Craft breweries eager to welcome back customers for a pint

It finally happened!

Several local counties were given the OK to move to Phase II as the state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic (in King County’s case, Phase 1.5). This means a lot of regulations and rules, but also means you now have the option to have a beer on site at your favorite local brewery. 

The reopening comes not a moment too soon for local breweries, who admit the past two months have been a struggle.

“It’s been tough,” said Jen Boyd, who owns Cairn Brewing in Kenmore with her husband Bill. “We’re a neighborhood brewery who focuses on the taproom experience; we really don’t distribute. … Not having that for almost three months hurts. We’ve had some long days but our team has been terrific, really embracing the switch to canning to make sure our customers have the opportunity to enjoy our beer.”

“I am tired,” added Andy Gundel, the owner of Urban Family Brewing in Seattle. “The staff is tired. Overall, we kept all of our jobs, and we figured out ways to make jobs where there were none anymore. Lots of people stepping up to help cross-departmentally. I think the shake-up of the industry will be felt for years to come, but I am humbled by the support of the customers and the beer community. Lots of people looking out for each other. Lots of tips. Lots of well-wishes. It’s not the worst place to be, that’s for sure.”

Local breweries faced several challenges after the government’s stay-at-home order effectively closed their taprooms. However, the beer industry quickly showed its resolve and resourcefulness by pivoting to online ordering and curbside pick-up.

Most breweries expect to-go orders to remain a major part of their businesses. They believe the convenience and infrastructure now set up may encourage more customers to go that route. Owners also understand that some people may not quite be comfortable heading back out into the world to enjoy a pint.

“Some people may not be ready for a pint in a taproom,” Boyd said, “so we’ll continue to offer a broad selection of our 15-plus-beer taplist in 16-ounce cans to go and have dedicated parking spaces for curbside pickup even once we reopen. We call it the #takehometaproom.”

In addition, owners anticipate a strong emphasis on cleaning.

“We talked about letting people inside but the whole thing sounds… complicated. We want the safest environment possible for everyone.”

Andy Gundel, owner of Urban Family Brewing on the brewery only allowing customers outside for now.
Erin Pride-Swaney (and Clementine) enjoys a stein of Irish Dry Stout this past Friday at Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham. It was the first day that Chuckanut was welcoming back customers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think everyone can agree that cleaning will be kicked up a notch,” Gundel said.

The reopening of Fremont’s Urban Beer Garden this past weekend saw lines around the block to get in and over two-hour waits. The brewery is operating at a diminished capacity and has switched to hosted seating for the brewery, which has also spread out tables to a minimum of six-feet of space.

According to Zan McColloch-Lussier, Fremont’s Community Engagement Manager, the brewery will keep their online ordering site up and continue delivery of specialty beers through their third-party carrier.

“Voluntarily closing the Urban Beer Garden even before the Governor’s mandatory shut-down was hard for many reasons,” McColloch-Lussier said, “but we realized it was the responsible thing to do for the safety of our staff and customers and we very quickly – like within hours – adapted to curb-side pick-up which has been a lifeline. We haven’t had to lay anyone off and we’ve redeployed team members to keep our facilities sanitary.”

5 Rights Brewing in Marysville weathered the COVID-19 storm, and is now working on welcoming customers back, while also planning an anniversary celebration.

“Like most small businesses it has been very difficult to try and survive, much less thrive when the biggest part of our business (the taproom) has been shut down to help ensure the greater good for public safety,” said R.J. Whitlow, the owner of 5 Rights Brewing. “Thankfully, we were blown away by how our 5 Rights Family and community rallied by supporting our to-go sales far more than we ever anticipated, and kept us from losing what we’ve worked so hard to build. It was music to our hearts to hear laughter in our taproom again as it was built for community and living life together, not just a place to find exceptional beer.”

Enjoying a pint (with Bruce) at Seattle’s Pine Box.

Several breweries plan to expand serving operations into their larger parking lots. Urban Family will be outdoor seating only for a while.

“We talked about letting people inside but the whole thing sounds… complicated,” Gundel said. “We want the safest environment possible for everyone.”

The extended distance, while necessary during these crazy times, bums out at least one owner.

