It’s a Sunday afternoon and you’re at Mt. Baker with your family. It so happens to be a bluebird powder day (there’s been so many this season!) and you are really thinking life can’t get much better, except having a beer in the near future.
Luckily, you can. Once the lifts close and you head down the mountain onto Highway 542, there are some stops along the way that offer exactly what you need. Once you roll into Deming towards Bellingham, it’s hard to miss the North Fork Brewery, Wedding Chapel, and Beer Shrine on your right. It’s a house-like building releasing smells of some of the best pizza in Whatcom County, and home to a phenomenal brewery, with a couple of repurposed pieces of equipment, literally turned upside-down.
If you spend a lot of time out of town, you’ve likely been here, and know of it’s quirks, but there are changes coming from brewer Eric Jorgensen and new owner Jim Green.
Two words: More. Beer.
Currently, North Fork offers 10 beers because of their 10-tap system. Right now there is one root beer and nine beers on tap, but with the custom draft system built by Jorgensen himself, there will be double the fun for those looking for the full North Fork experience.
Fans of North Fork won’t miss their favorites though. There will always be a pale ale, an IPA, and a darker beer on, as well as at least a couple of sours, Jorgensen’s signature brews. This new and expanded tap system will allow them to do brewers’ nights easier, as well as showcase some of Jorgensen’s personal favorite brews, his collaborations.
“I do tons of collaboration beers but I never get to put them on out here [at North Fork]. They’re always wherever in town, at Aslan or wherever has our beer,” Jorgensen said. “It would be nice to have brewers nights and have people put on their beers, as well as collaborations.”
North Fork’s new owner, Jim Green, is also set on getting rid of most packaged things like wine and cider, which will now go on tap.
“I’ve installed lots of wine systems,” Jorgensen said. “They’re just a no-brainer. Better for everybody. Better for the wine, better for the customer, less waste, the whole thing.”
With more opportunity to taste them, it’s hard not to be curious about collaborative beers from Jorgensen. During this year’s Bellingham Beer Week alone, Jorgensen is hoping to release three new collaborations. First and foremost is his collaboration with Kulshan, which has a secret name revealed in a code on the label.
“It’s fun, you get to come up with cool ideas, weird ideas, and let it rip,” Jorgensen said of why he’s so drawn to collaborative beers. You don’t have to worry about volume out here. If you want to do something real weird at Kulshan or Aslan, you’re investing way more liquid.”
The most recent collaboration can be found at all three lodges at Mt. Baker Ski Area, called “No Side Slipping IPA”.
This citrusy and semi-hazy IPA was a collaboration with the Food and Beverage coordinator at Mt. Baker Ski Area, Matt Colford. Colford buys all the beer available in Mt. Baker lodges, and is well-versed in what beer drinkers like, which was an obvious quality of their collaboration beer. They plan on doing another collaboration in coming weeks, naming the series after out-of-bounds signs at Mt. Baker, like “Should You Really Be Here?” and other avalanche warning signs.
Baker sold 5 of 6 available kegs of the No Side Slipping, holding one for his birthday in early March. This was one of the first beers North Fork had sold to Baker, since previous ownership thought selling it a few miles up the road would take away from business. Since Green took over the ownership of North Fork, this opportunity to sell to the mountain has been put on the table.
“It’s massive exposure up there. To people that I ride chairlifts with all the time who are like ‘oh that’s that place on the side of the highway I’ve never stopped at!’ I thought, maybe if they could taste the beer [they would stop by],” Jorgensen said.
Selling beer to Mt. Baker is only one of many changes coming from new ownership. Green, who owns Diamond Jim’s in Bellingham, has been the new owner since late spring last year.
“He’s sprucin’ the place up,” Jorgensen said. “He’s focused on getting rid of the packaged stuff, and he’s gotten me some new equipment in the brewery. Anything that really needed upgrading is slowly being pieced together which is really cool. If you look at the outside of the building, he’s got a full time guy that’s restoring the building.”
Beyond some renovations being made to the space, Green is also bringing North Fork beer into town a bit more. Because of profit margins on kegs, distribution has never been a priority for North Fork, at least not enough to sell to somewhere consistently. However, starting this spring, you can find North Fork permanently at Diamond Jim’s.
A quality that the Bellingham beer industry is well known for is being good neighbors to each other, and despite the distance between North Fork and other spots on the Tap Trail, they’re no exception.
Jorgensen built the draft system at recently opened Bellingham Cider Company, where you can often find beers of his like the Oatmeal Pale. He also played a crucial role in helping the co-owners of the Cider Company get started.
“I’d like to keep up with the sour beers,” Jorgenson said about what he’d like to keep selling in Bellingham. Elizabeth Station, Menace Brewing, and the Aslan Depot are three of his other more consistent in-town buyers.
While you may not necessarily see more North Fork Beer on tap in Bellingham in 2018, (just in certain places more consistently) bottles will be a focus for Jorgensen in the coming months. These will include barrel projects and sours primarily.
In the forseeable future, keep your eyes open for the Brouwer’s Cafe 13th Anniversary sour release in Seattle. Jorgensen made a special wine barrel-aged pluott sour that will be sold at Brouwer’s Bottleworks, one of the first bottle shops to appear on the craft beer radar. This will be released on Saturday, March 24.
Most of Jorgensen’s sour beers are named after a Pixies reference (i.e. Is She Weird, Elevator Lady, Electric Cherry Land). Each of his black sours are named after Frank Black of the Pixies, his favorite band to correspond with his favorite beers to make. Jorgensen estimates that he’s made around 100 specialty one-off sour beers.
Exciting changes and collaborations for North Fork just keep coming. You can expect to see more barrel projects, Pixie themed sours, collaborative beers with Menace Brewing and Atwood Ales, as well as the coded label on the bottle from the Kulshan collaboration.
Further into the warmer months, the 20 minute drive to the North Fork may not be so long to take advantage of the guaranteed double amount of beer and whispers of a new beer garden coming this summer. Next time you drive down the mountain, consider stopping at that place on the side of the highway you never stop.