For John and Cindy Bryant, putting Spokane on the map as a craft beer destination while giving back to the community is at the heart of what they do as owners of No-Li Brewhouse.
The couple co-founded No-Li Brewhouse in 2012 and, since then, it has grown to 84 employees and its beers have gained international recognition.
This year, No-Li’s Wrecking Ball Imperial Stout and Born & Raised IPA won gold medals at the 2020 Belgium International Beer Challenge, which had 1,700 entries and included brews from more than 35 countries. The brewery in October also was awarded a gold medal for its Cascade Fog Hazy IPA and a silver medal for its Red, White & Hazy IPA in the 2020 World Beer Awards in England.
At the same time, the brewery – although affected by COVID-19 – has continued its mission of giving back to the community and organizations in times of need.
When the statewide stay-home order went into effect in mid-March, temporarily shutting down businesses and schools, the brewery raised $40,000 for COVID-19 relief and partnered with Big Table, Spokane Food Fighters, Logan Elementary, state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, Ultimate Bagel and Zome Design to donate 1,100 meals to schoolchildren.
The brewery also launched a fundraiser that generated $75,000 for Malden and Pine City families impacted by Washington wildfires in September.
Although navigating COVID-19 has been challenging for the brewery, its role is to be a rock for the community, John Bryant said.
“We’ve been tested so many times and almost been out of business a few times that COVID is almost like another new punch,” John Bryant said. “But because of that, we were ready for it. We understand that it’s going to be tough. You never know what the next curveball is … it’s a blessing that we are a strong financial company.
“We can pay living wages, provide full benefits, give to the community and try to be some type of rock, if you will. We will persevere. But the most important thing is people in the community.”
A deep connection to Spokane
The Bryants’ connection to Spokane traces back more than 100 years. Cindy Bryant’s family immigrated from Naples, Italy, to Spokane via a sponsorship by St. Aloysius Church. John Bryant’s parents attended Eastern Washington University – then known as Eastern Washington College – in the early 1950s.
John Bryant grew up in Mossyrock, a rural town in Western Washington about 10 miles from the Olympia Brewing Co. He recalls attending grade school with the same 40 kids, whose parents either worked at the Satsop Nuclear Power Plant or Olympia Brewing.
“One summer, I think it might have been fifth grade, I went to an Olympia Brewing family employee picnic. It’s on a lake in July, it’s 85 degrees and basically people are serving these families that all work in production at a brewery,” John Bryant said. “I just kind of fell in love with the social environment, the goodness of it … I thought there’s something magical in this, and I’ve always tried to fall back to capture that for No-Li. That’s why I fell in love with beer and what it can do in a positive way.”
John Bryant’s brewing industry career spans more than 32 years, beginning at Rainier Brewing Co. in Seattle in 1989. He subsequently held positions as national brand manager of Portland-based Henry Weinhard’s; vice president of sales and marketing at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon; chief operating officer of Odell Brewing Co. in Fort Collins, Colorado; and president of Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colorado.
After spending nearly nine years in Colorado, the couple decided to move back to Spokane in 2012.
“We kind of talked about going anywhere, and we were like, ‘We want to get back to the Pacific Northwest,’ ” Cindy Bryant said. “This is where we’re both from, our families are here. Spokane has been in my family for 100 years. So, I think that was our connection back to Spokane. We have a deep cultural history here in Spokane.”
Innovation, adaptability area keys
The Bryants attribute No-Li’s growth to research and development, innovation and the ability to adapt, learn and change.
The Bryants bring in beer industry experts – such as former Deschutes Brewing Co. brewer Paul Cook – to train and mentor employees.
“I’m continuously bringing in outside experts that I’ve been able to work with to help train our people,” John Bryant said. “On any given day at No-Li, there’s over 100 years of brewing experience on the ground.”
At one point, No-Li’s beers could be found in 17 states, but the brewery has since dialed back distribution to Washington and Idaho.
“We work very hard to keep our supply channel very tight. So the beer you’re picking up is really fresh,” John Bryant said.
Creating craft beer movement
John Bryant said operating a brewery takes a great deal of personal sacrifice. For several years, he worked 80 to 100 hours a week at No-Li.
“We’re very independent. We don’t have outside international money, national money, stockholders or investors. So, we really had to bootstrap it … but in that grind, you find what your brand means,” said John Bryant, adding it draws parallels to Spokane, which has historically been a blue-collar, family-oriented city.
In No-Li’s early days, Bryant recalls owing $60,000 in past-due invoices with $2,000 in the bank. No-Li had payroll approaching and suppliers were ready to cut off the brewery.
“So we had to buy time and talk with suppliers that I’d known for decades and say, ‘I just need another 60 days. We will come through.’ But this is in 2012 when we were small, and we got that relief,” John Bryant said. “And that’s where you learn to work 18 hours a day to manufacture some type of positive movement.”
Although the brewery has found success, it’s still working toward creating a craft beer movement that has potential to fill other pubs and generate tourism – but it could take years, John Bryant said.
“Spokane is a big small town with just awesome roots and awesome character. We don’t want to copy any other city. We want to shape Spokane the way our community wants to shape Spokane,” he said. “But there is no reason that we can’t be one contributing part of music and culinary, entertainment and the arts, and sciences and education (so) that when you come to Spokane and that one contributing piece – craft brewing – makes you want to stay an extra day.”
Building a stronger community
This year, No-Li purchased land in Airway Heights to create an additional production facility and taproom that could host tours, craft beer tasting, education and community events.
The brewery is pausing its expansion plans during the pandemic and focusing on its existing operations and community outreach.
“You can watch a business’s intentions by any wealth or monies that they have and how they spend. Right now, we’re choosing to spend it on people and community, and ingredients for beer and innovation,” John Bryant said. “Because when we come out of this, I think you’re going to see a bigger, bolder, stronger No-Li with a bigger, bolder, stronger community and world-class beers that put this place on the map as a tourist destination in the U.S.
“So, we’re not going to rest till Spokane becomes as highly regarded as any city in America for craft beer.”
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