The crowd at the Phinney Neighborhood Association’s Night of the Living Draft beer and cider tasting regarded Aaron Kalin and his business partner Ray Araldi with curiosity. It was no mystery why. Kalin was a fox named Martini, and Araldi a rabbit called Spork.

It was November 2022, and the two friends had recently moved from Chicago to chase their dream of running Slightly Furry, the only queer, openly-furry cidery in the US, and maybe the world. They had no clue how people outside the community would react. The cider was an unexpected hit.

Now you can find Slightly Furry’s eye-catching cans—colorful illustrations of sexy anthropomorphic animals, suggestively posed—at Seattle queer bars and area cideries. You may have seen the viral Tumblr post, captioned “seattle moment,” of their ginger cider, Leg Up. Slightly Furry’s tasting events at local bars have become popular in the furry community, and even normie crowds are oddly charmed.

Raymond Araldi (left) and Aaron Kalin at CiderCon in 2023 Chicago. COURTESY OF SLIGHTLY FURRY

“Every time we go, I’m a little apprehensive but people just, they love us,” Araldi said. “They dig our vibe. Even people who don't know what it is like, they're like, ‘I don't know what's going on. I just think you guys are cool. Your products are great.’ We hear that a lot.”

This weekend, Slightly Furry is opening what could be the most furry-forward taproom in existence at 851 Rainier Avenue South, the former Sovereign Brewing space.

Kalin wants the taproom to feel like the first floor of a furry convention, a social space where furries can be themselves and the curious can get a taste of what an active FurCon might feel like. He even envisions the bar as an ambassadorship of furry to the general public, an important aspect of both his and Araldi’s identities.

“It's not just for marketing,” Kalin said. “It's me putting myself out there in probably the most intense, bravest way that I can possibly think of, saying, ‘No, this is really me, I'm not going to dial it down that much for you. So you can kind of take it or leave it.’ And luckily, as far as we can tell, the public has received it pretty well.”

Where It All Began

Kalin began brewing as a hobby in 2012, with a late wedding gift of beer-making materials from his older brother. He moved on to ciders after tasting Angry Orchard at his parents’ bar in Chicago. His family once owned six of them, and after a number of sell-offs and deaths, his sister runs the last, Yak-Zies, across the street from Wrigley Field.

Kalin began taking his hobby more seriously in 2019 when friends said his ciders were good enough to sell. He’d been in tech for almost 20 years (a furry stereotype, he tells me), but the shift felt natural given that he grew up around bars. Despite family insistence against entering what’s a tough business, he took a leap of faith during lockdown in 2020. He soon found himself overwhelmed and called on his best friend Aralidi for help. The two met at an afterparty for Chicago’s furry convention, Midwest FurFest, and have been friends since. 

With a third partner, a purple and green hyena named Nick "Kompy" Charbonneau, the trio planned to very subtly brand their product furry with the name Slightly Fuzzy. (Like buzzed, get it?) That idea flew through the window when a vodka company nearly sued them for copyright infringement, so they decided to go all-in unabashedly with Slightly Furry.

As the company grew, it became clear they would have to relocate. Getting a winery license, a legal requirement to produce cider in the United States, proved difficult in Illinois; the city itself capped self-distribution at 5,000 gallons. And partnering with a distributor would’ve significantly cut into their profit margin. Seattle appealed to them because the market here is growing, most of the county’s supply of apples comes from Washington, and there’s no limitation on self-distribution. 

Friends Kalin had met during a decade of business trips to Seattle encouraged him to move their operation here. Araldi, who grew up in Chicago, already wanted to try living someplace new. He joked that for furries, moving is like a Twister spinner with only two colors: Denver and Seattle.

Since arriving in 2022, Slightly Furry had been searching for a space to turn their concept of furry ambassadorship into reality, but several deals on spaces in Seattle, Tacoma, and Woodinville fell through before they “lucked out” on Sovereign Brewing.

Seattle is not short on furry-friendly bars, and if the popular Vulpine Taproom in Lake Forest Park is any indication, Slightly Furry could be a big success.

