Garden Path Fermentation Updates All

It occurred to us that, while we’ve been posting regular updates on Facebook and Instagram (and somewhat less regular updates on Twitter), it’s been a while since we’ve updated out blog and quite a lot has happened since!

Back in early September, we announced the release of our first bottles, The Garden Paths Led To Flowered, as well as the debut of The Curious Mix Methods, The Subtle Blend Raspberry Barrels, The Fruitful Barrel Boysenberries, and our first batch of The Dry Table Strawberry Mead on draught.  (In retrospect, though we announced it in social media,  it appears we neglected to mention the earlier draught release of The Dry Hopped Streams Well anywhere in our blog).  In the weeks following our last post, we have since released The Curious Mix Methods and The Dry Table Mead in 750ml bottles, The Fruitful Barrel Boysenberries in 375ml bottles, a new batch of The Dry Table Strawberry Mead on draught and a multitude of new draught beers, including The Fruitful Barrel Tayberries & Cherries; a variety of single-keg experimental brews; The Easygoing Drink, a lightly tart almost-but-not-quite table beer; The Wet Hopped Ship, made with freshly picked whole flower Skagit Valley hops from Hop Skagit; and most recently, this past weekend, The Subtle Blend Montmorency Barrels.

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The Subtle Blend Montmorency Barrels

Back in June, we put 72lb of whole, unpitted Montmorency cherries from a local farm in La Conner, WA into an oak puncheon with approximately 125 gallons of beer from select barrels that we felt would round out and complement the character of the fruit.  This is not a particularly high ratio as fruit refementations go, but our goal was to integrate the baking spice profile for which Montmorency is known into the already complex and flavorful barrel-aged beer in a way that would complement it without overpowering it, keeping the beer itself as the focal point of the blend.  After 10 days contact time, we racked the beer off the fruit and blended in additional barrel-aged beer, which we felt further rounded and balanced the character that the fruited portion has developed.  This blend, totaling a little over 200 gallons, was then primed with blackberry honey from The Valley’s Buzz and transferred to kegs and bottles for conditioning.

All of our products are packaged unfiltered, unpasteurized, and without force carbonation.  Rather than injecting CO2 prior to packaging, we instead add a small amount of local honey, which our yeast then ferments, resulting in a buildup of CO2 inside the bottle or keg. This process is far more time consuming than simply injecting CO2 into the finished beer.  Whereas force-carbonated beer is ready to drink as soon as it comes off the packaging line, natural conditioning through refermentation in the bottle or keg takes at least a few weeks and sometimes much longer, depending on how the process unfolds. When working with a native culture containing a diverse community of organisms rather than an isolated single-strain lab yeast, there’s also a risk that it may not unfold exactly as expected.  A given product may smell and taste great prior to packaging, but then develop unpleasant flavors or aromas during the conditioning process which can take weeks, months, or even years to work through. In in the worst case scenario, they may never go away, resulting in what had once been a beautiful product never seeing the light of day.  In the case of The Subtle Blend Montmorency Barrels, after a few weeks conditioning, we recognized a specific compound that had developed during conditioning and detracted from the balance and overall presentation that we’d hoped to achieve.  We knew from past experience that our house culture would eventually metabolize this compound given enough time, but unfortunately, we had no idea how much time that would require, so our only option was to set it aside and be patient.  Thee months later, our patience paid off; the offending compound was gone and as of this weekend, we were able to release the beer.

Meanwhile, in early September, our crew ventured about 5 miles south to help our friends Amy and Byron of Hop Skagit pick roughly 100 pounds of fresh whole flower Cascade and Comet hops, which we brought back to Garden Path. We placed them in our coolship, where they steeped overnight in hot wort as it slowly cooled to fermentation temperature.  In the morning, the wort was racked off the hops and added to the other half of the batch, which had already begun fermenting in an open foudre with our house culture of native Skagit Valley yeast.  After primary fermentation, the young beer was transferred from the oak foudre to stainless steel tanks for secondary fermentation.  Once secondary fermentation was complete, it was then sent to our blending tank, where we added a small portion of mature barrel-aged beer for complexity and balance, and dosed the blend with Skagit blackberry honey for natural conditioning in the keg and bottle.  The Wet Hopped Ship was packaged on September 28 and released on draught in our tasting room four weeks later.  A bottle release will follow soon.

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Hop coolship

Blending, like natural conditioning, is an integral part of our process at Garden Path Fermentation.   In embracing nature as we do,  we’re not striving for perfect repeatability or consistency of presentation,  Instead, we look at every presentation of each of our products as a unique live performance that, by its nature, is fundamentally unrepeatable.  It’s our job, however, to ensure that every performance is one of which we can be proud, which we do through a process or curating, editing, and blending what we produce and by refusing to release anything that doesn’t ultimately make the cut.  When we brew a batch of beer, we’re not typically making what’s intended to be a finished product on its own; we’re making one of what may be several components in a blend.  For some blends, such as The Wet Hopped Ship, we’ll use fresh beer as the foundation, adding in some older beer for complexity and balance, while for others, we’ll start with a blend of older barrels as the base and possibly round out with a portion of younger beer. Rarely, does a single brew day or a single recipe translate directly to a single finished beer, with, as our name suggests, most of our fermentations following more of a garden path.  One exception, however, is The Easygoing Drink.

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The Easygoing Drink

In mid August, we brewed a batch of low-gravity, lightly hopped wort at Chuckanut Brewery  using barley and wheat malt and unmalted wheat, rye, and oats, all purchased from Skagit Valley Malting, with a modest addition of Pacific Northwest crystal hops from Crosby Hop Farms in the kettle. After prepping, boiling and cooling the wort, we transported it a third of a mile up the road to our facility, where it was transferred to an open foudre for primary fermentation.  The following week, half the young beer was transferred to oak puncheons and the other half to a stainless steel tank for conditioning.  Just a couple of weeks later, we found that the beer in both the puncheons and the stainless tank had developed rather nicely, in a way that we also felt was highly complementary.  After testing a few potential blends involving older barrels, we decided that our favorite was actually a direct reintegration of the original components, so that was what we went with.  The Easygoing Drink was released on draught in our tasting room on October 10.  Bottles will follow.

