As long as there have been neighborhoods, there have been neighborhood pubs. Locals flock nightly to wash away the day with a frosty pint—but the pub is more than just a place to drink. It’s a second home where people come together to share in the joys and sorrows of the day, and build a special kind of community.
The Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood knows the importance of community-building. As the first member-owned and -operated brewery in Washington, it shares a special bond with its patrons. Everyone who joins owns an equal share of the business, with major decisions made by an elected board. The brewery’s leadership also encourages members to form groups and host events in the space.
One of these groups is the Flying Bike Run Club, which recently celebrated its third anniversary. I am a member myself, and both the group and “the Bike,” as we affectionately call it, hold a special place in our hearts. Every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., we gather; our leader rallies the troops and describes our route; and we move out, first as a unit, then dispersing into clusters of people running various speeds and distances.
We run in darkness and in light; in rain, snow and blistering heat. Even when the summer smoke blotted out the sun, clogged our lungs and slowed our pace, we still ran. And at the end of it all is delicious craft beer, shared with friends in our home-away-from-home.
While it now boasts over 300 members, the group has humble origins, recalls David Wiegand, who serves on the brewery’s board of directors. It was dreamt up in early 2016 by then-bartender and ultrarunner Ryan Thrower. A series of conversations among Thrower, Wiegand and two other Bike regulars, Dana Hansen and Cody Ring-Rissler, revealed an interest in creating a group around two shared passions: fitness and beer.
“We were trying to figure out a way to build a community around running,” Wiegand says. “We thought it might be a way to build up the number of people in the brewery while having a good time.”
So they decided to meet for a run the following Wednesday, reward themselves for their efforts with a beverage—and the rest is history.
“We did it one week, and then we decided to do it again the next week … and now it’s crazy,” Hansen says, noting that on any given Wednesday, Run Club boasts a 30- to 50-person turnout. “I love it. It’s a great excuse for me to come out and be social and get a beer.”
For our group and the Bike, Run Club is a win-win. At the end of each run, we pour back into the brewery and pour out the contents of our wallets for a countless number of beers, including group favorites the RaineMaker IPA, Zest-a-Peel IPA and the Banana Seat HefeRyezen. During special events, the Bike often offers drink specials, as well.
“If nothing else, they put up with 50 sweaty, smelly runners who want to come and get a beer and hang out until close,” Hansen says. “It’s a great symbiotic relationship. We love coming here.”
There are other breweries in Seattle, and there are other running groups. But many affirm that there is something special about the Flying Bike and its Run Club. The spirit of the group has fostered a core of loyalists who rarely miss a run.
Andrew Exnicios is one of these regulars, and one of the group’s earliest members. He describes how his family established a Sunday routine of first the library, then the Flying Bike shortly after moving to Greenwood. When Exnicios decided to resume running after a kid-induced hiatus, his wife suggested he give Run Club a try, and he’s been attending ever since.
“Flying Bike Run Club helps me be a better runner—just the consistency, and having people around to help push the pace,” says Exnicios. “Right away I made friends, and I’ve been running and hanging out with them ever since.”
The communal nature of the brewery is reflected in the organization of the Run Club itself, as various group members have shared in its leadership over the years: from Thrower to Wiegand to Hansen and Ring-Rissler. Hansen fills the leadership role today, planning routes and leading the Wednesday event. When needed, other members step up to pinch-hit.
“That’s the way this brewery and the Run Club works—they have a rotating cast of leaders,” says Ring-Rissler. “Regardless of who’s leading it, it brings people in … [and] they want to make it welcome to anybody.”
This cooperative aspect of Flying Bike sets it apart from other breweries. As Wiegand describes, it started as a homebrewing club. When the membership and the capital grew large enough, they were able to move their operation out of their homes and into a physical property.
In the taproom, Wiegand points out a large floor-to-ceiling seam, where the founding members of Flying Bike took two buildings and fused them into one. One of the walls they removed was made of old-growth fir, which one member used to build the tables we now sit at. Quite literally, he explains, they built the brewery with their own two hands.
This cooperative ethos is not only central to the Bike, but also to the personal perspective of its head brewer, Kevin Forhan.
“I can become quite philosophical, and even a little sentimental, about the community aspect of brewing,” Forhan says. When he first visited Europe as a young adult, he was struck by the differences in attitudes toward both drinking and drinking establishments. There, he says, the neighborhood pub and tavern is treated as a sacred space: “the community’s living room,” as he beautifully calls it.
This idea “was new to me. I’m an American, where everybody has huge houses—and they stay there,” Forhan says. “The idea that the local bar or pub is a public space was something I liked. … I realized that we had lost that kind of ‘third place’ [here].”
In an effort to expand the community living room beyond the brewery walls and into the homes of people all over the world, Flying Bike is also a member of the PicoBrew Brewers Network, offering the Pale Hoppy Thing PicoPak on BrewMarketplace (an American pale ale infused with Northwest hops).
“[PicoBrew has] been very good to us from the very beginning, even before we were founded,” says Forhan. “They’ve reached out to a lot of us. They have one of our recipes. … I just appreciate the way they’ve made themselves part of the [brewing] community.”
As communities built around food and beverage continue to grow worldwide, this is helping to disseminate once-lost cultural values. Today, Forhan says, there is a resurgent appreciation in American culture for high-quality, locally produced food and beverages.
He notes that Flying Bike is now one of many bars, restaurants and breweries that have “come such a long way in re-establishing … the shared space that is also a commercial space, where you can get good food and drink and music.”
While not a runner himself, Forhan values the communal bonds built by our spandex-clad brood, and describes his relationship with Run Club with a twinkle in his eye.
Every week, he says, “I wonder, ‘Why are all these people in their underwear?’ And then suddenly everyone’s gone. And then an hour and a half later, everyone’s back. And then I remember, it’s Wednesday; it’s Run Club.”
After all, Forhan says, “the people who continually show up and use the [brewery] space … make it into what they want it to be. I’ve had the joy of watching [Flying Bike] take on an identity and serve the neighborhood and beyond, and Run Club is part of that. Seeing Run Club grow has been part of my enjoyment of watching Flying Bike grow. … I’d really miss it if there weren’t a Run Club [here] every Wednesday.”
One important aspect of the community’s living room, Forhan says, is that it’s a place where “people take care of each other,” and where everyone is welcome, regardless of age or station.
“I think Run Club does a really good job illustrating that [value],” says Wiegand. “We have people who are hardcore beer drinkers; some people drink cider; we have families that come in and run with their kids in strollers; some people bring their dogs along; we have older folks like myself and others who do it for fitness and community.”
Hansen agrees, adding that “we have people who are sprinting and winning marathons on the weekends. And then we have people who haven’t ran in years. … No one’s going to judge you.”
And so, every Wednesday, we run. And with every run, we build the bonds of our little tribe. Sweat drips. Endorphins run high as we struggle through the last mile together, pushing one another to go faster and farther. Friendships are forged, tested and strengthened. Relationships start and end. Family members come from far-flung locales to meet the gang. Babies are born and brought swaddled in strollers, introduced to Run Club from the earliest of ages. It is a world unto itself, encapsulating all of the cycles, struggles and victories of life.
And at the end of it all is beer. We come back to our community’s living room to share drinks, stories and kinship well into the night. The brews ease our aching muscles and the company fuels our souls, and make every Wednesday night feel like coming home.
“The beer is just an excuse to get together; the space is a place to do it. Your gathering space becomes a community,” Forhan says. “It becomes a second family. And who doesn’t need as much family as they can get?”