There are all sorts of brewer collaborations these days, but the best ones happen naturally.
After enjoying some Atwood Ales beers, Rowan Chadwick and Isaac Koski, co-head brewers of Urban Family Brewing, contacted Atwood Ales owners Josh and Monica Smith about collaborating on a beer. The Smiths have always been fans of Urban Family, so they loved the idea.
The four met once in Seattle and once in Blaine before deciding to brew a low-gravity (i.e., approximately 4% ABV), spontaneously fermented table saison. Once the weather forecast looked ideal for a spontaneous beer, Rowan and Isaac traveled back up to the farm to help brew the beer.
The grain bill consisted of wheat and Copeland malt from Skagit Valley Malting, the hops and water came from the Smiths’ farm, and 100% of the yeast and bacteria came from the air, making this a truly local beer made with local ingredients.
On the brew day, Josh, Monica, Rowan, and Isaac walked around the property to decide on the best spot to cool the wort in the coolship overnight. After some discussion, it became obvious that the best place for it was out in the field, next to the hopyard. But to get it there, they’d have to load it onto the Smiths’ flatbed farm truck and drive it out there.
After mashing and then transferring the wort into the coolship, they carefully drove it out to the field. Even the smallest bumps made the 60 gallons of liquid slosh around. “We kind of regretted riding on the back of that truck next to splashing, 200-degree wort,” Rowan says.
That night, Isaac and Rowan camped next to the coolship to keep an eye on it. As the wort cooled, exposed to the open air, it was inoculated by microflora (wild yeasts and bacteria) floating around in the air.
Even though the coolship was only a couple hundred yards from the brewhouse, Josh believes their brewery is the only one in Washington to have trucked a coolship out into the landscape (i.e., away from the brewhouse).
The next day, they kegged the beer and drove it to the Urban Family Brewery. After the kegs started to build pressure, a sign that fermentation had begun, they transferred the beer into barrels.
Everyone is excited to taste the time, place, and terroir that this beer has to offer, though it will take some time to ferment, which is normal for these types of beers. Even one-year-old spontaneous beers are still considered young, so it could be a while before local beer lovers get to taste this beer – if ever. “This is an experimental beer, so it’s a bit of a gamble,” Rowan says. “We worked hard to make this beer great, but now it’s up to the wild yeast and bacteria. They might make it great. We certainly hope so. But it might not work out. That’s just the chance you take.”
Even the most respected sour beer brewers in the world have to dump batches from time to time.
“Given that it was a cool, springtime night, and that the farm is surrounded by hayfields, forests, and other farms, and that we have clean air rolling in off the nearby Salish Sea, we are hopeful that it will turn into an interesting beer,” Josh says. “But Nature is in charge now.”
For Rowan, the lack of precise control is one of the most appealing aspects of this style of brewing. “The yeast is allowed to express itself in all kinds of interesting and unusual ways,” he says. “To me, spontaneous beer is the purest expression of the brewing art. It allows the brewer to interact in the closest possible way with the environment, and to incorporate the local terroir into the beer. At Urban Family, we make a lot of farmhouse-style beers in an urban setting, so it was great to go back to the traditional roots of that style and brew it in the kind of place where it originated.”
This was Atwood Ales’ first collaboration with another brewery (plus it was their first time using their coolship). “It was really cool to share that experience with them,” Josh adds. “Collaborations – in any industry – are important because they often lead to growth, learning, and a better end result in whatever you’re doing. It’s easy to develop tunnel vision and find yourself in a rut. Collaborations can help you break out of those places and inspire new ideas or directions for your work. They’re also fun!”
The group hasn’t decided on a name for the beer yet, though they’ve tossed around a couple ideas. One is “Cooltruck,” as this was the first trucked spontaneously fermented beer in the state. Another is “Bulletproof,” because the coolship, which is a repurposed dairy tank, has a bunch of bullet marks on it. Fortunately, no bullets penetrated through.
ABOUT ATWOOD ALES FARM BREWERY
Atwood Ales, Blaine’s first and oldest brewery, is located in a 100-year-old barn on a family-owned and operated farm, just 18 miles north of Bellingham. The brewery produces a variety of ales, many of which are in the spirit of French and Belgian farmhouse ales. While the brewery is closed to the general public, Atwood Ales beers are available in bottles and on draft at select locations throughout Whatcom County. Learn more at atwoodales.com.
ABOUT URBAN FAMILY BREWING
Urban Family Brewing Co. is a small, independently owned craft brewery in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle. Its 10-barrel brewhouse creates a wide variety of innovative, eclectic beers utilizing fresh ingredients, complex yeast strains, and interesting hop profiles – everything from farmhouse ales and sour ales to IPAs. Urban Family has a tasting room at 4441 26th Ave. W., Suite A, near fisherman’s terminal, which is open 7 days a week. Learn more at urbanfamilybrewing.com.