The draught release of The Easygoing Drink was quickly followed that same weekend by our first pre-announced, on-site only bottle release–The Fruitful Barrel Boysenberries, which is still available in limited quantities in our tasting room, along with bottles of The Garden Path Led To Flowered, The Curious Mix Methods, and The Dry Table Mead.

Finally, for those who are able to make it out to our tasting room, we’ve also begun offering some of our one off, single keg experiments, for as long as they last.  We’re currently pouring an early test batch made using NZ-151 pale malt from Skagit Valley Malting as a base.  In addition to showcasing the distinctive malt character of the NZ-151, it also offers a good representation of the baking spice aromatics that were typical of our earlier fermentations, but that have since transitioned to more herbal and floral notes.  Whether this a seasonal change that we’ll see shift back as we progress further into winter or a permanent evolutionary shift in the microbial community that makes up our house culture remains to be seen.

This is a lot of information for one post! We’ll try to be better about more frequent detailed updates–there’s only so much you can say in a single Instagram post.

Garden Path Fermentation Releases First Bottles & Four New Draughts

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It’s been an exciting week at Garden Path Fermentation, for a number of reasons. We’ve been brewing every week since April and packaging beer and mead every week since the end of June, but our process—primary open fermentation with native yeast followed by extended secondary fermentation in oak, and 100% natural conditioning in both bottles and kegs—takes time. We released our first draught beer, The Garden Paths Led to Flowered in mid-July. Draught releases of The Dry Hopped Streams Well and The Dry Table Mead followed a few weeks later.

But in the past week, we’ve been so pleased to introduce not only our very first bottles, but also three new draught beers, and a new draught mead. We’ve said that our products will tell us when they’re ready, and lately, they’ve quickly started telling us quite a lot!

Flowered

As of last Friday, we finally have our first bottles in stock. The Garden Paths Led to Flowered is a 7.0% abv hoppy golden ale open-fermented in a foudre, blended with barrel-aged beer, and naturally conditioned with blackberry honey from The Valley’s Buzz. You may have had it on tap already, whether at Garden Path or at a handful of other accounts, but now you can actually take it home with you. We packaged about 700 bottles, which are now available in our tasting room for $14, currently with no bottle limits.

The label art for “Flowered”, as we like to call it, is by our own Scout Caldwell, whose art also decorates our tasting room walls, and who is doing well in Portland, but whom we miss dearly. The graphic design was also done in-house by our Operations Lead Jacob Grisham, who seems to have literally all the skills. The federal label approval was done by the Federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau, affectionately known as the TTB.

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The Curious Mix Methods

Our first new draught beer, The Curious Mix Methods, is a 6.9% abv blend of barrel-aged beer and stainless-fermented beer that was made using the same base that went into our first coolship batch in May and then inoculated with a portion of the coolship wort during primary fermentation, prior to blending and naturally conditioned with blackberry honey from The Valley’s Buzz.

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Filling the coolship (May 1, 2018)

Our coolship is one of our favorite tools at Garden Path. It’s a repurposed shallow dairy tank from Wisconsin that we use for wort inoculation. On nights where the temperature is agreeable (generally a range from about 30 – 45 degrees), we fill the coolship with boiling wort and let it cool overnight. As the beer cools, natural organisms in the air, including native saccharomyces, will inoculate the wort and begin a long, slow fermentation, which—given enough time—can result in a complex, tart, funky beer. The great thing about Northwest Washington is that we have coolship weather at least 7 months a year, and as we move into fall, we plan to use it as much as we possibly can.

The Curious Mix Methods isn’t a spontaneous beer by any means, however—the portion of coolship wort in the beer was added to wort that had already been inoculated with our house native yeast culture, and later blended with several other beers also using the house culture. The result is an interesting balance of a complex, woody nose and a dry, easy to drink beer. It’s a great expression of our mission at Garden Path, to explore the softer side of mixed culture fermentation. There’s a lot going on in the beer, but it’s not hard to drink a pint (or four).

The beer was packaged on July 8, and we filled a dozen each of 20- and 30-liter kegs, and 915 750ml bottles. Bottles will be available as soon as we have labels!

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The Subtle Blend Raspberry Barrels

Our second new beer, The Subtle Blend Raspberry Barrels (7.0%), is a blend of foudre-fermented beer refermented in upright puncheons with fresh organic raspberries from Viva Farms and a selection of barrel-aged beer from our first several batches, which we then naturally conditioned with blackberry honey from The Valley’s Buzz.

The blend for the raspberry base was a complex one, combining portions (some larger and some smaller) of six of the first eight batches brewed at Garden Path. If you’re curious, details of its composition can be found here. The raspberries were refermented in upright puncheons for approximately two weeks before the beer was taken off the fruit, blended, primed with The Valley’s Buzz blackberry honey, and packaged.

The raspberry character in this beer is meant to be relatively subtle, but inherently drinkable. It’s effervescent with a light tartness from the fruit, while also exhibiting the same dry complexity our native yeast lends all our products.

The Subtle Blend Raspberry Barrels was packaged on August 1, and we filled 41 total kegs and 1860 750ml bottles—which, again, will be ready soon.

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The Fruitful Barrel Boysenberries

Our third beer, The Fruitful Barrel Boysenberries, is a 7.0% abv blend of mature barrel-aged beer refermented with fresh, whole Skagit Valley boysenberries in an oak puncheon, and naturally conditioned with blackberry honey from The Valley’s Buzz.

This one was fun. The Fruitful Barrel Boysenberries is a single-barrel fruit refermentation, with a base blend of beers from two separate batches. We added 146 pounds of local organic boysenberries into a 132 gallon puncheon, which is a pretty good amount of berries. Even though the base beers were relatively mature, we started to see a pretty active fermentation within 48 hours. And, trust us, active fruit barrel fermentations are awesome to clean up.