“It’s gonna be (different),” said Randy Embernate, the owner of Seattle’s Hellbent Brewing Company. “A vast majority of our regulars hang at the bar. Lots of camaraderie between the regulars and our bartenders. That is the biggest change. We will see how that plays out. That’s my favorite part about any bar, is the rubbing of elbows with fellow patrons as well as the back and forth with the bartenders.”

Fortunately for Embernate, bumping elbows is still the preferred greeting by government officials.

All of the owners reiterated how tough the past two months have been financially, mentally and logistically. However, every representative reached expressed optimism for the local craft beer industry. 

“We are holding up fine,” Embernate said. “Not great, always can be better, but surviving, for now. At first I didn’t think we had a shot, but we made some adjustments, (online ordering being a huge part of that) and with a huge support from our neighborhood and loyal patrons, we have been doing pretty decently out of the taproom with (to-go ordering).”

“Of course, revenue is way down due primarily to the disappearance of on-premise sales but we’re extremely fortunate that off-premise sales are still strong,” McColloch-Lussier said. “Industry-wise, the future of the vast majority of craft breweries that don’t package is most concerning but the local craft beer scene has been extremely resilient and creative and we’re all trying to help each other out to get to the other side of this crisis.”


Edmonds’ Gallaghers’ Where-U-Brew closes

Gallaghers’ Where-U-Brew, the popular do-it-yourself brewery and taproom in Edmonds, announced Friday morning that it will be closing its doors. In an email to subscribers, owners Tom and Marcie Kretzler acknowledged that the current COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the brewery’s closure.

“It is with great sadness that Gallaghers’ Where-U-Brew is having to permanently close it’s doors,” the Kretzlers said in the email. “The past few years have been a struggle, and the recent pandemic has made it impossible for us to continue. We have agonized over this decision and we are forced to accept this as reality.”

Gallaghers, located near the Edmonds waterfront, boasted all the equipment and ingredients necessary to brew a batch of your own beer. Customers could choose a recipe, make the beer and then come back in a couple weeks to bottle the beer and take it home. There were also options to brew cider, root beer or wine, as well as a taproom for customers to come try a variety of homemade beers on tap.

In the email, Tom and Marcie Kretzler thanked their customers and told anyone interested in buying a brewery to give them a call.

“From the bottom of our hearts, we thank each of you for your support these past years and wish you all health and happiness,” the Kretzlers wrote. “You have touched our lives and we will miss you dearly.”

Sugar Ray, Tiger King and the Seltzer/Cider Guy: My Zoom adventures at the ‘Virtual’ Seattle Beer Fest

Look, I really wanted to give the virtual Seattle Beer Fest — brought to me by Rock Star Beer Festivals — the benefit of the doubt. When I emailed the one contact I could find on the beer festival’s website to do a preview story and heard nothing, I thought: “That makes sense. We’re a small, new blog. I get it.”

Then the box of beer came.

The Seattle Beer Fest box included one actual “Washington” beer: an Elysian Split Shot espresso stout. It also included a seltzer and cider. I thought, “It’s fine. They had to modify things at the last minute. It was probably tough to get cans. Whatever.”

Then the big day came. I had been waiting months for this. A few friends bought beer packs too. The clock finally struck 7 p.m., I fired up the YouTube video and … there was Mark McGrath.

McGrath popped on the screen and held out an empty hand to allegedly cheers the start of the night. McGrath, the lead singer for a rock band from the 90s, proved to be an apt metaphor for the ensuing beer festival: something I used to enjoy, but that was more applicable back in the day before a worldwide pandemic.

Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath opens the Virtual Seattle Beer Fest with some inspiring words.

Coronavirus obviously necessitated a few audibles for Rock Star Beer Festivals and the Seattle Beer Fest, which shifted from under the Space Needle to a virtual edition.

I loved the idea. I thought this would be an awesome way to bring a beer fest to people who are stuck in quarantine. It was going to be a blast to drink beer and talk shop with fellow beer fans while hearing about the intricacies of breweries’ beers and businesses.

