. Now Square Wheel Brewing, named after an historic tractor on the site, could launch within the month.
“Many of our customers who come up for concerts and other events just don’t drink wine,” says general manager Jim van Loben Sels. “You’ve got to look at every way to increase your sales.”
Arbor Crest actually received its brewing license in 2012, but the project got put on hold for lack of time and resources. It took off again when van Loben Sels’ brother-in-law, John Mielke, agreed to take over the brewing operation.
Mielke, who’s been brewing for a couple of years, is putting together a 5-barrel brewhouse but is working for now off a smaller pilot system. He plans three initial styles – blonde, red and IPA – with some seasonals to possibly come later.
“We’re just going to start slow and get a feel for how it’s going to go,” Mielke says.
While it’s licensed to make the beer, Arbor Crest needs additional permits to serve it, which are in progress. Van Loben Sels hopes those will be in place by the end of the month, though he admits August may be more likely.
“We thought would have everything ready to go for start of season,” he says. “We’ve been producing beer, we just can’t sell it up here.”
The tasting room has been able to sell bottled beers from other producers, which is less profitable, under a snack bar license. The restaurant license required to serve draft beer also will allow Arbor Crest to prepare food onsite and offer tableside service on the tasting room patio.
“We’ve been talking for long time about how to enhance people’s experience,” van Loben Sels says. “We could have an awesome bistro up here.”
The beer will be a premium experience, with pints expected to sell for around $8, he says.
“We don’t want people to come up here and think it’s a beer pub,” says van Loben Sels. “We want to sell wine first, and have beer as an add-on.”
And while he’s waiting to see how beer sales affect the atmosphere at the Cliff House, he says, “If it folds in seamlessly, there’s no reason not to do it.”