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Boysenberry barrel–minor crisis

Once the initial fermentation had calmed down, we bunged the barrel and let it go. However, about a week later, heroes Matthew and Jacob noticed that the barrel head was…expanding. Un-bunging led to the image above. Thankfully, this happened on a Friday afternoon before the production team went home for the weekend. We’re pretty happy about not coming in to an exploded boysenberry barrel that Monday.

After two weeks on the berries, the beer was taken off the fruit, transferred to stainless steel, primed with Skagit blackberry honey, and packaged. We opted not to blend this barrel, because our team simply liked the way it tasted best on its own. Because of this, the packaging run is pretty small. Only five kegs and 876 375ml bottles were filled. However, knowing how much we like working with boysenberries, we’re planning to increase our batch size significantly next summer when the fruit is in season.

The Fruitful Barrel Boysenberries is quite fruit-forward, in appearance, nose, and palate, but it’s fermented completely dry, with an illusion of sweetness from the fruit and a clear fermentation character. You may not have many opportunities to try this one—but if you like boysenberries, you’ll probably be pretty fond of this beer.

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The Dry Table Strawberry Mead

Finally, our newest (and most limited) draught offering is The Dry Table Strawberry Mead (6.5% abv). It’s a dry, light, modest strength mead fermented in oak with our native yeast and Skagit fireweed honey from The Valley’s Buzz and refermented with fresh early season Seascape strawberries from Viva Farms. Although the fruit character is pronounced, it’s still an extremely dry, drinkable mead with a final gravity of .998 (that’s less dense than water).

This was our first fruited mead test batch, and we literally made two kegs of it, packaged on July 20. One of those kegs went to a festival earlier this summer at B Nektar Meadery, and the other one is now on draught in our tasting room. It’s not going to last long, so if you’re curious, you have a very small window to try it. The good news, though, is that we packaged a second, slightly larger batch of strawberry mead yesterday, so if you don’t make it in time, you might not have to wait that long for the next incarnation. Though, of course, like everything we make, each batch will have its own distinct character and nuance.

We’re looking forward to releasing more exciting things in the very near future. Maybe not all at once, though. We’d rather that you come try them and not spend all your time reading excessively lengthy blog posts!

Floodland Tasting at Garden Path

Floodland.pngAdam Paysse has created something magical at Floodland Brewing in Seattle, a mixed culture, all oak-fermentation brewery working with locally sourced ingredients and embracing seasonal variations. Floodland beers are incredibly limited; if you’re not in the bottle club (and good luck joining the bottle club!), you may not have had the opportunity to try Adam’s beautiful creations.

Garden Path Fermentation is honored to host Adam and offer you the opportunity to taste some Floodland beers. On August 31, from 4pm – 8pm, we will be pouring six of Adam’s beers in our tasting room. Ticketholders will get a four ounce pour of each beer and the opportunity to chat with Adam (and Ron and Amber from Garden Path, who are pretty much always here anyway). Floodland glassware, which is as rare as the beers, will be available for purchase that evening, as will all of the other lovely things in the Garden Path tasting room.

While the event begins at 4pm, all ticketholders are guaranteed all six pours, so you are welcome to arrive at any time that evening. The tasting room will be open to the public from 12pm – 8pm on 8/31.

The Floodland beers we’ll be pouring are:

  • Arise & Cease (oat grisette)
  • Grails + Waysigns (wheat saison)
  • Roseate blend ii (blend of saison on second use fruit, botanicals, and citrus)
  • Raspberry Field Blend 2017
  • Drive Out the Spirits 2017 (blueberry)
  • The Vast Unknowable (saison with organic passionfruit)

Tickets are limited and are available as a presale only! Attendees must be over 21 years of age, and the name on the ticket must match the name of the attendee. Tickets are non-transferable and non-refundable.

Purchase tickets here.

The New Release the First

If you’ve been following our journey since the beginning, you’ll probably understand how exciting it is for us to announce that we’re now serving both house-made beer and house-made mead on draught in our tasting room, with bottles to follow soon!

Our first house-made beer, The Experimental Spund, was tapped on Wednesday, July 11. As its name implies, it was an experiment—one of many we’ve done—that we thought turned out really nicely, but of which we only had a single five-gallon keg. By Thursday afternoon, the Experimental Spund was gone.

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The Garden Paths Led to Flowered

The following day, however, Friday, July 13, exactly three months after opening our tasting room for the first time, we served our first full production beer: The Garden Paths Led to Flowered. “Flowered” was made by blending a hoppy blonde ale, open fermented with our native Skagit yeast culture in one of our beautiful oak foudres, with barrel-aged beer, dry-hopping it with a blend of Pacific Northwest hops, and then naturally conditioning it with Skagit honey. This sounds complicated, but, to us, it’s a process that allows our yeast to flourish and develop subtle, balanced character over time.

Our native Skagit yeast is at the heart of our fermentation program and is or will be used not only to make beer, but also mead, cider, perry, wine, and possibly other fermented beverages, with our first experimental batch of mead, “The Dry Table Mead” also now available on draft in our tasting room—for as long as it lasts.

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The Dry Table Mead

The Dry Table Mead was made using only fireweed honey purchased from The Valley’s Buzz in Concrete, WA and municipal water from the Judy reservoir, fermented in a single upright oak barrel with our house culture. The initial batch was roughly 200 liters (52.8 gallons). From that initial batch, four 30-liter (7.9 gallon) kegs were filled prior to the completion of fermentation, so that they would become naturally effervescent as a result of the final fermentation—the same technique winemakers use to make pétillant naturel or pét-nat wines. Of the remaining mead, about one-third was racked on top of 2.5 lb/gallon of fresh, local strawberries, and allowed to ferment to dryness, before being transferred to two 20-liter kegs, one of which we plan to serve in our taproom sometime soon and the other which we’ll be presenting next weekend with our friends from B. Nektar Meadery at Ferndalepalooza. The rest of the initial batch of The Dry Table Mead served as a starter for a second, larger batch, following the same recipe, which we will also bottle when it’s ready.