“Honestly the night wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without my buddy Keith and his friends, who gave up on the beer fest before McGrath had finished welcoming us. But this is what a beer fest is. The camaraderie.”

David Krueger

Instead, what we got was an ode to “Tiger King” with not one, but three clips from people involved heavily in the show, including Doc Antle, the Lowes and the guy who has apparently not gotten off his jet ski since the show ended. In addition, the Ninkasi representative quickly became labeled “Ninkasi Carole Baskin” in the comments. There were cameos from Jon Lovitz, Gilbert Gottfried and Dave Koechner — who may have been participating in the beer fest himself based on his giggles.

Doc Antle, of Tiger King fame, and a chimpanzee help beer drinkers really take in the moment at the Virtual Seattle Beer Fest.

There was a beer chugging highlight reel complemented by a #BeerFails lowlight video. The “music” was by a gentleman who did rock covers of “The Real Slim Shady” and Lil Jon’s classic “Get Low” — which took me half the song to figure out what I was listening to. There were two other bands that performed with neither lead singer wearing a shirt. The whole time I just kept wondering, why doesn’t McGrath just sing “When It’s Over?” — something I think everyone was probably wondering about this beer fest.

The same “brewery representative” discussed the seltzer company, and then switched shirts to talk about the cidery. I have no issue with a beer fest having a cider or seltzer area for people who are drug along and don’t like beer. But if you’re paying $50 for a virtual beer fest, you’re probably a fan of beer and probably don’t need cider/seltzer fillers in your box.

Incidentally, the cider/seltzer guy nailed how I felt about the beers in my box — which included a Deschutes low-cal pale ale, Elysian’s Split Shot, a Ninkasi Prismatic IPA (which I love) and a Rogue Ales Batsquatch (which I already had three of in my refrigerator because it’s one of my favorite beers) — quite succinctly while trying to hock his seltzer:

“You can find us at Safeway, Albertsons, Krogers, Fred Meyers, PCC, Whole Foods.” Indeed almost every beer in the box I could have gone down the road to (insert your closest grocery store here) and picked up. This was probably the most disheartening thing for me about the beer fest.

The seltzer guy explains why hard seltzer really rocks during the Virtual Seattle Beer Festival.
The cider guy, who is obviously the twin brother of the seltzer guy, talks about the charms of cider.

But maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was being too harsh. So I reached out to a few friends/friends of friends who were also participating in the beer fest.

My focus group included: Kaelee, my sister-in-law who can drink five barleywines and not feel a thing; my wife’s superstar fitness instructor Jess; Jess’ boyfriend, who, after our brief conversation, I feel like we could be best friends; and my friend Keith and his band of beer drinking buddies who were nice enough to let me crash their Zoom call.

Honestly the night wouldn’t have been nearly as fun without my buddy Keith and his friends, who gave up on the beer fest before McGrath had finished welcoming us. But this is what a beer fest is. The camaraderie.

Michael, one of Keith’s friends, had bought two boxes. He was downright distraught trying to figure out what to do with his TWO seltzers. In a real-world beer fest, you could leave McGrath’s booth and go try something else. Here, the options were more limited. The group was less than impressed, but decided in future to throw their own virtual Seattle beer festival where everyone grabs beers that are actually from the greater Seattle area. I hope to crash that Zoom call as well.

Similarly, Jess and her boyfriend wanted to throw their own beer festival. They didn’t watch many of the videos and were a hard “No” on participating in another Rock Star Beer festival, but both were open to doing something similar again. Seattle won their vote, with the Elysian Split Shot their favorite.

Kaelee, her friend Jordan and Jordan’s mom — who was easily the MVP of the focus group — tried all 10 beers/ciders/seltzers and were also left unimpressed. Kaelee had my favorite line of the night: “It was weak, I would say. It was something to look forward to. Was that better than the actual beer? Yes.”

Other top comments included: “I think beer fest would have been appropriate. I don’t think Seattle Beer Fest was appropriate.” And, “We were not given $40 worth of beer.”

Still, all three people from Team Kaelee agreed they would do it again and it was worth the cost to participate in the event together. I’m not sure I feel the same way. I don’t really like coffee so the Split Shot, which Team Kaelee also praised, didn’t even get opened. Neither did my wild card beer, a mocha stout from Abnormal Brewing in San Diego.

