It’s been a process, folks.
If you’ve been following our progress in our quarterly updates in CRAFT by Under My Host or read the recent Draft magazine article about us, you know that our biggest challenge up to this point has been finding a location for our brewery. From the beginning, our dream has involved three aspects: creating a farm brewery, where we grow a large portion of our own ingredients; making beer, wine, cider, and mead solely from our own crops and other locally grown products; and building a tasting room where you and all your loved ones can enjoy a peaceful afternoon in the majestic Skagit countryside drinking all its fermented bounties. It sounds cheesy, but it’s also why we came here. Northwest Washington is one of the few places in the country, maybe the world, where everything you need to make beer grows naturally, with a gentle enough climate to support natural fermentation without temperature control. Skagit County has some of the best soil in the world in which to grow these ingredients, and it’s also always pretty damn beautiful here. We want to share this place we love with the rest of the world, through our products, and by inviting everyone to our tasting room to experience it themselves.
We’ve been in the Skagit Valley for a year now, but finding a location that will allow us to achieve all three of our goals in the same place—farming, fermenting, and operating a tasting room—has proven difficult. While Washington State beer laws are incredibly friendly to small breweries, water rights, wastewater, and zoning issues make it very difficult to make beer and operate a tasting room on agricultural land here. Finding a place to grow, brew, and cater to the public all in the same space, while obeying the letter and spirit of the law, has been virtually impossible.
But we’ve found a solution that will allow us to get started. One of our biggest supporters in the county, even before we arrived in Washington, has been the Port of Skagit, a county entity that not only controls actual ports, but is also one of the biggest economic development engines in the area. The Port has been a dream to work with, and we’ve been in discussions for a while about a Port-owned parcel of land that has industrial zoning but will be farmable with a bit of work. The land has access to all utilities—including water and sewer!—but the downside is that it’s vacant. We’ll have to build out from scratch. Building in Washington is definitely seasonal. By the time we had started the discussions, the earliest we could project a fully functional newly built space would be late 2018, and that’s with everything going perfectly according to schedule. Which never happens.
The clear advantage is that a from-scratch buildout would allow us to create our perfect space. However, we’ve built an amazing team and a lot of momentum at this point. Waiting an extra year and half to open would be incredibly disheartening for all of us, and might cause us to lose both.
But the Port, being amazing, has offered us a perfect interim solution. There’s a newly vacant building in their airport complex—which also houses such inspiring entities as Chuckanut Brewery, Skagit Valley Malting, Viva Farms, the Washington State University Bread Lab, Skagit Valley College’s Cardinal Craft Brewing Academy, and the Skagit outpost of Flyers Restaurant and Brewhouse. It’s a site that’s becoming a food and beer mecca. Which, it looks like, will now include Garden Path Fermentation. Not to bury the lede, but we signed a lease last week.
The space itself isn’t what we initially imagined. It’s an industrial building, formerly home to a graphic design and screenprinting company. We’ll need to repurpose what is currently a less-than-cozy office space to create a tasting room, and there are definitely no brewery infrastructure necessities like floor drains. But there’s plumbing, septic, and three-phase power. There’s a 5,000 square foot building. A wooded lot. Parking. Bathrooms. Room for a small beer garden. It’s a space where, with only a little work, we can get started. We’ll cut floor drains. We’ll paint walls and rip out office carpeting to create a tasting room. Since we don’t plan to make wort onsite, we don’t need to do quite as much infrastructural work as we would if we had a brewhouse.
There’s work to be done, clearly. But with this space, it looks more and more like, as Ron and I promised when we left Jester King, we may still be open in some capacity sometime in 2017. Really. We almost can’t believe it, either.
We’re still working out the details of the lease for the industrial/agricultural land, but we expect that to happen sometime in the next few weeks. This will allow us (well, mostly Saul, our Lead Agriculturalist) to start taming the land and creating soil amenable to a cider apple/perry pear orchard (and potentially a hop farm?) as soon as possible. But at this point, our plan still remains to build something much closer to our dream brewery on that site.
This does present a clear challenge for us, though. Building out on the vacant parcel means our time in the startup space will almost certainly be limited. Which also means our renovations will need to be limited, just enough to get us started with both a brewery and a tasting room. We don’t want to blow our entire startup budget on renovations to this space, when the money can instead go to building our dream Skagit barn/brewery. With that said, we are still going to have to devote some time, energy, and money to getting up and running in our initial space, which may push our timetable for building the new space back a bit.
But it does mean we can get started! We can make beer, wine, cider, and mead with the fantastic native Skagit microbes Jason, our Lead Fermentationist, has been cultivating over the past year! Very soon, we will be able to invite you to drink it (We’ve already put in our federal brewery and winery permit applications)! And that, ultimately, is the most important thing for us. We’ve been itching to stop making financial projection spreadsheets and start fermenting delicious things for y’all to drink. This is our chance. Real-life dreams don’t happen overnight, and we’re doing what we can to realize ours sooner rather than later.
To quote our latest article in CRAFT, “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.”
Thank you all for your support while we have inadvertently taken the scenic route. We hope that as Garden Path Fermentation continues to grow, the “scenic route” will begin to apply more to our beverages than our building, but we hope you continue to enjoy the journey.