Flying Bike Brings a Community Together to Make Better Beer

The Greenwood brewery’s Fresh Hop Harvest Ale is just one of many initiatives aimed at creating community and activating Seattle’s collaborative beer scene.

The process behind this year’s Fresh Hop Harvest Ale from Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery was a little more complex than that of most brews. And a little more fun. Home-brewers and backyard gardeners from throughout the city had only 24 hours to harvest their homegrown hop plants, deliver them to Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery, pluck the hop flowers from the vines and throw them into the brewmaster’s boil. In the end, the brewery collected nearly 100 pounds of fresh hops for its hyper-local harvest ale, a testament to the appeal of its core mission: to create “member-driven beer.”

Just over a year old, Flying Bike is the first 100 percent cooperatively owned and operated brewery in Washington. With its popular homebrew competitions, brewer’s roundtable gatherings, and community giving program, the Greenwood-based collective offers a structured space for people who want to get involved in the local beer scene. The brewery’s thriving taproom adds to its reputation as an exceptional neighborhood establishment—a place to enjoy unique craft beers, learn about the brewing process, and build community.

As I sit at the brewery, sipping a smooth Mandarina India Session Rye (on cask for the day), I observe board president Kevin Badger greet several regulars by name. When I ask about the Fresh Hop Harvest Ale, head brewer Kevin Forhan jumps up to pour us all a taste straight from the barrel.

I quickly learn that Forhan was the final piece of the puzzle that put Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery on the map. A longtime Seattle craft brewer with several decades of professional brewing experience—at Pike Brewing Company, Big Time Brewery, Elysian Fields, and RAM Brewery—Forhan is both well-respected and well-connected in the local beer community. After celebrating his inaugural year as head brewer at Flying Bike, Forhan recently took on an assistant brewer, Scott Jensen, to keep pace with increasing demand, and he continues to form ties with breweries like Stoup, Lantern, and Naked City to further strengthen Flying Bike’s collaborative character.

Flying Bike’s community-minded ethos goes beyond the brewing world. As part of its Member Driven Community program, for instance, Flying Bike members nominate and select several community-based organizations to support each month. Previous recipients include WA Wild, United Way of King County, Paws, Music Works, and Boys and Girls Club. Yet it is education that is at the forefront of Flying Bike’s community-powered vision. On the third Wednesday of each month, Forhan invites members to Brewer’s Table events, where attendees have the opportunity to participate in discussions of a variety of beer and brewing topics. A recent event focused on beer tasting and flavor analysis to help determine the optimal blend for the brewery’s anniversary bottle release—the Elmer Belgian-style Barrel-Aged Ale.

For local home brewers who want to showcase their passion and expertise, the co-op organizes quarterly homebrew competitions, each focused on a different style—everything from IPA to red ale to stout. Flying Bike awards the winner of each competition an opportunity to produce their beer for the taproom on a large scale, using the brewery’s seven-barrel brewing system (a significant increase from most homebrew operations). The winner also has the rare chance to learn, hands-on, from Forhan.

It is through these competitions that members choose the beer they want to drink at the brewery. What is on tap is literally the voice of the community. “We have this huge talent pool of real, legitimate brewers to draw upon,” says Forhan. “I’ve learned from t­hem and we’ve gotten some great recipes from these competitions that I could not have made on my own. There’s no doubt it’s part of the secret of what makes this brewery a really great one.” A few Flying Bike favorites, originally brewed by member/owners and on frequent repeat at the brewery, include the Bike Rye’d Saison, Airship Pale, and Storm Cycle CDA. The next competition—to select the brewery’s new Scotch Ale—is slated for mid-October.

Until then, members and anyone co-op curious can enjoy the Fresh Hop Harvest Ale, which will be released this Friday, September 16. The unique brew, loosely inspired by the Oktoberfest/Märzen style, has lots of malt and the bright, juicy flavor of fresh hops.

“We are in the business of making interesting beer,” Forhan explains. “People come in and say ‘What’s new?’ Things move very quickly.”