The experience was interesting, chaotic, weird and saved by the people I got to talk to and share it with — so, I guess, basically it was a beer festival! Still, I wish I would have taken the $50 and gone to Diamond Knot, Salish Sea, Hemlock State or another nearby brewery and actually had some Seattle-area beer. I also wish I would have given up earlier on the live stream which ended at 9:42 p.m. instead of the advertised 10 p.m. — although no one was complaining — and fully committed to laughing at the YouTube comments on Zoom.

There were a lot of things I wanted this beer fest to be. Instead, I watched a dated video/advertisement of people cheers-ing and drinking together on a beach in southern California. All I could think was, “No! Stay six feet away!”

If only I had stayed away from the Seattle Beer Festival.

| Photos courtesy of David Krueger.

Back on the road: Hittin’ up Yakima Valley for tasty beer

One of the perks of my day job, before viruses and stay-at-home orders, was getting to wander around the great state of Washington for work. While out and about, I’ve been known to stop by a few breweries in my travels for a flight or two and some cans for when I get back home.

Obviously, the world is a little different now. But I finally got to go to work again this week and was sent to Yakima, where a number of breweries were offering beer to go. While there were no flights this time around, there were plenty of cans for back home. And even a new tin sign. I brought a cooler bag not intending to fill it up, but what can you do?

When you drive all the way out to Yakima, you may as well head another 40 minutes to Sunnyside to check out Varietal Beer Company. It’s a few miles further down the road but is 100% worth the trip. I started my beer quest with four-packs of the Mighty Juice hazy IPA, Keep on the Sunnyside Pale Ale and a crowler of Peach Yo’ Self milkshake IPA.

All were amazing. The Mighty Juice is super drinkable, the Keep on the Sunnyside is a collaboration with the Pink Boots Society and has one of the coolest can designs I’ve seen and the Peach Yo’ Self is like dessert in a can. If you like beer and peaches, I can confidently say this will be a winner for you. The cherry on top of the Peach Yo’ Self was adding another sign to the Tin Man’s collection.

After heading to Varietal, I got back to Yakima and had to put my dress shoes on and work for a few minutes. Fortunately, my work travels took me to within a few blocks of Hop Capital Brewing (formerly Yakima Craft Brewing Company). It looks like they recently revamped the brand but the beer is as tasty as ever. I went with a four-pack of the All Together NEIPA, a hazy IPA brewed in collaboration with Other Half Brewing from New York City to support hospitality workers. I’m a sucker for drinking for a good cause. And a good hazy IPA. This beer checked off both boxes.

Formerly known as Yakima Craft Brewing, Hop Capital Brewing may have changed its name but the beer remains great.

At this point the cooler bag was pretty full and it was about time to head back to the west side of the state. I had hoped to visit other beer spots, like Bale Breaker and Single Hill Brewing, but they hadn’t opened yet for the day (or, unfortunately, weren’t going to be open that day) and my road trip buddy/wife was ready to get back home. Fortunately, the beer gods smiled upon us one more time. As we were leaving Hop Capital we noticed a sign for another brewery: Valley Brewing Company. I pulled in, promising I’d only be a minute, unsure of what I’d find. The employee there was super nice, walked me through all of their amazing-sounding beers, and then, it happened.

Just released that day was Fruituristic: Strawberry Banana, a milkshake IPA that he couldn’t stop talking about. That is apparently contagious, because I tried one when I got home and have not stopped talking about it since either. It tastes like a smoothie, so I feel like it’s definitely a healthy beer choice! It is incredible. One of my all-time favorite beers. The only bad part about it is I only bought a four-pack, which is now running dangerously low. I may never forgive myself for this mistake.

Yakima Beers

Peach Yo Self

Milkshake IPA that drinks like dessert in a can!