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Packaging Flowered

In addition to The Garden Paths Led to Flowered, four other beers have been packaged thus far, with two more being packaged today. All will ultimately be sold in both bottles and on draught, but all are also exceedingly small runs, which will be sold primarily in our tasting room and at small number of off-site venues and events. As it stands, only Flowered and The Dry Table Mead are ready, but we anticipate that some of the others will follow fairly soon.

The yeast we use in all of our fermentations is the result of more than a year of curation and cultivation, and, staying true to our mission of locally sourcing all ingredients, it’s all native Skagit yeast. We began our yeast experiments by taking fresh wort (unfermented beer) and leaving it outside in the air to attract yeast. We also added flowers, berries, and other flora we foraged locally to other small mason jars of wort and allowed them to ferment. The most delicious and active cultures were combined, propped up, and naturally selected, largely by our former Lead Fermentationist Jason Hansen, to become a dynamic, saccharomyces (beer yeast) dominant culture that thrives on the ingredients we’re using and the climate we’re in. Many beers made with a mixed culture (not a single yeast strain) tend towards the tart and funky. Despite the multiple organisms active in our fermentations, however, our yeast expresses as estery, floral, and pretty quaffable—but elegant and complex.

Our beers start with wort we brew at Chuckanut Brewery South, our next-door neighbors, and transport back to our facility in stainless steel totes. Our first several batches underwent primary fermentation in these same totes, prior to being transferred to oak barrels, while the primary fermentation for subsequent batches has taken place in open-top oak foudres.

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Wort transfer

Open fermentation is wonderful for yeast, especially a culture as diverse and dynamic as our native Skagit culture. Our yeast is very active, and fermentation takes off, sometimes very excitedly, within a few hours. Once we’re experiencing an active fermentation and the beer has reached high kräusen (in other words, it’s really foamy), we’ll leave the foudre open for 48 hours or so. In an open vessel, the yeast isn’t under pressure, can interact with oxygen, and can burn off some off-flavors/odors like sulfur. After the kräusen has diminished, we’ll put a lid on the foudre and allow the fermentation to finish in a closed vessel. At this point in time, all of our beers and meads begin with open fermentation in oak.

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Open fermentation

Once the beer is fully attenuated (has little residual sugar left to ferment), we may transfer it to horizontal oak barrels of various sized and pedigrees for additional secondary fermentation and aging, we may use it to top off existing barrels, or we may move it back into stainless steel where, in most cases, we’ll also blend it with at least a small portion of older, barrel-aged beer. Very little of what we produce follows a direct, linear path from recipe to finished product, instead going through an extended regimen of fermentation, blending, aging, and more blending prior to packaging, even more aging, and, finally, release.

The beer that served as the base for The Garden Paths Led to Flowered was brewed using mostly Pilot malt, with some acidulated malt and raw wheat, all from our neighbors down the road at Skagit Valley Malting, with the addition of Willamette, Perle, and Mount Hood hops from the greater Pacific Northwest. In this particular case, half of the batch went into barrels, while the other half went into stainless for dry-hopping with Tettnang, Sterling, and Cascade hops. After about a week, that beer was then blended with 20 gallons of an earlier batch of open-fermented blonde ale that had spent more time in barrels, and then packaged.

All of our products at Garden Path are naturally conditioned, which means that all carbonation comes naturally from fermentation. Before packaging, we need to add a sugar source to restart the yeast. Many breweries that naturally condition their products will add commercial-grade dextrose; however, as Skagit County is lacking a dextrose farm, we are using local blackberry honey from The Valley’s Buzz as our primer. On packaging day, June 29, we blended the beer in a stainless tank, added honey, recirculated everything in the tank, and then bottled and kegged the beer, filling a total a total of 771 750ml bottles, and a dozen each 20- and 30-liter kegs. Natural conditioning takes some time, so the beer was first tapped in our tasting room a few weeks later. The bottles are also tasting great, and we’ll release them as soon as we have labels in house!

The Path Our Journey Takes Turns

“A garden path,” we once wrote, “is an indirect way to get from Point A to Point B. It’s the scenic route that, more likely than not, leads you somewhere unexpected.”  The path that brought us to Skagit Valley, to our present site, and to the point where we are now nearly ready to release our first beers, has done exactly that.  When we began our journey almost two years ago, it was just two of us: Amber and Ron, with a very raw vision of what we hoped to achieve.  As we progressed along our path, others joined us, helping us to expand and refine our vision and to navigate unanticipated obstacles.  The team that now comprises Garden Path Fermentation consists of nine incredibly talented individuals, with diverse backgrounds and perspectives and an incredibly broad range of talents, many of which we had no idea we needed when we started, but which we now find it nearly impossible to imagine ourselves without.  Each has been an integral part of what Garden Path Fermentation has become.

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Among these immensely talented and seemingly indispensable individuals is Jacob Grisham, who joined us back in January, first drawing on his prior experience as a general contractor to serve as project lead during our buildout, transforming an ultra-bland industrial space into a warm, welcoming tasting room and bottle shop that vastly exceeds anything we could have envisioned on our own.  Jacob’s contributions have continued well beyond buildout, however–not only building things and ensuring that all of our equipment continues to function, but also drawing on his cidermaking background to jump in on the production side, using his chef’s instincts to help with creative contributions, and serving as a major organizing force within our overall operation.  Now, as we transition to the next phase of our operation, we are delighted to announce that Jacob will be taking on an even greater role, serving as Garden Path Fermentation’s new Operations Lead, which means, essentially, that he’ll be responsible for ensuring that everything that needs to get done gets done and helping to come up with creative ways to improve on what we do.  We can’t wait to see what he’ll do in this capacity.

