Head of the Class

Postdoc Brewing’s journey from theory to reality

“Postdoc” is a term used to describe the work pertaining to, or person engaged in, postdoctoral research, but in the case of Postdoc Brewing, it’s the unique journey that transformed a beloved hobby into a business. That business has brewed up a diverse array of craft beers being served throughout the Eastside, and a taproom that’s become a favorite Redmond hangout.

img_1225The official story begins in 2013, when a trio of neighborhood pals opened up the Postdoc microbrewery and taproom in the corner space of an industrial park near the end of 520. A convenient location to wait out the rush-hour traffic, it’s also an easy stop after a dog-park visit or bike trip through Marymoor Park. Inside the taproom there’s a bar and plenty of tables, with televisions showing whatever game is on. When the Northwest weather behaves, people sit out on the sun-dappled side deck overlooking Marymoor, or the front patio, where there’s usually a food truck parked, making it easy to sit and sip for a spell. The beer is brewed on-site, the smell of recent batches made earlier in the day wafting into the taproom: a smoky richness of roasted coffee in the Cram Session Coffee Porter, the sharp citrus aroma of hops used generously in the Alpha Factor IPA. There are 10 taps, a combination of year-round beers, and several seasonal or special small-batch cask brews rotated regularly, many of which are exclusively poured at the taproom.

“I’ve always wanted to open a brewery. I brewed my first batch (of beer) when I was in college. It was something I loved right away,” said Tom Schmidlin, Postdoc’s co-owner and head brewer. “I had no idea you could make beer at home. I thought it had to be done on an industrial scale. When I found out you could make it yourself, I immediately wanted to.”

Then Schmidlin learned to put brewing science into action. He can’t quite recall if his first homebrew was a porter or a stout — something dark and malty — but he admits it was good, and judging from his friends’ enjoyment of this first attempt, it was an encouraging start to what would become a serious hobby.

Schmidlin moved to Washington in the late 1990s and became involved in the growing homebrew scene. He was particular about keeping his passion for beer-making separate from his day job, wanting to preserve the enjoyment of the hobby. He worked at Starbucks Research, developing tasting panels and assessing products, not realizing how much this knowledge would be integrated later. But the spark was lit, and an avid homebrewer was here to stay.

A roller-coaster job market eventually led Schmidlin to return to school at the University of Washington, where he tackled it with tenacious grit. The intent was computer science, but he admits, “What I really wanted to do was study yeast, because of my passion for home brewing. I reached out to a whole bunch of labs at UW and found one that would take me in with no background. I started working there and taking classes so that I could get into grad school. I had freshman-level chemistry — that was it — not even any biology at all. I had a lot of catching up to do, but I did well enough to get into grad school.”

img_1258A student of science pursuing his doctorate in biochemistry, Schmidlin worked on medical research projects, including developing diagnostics for Alzheimer’s disease and cancer cells, but the homebrewer in him never went away. This ultimately led him to a postdoctoral in a lab specializing in yeast research, where he balanced his studies with part-time work.

He kept his beer-making skills honed working for Bluebird, a maker of small-batch ice cream and microbrews in Seattle. It was his first foray into the professional world of brewing, learning how to run the equipment, and the importance of developing products based on the behaviors of customers. He observed how in the shop near neighborhoods with families, growlers of beer to go were popular with parents popping in for an ice-cream soda with the kids. A location in the twentysomething neighborhood of Capitol Hill saw more pints poured and enjoyed on-site with friends.

“I did everything,” Schmidlin recalls of his experience at Bluebird. “I installed their draft lines, I made all the beer, I made all the soda, developed all the recipes. And it was awesome! And I no longer worried about turning my hobby into a career. It was fun; I liked the work.”

“I no longer worried about turning my hobby into a career. It was fun; I liked the work.” – Postdoc co-owner and head brewer Tom Schmidlin

And so the Ph.D. scientist in Schmidlin was set aside for the head brewer’s opportunity to shine. Combining his brewing experience with the business and operational acumen of friends and co-owners Debbie and Jonny Chambers, the beers casually named “Postdoc,” brewed in Schmidlin’s garage, became a reality that continues to grow. Postdoc beer is on tap at several bars and restaurants from the Eastside to Tacoma, and it’s recently started bottling its beers, available at specialty beer shops.

The brewery’s success is a complement to the beer fandom and microbrew culture of the area. Schmidlin recalls a story of how a taproom regular and avid fan of IPAs could taste the fact that a different strain of hops was used. Taproom manager Bobby Wood is an advanced cicerone, a certified beer-tasting expert whose knowledge of styles and ingredients satisfies any obscure beer curiosity. Visitors are often seen in the taproom wearing “Pourfessor” shirts, representing the Pourfessor Program, the aptly named brewery membership offering discounts and special events.

Postdoc’s owners all express pleasant surprise over the popularity of a dog- and kid-friendly taproom, which lends to the amiable energy of the daily crowds.

Schmidlin reflects how the enjoyment of beer is as much about mood and atmosphere as what is in the glass. When asked about one of the best beers he’s ever had, he recalls a sweltering 100+ degree summer day, floating down the Deschutes River in Oregon. An ice-cold can of unfussy mass-produced lager was the absolute best thing to have in that moment; the beer was as indelible as the memory. Perfect combinations, a spark of inspiration, experiences that whisper encouragement toward transforming a hobby into a career: Postdoc Brewing is that intricate recipe of science and avocation, aged to develop experience, and now savored and appreciated by many.

Find Postdoc Brewing at the entrance to Marymoor Park in Redmond and on taps throughout the Northwest.

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