All Together IPA

A hazy IPA brewed in collaboration with Other Half Brewing from New York City to support hospitality workers

Futuristic: Strawberry Banana

A smoothie IPA with big fruit flavors.

| Photography courtesy of David Krueger

With grand opening on hold, Mount Vernon’s District Brewing marches forward

For 18 months, Mark Shintaffer oversaw the renovation of a large historical building along the riverwalk in downtown Mount Vernon. It was a project filled with the kind of ups and downs that come with trying to turn a 100-year-old building into something modern and state-of-the-art.

Shintaffer’s end goal was to turn the rundown building, which used to house the Lyric Theater, into a destination brewery and restaurant. By mid-March of this year he was finished and ready to fling open the doors.

Then the pandemic hit.

The weekend that District Brewing was set to open in late March, the Governor was preparing to issue his Stay Home, Stay Safe order. Shintaffer never got to truly open the brewery. Instead, like many breweries and restaurants, District had to pivot quickly. They began selling pizzas and crowler and growler fills to go. So far the response has been promising.

“The concept is really neighborhood brewery; that ‘third place’ feeling.”

Mark Shintaffer, District Brewing owner

“We continue to blow through kegs, so the consumer has responded very well,” said Shintaffer.

For weeks now customers have been lining up in front of the brewery along the riverwalk, waiting their turn to order pizza and beer. Inside the building, the beautiful brew tanks serve as the backdrop to a large dining room, with a second floor of customer seating overhead. 

Until this week, the beer on tap has been outsourced. But Monday Shintaffer finally posted a District Brewing original: First Strike, a West Coast IPA. Three days later, Tropical Vacation, a hazy IPA, was added to the menu.

The head brewer at District is John Kochendorfer, whose brewing experience includes stints at Elysian Brewing, where he brewed Snail Bones and Space Dust, and Mukilteo’s Diamond Knot Craft Brewing

Along with helping him make connections in the craft beer world that has already led to collaborations with Iron Horse Brewing and Bale Breaker, brewing at a big player like Elysian taught Kochendorfer a lot about the beer-making process.

District Brewing head brewer John Kochendorfer (left) and owner Mark Shintaffer in District’s brewhouse.

“(I learned) that details make the difference between a mediocre beer and a great beer, and to always question the accepted wisdom if you ever want to make progress,” Kochendorfer said.

As for the beer at District, Kochendorfer plans to focus on hop-forward beers. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be looking to just fit his beers into a pre-defined style or flavor profile and start pumping our cookie-cutter IPAs.

“I plan to make a wide variety of hop forward beers in a range of different alcohol content and in varying degrees of haze or clarity,” said Kochendorfer. “There will be names and descriptions to guide you through them of course, but as brewers, and drinkers, we are blessed these days with an amazingly wide variety of hops that continues to grow every year and I intend to play with as many of them as possible to bring people uniquely refreshing hoppy experiences.”

District will have 20 beers on tap, most of them being their own beer. 

When looking for a brewer to head up his operation, Shintaffer wanted someone with experience in a professional setting and knowledge of how to make beers consistent and reliable. He believes that’s what he’s got in Kochendorfer.

“When John’s brewing he’s brewing to the gram,” Shintaffer said. “He’s a scientist. It’s all math for him. He’s dialing in each recipe so it’s exactly the same every time. We want our customers t to be able to depend on that.”

For Shintaffer, beer is just part of the experience he hopes patrons enjoy when District can finally open to foot traffic. With the restaurant focusing mostly on pizza and the theme and decor around movies (paying tribute to the building’s past as a theater), Shintaffer wanted to create a place where everybody felt welcome.

“The concept is really neighborhood brewery; that ‘third place’ feeling,” Shintaffer said. “We want people to bring the wife, the kids, your neighbor. It’s going to be a fun environment.”

The vision Shintaffer has in his head was put there by Pinthouse Pizza, a small chain of pizza and beer spots he visited in Austin, Texas. Like what District will eventually do, Pinthouse has customers order their pizza and beer at the counter and then sit down and eventually bus their own tables.

“It’s new to our area,” Shintaffer said, “but I believe that if you build it they will come.” 

Shintaffer comes from a long line of beverage people. His family started Sound Beverages, a beer and beverage distributor in Whatcom County, 70 years ago. In recent years, Shintaffer decided it was time to try opening his own brewery.