Also joining us back in January was Matthew Edwards.  Matthew came to us with extensive brewery experience, particularly on the production side (which we knew about), and a knack for woodworking and carpentry (which we did not).  Matthew put in countless hours during buildout, sanding and staining our shelves, tables, benches, counters, and bar and assisting with whatever else needed to be done.  Once production began, Matthew immediately stepped in in that area as well, helping to set schedules; source ingredients, equipment, and supplies; establish standard operating procedures; and generally oversee production.  Once we have an established farm of our own, Matthew’s long-term ambition is to shift his focus to the agricultural side of the operation, but in the meantime, his obvious experience and leadership on the production side makes him a natural fit to serve as Garden Path Fermentation’s Production Lead.

As Matthew and Jacob take on expanded roles, however, we’re sorry to say that another two key members of the Garden Path family, Lead Fermentationist Jason Hansen, and Beertender/Retail Wine Specialist Scout Caldwell will soon be leaving Skagit Valley to make their way to the more urban allure of Portland and, in so doing, leaving their current roles at Garden Path.  Rural life isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (or pint of beer), and we wish them the very best in their future endeavors.

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Jason filling our very first puncheon

Jason and Scout joined our project early on, well before we had a site for the brewery, and their contributions over the past year and a half have been immense.  Jason has overseen our fermentation program up until this point, developing all of our recipes, overseeing our first blends, and creating fermentation and packaging SOPs.  Even before we had a location, however, he spent over a year developing our Skagitonian yeast culture: curating, cultivating, and continually propping up our small spontaneous and flora-based samples, choosing the most efficient and flavorful, combining them and keeping them alive, and, ultimately, creating the wonderful, active community of microorganisms that comprise the Garden Path house culture.  His imprint will be on our fermentations for as long as we’re brewing.

Scout’s imprint is also (literally) all over our tasting room.  The mural on the wall?  Scout’s.  All the art?  Scout’s.  All the plants?  All the decor?  The wine program?  Thank Scout for those.  She’s worked tirelessly to make our tasting room warm, homey, and welcoming, both in appearance and in practice.  Scout is also hard at work on the labels for our first packaged beers, which we can’t wait to tell you about.

Both Jason and Scout will continue to serve as off-site consultants and members of our advisory board but, unfortunately, as of this week, Jason will no longer be involved in onsite  day-to-day activity and Scout will be working her final tasting room shift this Saturday, July 14.  We will miss them.

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Saul, mini-Saul

In addition to the transitions above, we’ve had some organizational changes on the Agricultural side of our operation, as well.  When Saul Phillips joined us as Lead Agriculturalist, our intent was to build our brewery/winery/cidery/meadery on an active farm.  Unfortunately, as you already know if you’ve been following our journey, several attempts to do this did not pan out and after some time had passed, we were a little concerned about whether we’d have enough to keep Saul busy until we found a farm to call our own.  We knew, though, that our friends at Skagit Valley Malting were looking for someone with a strong agriculture and bioscience background to oversee their quality assurance, so we made the appropriate introductions and suggested that perhaps Saul could step in on a temporary basis, while we continued to search for a suitable agricultural site.  Now, after having thrived in this role for over a year, Saul has become an integral part of the Skagit Valley Malting team, which also works out pretty well for us, given that Skagit Valley Malting supplies us with all of our brewing malt.  It does, however, mean that Saul’s time to assist more directly with our project is somewhat more limited than it was when he first signed on.  Though Saul will continue to serve as highly valued member of our team, including helping out occasionally behind the bar in our tasting room, the role of Lead Agriculturalist will no longer exist as such, with the responsibilities attached to it instead be shared among members of our Ag team, currently consisting of Saul, Matthew, and Jacob.

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On the production and fermentation side, Sam Hutchens, who also joined our team in January, will soon return from his annual fishing trip to Alaska to help out Matthew, Jacob, and Co-Creator/Chief Ron Extract, who, in Jason’s absence, hopes to take on more of a hands-on role.

And in the tasting room, once Scout leaves us, front of house guru Cris Sanchez and Co-Creator/Chief Amber Watts may be putting in some extra hours to help make up for her absence, with a bit of help from Ron, Saul, and Matthew, but you may soon see a few new faces as well.  Of course, the appropriate introductions will follow when the time is right.

Expanded Tasting Room Hours

Garden Path Fermentation’s tasting room will be expanding its hours for summer! Beginning on Memorial Day, Monday, May 28, we will be open six days a week (Wednesday through Monday) from 12pm – 8pm, selling beer, wine, and cider to enjoy onsite or to take home. While our own products aren’t available yet—good beer takes time, and we’ll definitely let you know when it’s ready—we will continue to serve a wide, rotating selection of unique guest products.

If you haven’t been by to check us out yet, or if you’ve been jonesing for a glass of natural wine at 2pm on a Wednesday, we’ll be here for you.

Garden Path Fermentation Summer Hours:
Monday 12pm – 8pm
Wednesday 12pm – 8pm
Thursday 12pm – 8pm
Friday 12pm – 8pm
Saturday 12pm – 8pm
Sunday 12pm – 8pm

Garden Path Fermentation Opens Tasting Room, Begins Onsite Production

Official Press Release

Skagit Valley, Washington-based Garden Path Fermentation is now fully operational, making its own products onsite and opening its boutique tasting room, bottle shop, and outdoor beer garden to the public on weekends. The tasting room features a carefully curated selection of guest beer, wine, and cider from their favorite independent, artisan producers around the world. It includes not only a wide range of mixed-fermentation and naturally conditioned cider and beer, but also an extensive selection of natural and minimal-intervention wines, many of which customers would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in the region.

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Garden Path Fermentation tasting room

The first of Garden Path’s own beer may be available as soon as next month. Their product lineup will ultimately include beer, mead, cider, perry, other fruit wines, and possibly grape wine, all made from local ingredients, using 100% naturally cultivated, native Skagit Valley yeast.

