On a recent, blistering hot Sunday afternoon, in a bustling tasting room with a view of the Blue Mountains, a relaxed crowd clinked glasses and caught up over drinks, while extra-thirsty guests bellied up to the bar for another round.

Wine tends to get all the glory in this part of the state, but it’ll be Chief Beer Officer Josh Hulett’s made-on-premises craft beers filling your glass at Five Dollar Ranch, 1570 Beet Road, Walla Walla.

With his wife and business partner, Susan, the pair opened the brewery near the state line in June, joining a small but growing faction of regional craft beer makers helping tap demand for a locally made cold one.

“Walla Walla could definitely support more local breweries,” says Josh, quick to note that he benefited from the expertise of the area’s pioneers, including Quirk’s Troy Robinson and Burwood Brewing’s David Marshall, as he set up shop.

The couple credits the life- and work-altering circumstances of COVID-19 as the factor that helped them realize what had long been the seed of an idea could become reality.

Josh, who’s been home-brewing beers for over 20 years, had a day job in catering; Susan was a remote contractor for Microsoft. When Josh was laid off from his catering job, and Susan was promoted to a full-time remote position, suddenly the dream was in reach. “None of this would be possible,” Josh says, without the pandemic, and Susan’s support.

An ideal commute is helping the duo adjust to new life as business owners — the taphouse is operated out of a converted RV garage just steps away from their home on a 12-plus acre property. After moving from Seattle to Walla Walla and living downtown in 2016, they purchased the parcel that includes 6 acres of hay, a hop garden and pasture for their pet goats and horse the next year.

“We needed to get a bigger lawnmower,” Susan says.

The tasting room, with a geometric design stenciled on concrete floors, corrugated metal walls and a rustic wood bar, has a clean, industrial feel that’s just right for getting down to the business of making — and tasting — beer. The craft brews on offer, fermented just steps behind the bar in giant stainless steel tanks, are generally between five to eight different rotating styles, from pale ales and pilsners to ever-popular, West Coast-style IPAs.

For that sometimes bitter, overly hoppy style, Josh says, “I don’t like my hops to hit you in the face.”

A restrained approach could be said of all his beers; an obsession with quality ingredients — down to reverse osmosis-engineered water and hard-to-find “beer geek” yeast strains like Kveik, an ancient Norweigian strain — helps the beer maker achieve exacting profiles.

Tasting cards share each beer’s meticulously recorded recipe. Most hops are sourced just down the road in Yakima (though you’ll find Walla Walla-grown hops in the Rye Pale Ale), other malts and grains are as locally sourced as possible, and a variety of organic yeast comes from Portland.

From the look of things that Sunday, as a steady stream of sud seekers filed in, and customers eagerly handed over growlers to be filled, it seems like the formula is a big hit.

That they would be running a small craft brewery in their Walla Walla backyard would have surprised the couple back in 2013, says Susan, when it was wine — not beer — that helped unite them.

“Little did we know, when we were married at (then-called) Basel Cellars, that in a few years we’d be running a small brewery at our house just down the road,” she says.

In life, as in love, there’s always something brewing.

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