The last time we checked in with Eric Jorgensen and the rest of the team at The North Fork Brewery on the Mount Baker Highway, it was March of 2018 and they were in the middle of a transition in ownership.
Big changes were made; the building itself got a bit of a facelift, packaged products (wine, cider, etc.) were phased out, and the process of expanding (doubling, rather) their tap list had begun.
Now, over a year and a half later, Jorgensen has taken full advantage of the ten extra draft lines to fill. More draft lines to fill means more beer to make. So much more beer in fact, that he completed The North Fork’s 2000th brew on November 19.
We felt that this was a good enough excuse to sit down with arguably Whatcom County’s largest brewer (Jorgensen is a towering 6’ 4”), who mans the county’s smallest brewery (3.5 barrels) and chat about Brew 2000.
While Jorgensen wasn’t the brewer for every single brew The North Fork has ever done, he has been the sole brewer since #226. Before that, he was trained by Jason Custus, who had taken over for Arlo Paulson, who had taken over for Jim Robertson, who had taken over for Sandford Savage, who founded The North Fork 22 years ago.
Before the sale, back when The North Fork only had ten taps, many of those were taken up by classics, like the IPA, Hefeweizen and the Nitro ESB. The expansion offered an opportunity to add sours and other options for adventurous beer drinkers. Currently, you can find more sours, collaborations, or a combination of both, than ever before.
One thing that was important to Jorgensen upon the change of ownership was being able to have collaborations be a more prominent part of the taplist. Now, you often see The North Fork post about upcoming collaboration releases, like the recent barrel exchange with Lost Giants Cider and the street taco gose (Tacose) made with Menace Brewing.
Eric with Menace Brewing and Lost Giants Ciders’ teams.
In the last year and a half, it seems like Jorgensen has worked with everyone from Aslan to 122 West (there are no breweries that start with Z, but you get the point).
One of the first to approach Jorgensen and instill this collaboration bug? Steve DeMoney, the one and only, during what Jorgensen remembers as DeMoney’s gypsy brewer days. At the time, DeMoney worked at Elizabeth Station in its early days. He then went on to brew at Chuckanut and take over brewery operations at Menace.
At the time, North Fork collaborations were less frequent than they are now, so this whiskey barrel-aged Baltic porter was special to say the least, and could be considered a catalyst, alongside a whiskey barrel project made for James at the Green Frog, to the extensive barrel program now found in a shipping container outside of the brewery.
Eric with Steve DeMoney, an early collaboration.
Jorgensen attributes his love of souring and weird beer to the 2007 hop crisis, as well as beers that entered his life as a result, like the Boon Gueze and Orval Trappist Ale.
Other first experimental brew experiences were with Bellingham beer OG, Dave Morales. These initial funky brews are among some of Jorgensen’s favorites that first come to mind. More favorites include collaborations with Kulshan, of which there have been numerous, two specifically coming out in the near future including a light, crushable mountain beer and a complimentary winter warmer.
Jorgensen also names his collaborations with longtime friends Pat and Aaron from Matchless as favorites, with whom he just made a “massive barleywine”, using 6,000 pounds of British malt.
He also can’t help but reflect on his partnerships with James from Structures, and with Brouwers Cafe in Seattle, as two of his favorite brewing experiences. In fact, Jorgensen was asked to make Brouwers 13th anniversary brew, one of his favorite beers he’s ever made.
“It was quite an honor for me to get to do that and have my stuff served in Seattle at such a cool place,” Jorgensen said, who has long-standing friendships with Vern, Brouwers’ founder and manager Nat Pellman. Over the summer, Jorgensen made a black tea and peach sour in Vern’s honor, called Vern’s Peach Tea.
Eric with Paul Arney from Ale Apothecary.
In the realm of experiments, Brew 2000 is an incredibly special beer, considering it’s the first time Jorgensen has used a new technique. Inspired by Paul Arney, the owner/brewer at Ale Apothecary in Bend, OR, Jorgensen did an overnight mash, which allows for a unique mouthfeel, emphasized tannins and an extensive list of reasons when it comes to souring. It doesn’t necessarily make the beer thicker, but it’s hard to argue that Ale Apothecary beers don’t have a multi-dimensional quality that sets them apart. Arney uses the overnight mash technique on every single brew, originally to allow his brewing schedule to be more compatible with his children’s schedule.
Jorgensen met Arney at a brewers’ conference, and having heard about the weird beers Arney is known for, when they met a collaboration was born, one of Jorgensen’s favorite collaborations he’s done. This is where he heard about the overnight mash and decided to use the technique on Brew 2000.
Brew 2000 will be the strongest spontaneous sour that Jorgensen has ever made. For now, it will likely be in barrels for 12-18 months and available on draft shortly after. As far as what he’s excited about the future, Jorgensen has big plans for Brew #2020. It will be his biggest collaboration to date, and hopefully a label for the ages. Without spoiling too much, it will definitely be something to keep your eyes peeled for if you’re into the funk.
In the near future, beer drinkers can look for more collaborations from Bellingham breweries like Kulshan and 122 West.
Eric with Pat from Matchless Brewing
Jorgensen is insistent upon making collaborations a reciprocal experience. In other words, after 122 West brews at The North Fork like they will be this week, The North Fork would soon also make a collaborative beer at 122 West. This doubles the collaboration time, valuable to Jorgensen who loves making beer with friends and industry folks he respects, but also doubles the amount of collaboration beer yielded, thus more for beer drinkers to look forward to.
While we wait for these beers to be released, keep in mind that The North Fork, a 35 minute drive from Bellingham, is always an experience worth the trip. You can experience the flagships, experimental beers and delicious pizza that all make The North Fork what it has become over the last 2000 brews and there will almost always be something new on the taplist.
Congratulations on 2k, Eric and the rest of the team at The North Fork! We can’t wait to see what’s to come.