Wingman Brewers celebrates four years in Tacoma

By Ron Swarner on April 13, 2015

Technically, Wingman Brewers produced its first batch of beer in 2007. "The first batch of beer I ever made was a five gallon batch of beer with my fellow Wingman Derrick Moyer.  We got the itch for brewing then and opened our business with a one barrel of 31-gallon batch of beer in April of 2011 with a party at The Red Hot," remembers Wingman head brewer and co-founder Ken Thoburn.  Friends and Tacoma natives Thoburn, Moyer, Daniel Heath and Jason Sabol launched the then Tacoma small-batch brewery. The brewery's name and image is homage to Thoburn's grandfather, an artist who served in World War II in the Pacific, and painted the sides of fighter planes when he could. Today, Thoburn, Moyer and Heath pilot the business.

Now four years after their takeoff, Thoburn still walks into his brewery with a smile. "My life has changed dramatically. I love my job for the first time in my life and that goes a long way," say Thoburn. "Even on the worst of days I still count myself lucky that I get to do what I love."

Wingman Brewers has produced iconic beers with aviation names such as ACE IPA, Stratofortress Belgian Strong Ale and P-51 Porter.

"We make a whole lot of Ace IPA and P-51 Porter," says Thoburn. "The Porter takes up the most production because aside from making the normal P-51 Porter we also do a large amount of Coconut P-51 and added Peanut Butter Cup P-51 this year.  It feels like I'm making P-51 nearly every week." 

But over the past four years, Thoburn has developed a startling number of different beers. By his count, he's designed more than 90 different brews or variations.

What has been the biggest challenge since opening? 

"Day-to-day business operations are challenging," says Thoburn. "Neither my business partner, Daniel, nor I had a huge amount of business ownership experience previous to opening Wingman Brewers so it's been and continues to be a heck of a learning process."

Currently, Wingman can't keep up with the demand for their beers. They could be selling many more beers, according to Thoburn.

"Our main issues have stemmed from production and distribution," he explains. "We continue to expand our business as quickly and safely as we can, though, so hopefully we will be able to get our beer to more people soon."

Wingman's strategic agility plans calls for an expansion of their beer production, distribution and retail space.

"In what order and how quickly depends on a number of variables," adds Thoburn. "We're just trying to stay flexible and enjoy the process as much as possible. We're very grateful for all the support from local businesses that we've had and we feel very lucky to have such great beer drinkers out there enjoying our product."

And, there's plenty to enjoy Saturday when Wingman Brewers opens the hangar doors for their "Here's To 4 in 253" four-year anniversary party. Lizzie Lou's Comfort Foodtruck, special glassware and plenty of beer are on the docket.

The taplist will be as follows:

Wingman will also have bottles of: 

WINGMAN BREWERS "HERE'S TO 4 IN THE 253" FOURTH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION, noon to close, Saturday, April 18, Wingman Brewers, 509 ½ Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, no cover, 253.256.5240