by Patheresa Wells
On a recent sunny afternoon, as school let out at nearby Washington Middle School, I met with two owners of the new 23rd Ave Brewery in the Central District. Located on the corner of 23rd Avenue and South Jackson Street, the brewery is one of only two Black-owned in Seattle, the other being Métier, also in the Central District.
As students walked past their new location, set to open this summer, brothers David and James Dixon spoke with me about their passion for beer and how it became a family endeavor.
Brothers David, James, and Matt Dixon and Mario Savage grew up walking around the Central District to and from school and sports and summertime pursuits. The four brothers — co-owners of the new brewery — are from the Central District. On one of those walks home from playing basketball sometime in the late 2000s, the brothers happened to see two men in the neighborhood brewing beer. They say seeing those guys brew beer changed the beer-making process in their minds from some sort of “space age technology” to an authentic experience.
“I think that we both took some away from those moments and seeing those guys, they were having fun. They were always enjoying themselves brewing beer,” David said.
That experience planted the seed when they were still boys, once nicknamed the “Basement Brothers” because their house, located on 23rd and Charles, had a big basement for them and their friends to congregate. In the basement, they would do homework together, hang out, and enjoy each other’s company in a place where everyone was welcome. David says there was only one rule in the basement: “Respect everybody in the building, respect the space, and learn from each other and grow.”
As they turned from boys to men, the Basement Brothers grew and built a family in the Central District that also extended to the greater community. However, it wasn’t until 2017 that they reconnected with beer. James’ wife bought him a brew kit for his birthday because he had always wanted to try brewing beer like those guys he saw as a youth. In the same year, he announced that he would be moving to Texas. And brewing his first batch of beer with his brothers was one of the last things he did before the move.
That first batch of beer was decent, though the brothers laugh as they share that the next batch was “trash.” But brewing began to be a way for them to keep in contact as they lived in different places. So they decided to create their own brewing community — just the four of them making beer and sharing ideas. “I probably brewed close to 20 batches in the span of four months,” said James. “And [my brothers] were doing the same thing as well. And we just kind of went all in and started spending our money on beer equipment.”
They had their first tasting party that winter of 2019, when James flew up from Texas so they could share their newfound love of brewing with the community that raised them. At that time, they brewed three different beers: a marshmallow stout, a serrano pepper peach beer, and the basement stout, which has become one of their signature beers.
That first tasting party among friends and family went so well that they continued to have them. “People started to ask for it and really wanted it, and not only were they giving us good feedback at these tasting parties, but they were wanting to take it home. Calling and seeing when they can get it, asking, ‘Are you bottling beer this week?’ or, ‘When can I fill a growler?’” said David.
This outpouring of support boosted their confidence and encouraged them to try different beer styles. Eventually, they decided to make the Central District home to their newfound zeal for brewing and turn it into a business in the place where they first saw the bonding that can happen over beer.
What does 23rd Avenue mean to you? That’s the question the brothers want to ask. It is also the slogan they developed for their brewery, named after a street that has meant so much to them. They had a couple of different possible names for the brewery. They say most people assumed they’d call themselves “The Basement” after the place where they spent so much time as kids.
But with opening the brewery in their community, they wanted their presence in the neighborhood to be one that encompasses the rich history of the area. James shares that there is another brewery down the street, which used to be a barbershop he went to called Royal Image. He also talks about how the Central District used to be the number one jazz capital on the West Coast. “There’s almost no knowledge of that, there’s no representation of that, there’s no documentation of what actually happened, and I feel with gentrification one of the plans of that is to erase what was there before and change everything without acknowledging the community that is still here, never left.”
For the brothers, 23rd Avenue means community, family, and progress. “It means creating wealth within your core at the core of who you are as opposed to just money. When you’re solid inside, then you’re unstoppable. So that’s the magic that we want to bring back to the scene,” said David.
The brothers spoke to me about their love of beer, community, and Seattle summers spent walking down the streets like 23rd Avenue. Experiences that have inspired the beer they are now making, like their Black Gold, which is a blackberry beer harkening to their days picking blackberries as kids.
As we talked, kids on their way home from school walked past the open door of 23rd Ave Brewery, and a fight broke out. Hearing the commotion, the brothers quickly went outside to see what was happening, stop the altercation, and make sure everyone was good. They talked with the kids about respect as they learned growing up. When they came back inside, James said, “This is our community, we are a part of this community, we deserve to be here and we want to make sure that it’s safe for kids walking down the street just out of school. Who would check them if I didn’t?”
The brothers grew up hanging out in a basement in the Central District and walking around the neighborhood that has always been home to them. “A lot of people from the community would come over just to hang out. So we’re trying to make beers that represent what the CD was with what the CD is, and what we hope the CD becomes,” said James. They want to create that feeling of the basement — the love they have for their neighborhood and the enjoyment they get from making beer.
The Basement Brothers, David Dixon, James Dixon, Matt Dixon, and Mario Savage, will celebrate the opening of their new brewery, 23rd Ave Brewery Bottle Shop, Saturday, June 18, from 3 to 7 p.m. They encourage everyone in the community to come by and take a peek at the new brewery and bottle shop.
The beer lineup will feature:
The Basement Stout: named after the basement the boys grew up in, this is their signature beer — a full-bodied, rich stout
The Pepper Peach: brewed with serrano peppers and peaches
The Black Gold: a blackberry beer inspired by Seattle summers
… and many more.
Find more about the event on Facebook.
Patheresa Wells is a Queer poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She currently attends Highline College in Des Moines. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.
📸 Featured Image: Brothers (left to right) James Dixon, David Dixon, Matt Dixon, and Mario Savage have roots in the Central District, right where they’re opening up their new bottle shop at 23rd and Jackson. Photo courtesy of 23rd Ave Brewery.
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