Our mission at Garden Path Fermentation is to make delicious fermented beverages (and maybe foods, someday) using the abundant agricultural resources available to us here in the Skagit Valley, including some ingredients that we plan to grow ourselves. To do this most effectively, we will need someone who knows the land, what grows here, and how it grows, and who can work with farmers throughout the valley to help us find the best possible ingredients with which to work. That person will be our Lead Agriculturalist, Saul Phillips.
We first met Saul in October while visiting the WSU Extension Campus in Mount Vernon, where he currently works, helping tend to their research orchard, which includes more than 70 varietals of cider apples, 15 varieties of perry pears, and numerous other fruit trees. When Saul, an accomplished amateur cidermaker and homebrewer, began telling us about his ideas for commercial production of spontaneously fermented cider and perry, we immediately knew that we had much more to discuss. As part of our team, Saul will also continue to spend a portion of his time assisting with the WSU orchard and will serve as liaison between Garden Path Fermentation and the WSU Extension. By fostering this relationship, we will develop our goal of being involved in community education and outreach here in the Skagit Valley.
Saul’s interest in cider and perry led him to attend this year’s Cider Con in Chicago, where he had an opportunity to network, taste cider, and exchange ideas with cidermakers and other industry professionals from all over the world. He offered the following thoughts:
At Cider Con 2017, held this year in Chicago, IL, I got a chance to taste a broad range of ciders. While mixed culture and wild fermentation were a predictably small share of the industry, they were some of the most inspiring examples of cider craft. Considering America’s muddled relationship with cider where many examples on the market are essentially alcoholic soda, we can learn a great deal from our European brethren whose spontaneously fermented cider tradition continues unbroken by any past dalliance with alcohol prohibition.
An especially interesting area of research from Dr. Bradshaw’s lab at the University of Vermont is looking at the commercial viability of minimal pruning, a low-input strategy that jives well with our plans for minimal input, sustainable poly-culture on the land at Garden Path. I look forward to more definitive results over the next few years of the study.
Cider Con gave me a useful view of the cider market and producer strategies. Our plans for Garden Path, wild fermentation and sustainable poly-culture agriculture, fly in the face of the status quo, and I welcome the challenge! Since helping to press juice from my grandmother’s apple orchard as a child, I’ve been an apple aficionado and very much look forward to highlighting in fermentation the unique qualities of fruit grown here in the bountiful Skagit Valley.