Top Casual Restaurant: San Juan Island Brewing Co.

san juan island brewery

Never has a bar felt so much like visiting someone’s home. And never has someone’s home had such enjoyable beer. San Juan Island Brewing Co. has all the elements that make a rural pub a quintessential part of a community — a large space, down-to-earth service, and local ownership. But unlike the English pub with dodgy cuisine and standard drinks, this San Juan Island watering hole has a gastropub worthy menu (at affordable price points) and seassionable beers flavorful enough to win awards (while tame enough to enjoy a few pints without wanting a nap). 

“This whole place is driven by the community,” explained Tim Alyward, part owner at San Juan Island Brewing Co. 

And it’s the community that’s woven into every facet of the brewery’s operations. Don’t be surprised to see waitresses embracing patrons with an excited bout of laughter. Here, girlfriends are as likely to be raising a toast at the end of the workday as families are to gather for a casual dinner. 

“Most of the time, especially local families, when they come in you’ll find parents sitting inside and their kids running around crazy in the grass,” said Sean Alyward, part owner.

Creating such a welcoming environment was both community driven and self-preservation. “We all had young families and we wanted a place kids could go. Because if they couldn’t, we knew there would be a rub there. It had to be a place where a lot of people could feel comfortable — and it’s become that,” said fellow owner and Head Brewer Jesse Visciglia.

San Juan Island Brewing Co. is just an 8 minute walk from Friday Harbor Marina, making it an easy car-free day trip from Lake Washington and Lake Union!

Dreams of Brewery

Sean Alyward, Jesse Visciglia, and Tim Alyward
Sean Alyward, Jesse Visciglia, and Tim Alyward

There were several gents who dreamed of starting a brewery on San Juan Island. As luck would have it, their dreams evolved into a shared mission. 

San Juan Island natives, the Alyward brothers developed a passion for local breweries while living off-island. With Sean in Windville and Tim in Hawaii, the two shared a long-distance hope of moving back home and starting a brewery. 

The Alyward brother’s childhood friend, Nick Gislason, shared a similar vision. A San Juan native and well-respected brewery consultant, Nick wrote an unsolicited business plan for San Juan Island Brewing Co. 

At the same time, local science teacher and passionate home brewer, Jesse Visciglia, aspired to move from the world of home brewing into professional brewing. 

Nick presented his business plan to the owner of the local grocery, Verne Howard. The Alyward brothers approached Verne about a brewery as well. And, so did Jesse. It took a little over three years, but with Verne’s backing, a lot of elbow grease, and Nick’s expertise, San Juan Island Brewing Co. opened on July 27, 2017. 

Award Winning Beer

Beer flights at San Juan Island Brewing Co. Photo by Krestrel Bailey

Community’s not the only thing being celebrated at this destination brewery. A relatively small shop, they produce just 2,000 barrels a year, they’ve brought home 12 awards, including 5 gold medals.

The most celebrated among their lineup is the Late Boat Czech Dark Lager. And with good reason. Lagers hold a special place in Jesse’s heart.

“I really just love how naked lagers are. They’re a beer that if you’re not using really good ingredients, it’s going to show. If your process isn’t ust spot on, it’s going to be revealed. The lager doesn’t hide anything. It’s this really blank canvas to work from that reveals the craftsmanship of the beer. So I really appreciate it from that perspective,” said Jesse.

Learn more about Jesse’s brewing process, how homebrewing translates to professional brewing, and one of the best places to enjoy a pint (other than the brewery of course):


Winter trivia team names and scores remain posted to the left of the bar throughout the year. Avoid looking like a tourist and be sure order from the beer menu — no matter how unique ‘Going to the Dogs’ or ‘No Ship Sherlock’ sound. 

San Juan Island Brewing Trivia Board

Q&A with San Juan Island Brewing Co. Head Brewer Jesse Visciglia

Q: How much of what you did as a home brewer translates to what you do now?

JESSE: Unfortunately, not as much as I think I hoped and probably a lot of people who are making the transition between home brewing and becoming professional brewers would hope. The differences of scale and the equipment that are used just affect the process and the results so much that there’s this really limited transfer between brewing on the home brew scale and then brewing on the professional scale.

One of the really interesting differences between my home brewing brewing self and my professional brewing self is that as a home brewer you just get so excited. And you see this a lot with novice cooks, where they’re like “oh yeah, a little of this because I want it to be like spicy. And a little of this because I want it to have really good texture. And I want this because I want it to be sweet.” 

And they end up making these kitchen sink monsters because they want it to be all these things. That’s what we do as home brewers. You start throwing in every different ingredient. I want it little bit roasty. And I want it little bit smoky. Oh yeah, I want a little biscuity. I really want to fill out the body of the beer. So you end up adding way too much and it’s a muddling that occurs. So th beer really loses a distinct identity. 

Q: So what’s the ticket to really good brewing?

JESSE: One of the things you do over time is simplify. So if you really want to express something or if you want something to be the showcase, that’s the way to do it. You can’t do it with 10 different ingredients. You do it with like three or four. 

Q: How does the creative process work at the professional level?

JESSE: What’s nice is that beer making has been going on for thousands of years and it’s been really popular for the last few hundred years. There are lots of different styles that have organically developed in lots of different regions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make new ones that have never been done before. 

Thanks to some genetic modification, there’s a Belgian yeast strain that’s been modified so it doesn’t produce any phenolics — which they can be really polarizing flavor chemicals. You know that really clove-like character? That’s a phenolic. 

A lot of times phenolics come off as kind of peppery. To some people they can kind of be smokey. I personally don’t like them that much. There’s nothing I can do about that. Genetically that’s my predisposition to not like these things. 

So I found a yeast strain where they silenced the phenolic producing gene or genes. So here I am now working with a yeast strain, that’s presumably never existed before, that I can now use to make a beer that doesn’t have a style. It’s just totally unique. 

NOTE: That particular beer is called the Summer Sundew Ale. It was first produced in a small test batch in 2023. It did so well, the brewery brought it back in 2024. It’s currently on tap (while supplies last). 

Q: You mentioned that you love how ‘naked’ lagers are. What else do you love about them?

JESSE: I also really appreciate that lagers pair so well with so many different occasions. You can have lagers that are really low in alcohol. Really refreshing. Lagers that pair really well with food. 

They just seem to be more of an every occasion beer, especially more so than a 7% IPA. I appreciate them for that. For the craftsmanship and how useful they are for meeting all sorts of occasions.

Top Place to Enjoy a San Juan Brewing Co. Beer (other than at the brewery)

SEAN: Westcott Bay Shellfish. That would be where we would always go. 

TIM: Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. It’s just out of town. It’s a different vibe than being in town. It’s an entirely unique place. 

More Fun Things To Do On San Juan Island