I recently had the opportunity to visit Atwood Ales’ brewery in Blaine, WA, which sits on an idyllic, 5-acre farm that is less than 2 miles from the Canadian border – as the bald eagle flies. The brewery isn’t open to the public, but Atwood Ales owner/brewer Josh Smith and his wife Monica graciously offered to give me a tour.
While sipping on their newest release, Keera’s Yard Biere de Garde, which has a wonderful depth of rustic malt flavors complemented by a gentle hop bitterness and a dry finish, they tell me how excited they are to not only celebrate their brewery’s first anniversary, but also their first year of marriage, which included moving to the farm and starting the business. I don’t know how they were able to manage so many life-changing events in such a short period of time, but they tell me it all turned out pretty well.
Details on Atwood’s first-anniversary event are still being worked out, but it will be held at Overflow Taps on April 26 (during Bellingham Beer Week). That date was chosen because it’s smack dab between brewing their first beer and selling their first beer in 2016. “We’re excited to have our anniversary party at Overflow Taps because they have been so supportive and with us since the beginning,” Monica says.
Reflecting on the past year, Josh says his favorite part about his job – other than his short commute across his yard – is that he gets to work with his family, including his wife, his parents, and his son, who all help out at the brewery in one way or another. “I also like getting to be creative with new ingredients,” he adds. “We recently made a saison with rosemary and sage that we’re really enjoying, and we’re looking forward to brewing with all the fruit grown on the farm, including peaches, plums, grapes, cherries, apples, and pears.”
The “scrapped-together,” custom-built, 2-barrel brewhouse is housed in a bucolic, century-old barn within a 400-square-foot area. “I never realized how much space breweries need for equipment and ingredients, so we had to buy a shipping container for more storage space,” Josh says.
The Smiths are planning to expand the brewhouse farther into the barn, but they want to grow their brewery in a very controlled way. “We never want to have a large brewery – or even a mid-size brewery.” Eventually, they hope to open a taproom, possibly in Blaine, and they also want to host some special events on the farm.
As for the beer, Atwood produces a lineup (in bottles and draft) of impeccably balanced, delightfully approachable and highly sessionable beers with a focus on farmhouse ales, sour ales (including some spontaneously fermented beers in the future), British-style ales, and a variety of saisons. Some of the beers are brewed with farm-grown ingredients that change based on what’s in season. All of Atwood’s beers are bottle conditioned.
You might be wondering where the name Atwood came from. It’s actually Josh’s middle name, just like his father’s and his grandfather’s, so using that family name seemed fitting for the family brewery. “It’s also a more interesting brewery name than Smith Brewing,” Josh says with a laugh.