It’s not even 7 a.m. and the brewery is abuzz. A cacophony of rhythm is coming from the brew deck while Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle’ vibes throughout the brewhouse. Head Brewer Steve Ellison is lightly tapping on the hopper encouraging the last bit of malt into the Mash Tun. Behind him, the day’s first batch of IPA is already at a roaring boil in the kettle.
Once he’s satisfied with the Mash Tun, he pauses with an intense look as he reviews the brewhouse schedule for the day. He erases a note with his thumb, and then scribbles a message for the Cellar team to review. He grins.
“It’s going to be a long day,” says Ellison. “But, we get to make beer, and beer is tasty.”
Ellison started at Boundary Bay Brewing Company in 2002 as a Cellarman and Maintenance Worker. As the Brewery flourished, so did his responsibilities. His first time captaining the brewdeck was for a contract brew for the now defunct Waimea Brewing Company.
Over the past five years Ellison has taken on a lot more responsibility as Boundary Bay’s Head Brewer. He handles everything from forecasting the brew schedule to ordering ingredients to battling cooler space and more.
For 17 years, Ellison and Boundary Bay have grown together, but before settling in Bellingham he had quite the journey. At the age of 20, Steve departed from his hometown of Los Angeles. He lived in Australia, and Hawaii, traveled through Europe and eventually settled in Amsterdam.
While his love for beer did not blossom in Europe, a seed was planted.
“I was cooking at a youth hostel in Amsterdam and told my bosses I was interested in home brewing, so they bought me a Belgian-style extract kit,” Ellison recalls. “It wasn’t very good.”
After six years in Amsterdam, Ellison and his sweetheart Cheryl, whom he met in Europe, moved to Seattle. Ellison received a culinary degree from Seattle Central University and continued his career as a chef; but his passion for food was waning, and his thirst for craft beer was budding. Thus, he started to take home brewing a little more seriously.
“My first all-grain brew really sparked my intrigue in the industry,” Ellison says. “I approached George Hancock of Maritime Pacific Brewing in 1999 and told him I didn’t want to make food for people anymore. I wanted to make them beer.”
Ellison worked in the cellar and brewed at Maritime Pacific for three years, before he decided to move to Bellingham. The Ellisons had just welcomed their son, Julius, into the world and wanted a change of scenery.
Before moving to Bellingham, Steve contacted Ed Bennett, owner of Boundary Bay Brewery, and secured a position in the brewery. The rest is history.