Slightly Furry opens Friday, February 16. COURTESY OF SLIGHTLY FURRY

Like a Fox

Vulpine Taproom owner Josh Anderson had been part of the fandom for 10 years when he opened the business with his parents in 2021. To his knowledge, it was the first furry-owned taproom in the world. While its branding is not as brazenly furry as Slightly Furry—there’s a fox mural, but the only mention of the word is in reference to their dog policy—Anderson intended Vulpine to be a community space where people could “come as they are,” but he didn’t anticipate people lining the block for a new business at the tail end of lockdown. 

“Part of that was restrictive seating, but part of that was putting the word out to people we knew in the fandom,” he said. “They came out in force and it was pretty much business all day.”

He said the furries that came that day still come to his taproom. To his surprise, people started trickling from all over the United States, taking trips to Seattle for the sole purpose of seeing Vulpine.

“It’s a really artistic, creative community; we love to support each other,” he said. “Word travels fast. Now when someone comes in and says they’re visiting from Germany and [they] ‘heard about your space and I came to see you’ I’m less surprised.”

These taprooms are just one of those things that make sense for Seattle. There’s a large community (which you’d know if you read Capitol Hill graffiti), a convention called Anthro Northwest, and groups like the event planning company FetchNW, which caters to the furry and pup play communities.

There’s no definitive answer as to why Seattle brings all the dogs, cats, dragons, and half-cats half-dragons to the yard. FetchNW co-owners Kit Fox and Flair Coyote guessed the prevalence of tech jobs combined with progressive, laid-back attitudes were the initial draw, and now furries come here because there are other furries.

Yet furries in Seattle don’t have dedicated spaces beyond Vulpine and Slightly Furry. That has not kept the community from thriving. Furries flock to spaces like the Cuff Complex, where furries share space with people from the leather and broader LGBTQ community, and CC Attle’s, where Slightly Furry is on tap. People have created an informal network of houses that host movie nights and parties. There are even furry ski groups, they said.

Kit said queer people like himself often find a home in the community’s warm, fuzzy arms. He didn’t have much community in his home state of conservative Arizona, but in the furry community, he found a space where he could be himself. The International Anthropomorphic Research Project, also known as Furscience, has found that 70% of furries identify as LGBTQ+ and a quarter are gender diverse.

As you might expect, right-wingers hate that kumbaya between anyone they perceive as a sexual deviant, and in the last two years, they’ve swept the furry fandom into the same moral panic as queers.

“The reason that furry comes up in this context is that people are trying to draw a parallel between being furry and being trans, which is very different—it’s not the same thing at all,” Flair said. “It’s sad, it’s never been about furry, I don’t think.”


Fight for Your Right to Furry

In 2021, right-wingers started a myth meant to delegitimize trans students' identities and needs for public restrooms that align with their gender. The hoax postulated that students who identify as cats are using litter boxes in public schools all over America, and districts were willfully accommodating them. They’re not, but in 2022, NBC identified at least 20 conservative candidates, elected officials, and influencers repeating that unproven claim. Only one school in Colorado stocked cat litter—it wasn’t for furries, but so students could use the bathroom during lockdown in the case of a school shooting.

Oklahoma Rep. Justin Humphrey even introduced legislation that would ban students “who engage in anthropomorphic behavior commonly referred to as furries” from participating in school. This law would’ve directed schools to call animal control to remove them if their parents weren’t available. 

One of the nearly 1,000 anti-trans laws introduced in statehouses across the country last year, North Dakota’s House Bill 1522, not only banned trans kids from the bathroom but prevented schools from accommodating students' perceptions that they were anything but human. The bill passed, but lawmakers struck the language about furries.

Slightly Furry co-founder Araldi, who has been in the fandom since the late 1990s, said that stigma is nothing new. There’s long been an unspoken community rule to be kind and inviting to challenge any preconceived notions people have from years of sensationalist media coverage, winning over sometimes perplexed staff at convention centers and hotels around the country. They tip well, too, he said.

The taproom opens its doors at 4 pm Friday, February 16. Araldi and Kalin expect at least a dozen people to fly in for the opening, including one person from New Zealand, and local supporters to come out in droves.

“There's a lot of furries who want to be here for what is, in some way, a big piece of furry history,” Kalin said. “This certainly never happened before.”