Is it possible to have a Farmhouse brewery in the middle of a major American city? Maybe not. But true Farmhouse beer can be crafted in an urban center, and Fair Isle Brewing, Seattle’s newest addition to the scene (set to open sometime next year), intends to do just that.
Fair Isle is the brainchild of Seattle residents Andrew Pogue and Geoffrey Barker. Having lived in Austin for a number of years, Pogue became friends with Jeffrey Stuffings and Michael Steffing, founders of the nationally renowned Jester King Brewery. At first they provided Fair Isle with guidance as friends, but when it became clear the project would actually come to fruition, they jumped on board and a partnership was born. And with Jester King as mentors, Farmhouse magic isn’t just attainable – it’s imminent.
Image: Fair Isle co-founders Andrew Pogue and Geoffrey Barker.
All of Fair Isle’s brews share one common thread – their proprietary mixed yeast strain, comprising hundreds of different wild cultures and bacteria developed over a 3-year period. Using a mixed fermentation culture as opposed to a single laboratory controlled yeast strain is like the difference between a rustic sourdough starter and a store bought yeast packet when making bread. Fair Isle’s mixed strain contains native cultures from Yarrow harvested in the Yakima wine region, Elderflowers from the Bastyr campus, and other wild cultures gathered near the Ballard Locks.
“We love the complexity of character that can only be achieved by mixing fermentation organisms,” Pogue said. “The metaphor that always comes to mind is the difference between a piano soloist and a full symphony. One is not necessarily better than the other, we’ve just chosen to work the symphony angle.”
Fair Isle also focuses on using foraged ingredients native to the Pacific Northwest. Their first collaboration beer with Jester King is a Farmhouse Ale brewed with Fireweed. They chose Fireweed in particular for its abundance and sustainability as a local perennial plant and its mild, herbal, astringent flavor. They intend to use different foraged ingredients to create small batch beers for their tasting room, taking advantage of seasonal plants, herbs, and fruits.
Image: Fireweed, which grows abundantly in the Pacific Northwest.
“We plan to produce a beer every fall under the same label,” Pogue said. “It might be made with Rose Hips and Rose Roots one year, while the next year we’ll use a different foraged ingredient that presents itself to us - like an abundant mushroom crop. A customer can expect a beer every fall that reflects the season, but not a specific ingredient or recipe.”
Image: More locally foraged ingredients!
Farmhouse Ales are yeast driven, and Fair Isle lets their proprietary strain be the backbone of each beer. “The nature of working with a mixed culture and non-commodity ingredients is that we will have variation in our beer, from year to year and batch to batch,” Pogue said. “We don’t see that as a flaw but rather something to be celebrated.”
Pogue and Barker first met at the North Seattle Home Brew Club, and in 2015 they began brewing on the professional grade nano-brewery system Barker assembled himself. He said he knew out of the gate he wasn’t looking for a hobby in brewing, instead he knew it would become a career.
“So I skipped extract brewing, mini mashes, syphons and igloo coolers,” he said. “Instead I went straight for all grain, indoor brewing, temperature control, stainless steel, tri clamp fittings and pumps.” A sophisticated electric homebrew system (with all the bells and whistles including a temperature controlled fermentation chamber) isn’t as common as a pilot system, so Barker’s setup stood out in the Home Brew Club right away.
Image: Capturing yeast on a homebrew batch with their 'pilot' cool ship.
“It was deeply embarrassing in a way to show up at my local homebrew club with my first beer and show people photos of my ‘starter’ homebrew system,” he said.
With a sound understanding of brewing Farmhouse Ales, a professional grade system, and guidance from the Farmhouse masters at Jester King, Fair Isle is poised to set out on the Farmhouse Frontier right here in Seattle. In fact, they're currently looking for a property in Seattle - if you know of any spaces fit for a 30bbl Brewhouse and ample room for barrel-aging, give them a shout so we can drink more of their beer sooner! In the meantime, be on the lookout to welcome their 2018 debut.
Written by Sigmund Steiger
Have other craft breweries you'd like to learn more about? Let us know in the comments section below!