Q&A with Wingman Brewers’ Ken Thoburn

// Co-founder and brewer for Tacoma's newest craft brewery

Q. How long have you been brewing? And why did you start initially?
A. I started making beer initially because it sounded fun. I’ve made meads, ciders and liqueurs, but I enjoy making and drinking beer the most.

Q. Can you give me a little more detail on the catalyst to get your own, official brewery going? What was the “push” that took you from “bathtub” brewers to starting Wingman Brewers earlier this year?
A. We never brewed in a bathtub but we did use a turkey deep fat fryer. I have had my own businesses before and after college realized that there were no jobs, so I decided to make my own. Derrick Moyer, Jason Sabol and I had been brewing for a while and with the help of our business-savvy friend Daniel Heath we decided to join forces and open a tiny brewery. We still combine home-brewing techniques with microbrewery equipment to brew on the small scale that we’re working on. Our hope is to eventually have the four of us all working full time at the brewery.

Q. Who are your fellow co-founders, co-owners and co-brewers, and what exactly do they do to make Wingman Brewers possible?
A. Derrick Moyer runs a lot of our social media as well as doing some brewing, delivering and general work. Jason Sabol does brewing and designed and fabricated most of the equipment we use. Daniel Heath pushes paper around and makes sure we have enough money. I formulated our recipes for the most part and continue to head up R&D (research and development) although every beer we make is a group effort.

Q. How has the launch of your business been going? You released your first brew (the P-51 Porter) publicly last month – how has that been? When will you release your second two brews (The Ace IPA and Pinny’s Pale Ale)? And are there more to come after that?
A. Things have been going great. Right now we’re still getting everything figured out so we’ve only been brewing once or twice a week. Everything we’ve had for sale has sold and we currently have a waiting list for our P-51 Porter that is two to three weeks out. We’re hoping to release our Ace IPA toward the end of May or beginning of June. Pin-up Pale Ale will follow shortly after that. We are considering attempting to make our Pin-up Pale Ale from all Washington ingredients so the logistics of that, and the demand for our IPA, are dictating when things are getting released.

Q. Where can people find your beers locally?
A. Right now people should be able to find our beers at the Metronome Cafe, Joeseppi’s Italian Ristorante, The 208 Cafe on Garfield, The Rosewood Cafe, The Villa Cafe and Imbibery. We’re adding new accounts as fast as we can and ramping up production in the next few weeks so we can provide any person or business in Tacoma with our beer.

Q. What inspires you as a craft brewer?
A. I have to make. If I wasn’t making beer I’d be making something else. I love sharing my creations with people and making people happy.

Q. Where did the name “Wingman” come from?
A. Wingman is an Air Force term and also a term popularized by Coors with a completely different meaning. The inspiration for our name comes more from the Air Force and the “nose art” imagery of WWII specifically.

Q. What is the inspiration behind Wingman’s stencil-like imaging?
A. We are working with some great designers at RotatoR Creative. Lance Kagey and Jay Hember really worked hard to get the ideas in our heads into a cohesive brand. We really wanted something that reflected the style of nose art but also the gritty nature of Tacoma.

Q. How do you think your brews fit into Tacoma's local beer landscape?
A. Tacoma has a multitude of brew-pubs...but we are the first all-production brewery since 1979. You can’t come get dinner at our place – you can’t even get a drink there. I’d welcome anybody in for a tour but we’re not like any other beer producer in Tacoma. We make our beer to be sold in what are hopefully locally-owned venues. I tell people this on the phone all the time. If you want to support us and drink Wingman Beer you’re going to have to go to a local venue that carries our product and support their establishment as well. I can’t make sandwiches as good as they do down at the Rosewood so I didn’t open a restaurant, I opened a brewery because I want to focus on making the best beer I can.

Q. Any plans to sell by the bottle at local grocers? Or just on tap?
A. Right now we’re just doing draft beer. We’re hoping to start doing bottles for local grocers and farmers markets but bottles will be taking a backseat until we can accommodate all our draft orders.

Q. How do Wingman brews stand out, or apart from other local beers – like the Harmon, E9 and Ram?
A. The more Tacoma beer the better. I don’t see Wingman Brewers as in competition with any other brewery. If people like our beer they should drink it. If someone likes E9, Ram, Harmon or anything else they should drink that. The great thing about beer is that there are so many options and the options are getting better and better every day. I say find a local beer you like and drink local.

Q. Are you a beer snob?
A. I scoff at no beer except maybe Budweiser and that’s not because of the flavor. I drink and enjoy many beers across the spectrum. I’ve met plenty of people who have tried plenty of craft beers and still enjoy domestics. If people want to eat vanilla ice cream all the time because it’s their favorite that’s fine, it’s their choice.

Q. What is your favorite kind of beer, Wingman or otherwise?
A. My favorite kind of beer changes daily. Recently I’ve been delving into lagers from all over the world, but I drink whatever style my body tells me to.

Q. Why do you think beer is important? Why should people drink beer?
A. Beer is delicious…try it...it’s great. I think there’s a beer out there for everybody.

Q. What is coming up next for Wingman?
A. We’re going to be increasing our production in the next few weeks so we can serve more customers and provide a Tacoma made beer for local venues.

Go to www.wingmanbrewers.com or call (253) 651-4832 for more information.

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