“I’ve enjoyed the business, but I needed to find something of my own,” Shintaffer said.

For now, he’ll have to wait a little longer until that vision is fully realized.

District Beers

First Strike IPA

| KEY INGREDIENTS Mosaic, El Dorado, Centennial, and Pahto hops
| ABV 6.1% | IBU 67

Tropical Vacation Hazy IPA

| ABV 8.3% | IBU 71

Order here

Pizza and beer to go in Skagit Valley

| Photography courtesy of Aaron Swaney and District Brewing.

Seattle Beer Festival coming to a couch near you

The Seattle Beer Festival was supposed to take place under the Space Needle next week. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced event organizers to alter the plan and get a little creative.

Rock Star Beer, which runs beer festivals along the west coast, decided to bring the festival experience to your couch with this year’s “Virtual Edition” beer festival. A ticket will get you a package of 10 full beers along with some swag items delivered to your front door. A list of participating breweries was not available, but the event says, “the case features beers from 10 different regional breweries.” According to the event page, the package is made for “1 person if you are a huge beer drinker. 2 people, if you are a moderate beer drinker.”

The beer will be delivered to your home, as long as you live within a 100-mile radius of Seattle, on Thursday (so make room in your refrigerator) and at 8 p.m. Friday May 15 the beer fest goes live with a link that is emailed to all guests. The video will include guided tastings of each beer from the brew master or brewery ambassador. There will also be live musical performances and interactive games. The video is shown live, so attendees must be available from 8 to 10 p.m. After that, the video will be gone.

Tickets for the event cost $45 and there is an additional $10 delivery fee. Tickets are available until Sunday, May 10. You must be 21+ to sign for and receive your festival kit. Rockstar Beer is putting on similar events in several other cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Sacramento and Phoenix.

| Photo courtesy of Seattle Beer Week.

Kenmore’s Nine Yards closes temporarily, launches GoFundMe

When a statewide stay at home order came down in March, breweries all over the state raced to find crowler machines, CO2 and cans in an effort to stay open and transform into breweries to go.

After internal — and external — deliberating, Nine Yards Brewing in Kenmore went a different route.

Knowing the large, open space he had could make it difficult to prevent the virus from spreading and over concern for his employees’ safety, owner Ethan Savaglio made the tough decision to temporarily close his brewery while he, and the rest of the region, wait out COVID-19.

“Our staff is very loyal, very dedicated, very capable,” Savaglio said. “We want to take care of our staff. We can only control so many factors. One of the factors that we could control was where they went to work. It was more important to us to have them stay home and have them remain healthy so when we reopen we have the staff we need. Also, ethically, having people stay healthy, that was more important to us.”

Savaglio loves the community feel Nine Yards Brewing’s staff and customers have been able to cultivate since it opened in 2015. The brewery hosts game nights, movie and sports screenings and does a comedy show one Friday a month.

“More than anything it’s just getting people out there, building a community,” Savaglio said. “We’re built around building a community and events. And no one wants to be in the position of having their event be the catalyst of having people getting sick.”

Until it can reopen, a GoFundMe has been set up to help to help Nine Yards with some expenses and provide some monetary relief to the brewery’s employees. Savaglio said he has enjoyed being able to use the funds to write checks for his employees once again.

The COVID-19 virus will likely cause some changes to Nine Yards Brewing when it does reopen, according to Savaglio. He is reassessing all aspects of the brewery from the shared cart of silverware and condiments down to the community water jug to figure out the best ways to keep people healthy both in the immediate, and long, term.

Along with his staff, Savalio is eagerly looking forward to being able to hang out again soon over a Homewrecker Red or a Sunset Cerveza or a Wee Heavy Scotch Ale.

Or a “specialty beer” that is currently in the works.

“We do have something pretty cool that is going to go up on the menu when we get back,” Savaglio said. “The biggest thing to do is, when we do open back up in whatever capacity we open up at first because we don’t know what the restrictions are, just come patronize the place. Let us know that you’re back! If you’re just comfortable grabbing growlers, we can make that happen. Just getting us back to where we can take care of our folks, that would mean the world to us. It would mean the world to have the community back and not have that place be dark.

