There’s nothing quite like a handmade Saison, lovingly crafted to reflect it’s locale. Such is the ethos behind Seattle’s Fair Isle Brewing: an enterprise truly focused on the time honored tradition of creating place-based Farmhouse Ales.
The story behind this new brewery, based in the ever-growing beer scene of Seattle’s Ballard Neighborhood, begins over five years ago when Geoffrey Barker and Andrew Pogue met as members of the North Seattle Home Brew Club. Having decided to go into business together, over the next year, they began reaching out to the connections they’ve established in the realm of mixed-fermentation, such as like-minded pioneers of American Farmhouse Ales, Jester King.
Simultaneously, this wild fermenting duo set to work finding a location, initiating a crowd-funding campaign, creating a bottle membership called The Knitting Circle, hosting salon tastings and pairing dinners, and quickly built a following in anticipation of Fair Isle becoming Seattle’s first brewery to be focused solely on farmhouse and wild beers.
Fair Isle’s creations always begin with an emphasis on locally sourcing their raw ingredients. They’ve cultivated their house yeast culture from “Yarrow that was harvested in the Yakima wine region and Elderflowers from the Bastyr [University] Campus and other wild cultures gathered near the Ballard Locks.”
As for their malts, it all depends on which barley and/or wheat they’re looking for, as each beer tends to feature a different grain bill each time out. Their grains are often sourced from the Skagit Valley, but also from the eastern reaches of both Washington and Oregon.
Barker and Pogue have an affinity for the delicate and herbal quality of Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops, sourced from Yakima, though they regularly utilize a number of different classic and modern hop varieties from throughout the PNW. Lastly, many of their offerings feature ingredients they’ve locally foraged: from fireweed and elderflowers, to rose hips and larch tips.
The brewery’s taproom officially opened to the public in late-January. Their space was deliberately designed to house a brewhouse, taproom, a private event space, as well as a barrel room – each a separate space from the others. Despite the pandemic, they’ve continued to host safe, outdoor events at other locales, as well as pop-ups offering local cuisine on their patio.
As word spread about this special mixed fermentation project, our crew at Day One grew excited about the prospect of working with Fair Isle, whose beers are now available in Oregon for the first time. Our first receipt of their handcrafted brews includes 6 different options, each with its own distinct qualities:
- Alexandra (375ml) – we fell in love with the contribution of fireweed when we did a collab with Jester King – Fair Voyage (we brought down foraged fireweed for the beer). Our friend and ethnobotanist, Alex, first introduced us to fireweed for it’s similarity to green tea and ability to sustainably harvest. Alexandra is a saison with notes of green tea, herbs and a hint of citrus. 4.7%
- Alicel (750ml) – a saison brewed and dry-hopped with 3lbs per barrel of Hallertau Mittelfrüh, Alicel has beautiful floral notes of honeydew melons and cucumbers and aromas that transport you to an early spring herb garden. Working with Linc Malts, we used a hint of raw wheat and Francin barley grown by Trico Farm in Island City, OR. 5.3%
- Camellia (375ml – not pictured) – a saison with pale orange hues and brewed with malted barley and wheat from Skagit Valley Malts and Hallertau hops from Yakima Chief Hops. A break from your classic winter beer, Camellia has notes of tangelos, pineapples and lingering dried apricots. Expressing a chalky minerality and petrichor notes, it reminds us of summer storms in the Southwest. 7.2%
- Lydia (375ml) – a Fall inspired farmhouse ale brewed in 2019 and aged in oak-puncheons for ten months. Brewed with triticale grown by MJW Grain Inc in Ritzville, WA and barley grown by Palouse Heritage in Endicott, WA and malted by LINC Malts. Lydia has notes of toffee, maple and chestnuts. 7.8%
- Maud (375ml) – a Kvass-inspired ale brewed with sprouted rye bread from Sea Wolf Bakers. With pepitas, sunflower seeds and rye berries, the bread adds complexity, body and a hint of salinity to this farmhouse ale. 4.5%
- Waltrude (375ml) – a straw colored saison brewed with malted spelt grown in Eastern Washington and dry-hopped with Sterling hops from Crosby Farms in Oregon. Notes of lime zest and dandelion are followed by subtle acidity and a clean but vanishing finish. 4.7%
A more detailed description of each, including bottling dates, backstories, and sourcing of ingredients can be found on Fair Isle’s shop page.
Content for this article was sourced from Fair Isle Brewing, New School Beer, Paste Magazine, and The Stranger. Slideshow imagery sourced from Fair Isle’s Instagram.