Jon Cargille (left), Rob Nelson and Frank Swiderski visited their first account, Ballard's Royal Drummer Cafe, to talk about expansion plans for the brewery.

Photo by Ryan Murray
Jon Cargille (left), Rob Nelson and Frank Swiderski visited their first account, Ballard's Royal Drummer Cafe, to talk about expansion plans for the brewery. Photo by Ryan Murray
When Frank Swiderski, Rob Nelson and Jon Cargille started discussing opening their own brewery, two major things came to mind. 

One was producing barrel-aged, mixed fermentation sours. The other was a memorable name.

And thus, Dirty Couch Brewing was born.

“It’s comfortable and down-to-earth. It reminds you of college,” Nelson said. “The beers we are making are a little hoity-toity, snobbish. We don’t want to be that. Now people come up to us and say “we hate your name,” and we laugh and tell them they are talking about it though.”

The three friends met at their day job, and realized they shared a passion for the same type of beer when they traveled to Portland together for a bachelor party and went to the legendary Cascade Brewing, which set the tone for sours in the world of American brewing.

“We were driving back and Jon threw out the idea of starting a brewery,” Swiderski said. “It’s all Jon’s fault.”

Cargille, who almost pursued a career in wine-making, said he loved the intricacies of sour and barrel-aged beers.

“I loved that these had the complexity of wine,” he said. “I thought I was on a path to make wine as a job when I met these guys.”

Dirty Couch Brewing has been based out of a 700-square-foot production-only facility in Ballard since March 2016, and its first accounts (Royal Drummer Cafe, Olaf’s) attest to that local, self-delivered touch. Many of the beers are blended, aged and aren’t ready until a year or more after first brewing.

“A beer isn’t ready until it tells us it’s ready,” Swiderski said.

The three co-owners shared with City Living that later this year they will be opening a tap room in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle, open to the public and kid friendly. They will be hiring bartenders and distributers to increase the admittedly small footprint.

“It was key for us to keep a low profile and build up our brand,” Swiderski said. “We wanted to test the market before we over expanded. We’re pretty confident now.”

Dirty Couch Brewing will be expanding from a seven barrel system into one with foeders (a large wooden vat used to age wine or beer) and a coolship (sort of an open table which allows natural yeast to give a beer a wild funkiness or tartness). Très chic.

While other breweries in Seattle are playing with sours, Cargille said that there wasn’t quite what he was looking for when they came up with the idea to form a brewery. 

“We were at Cascade and I was thinking why wasn’t there anything like this in Seattle?,” he said. “We started homebrewing diligently. We tried different yeast strains and bacteria. It’s science, but the blending of beers is artistry. Frank is our master blender. He has a masterful palate.”

Swiderski took over as head brewer and the company got some whiskey barrels from Woodinville. A sour blonde ale changed dynamically after a few months in a barrel.

“There were a lot of failed attempts, then it clicked,” Nelson said.

“It was like, finally, we could sell this,” Cargille said. “We shopped out our beers to some buyers with really developed palates and new if they liked it, we were golden. We did pretty well on the taste-test front.”

Dirty Couch has distributed eight beers so far, all within quick driving distance after work as the three are the only employees currently. Zeke’s Pizza is the company’s biggest client, carrying kegs for draft pours and growler fills in a few locations.

Before the taproom opens, Dirty Couch hopes to unveil some fruited lambics (a traditional Belgian style), including one with local huckleberries.

“The cool thing about opening up a taproom is that it’s not a question if the beer is ready,” Swiderski said. “The beer is ready. All that matter is if there is a palate for it.”

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