If you were to walk past Chuckanut Bay Distillery right now, you would be met with the sight of cardboard and sawdust blanketing the floor, tools scattered all around, and the distillers hard at work in between construction jobs. However, in just a few short months, this space will be completely transformed into a three-story tasting room, restaurant, bar, distillery, and venue space. Even a rooftop bar is in the works!
The distillery, now located at 1311 Cornwall Ave. in Bellingham, has a long history of evolution. Founders and co-owners Matt Howell and Kelly Andrews started the company in 2011 and quickly outgrew the original location on Railroad Avenue in Bellingham. Before Chuckanut Bay Distillery took over the building in March of 2017, it had sat mostly empty for nearly 50 years, after JCPenney closed its doors in the 70’s. When the distillery first took over the space, they had two years of constant clean up to do.
“There were bats, pigeons, an ugly drop ceiling, and leaks everywhere,” says current co-owner Ethan Lynette. “Matt truly had a vision to see what it could become.”
After 250 gallons of pigeon droppings and 900,000 pounds of debris were hauled out of the building, the distillery could really get started. They kept remnants of the history of the building with bars and counters made from the old cross-beams upstairs.
Since clearing the space, Chuckanut Bay Distillery has been up and running, producing around a dozen liquors and distributing them all over Washington. Wanting to be sustainable and support local farms, they source all their grains from Whatcom County and potatoes from Skagit County.
Now it’s time for more growth for Chuckanut Bay Distillery. Plans for the 18,000-square-foot space include an addition of a restaurant and bar on the first floor, a mezzanine bar, a giant event space taking up the entirety of the third floor, and a rooftop bar with elevator access and breathtaking views of Bellingham Bay. The goal is to provide Bellingham with a large, functional, beautiful venue that can accommodate hundreds of people.
Construction has been steady, but not without its challenges. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting supply chain issues, cost of materials have skyrocketed in recent months.
“Trying to source much of anything right now has been nuts,” says Howell. “I mean, price of steel is like all over the place. We try to figure out when to dip in our toes and get some of the things we need.”
Now the focus is on ramping up production of new liquors and finishing the expansion. The restaurant and bar, with an expected capacity of 180 people, are projected to open in June 2022, with the event space and rooftop bar likely being ready in 2023.
“It’s been a very arduous, difficult process that we’ve really spearheaded ourselves,” says Howell. “But I think the result is a space that we can be really proud of and there’s not anything else like it.”
1311 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham, 360.738.7179, chuckanutbaydistillery.com