Garden Path Fermentation is located at 11653 Higgins Airport Way, in Burlington, in what’s been deemed the Port of Skagit “Brewery Zone”, which also includes Chuckanut Brewery’s South Nut location, Skagit Valley Malting, Skagit Valley College’s Cardinal Craft Brewing Academy, and the Skagit Valley outpost of Oak Harbor based Flyers Brewhouse and Restaurant.

Garden Path Fermentation was created by Amber Watts and Ron Extract, who came to Washington State from Austin, Texas, where both worked at Jester King Brewery before heading northwest in August, 2016, to start their own venture. They chose the Skagit Valley, nestled between the North Cascades and the Pacific Ocean, due to its fertile soil, abundant natural resources, and temperate climate. Their goal was to start their project in a place where fermentation would require little temperature intervention and most, if not all, ingredients could be sourced hyperlocally. Resources like Skagit Valley Malting and numerous generations-old family farms make it possible to create truly local products with a distinct sense of place.

From the time they set out to start their new project, Watts and Extract’s ultimate goal has been to build to a destination farm brewery, cidery, meadery, winery, and someday, farm-to-table restaurant, where consumers can experience the entire production process from seed to glass. As soon as they chose Washington as their new home, they began searching for a location where they could execute this vision, but the combination of zoning and land use restrictions, water availability, wastewater management, and a variety of other factors made a suitable property seemingly impossible to find. Fortunately, the Port of Skagit, which serves as an economic development engine for the county and had been a strong supporter of Watts and Extract’s vision from the outset, was able to offer a site that would allow Garden Path to get started and establish itself, while continuing to look for the perfect farm setting for the next phase of its development.

The Garden Path team spent the last several months renovating its current space, under the direction of in-house project lead Jacob Grisham, a licensed general contractor and former chef with an extensive cidermaking background. The building, prior to being used for records storage by the Port of Skagit, was home to Coast Lumber, which provided the local Douglas fir that was used to make the bar, window counters, large communal tables, benches, and shelves in Garden Path’s tasting room.

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The GPF and Chuckanut teams on the first Garden Path brew day

Garden Path’s brewing process thus far has involved their brewers working with the brewers at Chuckanut, their next-door neighbors, to produce wort with malted and raw grain from their fellow neighbors at Skagit Valley Malting, and Pacific Northwest hops. They add the wort to Garden Path’s native yeast culture in stainless steel totes and transport it up the road to Garden Path for fermentation. With Chuckanut’s proximity and excess capacity on the wort-production side, and the highly congenial relationship between the two companies, Garden Path was able to avoid having to put in its own brewhouse and to focus its resources wholly on fermentation.

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Part of Garden Path Fermentation’s foudre collection

Garden Path’s production space holds a variety of oak barrels and vats of different sizes, many of which are already full. To date, they have made five batches of wort at Chuckanut. However, because much of their process involves dividing batches, using different vessels and techniques, and then blending from various sources to taste, this will likely result in a different number of variations of finished beer that don’t directly correlate to batches brewed.

Lead Fermentationist Jason Hansen, who, before moving to Skagit, served as Head Brewer at Capitola, CA based Sante Adairius Rustic Ales, spent the better part of the last year cultivating Garden Path’s native yeast culture from the flowers, fruits, and air in Skagit Valley. It started with a collection of mason jars, which he then slowly grew and blended to make 5-gallon test batches. Those were then blended and used to make two initial 10-barrel (310 gallon) half-batches, before scaling up to Chuckanut’s full 20-barrel batch size.

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Active barrel fermentation

As the yeast is not a pure, isolated, laboratory strain, but rather a complex community of many different organisms, shifting and evolving over time, every batch is going to be somewhat different from the last, even if the same recipe, the same ingredients, and the same processes are used. While the conventional wisdom at most breweries is that this type of batch-to-batch variation is to be avoided, Garden Path embraces it, seeing the presentation of their products as a type of live performance, where the unique interplay of all of the various elements involved results in the creation of something with details and nuances that are unrepeatable and can only be appreciated fully in the moment. They see their role in the creative process not as exercising absolute control, but rather as creating the best possible conditions for fermentation and then ensuring quality through selection, blending, and curation of the finished products.

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Filling the Garden Path coolship

The individualized, performative nature of Garden Path’s fermentation process comes into play even more through a technique where, rather than cooling the wort quickly after boiling and adding it to active yeast, they instead transport it from Chuckanut while still hot and leave it to cool overnight in a broad, shallow, open stainless steel tank called a coolship. As it sits exposed to the cool nighttime air, it becomes inoculated with ambient, airborne microbes. In the morning, the naturally cooled and inoculated wort is transferred to oak barrels, where it will ferment very slowly over the course of several years. During that time, it may or may not develop tart, complex flavors that may or may not be enjoyable. Similar techniques are used by a small number of breweries around the world, most notably in Belgium’s Zenne Valley for a type of beer called lambic (a term that should only be used for beer made in this region). Those who have been doing it for multiple generations have been able to achieve a relatively high rate of success, but even the best of them may still end up having to dump about 10% or more of what they produce, in some cases after having aged it for several years. The year-round climatic conditions in Skagit are, at least on paper, nearly ideal for making this type of beer, which is part of what led Garden Path to choose this location. However, there are a lot of variables at play when embracing nature in this way, and no way to know for sure, other through time and ongoing experimentation, exactly how those variables will play out.

As the beer they’ve brewed matures, the Garden Path team will evaluate it continually to determine what each batch and each vessel needs. Some may benefit from aging, blending, more aging, and more blending. Others may be suitable to package just as they are, and still others may never make the cut. At the time of this writing, two 600-liter oak puncheons, pulled from the first and second brews, are beginning to show promise, so there’s a possibility that at least one of them will soon be transferred to bottles and/or kegs. Packaging will involve the addition of local honey, added just prior to kegging or bottling. The yeast will break down the honey inside the closed containers, trapping CO2 and naturally carbonating the finished product. Though this can happen in as little as a few days, the secondary fermentation process can also create some new, transitional flavors that may take several more weeks or months to work through. If Garden Path decides to package its first beer next week and all goes well, that beer might be ready to serve sometime next month. Then again, it may not be. The beer will be ready when it tastes ready.

