Beer & Running: Ghost Runners Brewing is in it for the Long Run

Jeff and Amy Seibel are building a craft brewing brand for active people. Photo: Pierre Robichaud

Jeff Seibel is reluctant to admit that he hasn’t had a lot of extra time to run lately.

As the co-owner and head brewer at Ghost Runners Brewery in Vancouver, Wash., he’s typically at work by 4 a.m. and often doesn’t leave until the early evening.  But that makes the easy 5-mile runs he logs a couple of times per week all the more satisfying, especially if he is joined by his wife, Amy, who is the co-owner and chief financial officer of the growing business.

“The world of commercial brewing is a busy, busy world,” he says while checking the alcohol content of the brewery’s 5K IPA as it’s being prepared for its first bottling. “But this all started because of running.”

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As running has exploded in popularity in recent years, it’s become a much more social endeavor and, as a result, beer and running have seemingly been inexorably linked in recent years—with races, running groups, social events and even running retail stores getting in on the mix. As the name might imply, Ghost Runners Brewery was built on a foundation of those two passions and sits at the crux of those trends. And it’s precisely how

Seibel got to where he is. About six years ago, he watched his wife compete with a friend in a Muddy Buddy ride and run 10K event near Portland, Ore., and that sparked a mid-30s fitness kick of his own. The next year he and his wife did the Muddy Buddy event and finished second.

“That was a big rush, a pretty big thrill,” Seibel admits. “I didn’t know running could be fun. I used to think, ‘Running? Well, that’s stupid. Why would you go out and run?’ But that’s when it hit me, and after that I sought out 5Ks here and 10Ks there, and eventually half marathons.”

At the time, Seibel was a craft beer aficionado and a budding hobby brewer who developed a friendship with next-door neighbor Rob Ziebell, who just happened to be an avid runner who was also into homebrewing. It wasn’t long before they were talking about starting their own brewery and, after some initial meetings and fundraising, they launched Ghost Runners Brewery in 2012.

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They started small—in an 8-foot by 10-foot shed in Seibel’s backyard—but they honed their craft and started selling beer to local restaurants. As their reputation grew and the demand for the beers increased, they signed on with three distributors and soon they were selling their brews in several regional markets across Washington.

All along, their goal was to differentiate the brand by creating finely crafted beers using the best ingredients and equipment while also forging a connection to a healthy lifestyle.

The name “Ghost Runners,” Seibel says, is meant as a euphemism for that euphoric “runner’s high” that so many people experience when they get fit.

“It’s about that kind of endorphin-infused, athletic high you can get from running,” Seibel says. “You’re out there on a 10- to 12-mile run and by mile 4—Boom!—you’re cruising. Your legs are good, your breathing is good. You feel like you could run 200 miles that day. It’s that relatable endorphin high that people get that transcends all types of athletic endeavors.”

The connection between beer and running is natural, Seibel says, especially in the Pacifi c Northwest. It’s why all of its beers are named with running terms: 5K IPA, Negative Split Stout, Hellacious Repeats Double IPA, Strong Leg Imperial Stout, Hydration IPA, Turkey Trot Winter Dark Ale and Pace Breaker Oatmeal Pale Ale, just to name a few.

“People in the Northwest are active and experience that feeling you get from exercising outdoors,” he says. “That’s what we gravitated to and why we symbolized ourselves as a running-themed brewery. You’re capturing people’s identities when they see one of our bottles or our logo and they say, ‘Yeah, I’ve run a 5K’ and they connect to the healthy aspects of being active and enjoying a good beer.”

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He confesses they had to change the original name of the stout beer—Fartlek Imperial Stout—because some servers were understandibly having a tough time communicating what that actually meant to non-runners.

Otherwise, business has been going gangbusters. In the spring of 2015, they opened a new, 3,000-square-foot brewery and taproom. That allowed Ghost Runners to go from a one-barrel facility to a 10-barrel brewing operation. When it opened, the business was producing 60 to 80 barrels per month, but it has since increased to nearly 300.

Ghost Runners recently won its first award—a silver medal from the Washington Beer Awards for its Phantom Rojo Imperial Ale—and it has submitted several for consideration to this fall’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Just recently, it started bottling some of its beers for the fi rst time—the 5K IPA and the Phantom Rojo—to be sold at retail stores, and soon it will be expanding its warehouse and tap room.

Not surprisingly, Ghost Runners has sponsored a lot of regional running events—most notably the Vancouver USA Marathon—and running groups. It has regular fun runs that start and end at its facility, as well as a Halloween-themed costume run. It organized the fi rst offi cial Ghost Runners Brewery Beer Mile event last October and attracted about 80 runners. Local runners and fans of the brewery haven’t stopped talking about it, so it will no doubt be reprised this fall.

“Most people I know that run also drink beer,” Seibel says. “Most people I know that drink beer also run or should run. It’s a natural connection.”

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