September 2018


Outside the OR
Retired ophthalmologist explores microbrewing

by Ellen Stodola EyeWorld Senior Staff Writer/Digital Editor

Dr. Williams (left) and his partner, Mike Close.

One keg brewing system
Source (all): Robert Williams, MD

Dr. Williams co-owns a microbrewery in a small town off the coast of Washington state

Despite retiring from ophthalmology, Robert Williams, MD, Friday Harbor, Washington, still sees a limited number of patients in his small town. He has also set up a microbrewery, the Friday Harbor Brewing Company, and corresponding brewhouse/tasting room, The Oar House.
Dr. Williams said that Friday Harbor is a little town off the coast of Washington, just south of the Canadian border. In fact, the town is located on an island that is about an hour-and-a-half ferry ride to the mainland, so anyone who wants to see an ophthalmologist has to travel that far because there’s never been one on the island before, he said.
Dr. Williams sees 12–14 patients 1 day a week. He noted that although there are limits to what he can do on the island at a small hospital with no surgery capabilities, he’s trying to make life a little easier for the people there.
In his retirement, Dr. Williams has focused on microbrewing, an interest of his for some time. He turned this interest into a joint venture with fellow Friday Harbor resident Mike Close to create Friday Harbor Brewing Company.
Dr. Williams said he has been a home brewer since the early 1990s. “When I was doing my fellowship in glaucoma, the other fellows and I thought it would be fun to try,” he said, adding that it started out horribly, but over the years, he continued to brew every now and then.
After Dr. Williams moved to Friday Harbor, he met Mr. Close, also retired, who suggested they start a brewery.
The brewery is very small, with the capability to brew about 15 gallons at a time. “Everything we sell is through our own tasting room,” he said. The adjacent tasting room seats about 50 people. Normally, there are about 12 beers on tap at any one time.
“We try to have a fairly broad variety,” Dr. Williams said. This includes a range from light beer like kolsch to darker beer like porters and stouts. “The porters and stouts are our favorites here and the ones that people seem to like the best,” he said. They have also started doing a gose, a sour beer that he said is popular and can be a refreshing choice on a hot summer day. Other beer choices at Friday Harbor Brewing Company include fruit/wheat beers, English-style ale, and Belgian wheats. “We try to change it around,” Dr. Williams said. “Our unofficial motto is ‘Never the same beer twice.’”
The brewery and tasting room are open on Fridays and Saturdays. The island is not heavily populated, Dr. Williams noted. There are only about 5,000 people, so it’s a small market. However, he did note that there is a large tourist population in the summer.
Prior to retirement, Dr. Williams specialized in glaucoma. The hospital in Friday Harbor is not equipped to do any ophthalmic surgery, so anything he does has to be done in the office. He currently has a YAG laser and can do procedures like iridotomies and YAG capsulotomies, as well as minor lid cases.
Before moving to Friday Harbor, Dr. Williams practiced in Louisville, Kentucky. “I did my internship in the 1970s in Seattle, and we fell in love with the Pacific Northwest,” he said. When it came time to retire, Dr. Williams said he chose the island because it was not quite as hectic.
Dr. Williams said that getting started at the brewing company had some problem-solving components. “When we started, we knew very little and made some mistakes. But within 6 months, we were making a good and consistent product.
“It’s been fun because people seem to enjoy it, and they like what we’re doing. That’s encouraging,” Dr. Williams said.
He added that there has been a huge movement in craft breweries in recent years, so it’s been nice to be part of that. He and his partner often travel to other breweries in the region and the country. It’s fun to talk to other brewers and see what they’re doing, he said. “It’s not a competitive thing. Everyone has been sharing knowledge and problems and how to solve [those] problems.”
Though Dr. Williams said he doesn’t see many similarities between brewing and ophthalmology, he did note that the sharing of knowledge and collaboration is something that he also found in the glaucoma community.

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