Tucked into Mount Vernon, WA is a Skagit Valley brewery that, lucky for us, appears on guest taps all through out Bellingham. Farmstrong Brewing Company, a dog and kid-friendly taproom, has an atmosphere much like a brewery we’d find in our northern neck of the woods, with some extra exciting things planned for 2018.
Whether it’s their easy drinking pilsner, the Cold Beer, or a more complex and full bodied dark beer like their Pull and Be Damned Porter, Farmstrong is pure Skagit Valley on tap all the time– part of why Bellingham beer drinkers love them so much. They are community-minded and local ingredient-driven, both qualities paired with an extensive and high-quality range of styles makes them a beer drinker’s dream.
In 2018, it only gets better.
Ragged & Right
Bellingham has recently heard buzz about the cider wave hitting town, and the craze is only getting bigger, better, and further south. Farmstrong has made exceptional beer of every kind, including their NW Farmhouse Ale and local favorite Mount Baker Black Lager. Recently, owners Todd Owsley and Mike Armstrong decided to expand their business horizons into a separate entity, Ragged & Right Cider Project.
“Why are we buying cider from someone else when we can make it?” Armstrong said of buying cider to fill guest handles. “Then we can do it the way we want to do it and make a product that we want to drink.”
You might be wondering why Owsley, Armstrong, co-owner Dan Cameron, and their brew team can’t make Farmstrong Cider. Much like local brewery/winery partners Illuminati Brewing and Masquerade Winery, making beer and wine (fun fact: Washington state considers cider as part of the “wine” group) must be done under separate business and alcohol licenses. This is where Ragged & Right comes in.
This licensing process can be taxing to say the least, but after the license was received, the Skagit Valley brew crew had no trouble making cider as great as their beer.
The first cider from Ragged & Right went public two Mondays ago and can be found distributed around Skagit Valley thus far. Made with all Washington-grown Piñata apples, their Piñata Dry cider is true to form–dry and tart, a style they plan on sticking to.
This is only the beginning for Ragged & Right. Their small, hand-crafted batches allow them to play around with flavors and see what their customers seem to love, whether that be the non-traditional use of beer yeast in their cider or a single-variety apple cider. Though these aren’t typical practices in cider-making, their experience in craft beer seems to immediately put Ragged & Right in a league of it’s own.
Just like beer, cider can be as simple or complex as the cider-maker wants it to be. If it’s anything like Farmstrong’s beer, our palettes won’t be disappointed.
Farmstrong Fiery- First of it’s kind
This year Farmstrong is taking another exciting step when it comes to putting out new things for us to enjoy, like the Fiery Theory Series.
Farmstrong has a heavy focus on staying local with ingredients, which means about 90% of the grain they use is from our dear friends down Chuckanut Drive at Skagit Valley Malting. In the Fiery (pronounced kind of like fury) Theory Series, Skagit Valley Malting is their source of grain used in a brew unlike any other.
How many breweries can say that their beer is grown, malted and brewed within five miles? – Mike Armstrong
In fiery brewing, the malt is put into the brew before it has had time to cure. In other words, when it’s put into the mash tun, it’s still 150 to 190 degrees from the malting process.
“From what we’ve noticed in the two batches that we’ve done, it imparts a different flavor profile and it seems to be a little more earthy,” Owsley said. “I believe it brings the flavor of the actual malt more and seems to be more sustainable in flavor.”
When exploring the idea of the fiery malt, the Farmstrong guys were told they’d just end up with a huge dough ball of squishy grain from the process. Instead, the mash broke easily and made a phenomenal beer.
Seems like kind of a strange idea, right? That’s because it’s the first of it’s kind in the craft beer industry. Hundreds of years ago people made beer this way, but clearly it didn’t stick. Armstrong and Owsley decided to take the risk of making a fiery batch and hadn’t heard of anyone making a fiery brew since the 1800s.
The Fiery Saison and the Fiery Pilsner turned out as earthy and full flavored as Farmstrong wanted it to, meaning the series isn’t over yet. Next on the docket is a pale ale, likely the most hoppy fiery beer they will go for. Armstrong wants to keep things less hoppy in this series in order to keep the malt characteristic this technique highlights. With the help of Skagit Valley Malting, their neighbors up the road, there will be many complex and earthy malts ideal for making fiery beers in the future.