When Garden Path feels the first of its products are ready to serve, they will host a release party and grand opening celebration. Look for details of that future event on its website at GardenPathWA.com or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @GardenPathWA.

 

 

All Systems Go!

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Great news, everyone–we have now passed all of our inspections and received our certificate of occupancy, which means we can now start fermenting beer, cider, perry, mead, wine, and other beverages on-site!  It also means that we can now open our tasting room to guests, which we’re doing on a very limited basis, starting with a friends and family/industry opening today from noon to 8pm, followed by a more public soft opening tomorrow from noon to 8pm.

We won’t be selling any of our own products, of course, seeing that we don’t yet have any that are ready to sell, but we will be offering a small, hand-picked selection of some of our favorite draft beers and ciders, wines by the glass, and bottles, available on-site and to-go, from small, independent, artisan producers around the world.

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Starting next weekend, we’ll be open Friday 4-8pm, Saturday 12-8pm, and Sunday, 12-8pm, with a somewhat expanded selection of beer, cider, and wine, as well as the addition of non-alcoholic beverages and pre-packaged snacks.  Additional days and hours will be added as soon as we finish up the last bit of site work that we need to do.

Please note that our tasting room is licensed as a Beer & Wine Tavern, with an Off-Premise endorsement, which means, unfortunately, that no one under 21 is allowed inside.  This restriction does not apply to our facility as a whole, which we will  open up for scheduled, family-friendly tours once we’re fully operational and all the dust has settled, literally.

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Meet Our New Team Members

As we get closer to opening—and, yes, we are getting very much closer to opening—we wanted to introduce you to the team members we’ve brought on board to help us grow up better and faster at Garden Path Fermentation. You’ve already met Jason Hansen, our Lead Fermentationist, and Saul Phillips, our Lead Agriculturalist, but here are the people who will be helping them farm and ferment.

Jacob Grisham

 

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As far as we can tell, Jacob has literally all the skills. He’s a former restauranteur and a general contractor, with a love of fermentation and some impressive cider certifications. Right now, he’s acting as our buildout rockstar, making our tasting room more beautiful than we could have ever imagined. Soon enough, though, we’ll get him in an orchard taking care of some apples and helping to make some Skagit cider and wine.

Star sign: Aquarius

Character class: Sorcerer

Secret superpower: Shiplap!

Favorite Monkee: Mike Nesmith

Desert island beer: Pacifico

 

Matthew Edwards

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Matthew comes to us with a very strong fermentation background, as a former senior brewer/cellerman at Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine; lead brewer at Fremont Brewing in Seattle; and production manager at Kombucha Town in Bellingham. His real passion, though, is agriculture, and we’re excited about his vision for our farm acreage.

Star sign: Gemini

Character class: Cleric

Secret superpower: Ability to subsist entirely on good cheese

Favorite Monkee: Mickey Dolenz

Desert island beer: Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union

 

Sam Hutchens

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Sam has an extensive fermentation background, from several years as a cellerman and vineyard employee at Mount Baker Vineyards in Deming, Washington, to his current position as Assistant Brewer at Stone’s Throw Brewery in Bellingham. He has a wonderful palate and crazy mixed fermentation skills. Sam will be helping us out on the brew deck and in the cellar when he’s not at Stone’s Throw or fishing in Alaska.

Star sign: Gemini

Character class: Druid

Secret superpower: Fish whisperer

Favorite Monkee: Peter Tork

Desert island beer: De La Senne Taras Boulba

 

Scout Caldwell

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Scout is another multitalented individual, with a vast wine and beer retail history and some very amazing art skills. Before moving to Washington, she lived in Santa Cruz, California, where she worked at Sante Adairius Rustic Ales as a beertender and on the packaging team, as well as at Soif, where she honed her wine knowledge. She currently works behind the bar at Skagit’s Bastion Brewery. We’re looking forward to having her in the front of the house, as well as seeing her artwork come to life on our walls and in our merchandise.

Star sign: Aries

Character class: Ranger

Secret superpower: Cat poetry

Favorite Monkee: Davy Jones

Desert island beer: Schlenkerla Helles

 

Our Journey Down the Garden Path: Part III

by Amber Watts

This is part three of a four part series, originally published last August in the Fall 2017 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Issue of CRAFT by Under My Host.

Skagit County Cherries

Cherries at the WSU Mount Vernon research orchard

August 2017

Last fall, I was the lucky recipient of a Pink Boots Society scholarship to attend a class at the Food Craft Institute in Oakland, CA called The Business of Beer. Over the course of a month, a small group of us future brewery owners toured and spoke candidly to the owners of countless Bay Area breweries about their startup stories. They gave us a wealth of incredibly valuable information about the myriad hurdles, setbacks, and successes each founder had encountered on his or her brewery’s journey. The two most common pieces of advice we received about opening a brewery, reiterated in some form by pretty much every speaker, were the following:

  1. Don’t open a brewery.”
  2. If you still want to open a brewery, remember that it will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you’ve planned.”

Clearly, my partner Ron and I are completely ignoring that first piece of advice in our quest to open Garden Path Fermentation. But the second piece of advice is one we unfortunately have come to heed. When we ventured from Austin, Texas to Skagit County, Washington last August, we’d planned on being open in some capacity by this summer.

It’s summer, and we’re not open.

Our dream is to open a destination farmhouse brewery/cidery/meadery/winery in this magical valley in Northwest Washington. We want to grow as many of our own ingredients as we can, work with local farmers to source everything we can’t grow ourselves, and make products that showcase the unique qualities of this region. Key to our vision is an onsite tasting room, where patrons can experience a complete seed-to-glass tasting experience, drinking beer and cider at their ingredients’ source, understanding and falling in love with the terroir of Skagit just as we have.

