If you’ve ever driven to Mt. Baker, you’ve most likely passed North Fork Beer Shrine on the way. Located between mile markers 20 and 21, North Fork Brewery is tucked away on Mount Baker Highway in Deming, Washington, a solid 45 minute drive from Bellingham. With its inconvenient location, North Fork is the perfect mid-week escape to break your routine and push you past that work slump. So why should you get your post-work beer at North Fork? Well, besides their great brews and delicious pizza, the place itself is weird as all hell, incredibly welcoming, and filled with so much history.
Looking at North Fork from the outside, you’d have no clue how they do all that they do. As head brewer Eric Jorgensen puts it, “It’s like Willy Wonka and the Tiny Beer Factory.” North Fork’s brewing system is split into different rooms hidden in the nooks and crannies throughout the site. The front of the house was absolutely packed on a Thursday night, but the beer garden in the back was completely empty. When I asked if the beer garden was closed, Eric just laughed and explained “No, just no one knows it exists.” North Fork isn’t a place that lays everything out on the table for you, it makes you question and discover everything for yourself.
Bellingham may be the snobbiest beer city in the nation, but North Fork hosts Whatcom County’s one and only beer shrine. When I say beer shrine, I don’t mean some little corner of the brewery filled with candles and incense surrounding a few glorified beers. In fact, the whole brewery is the shrine itself. At first glance it’s easy to assume that the glass casing walls of beer are all the shrine has to offer. However, take a closer look around the building and you’ll see that every inch of the place is covered with antique cans, advertisements, shirts, you name it. Plus, all of what you see is only a fraction of what owners Sandy and Vicky Savage have collected over the years.
Speaking of beer, North Fork knows what they’re doing in that department. Sandy Savage was accepted into the prestigious Seibel Brewing Technology Institute as a home brewer in the 80s, long before craft beer was widely popularized. He completely laid the groundwork and created the main recipes still used today. Three years later and Sandy passed the baton to Eric Jorgensen who had been working in the kitchen since 1997. Eric who started home brewing at 17 years old was trained by Sandy after being enlisted as head brewer and has been studying the craft continuously since then. As Eric would put it, he’s a lover of all things yeast. Owner Vicki even still keeps Eric’s job application which is just a love letter to yeast. That being said, you also have Eric to thank for the delicious pizza crust recipe still being used today, which he redesigned while still working in the kitchen. But as you can imagine, beer is Eric’s pride and glory. When he’s not brewing at work, he’s on his porch at his house located literally right behind the brewery, sipping on beer, and laughing as the kids playing basketball on North Fork’s hoop mess up his garden.
Easily one of the best things about North Fork is the people. You’d think that after driving 45 minutes out in the country you’d stumble into an abandoned establishment, but business is always booming. Deming has to be commended for the beer community they’ve created out in the wilderness. Practically everybody knows everybody. I half expected someone to walk in through the door and have everyone stop what they’re doing and shout out, “Heyyyyy Norm!” North Fork isn’t a place to get work done; there’s even a sign on the front door warning people that there’s no wifi and spotty service. North Fork forces you to have a break and enjoy your brew without the worry of checking your phone every five seconds. This helps turn North Fork into a social house where people actually *gasp* interact!
By the time you’re reading this, there will be some new delicious brews on tap, one of which is a sour chocolate porter with raspberries (yes, you read that correctly). The beer originally started as a chocolate porter Eric collaboratively brewed with generous humane society auction bidders who won a chance to brew anything they wanted with him. While the winners took their porter named after their dog Shadow and used it to raise even more money for the humane society, Eric threw half the batch into a whiskey barrel, soured it, threw in raspberries, and created something I guarantee you’ve never tasted before. The first taste is surprising and unusual, and before you know it, you’ve finished your glass trying to figure out what exactly you just drank. It’s weird but insanely awesome.
While it is a bit more of a commute to get to, North Fork is the perfect place to escape from a bad work week and give you the motivation to get through Friday. It’s far enough to add a sense of adventure, but close enough that you can come home at a reasonable hour and not wake up at 7:00am the next morning regretting everything. Even more of a motivation, North Fork will be an added location to the new Tap Trail Map set to launch September 11, the beginning of Bellingham Beer Week! Skip the usual spot, try something new, and see what a difference it makes. If you make the trip out, be sure to comment and let me know what you think! Do you have a different mid-week beer escape?