All Skagit, all the time
Asking Owsley and Armstrong what the Farmstrong philosophy is, rang true to the kind of ingredients they use: “grow somethin’.”
Farmstrong brewers work very closely with the maltsters at Skagit Valley Malting, who spends a lot of time with the growers of their product in order to grow something of their own that can be of use to brewers like the Farmstrong guys. With a brewing production facility of their size, being 90% SVM, when it comes to their malt, means that Farmstrong uses a LOT of local grain.
“We really try to focus on using it [SVM malt] as much as we can,” Owsley said. “I think one thing that came out of the fiery theory for us, that we may not have noticed right away was that earthy flavor that stands out. They’re getting it at 150 degrees right out of the kiln, driving it, and going.”
This is true Skagit Valley style, not only the unique terroir that runs throughout many of their malts, but being a top notch neighbor and hand delivering you their product.
SVM malt has encouraged Farmstrong to brand their beer as a “Skagit lager”, or whichever style of beer, because it’s all grown with Skagit soil that you can literally taste.
SVM has a first-of-its-kind technology that allows them to emulate malt styles from all over the world. Their batch size, small enough to experiment but large enough to meet the needs of bigger breweries like Farmstrong, makes them the ideal malt provider, on top of neighbor-to-neighbor customer service.
“That’s kind of the idea behind it– inspired by traditional and old world things but adapted to what’s available here,” Owsley said of SVM.
SVM’s flexibility and the terroir Owsley and Armstrong have noticed over time working with them, is part of the draw to use so much of their product.
“It’s the flavor and of course the story,” Armstrong said. “How many breweries can say that their beer is grown, malted and brewed within five miles? To me that’s the most important thing, is the story of the valley. Everything we do is from here, stays here. All of it stays in this community.”
In December, SVM hosted their 1st Annual Holiday Open House and Winter Beer Challenge where dozens of brewers made beer with the newest basemalt added to their permanent lineup, the Copeland Dark Ale. Farmstrong won the blind taste test by making a simple, single-malt beer with 1,100 pounds of the Dark Ale, that ended up being the crowd favorite.
Farmstrong has lots of practice using SVM product, in fact it appears in all of their beers currently on tap except for two, not to mention a 100% SVM barleywine will be coming on tap in about a month. Beyond the barley, Owsley and Armstrong are eager to showcase the unique flavors they’ve been working on with upcoming events in the next few months.
April 7 will be a Skagit Valley Malting showcase at the Farmstrong brewery and taproom. Last year was the first annual showcase where brewers from all over Washington brought beers using SVM product. This year, ten breweries will join them (including Atwood Ales!) to showcase the high quality malt that so many Washington breweries get to enjoy.
Every hour, three new beers will be put on tap. Attendees get in for free, and can try each beer if they’d like. Farmstrong is also partnering with the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce to host a chili and chowder cook-off that day.
This event will be part of Skagit Beer Week, from March 31-April 7, meaning the showcase at Farmstrong will be the week’s grand finale. On April 5, Farmstrong will be part of a beer and spirit pairing dinner with Valley Shine Distillery, also in Mount Vernon. Each course will come with a Farmstrong beer made in one of Valley Shine’s barrels, as well as a Valley Shine shot.
This boozy dinner has tickets that have not yet been released, but keep checking in with both Valley Shine and Farmstrong online if you want to be one of the 36 attendees to this event.
Another honorable mention on Farmstrong’s 2018 lineup is an exciting collaboration that might do particularly well in Bellingham. Last year, a licensed marijuana grower and friend of Farmstrong, created a Farmstrong Sativa strain. This week, Farmstrong will be releasing a beer that will be developed to smell like the sativa.
The beer will be called the Stoned Age, a double IPA with some tropical aromas to emulate the pineapple present in the bud that makes for a bitter and dank taste in both the beer and the weed.
If you’re in the area, or even if you aren’t (it’s only a 20 minute drive), Farmstrong has a strong tap list worth checking out, full of big flavors and even bigger ones to come.