With no hesitation, I hereby dub Northern Ales to be Washington’s most remote brewery. Understandably, most of you have never been there. By this time, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that we have.
My fellow beer lovers, when Armageddon strikes, follow me to Northport. Read on.
To get to Northport, home of Northern Ales, you must travel with purpose. You won’t stumble across it accidentally. From Spokane, drive 70 miles north to Colville. From Colville drive10 miles north to Kettle Falls. Turn right. Drive another 30 miles north to the town of Northport—population 340. You would never guess the town is that big.
Steve Hedrick is the owner/operator of Northern Ales and even he admits that no matter where you are, and no matter where you are going, Northport is not along the way. By no means is that a reason to avoid Northern Ales or the breathtakingly beautiful part of the world that is the extreme Northeastern corner of Washington. Northport is located where Lake Roosevelt ends and the mighty Columbia River actually becomes a river again. The nearest town is Trail, British Columbia (population 7,000).
There’s no sense going into detail about things like décor, menu or ambiance. This place is too far out of the way for that. Those things will not influence your decision to go to Northport. You either will or you won’t. The kind of chairs and lighting they have in the pub really doesn’t matter.
When you pull into Northport, you will wonder why someone would open a brewery in such a remote and tiny town. A significant portion of the community here consists of, as Steve describes it, “Retired hippies who just want to get back to the land and live a simpler life.”
Steve is not an old hippie, but he is an unlikely brewer and an even more unlikely resident of Northport. A San Diego native, he had a career as a maritime engineer. Steve worked on large ships that circumnavigated the globe. Unfortunately, his job kept him away from his San Diego home for months at a time.
Before deciding to buy property in Northport, Steve had never been to Washington. “I was on a ship that stopped at Indian Island once, but that’s it.” Steve explains, “Indian Island is a naval ammunition depot in Puget Sound. No, I wasn’t in the Navy, but it turns out that we were transporting weapons to the Gulf. That’s about the time I decided I needed a career change.”
Before heading out to sea for the final time, Steve tasked his father with finding a place that met his criteria. “I didn’t really care where. I just wanted a place where there were mountains and trees and rivers,” he says. “Someplace where I could get some acreage and just get away from it all.”
Steve makes his beer using equipment that most Washington breweries would consider a pilot system. A small pilot system. He had a few different beers on tap. Like any brew pub, his regulars have their favorites and he keeps those beers flowing as best he can. While there, we sampled an IPA which was brewed using hops that one of Steve’s patrons bought on Ebay.
Also, while we were visiting, a nice couple stopped by the pub looking for toys. Steve’s wife, Andrea, disappeared for a moment and returned with a box full of toys.
Next, a lady came in and asked Steve for a dozen. He reached below the bar and pulled out a dozen eggs. It’s a brew pub that doubles as a general store. Welcome to Northern Ales.
“Where else around here are people going to buy toys when their grand kids come to visit?” Andrea quips.
Steve and Andrea Hedrick live on a piece of land not far away from the brewery where they raise, among other things, chickens. The chickens lay the eggs you buy at the Northern Ales Brewery. The chickens eat the spent grain from the brewery. The chickens create the manure that fertilizes the hops that Steve grows–the hops that he uses in his beer.
“The circle of life,” Steve calls it.
Are you starting to understand why I said that you should meet me in Northport if we find ourselves facing the apocalypse? These people are self-reliant. The entire process is self-contained. Well, almost.
“The only thing left for us to do is figure out a way to malt our own barley,” Steve says. He’s not kidding. “There is an old brick kiln across the river that we’ve thought about repurposing.”
I have no doubt that if they put their minds to it, they’ll eventually figure out a way to be a completely autonomous, off-the-grid brewery. It’s the Northport way.
The Northeastern corner of Washington State is impossibly beautiful. It is geologically unlike any other part of the state. It is a worthwhile trip even without a brewery to visit; but it would be a shame to not stop in for a pint. What am I saying? Why else would you be there?
“It is said that all true ale lovers must, if they can, make a pilgrimage to Northern Ales once in their lives if they wish to experience paradise,” says Steve.
“I suggest you try a Wednesday evening and take in some of the local musicians while you‘re at it. Don’t mind the moose. They usually don’t attack unless you look funny.”