“Come on back, watch a movie or sports on the big screen. Or replays of sports.”

Nine Yards Brewing

7324 NE 175th St., Suite A
Kenmore, WA


A Puppet-Making Beertender from Seattle + friends create 3D masks for the masses

Populuxe’s Keith Lovik designed two open-source 3D-printable masks to serve community and healthcare workers.

Keith Lovik was hearing the same stories over and over from his friends and relatives in the health-care industry: they didn’t have enough masks.

“They were using bandanas or their shirts for protection,” said Lovik, who has been a beertender at Populuxe Brewing for the past five years. “I knew I had to do something.”

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lovik decided he couldn’t just quarantine at home and listen to more stories. He got to work. 

“It seemed like the world was falling apart, so I thought
why not move forward and do something I’m good at.”

Keith Lovik

Lovik recruited friends, like Greg Krsak at Scrappy Punk Brewing and put his manufacturing and design skills to work in creating The Unity Mask, an open source, 3D-printable face mask with a filtered respirator. Now anyone with a 3D printer can download the specs, print the mask and filter and wear it or donate the mask to first responders or health-care workers.

“It seemed like the world was falling apart, so I thought why not move forward and do something I’m good at,” said Lovik.

Lovik got into 3D printing about eight years ago through his life as a ventriloquist puppet maker. Helping design a puppet for renowned Las Vegas ventriloquist Terry Fator, Lovik used a 3D printer to make a robot puppet lighter than the traditional wood composition. It was an experience that Lovik enjoyed and something he continued to do. 

It was also a skill that has allowed him to give back to his community in its time of need.

There are two versions of The Unity Mask. The Unity Mask HOME, which launched in late April, is designed to be used “if you’re not likely going to be performing CPR, exercising, or otherwise exerting yourself strenuously.” And soon-to-be-released, The Unity Mask PRO is an enhanced version made specifically for workers on the front line. The PRO mask is currently going through government certification.

“Keith wanted to get the masks out there and in front of the people who could make and use them,” said Greg Krsak, Scrappy Punk Brewing owner. “He was just like, ‘Greg, can you get this online as quickly as possible.” 

Krsak, who has a background in software development, created a brand and website for the masks, which are available on GitHub, an open-source platform for developers to share their projects with the world. Now anyone who has the equipment and the need can have a high-quality mask.

To create the mask, Lovik recruited his long-time friend Matt Cowgill, a design specialist. The two began designing specs for the mask and then going through iterations. Lovik would print the prototype off on his 3D printer and then leave it on Cowgill’s front porch so he could go over it in detail, testing it for weaknesses.

The Unity Mask facepiece (far left) with filter, filter housing and outer cover.
Elise Mattson of Scrappy Punk Brewing designed the logo for The Unity Mask project.

“I’d leave it on his doorstep and then we’d talk and go over the issues,” said Lovik. “Then I’d print out another version and we’d do it again.”

Lovik and Cowgill were aiming for a mask that was simple, could include a filtered respirator and created a seal to the face. Rapid prototyping of the kind Lovik and Cowgill were undertaking usually takes at least a month, said Lovik. They got the final design for The Unity Mask nailed down in a week.

“There were some days I didn’t get much sleep,” said Lovik.

Lovik knew he also needed some help promoting their new product. That’s where the connections he made in the craft beer world paid dividends. Lovik reached out to Krsak, whom he had met as a customer while working behind the bar at Populuxe. It’s no secret that Krsak used the Ballard brewery as a template for his own garage-style brewery in Snohomish, Scrappy Punk.

“Greg was one of those customers that when they walk in you’re just really glad to see them,” Lovik said. 

Krsak volunteered on behind the scenes technical development and helped launch the masks into the world, making sure they got into the hands of the people who could make them. Krsak said that once Lovik reached out, he knew he wanted to help.

“Keith is one of the coolest beertenders in the Seattle beer scene,” said Krsak.

Along with Krsak and Cowgill, the rest of The Unity Mask team is made up of Matt Kraske on design, Marc Chavez with technical writing, and Bret Spangler with testing.

More information on The Unity Mask can be found at

| Photos courtesy of The Unity Mask project.