Even in a powerhouse beer town like Bellingham, Sunnyland is a fantastic neighborhood for breweries, akin to Ballard in Seattle or Buckman in Portland. This Friday, it gets a new addition to the starting lineup: El Sueñito Brewing, from the founders of Seattle’s family-run tamale shop Frelard Tamales.
“Originally, having a brewery wasn’t even on our mind as a direction the business could go,” says Dennis Ramey who, together with his husband Osbaldo Hernández, is co-founder of Frelard Tamales and El Sueñito Brewing. “The story of Frelard Tamales is one of really organic growth: We didn’t have a vision for where we wanted to be in five years, we just kind of started.”
From selling at street fairs around Fremont to opening a brick-and-mortar space — originally meant to be a commissary kitchen for the tamales until their popularity grew — Frelard Tamales is now an established element of the Fremont and Ballard communities, with most of the shop’s day-to-day operations managed by Hernández’s parents. But when Ramey and Hernández started thinking about their next step, they began to mull over the idea of expanding their community.
“Both of us really love Bellingham and have spent a lot of time up here,” says Ramey. “Sunnyland is such a dynamic place, and we found the right space that ticked all the boxes.”
The space is an old auto shop, which will house the brewery, kitchen, taproom, a takeout window, and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The buildout has been ongoing since last April, but even as the couple split their time between Bellingham and Seattle, they didn’t hesitate in beginning to collaborate with their new brewery neighbors including locals like Gruff, Kulshan and Aslan.
An horchata milk stout co-created with Kulshan a few blocks away, and the raspberry-strawberry Baya Gose made with Aslan will both be on tap for the grand opening weekend. El Sueñito will also have three in-house beers ready to go: a blonde ale, a pale ale and an IPA. Ramey, a longtime homebrewer who completed the master brewer certificate program at University of California-Davis in 2020, says a kölsch and a witbier aren’t far behind. But both Ramey and Hernández are most excited for the dark and light Mexican lagers that will be on tap within the next couple of months. “Light Mexican beers that you’d find along the beach in Mexico,” as Hernández characterizes them, will be their primary focus.
As a gay- and Mexican-owned brewery, El Sueñito celebrates its diverse perspective on beer and brewery culture while noting that neighboring breweries have also brought a similarly diverse range of elements to the local beer scene.
“A lot of trailblazing has already been done [in this industry], and we’re looking to add to a really rich fabric that [already] exists,” says Hernández. Doing so goes beyond the food and beer menu and involves creating an environment capable of appealing to a new branch of the local crowd.
“Mexicans love beer, but my uncle wouldn’t necessarily go to most breweries,” Hernández says. “We want to be a hangout space for people who haven’t found their hangout space yet.” He hopes that elements including the tamales, lagers, a spacious seating area, and a soaring wall-sized mural by Chicana graffiti muralist Angelina Villalobos will help appeal not just to the habitual brewery-hoppers working their way through the neighborhood but also those locals still searching for their perfect nearby taproom.
And not only are they looking forward to providing that space for others, Ramey and Hernández are looking forward to sharing in it themselves.
“In Seattle we’ve just been able to hang out with our customers through a take-out window for a few minutes at a time, so having a space where we can get to know our customers better will be amazing,” says Ramey.
“I’m really excited to get here on a Friday evening and see the brewery full and hanging out,” says Hernández. Whether they’re hosting trivia, painting, lotería, a drag show or some other community event, Hernández hopes this new Sunnyland brewery becomes the place to be.
“We hope people will come here and celebrate their biggest and smallest accomplishments,” he adds. “We want to see people celebrating themselves and the people around them.”
Three El Sueñito Beers to Try … and Their Perfect Tamale Pairings
IPA | Virtually no tap list in the PNW is complete without one. El Sueñito’s uses a mash of pale malt and rolled oats, whirlpool- and dry-hopped with Azacca, El Dorado, Idaho 7 and plenty of Cashmere hops (Ramey’s favorite). Match this fruity, aromatic pour with a bold tamale that can stand up to its bitterness — such as the spicy Chorizo & Cheese, stuffed with Carlton Farms pork and Monterey Jack.
Blonde Ale | With a malt bill including Gambrinus Pale and Vienna, this bready, biscuity blonde gets the crisp edge of its flavor from Cascade and Chinook hops. Pair it with the herbaceous Salsa Verde Chicken.
Baya Gose | Packed with sweet, juicy red berries, bright coriander and the sea salt that gives this gose its savory twist, this smooth sipper created together with Aslan conjures up sun-soaked summer days, and pairs perfectly with the mild chile and garlic flavors of the Salsa Roja Pork.
El Sueñito Brewing Company | 1926 Humboldt St., Bellingham | RSVP here for El Sueñito’s grand opening weekend, February 17–19, 2023