Agrarian Ales near Eugene, Oregon, is a brewery built on a real, working farm. Along with other ingredients, Agrarian Ales even grows its own hops. My definition is far from official, but when I think of a farmhouse brewery I imagine a brewery built in a barn or other outbuilding, on a real, working farm, preferably making beers that utilize ingredients grown on the farm itself, like Agrarian Ales.
Here in Washington, we have some breweries that kind of fit the bill, but most of those are more like rural breweries that just happen to be out in the boonies on large plots of land. Atwood Ales, a new brewery in Blaine, Washington, is providing the kind of field-to-glass farmhouse brewery experience I’m talking about.
“We are indeed on a farm,” says Josh Atwood, the co-owner and head brewer at Atwood Ales. “I grew up here raising beef, went away to college, parents got rid of the cattle. After college, I started a career somewhere else and then came to my senses and moved back here in 2008 and started homebrewing.”
Atwood Ales started brewing in March and recently began selling beer at the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company’s oyster bar/retail shop in Blaine. Also, they’re selling beer at the Bellingham Farmers Market, which takes place on Saturdays at the Depot Market Square right across the street from Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro. Since the farm is not conducive to hosting a taproom, and because the Atwood family wants to maintain some privacy, those are the best places to get the beer. To be clear, there is no tasting room at the brewery.
Josh set his sights on starting a brewery on the farm since he became involved in the now-historic Bellingham Beer Lab project back in 2011 (read the story about that effort). Last year he finally got around to pursuing the idea for real. Today, on the family farm outside of Blaine, Washington, Josh’s wife, son and parents all play roles in the operation and development of the farm and the brewery.
Right now, all of the beers are “clean-fermented,” meaning they are fermented the usual way, using regular beer yeast, but a big part of Josh’s vision for Atwood Ales involves wild, open fermentation using the farm’s naturally occurring, airborn yeast and bacteria.
“I am currently in the process of cultivating some bugs from different locations around our property that are intended for use in open and mixed fermentations,” he says. “The results of this process will be ready… when they’re ready. Ultimately, I’d like to be able to do a handful of 100 percent estate-grown/cultured beers. I hope that we can swing the balance towards something like a 50/50 mix of wild/clean over the next couple of years.”
In the city or in the sticks, damn-near every brewery you visit is growing some hops, but usually it’s an ornamental affair and they do not produce a sufficient amount of hops to be of much use to a brewery. This year Atwood Ales planted some hops for real.
“We have 60 crowns going,” says Josh. “It’s a very modest hop yard, but it’ll provide plenty of cones for some fresh hop beers on our little two-barrel brewhouse, as well as some cones for drying and using through the fall and into the winter. It’s all built around manual labor, so we’ll definitely be having some harvesting parties when the time comes.”
“We’re also experimenting with grains on a small scale, and I’ve actually got a saison in the tank that was brewed with ten percent estate-grown raw barley. In addition, there’s an abundance of fruit trees, grape vines, berries, an herb garden, a sizeable vegetable patch and several large swathes of native habitat from which we can harvest wild ingredients. It’s really inspiring to walk out the brewery door and have all of these things available to play with.”
Like I said, Atwood Ales is on a family farm that is not open to the public, but Josh says they aren’t completely shutting out the public. “We do intend to host some beer dinners, hop harvest parties, and offer some tours on certain occasions throughout the year.”
“If and when we do add a tasting room with regular hours, it will probably be in downtown Blaine. In the meantime, Drayton Harbor Oyster Company’s oyster bar/retail shop is sort of our informal home. They have all of our beers available in 750-mililiter format to enjoy there, and also for take away. And then, we’re at the Bellingham Farmers Market with free tastings and 750-mililiter bottles for sale on the 2nd, 4th (and 5th) Saturdays of each month through the beginning of December.”
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