Love of beer leads to brand-new business

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Charles H. Featherstone/Columbia Basin Herald Ruben Vela and Troy Watson, founders and co-owners of Squirrel Fight Artisan Brewery in Moses Lake.

MOSES LAKE — It takes a lot of work to start something like a brewery.

And a lot of money.

So why would two friends who enjoyed homebrewing together take the leap to spend several years raising capital and spending cash they don’t have to start a business that may not even succeed?

“We enjoy talking beer, we enjoy making beer, and we enjoy drinking beer,” said Ruben Vela, one of the co-owners of Squirrel Fight Artisan Brewery. “We like beer!”

Of course, lots of people like beer, and they don’t start breweries.

But for Vela and his friend — and business partner — Troy Watson, it was about more than just the love of beer. It was about wanting to do something different, to take a chance, and see what would come of it.

“I’m 50 years old and I wanted to branch out and do something different,” Vela said.

He’d worked as a school teacher, and currently has a day job assisting a worker’s compensation attorney. But none of those jobs was quite satisfying.

“It’s about the same for me,” Watson explained. “I work IT (Information Technology) for the state, and I’ve been doing that for real close to 20 years. You start a career out of it and at some point you’re ready for a second career, you’re ready to move on.”

So they started Squirrel Fight Artisan Brewing. They don’t serve food, but they do have more than six beers (and one cider) on tap, and food from outside is always welcome, Vela and Watson said. The location, right next to Chico’s Pizza (which has its own custom brew), may help; they have aimed for a comfortable atmosphere with a couple of sofas, comfy chairs and long tables where people can enjoy a beer or two with friends.

Watson said he and Vela would split an 11-gallon batch of homebrew beer and each would do something just a little bit different with it, with Watson’s experiments coming from his love of cooking and Vela’s looking at other beers and even other kinds of drinks for inspiration.

“We’d do a little contest for our friends, and they would be the judges,” Watson explained. “Our friends enjoyed being the judges because they got to drink the beer.”

It took them two years to raise the money needed to start their brewery.

“Getting here has been a struggle but it’s starting to pay off and we are looking forward to it,” Watson said.

Even though they’ve not been open very long, one of Squirrel Fight’s more popular beers is its Rye IPA, which was brewed with around 19 percent malted rye — more than what is typical for a rye beer, Watson said.

“It’s a good example of how we do things,” he added.

Currently brewing in one of their 100-gallon vats is something Vela has created that is his take on the sour German Gose, which he brewed with hibiscus flowers and hopes to show off at the Craft Out Cancer fundraiser in September.

“In Mexico, there is this thing called Agua de Jamaica — hibiscus water. I really dig it. I love the color, I love the aroma, I love the flavor,” Vela said. “It really works.”

Vela said he’s also considering brewing with tamarind, though he hasn’t tried that yet.

“We like playing with things, with different spices,” Watson. “We just continue to do that.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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