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Skagit Obsidian Barley

As we’ve learned, though, building this experience on a farm here in Skagit is much more difficult than we’d anticipated. We moved here from Texas, where beer laws are incredibly strict but there’s comparatively little regulation regarding rural land use; the opposite is true in Washington, which has some of the friendliest beer laws in the country but much more tightly regulated land and water usage. In our previous installment, Ron wrote about the zoning, water, and waste management issues that have hindered our location search to this point. Unfortunately, our second site also fell through, largely because of what turned out to be a lack of internal consensus among the sellers about whether they were actually ready to sell. Had it gone through, however, we would still have had to deal with the same zoning and septic issues as before, which would have inevitably turned into a long, expensive process. There may be a mystical place in the Valley that will allow us to do everything we want without having to face these issues, but if it does exist, it’s not currently for sale.

We’re not the only ones to have this experience in Northwest Washington. Other brewers with similar visions in the region have given up and started their projects elsewhere. Adam Paysse, one of the founders of Seattle’s Holy Mountain Brewing Company, recently started Floodland Brewing, the first solely mixed fermentation brewery in Washington. Floodland is located in Seattle instead of on a farm northwest of the city, as Adam had originally intended. He had found what seemed like a favorable site in a neighboring county last year, but was discouraged by a county representative who told him they looked very unfavorably on breweries opening in “non-commercial zoning,” and he likely wouldn’t be able to get permitting. Despite the extra expenses—Seattle’s not cheap, y’all—he felt it made a lot more sense to get started in the city and work on the farm down the line. The idea of opening a true farmhouse brewery seems like it should be possible, and welcomed, in Washington, a state that loves its beer just as much as its farms. But it’s far more difficult than it appears.

It’s definitely been difficult for us, and every setback has been disheartening. But we’ve also realized that in order to get open before burning through our entire operating budget and completely losing both our morale and our amazing team, we may have to consider a different type of site than we’d originally envisioned, at least at the start. At this point, we really just want to ferment stuff.

Our plan as it stands now is to lease a somewhat more industrial startup space where we can start making things, open a smaller-scale tasting room, and begin to establish ourselves while we work on building from the ground up on a long-term site. The startup space we’re currently looking at isn’t ideal in a number of ways, including the lack of a sloped floor or floor drains of any kind, and a building that, though surrounded by majestic Washington evergreens, isn’t exactly the most picturesque. However, we’ll be able to start a fermentation program there with minimal initial costs. In the meantime, we also plan to lease some nearby agricultural land to begin the process of growing some of our ingredients. While it’s disappointing that we won’t be able to make our entire vision a cohesive reality right away, we can at least make part of it: delicious, thoughtful Skagit beer, cider, wine, and mead.

The prospect of starting in a temporary space with little drainage, though challenging, is made somewhat more palatable for us than it would be for other brewers, since we plan on starting without a brewhouse. Instead, we’ll make our wort offsite and transport it to our facility in stainless steel totes, which will double as primary fermenters. While getting started, we’re also working with our friends at Skagit Valley Malting, which is actually a state and federally licensed brewery, to start making some test batches on their pilot system using their malt and our yeast.

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Some of the Skagit flowers from which we sourced our native microbes

And our yeast! We’re so excited about the yeast! Part of our goal at Garden Path has always been to ferment using only naturally cultivated yeast from the Valley for fermentation, and we’ve been experimenting with yeast capture since we first arrived. Unfortunately, our first capture experiments, involving mason jars of fresh hot wort left overnight in the orchard of our first, failed potential brewery site, only succeeded in capturing and cultivating mold. The failure could have resulted from previous spraying in the orchard, which would limit the amount of live active yeast and bacteria; alternatively, a cheesecloth-covered mason jar may not have offered enough surface area for happy yeast to gather. I prefer to see it as an omen, though, that it wasn’t the right site for our project.

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More lovely Skagit flowers

This spring, we tried again. On one beautiful April day when it felt like every square inch of the Valley was in bloom, Ron and I ventured out with Jason Hansen, our Lead Fermentationist, on a foliage mission. We picked one of every flower we saw—tulips, daffodils, cherry blossoms, dandelions, daisies, rhododendrons, and many “mysteries” from various Washington trees and gardens—and put them in mason jars and kegs of hot wort. That evening, a particularly windy night, we also left a batch of wort outside in a shallow pot overnight to capture wild yeast from the air. Over the next few months, Jason has been brewing small test batches and propping up yeast samples, working to develop what will become the basis of our initial signature Skagit culture.

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Cherries!

A few weeks ago, we put the yeast to its first real test. We went with our Lead Agriculturalist Saul Phillips to the cherry orchard at Washington State University’s Skagit agricultural extension and picked 50 or so pounds of cherries that Saul selected (mostly NY242, a slightly tart experimental variety). We pressed the cherries, pitched some of our favorite yeast cultures from Jason’s samples, and let the juice and must ferment. After primary fermentation, we racked our cherry wine off the fruit, which we then used, along with the yeast sediment, to start a batch of low-gravity second-use cherry mead.

And I’m so proud of what we’ve made. The wine is complex, slightly tart, slightly funky, and, despite being the most cherry-intense liquid I’ve ever tasted, incredibly easy to drink. The mead is gentle, with a clear honey and cherry character, but with that same yeast complexity. Both are very small batches, too small to release—even if we legally could—but if these are indicative of what we can make, I continue to be very excited about the future.

Cherry Wine

The beginning of our first cherry wine.

This is why we’re willing to take a temporary detour on our site. We want to make world-class beer, wine, cider, and mead, and we want people to be able to drink it. It’s disheartening that they won’t be able to do so under a pavilion on a picturesque Washington farm right away, but we know that will come in time. This is a way to achieve at least part of the goal sooner rather than later. In the meantime, we’re following our own garden path, which, as we should have predicted, isn’t always taking us exactly where we’d anticipated. However, we’re pretty sure it’s leading us somewhere special. Via the scenic route.

 

Read the final installment of our story (for now) in the Winter “Classics” issue of  CRAFT by Under My Host .Image may contain: text