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Aberdeen to get first brewery in 73 years

Stefanie and Jon Bennett will open Steam Donkey Brewing in Aberdeen on Friday. It's the city's first brewery in 70 years. (Photo: KOMO News)

ABERDEEN, Wash. -- A local business is hoping a timber town will embrace lagers as much as it does loggers.

Steam Donkey Brewing Company will open its doors in downtown Aberdeen on Friday, making it the first brewery in the city in more than 70 years.

“[It] is intimidating and exciting all at the same time,” said Stefanie Bennett, brewery co-founder. “We take turns freaking out.”

Bennett and her husband brewed up the idea for the business a few years back after she gave him a beer-making kit for the house. He later took a job as head brewer at a spot in Westport, which ended up closing after a fire.

The couple found an Aberdeen storefront last year that had once been a drugstore, a popcorn factory, and later a barbecue joint. They signed a lease in the spring and have been working on porters and pints ever since.

“It’s pretty much been seven days a week since April of last year,” said Jon Bennett, laughing. “I hope to inspire more people to go out and do this.”

The brewery is a few blocks from a stretch of vacant storefronts in this town, which built an economy on timber decades ago. It earned Aberdeen the nickname the “lumber capitol of the world,” but the number of jobs dwindled when mills began to close in the 1970s and 80s.

The Bennetts see a potential rebirth -- in beer. And they may not be far off; the beer industry had a $6 billion dollar economic impact statewide in 2015, according to the Washington State Beer Commission.

“People are always pining for, ‘Oh, we need industry to come back here and it’ll save the town,’ but that’s what this is,” Jon Bennett said. “I would like to see it thriving and vibrant again from when our parents were here.”

There are three other breweries talking about opening in neighboring towns, said Drew Garson, CEO of Greater Grays Harbor, the local chamber of commerce.

“It’s fantastic. We think it’s great. It’s a great opportunity,” Garson said.

Steam Donkey opens its doors on Friday, coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations worldwide. On Thursday, the Bennetts were wiping down tables and putting the finishing touches on the place with the help of family.

“We like to call this our baby,” joked Stefanie Bennett. “We don’t have kids, so this is our baby.”

“I want more people to come here and open up more breweries and spur a craft boom in this area,” added her husband. “For our area trying to turn itself around, this is an industry.”

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