We’re certainly not beer snobs, but we know a delicious, frothy, hoppy beverage when we taste one, and our favorite local beer hall, San Juan Island Brewery, is full of them. 

In this blog, we’ll dig into the relatively short, but still impressively storied history of the brewery, its San Juan Island origins, and where you can find cans of San Juan Island Brewery beers at Lakedale. 

So, pop a cold one, sip it from a frosted glass (or straight from the can if that’s your style—you do you!), and settle in for a fun ride that—if we do our job well—will make you love our local island brewhouse even more than you already knew you did. 

San Juan Brewery owners on San Juan Island

The Craft Brewery Commonly Known As San Juan Brew

For many, it may feel like San Juan Brewery (often called San Juan Brew) was always meant to be a staple on the island. And when you learn about how it came to be, you’ll probably feel like it was. 

Conceived by two brothers, Sean and Tim Aylward, who grew up on San Juan Island, several years before it opened, San Juan Island Brewery started as a seed. The brothers wanted to find a new, local brewery but kept striking out. They had both moved to the mainland for college and visited many craft breweries in their time away from home. Their stepfather, Verne Howard, who owns Kings Market right in downtown Friday Harbor, also owned a large former lumber yard building on upper Spring Street. 

The brothers presented him with the idea of making that space into a brewery. 

The only problem was none of them had any real experience in the business of beer. 

San Juan Brewery beers stacked on picnic table

A Marriage of Many Islanders

Unbeknownst to each other, and in parallel, a classmate of the Aylward brothers named Nick Gislason lived on the island and worked as a Brewery Consultant. Unprompted by the Aylward/Howard family, he wrote a business plan for a “San Juan Island Brewery” and delivered it to a local businessman he thought might entertain it: Verne Howard. 

The stars were aligning, as it were, but the constellation still lacked one key player: a brewer. 

Enter Jesse Visciglia, a longtime science teacher at Friday Harbor High School who was an avid home brewer. 

With the core team in place (Sean would be the pub’s general manager, Tim the brewery and pub’s assistant manager), the group put together a team of islanders to build out the high-ceilinged space. It’s cavernous, but warm, a feat not easily accomplished, but one they made sure was top of mind. When you’re in the building, make sure to admire the posts and beams, made from hand-picked Douglas fir trees and cut on the island. Take in the rough barn-wood-style siding in the dining area and massive windows on the building’s 27-foot high front wall, which bring in lots of natural light, even on cloudy days. Run your palm across the steel-framed stools and tables that are topped with simply cut wood.

San Juan Brewery open and airy building

The brewery’s founding team used mostly local contractors and as many supplies from the island as they could. The only thing they had to bring in people from the mainland for was the stainless steel 15-barrel (465 gallon) brewhouse, an impressive sight in its own right. From the bar, you can see brewing happening right in front of you.

Even now, it’s not uncommon to overhear a conversation between islanders—regulars, naturally—as they sip pints and point to the contributions they made to the space. It’s a local point of pride that many hands have touched. 

The brothers wanted an industrial, barn look. Once the seed of that brewery idea they brought to their stepfather started to sprout, they took themselves on a 50+ craft brewery tour up the West Coast, sometimes spending just ten minutes in a space to determine what they liked and didn’t, what they wanted to bring home. For San Juan Island’s brewery, they wanted a somewhat open kitchen and a very open concept. They wanted to create a community hub for islanders to gather, to drink, and to eat. They wanted it to be family-friendly. 

All around, it’s a brewery that’s been executed exceptionally well, and we’re not just saying that because they’re our neighbors and friends. 

Outdoor space at San Juan Brewery with bikes in front

Friday Harbor Brewery

The brewery opened its heavy wood doors in Friday Harbor on July 27, 2017. In addition to all the indoor attributes of the pub, the relaxed gathering atmosphere extends outside to the green space and outdoor patio. When the weather cooperates, you may see kids and pups running around the lawn, a rehearsal dinner full of smiling guests, or a pop-up taco truck serving hot plates in the parking lot. 

Approximately a one-minute drive from the ferry dock, Friday Harbor’s brewery is a home for locals that’s more than welcoming to visitors, too. They serve traditional American pub fare with options for everyone: fantastic popcorn, crispy chicken wings, wood-stone pizzas, burgers, and salads.

And the beer? It’s great. 

People drinking San Juan Brewery beer at picnic table outside on San Juan Island

San Juan Beer

San Juan Island Brewery makes mostly German and English-style lagers. Here’s what they say about their approach to brewing:

“Our passion is drinking beer, so we produce sessionable styles that we can enjoy several of while eating and socializing with friends and family. Our diverse selection of award-winning Old World Ales and Lagers are highly drinkable, moderately low in alcohol, and pair well with food. Our brews are true to style and are conducive to a lifetime of long, relaxing drinking sessions.”

Check out their current lineup here, and stop in for a tasting flight next time you’re in town. As of this writing, the brewing team is a small and mighty number of three, including Jesse, who is still steering the metaphorical brewing ship. Together, they brew 2,400 barrels a year and 30+ unique styles.

The Requisite IPA

Now, we know what many of you are wondering, especially given its popularity in recent years—of course, the “Requisite American IPA” is on tap. Jesse considered those of us who aren’t as hop-forward and brews his IPAs to be “as drinkable” as he can. He de-prioritizies bitterness and emphasizes hop flavor and aroma, which may make even the most nose-scrunched of us when we hear the word “IPA” suddenly become open to stealing a sip—or purchasing a pack. 

Drinking San Juan Brewery beer at Lakedale outside the General Store

San Juan Brew x Lakedale 

During our busy season (May-October) when the General Store is open, you’ll find packs of San Juan Brewing beers in the cold cases and can take with you to your Camp Site, Glampground, Lodge, or Yurt. We pride ourselves on showing off locals as much as we can, and it’s easy to do when the beer from San Juan Brewery is just that good (and looks super cool in its cans to boot). 

Show us what you’re drinking by tagging @lakedaleresort and @sanjuanbrew in your social media posts for double the love! We can’t wait send you a virtual cheers. And make sure you add San Juan Brewery to your island itinerary. Find them at 410 A Street in Friday Harbor.