Couple will stay in valley, pursue personal interests
By Don Nelson
Casey and Laura Rudd didn’t know a thing about brewing beer when they purchased what became the Old Schoolhouse Brewery in 2008. Now they are preparing to pass the award-winning craft beer business and pub along to someone who knows a lot about brewing.
Although they are planning to sell the Winthrop company to a knowledgeable buyer who will, as Casey puts it, “take it to the next level,” the Ruuds will continue to call the Methow Valley their home.
As rumors about a potential sale began to circulate recently, the Ruuds decided they would rather tell the community what’s happening, and assure their friends and customers that they are staying put.
But they will be pursuing personal interests, unrelated to beer-making, that they have had little time for since taking over the brewery. Casey is interested in Native American flutes and writing; Laura wants to resume her glass artwork.
Sale of the brewery is being handled by a Seattle-area firm that will generate “national and international attention” for the business, Casey said, while vetting any potential buyers to make sure they are qualified to make a deal.
Casey said the brewery is profitable and growing — business is up 40 percent in the first two months of 2015 over the comparable period a year ago — but he and Laura aren’t ready to expand the way Casey sees as necessary.
The brewery now produces about 1,000 barrels a year and barely keeps up with demand. Casey said a “production brewery” could increase output to as much as 8,000 barrels a year — but that would require an investment the Ruuds aren’t ready to make.
Meanwhile, the brewery’s beers keep winning regional and national awards. Right now, Old Schoolhouse Brewery’s entry in the national IPA championship has advanced to the round of 16 in a playoff format.
Starting from scratch
The Ruuds began visiting the valley in 1995 and moved here in 2001 from the Tri-Cities area — in part to escape Casey’s high profile in that community. Outside of the Methow Valley, he is still widely known as the whistle-blower whose actions — including testimony before Congress — led to safety improvements at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Casey is still on the board of Hanford Challenge, a nonprofit that supports continued safe and effective cleanup at the nuclear facility.
When the Ruuds first arrived here, Casey went to work as a carpenter for Shadowline Construction for a few years. Then the couple began building “spec” cabins, but Casey said they began to “see the writing on the wall” around 2007 as the nation headed into a deep recession, and they got out of the building business. They sold their big house, moved into one of their cabins, and looked for another opportunity.
Casey said he and Laura often designed their cabins “on the back of napkins” at the Winthrop Brewing Company [as it was then known], and when the business came up for sale they took it over — even though, Casey said, “it was a failed business and we had never brewed a batch of beer.”
“The IPA tasted like DEET [mosquito repellent] to me. I had to develop my palate over the years,” Casey said.
“It took us a year to get our feet under us, working 12- to 16-hour days,” Casey said.
The Ruuds’ son Blaze, who also had no experience in beer but a degree in physics, became the first brewmaster. The beers started getting better and within a few years were winning awards. By 2011 the brewery was at capacity and its beer-making facilities were expanded next to the pub.
Now the pub is at its production limit again. “We really feel like we’re holding it back,” Casey said.
The Ruuds always had a seven-year plan for the brewery and are sticking to it. “We feel we’ve been very blessed,” Casey said. “We’ve been more successful than we ever imagined. But it needs new energy and new investment … you wouldn’t have to recreate it like we did.”
Another reason the Ruuds are looking forward to stepping away from the brewery and pub business is to spend more time with their seven children and four grandchildren.
They’re in no huge hurry to sell the business. “It’s more important that we find the right people to take it over,” Casey said. The buyer should also be “someone who gets what the Methow Valley is all about,” he added.
The buyer will get a solid business with a “fantastic team” of employees, Casey said. “It’s been an incredible experience for us. We’re leaving at the top of our game,” he said.