By Oliver Lazenby
Drayton Harbor Oyster Company opened its retail store on Tuesday, February 2, after a three-month commercial shellfish harvest closure. But already on Monday morning, people were walking into the shop at 677 Peace Portal Drive, in Blaine, looking for oysters fresh from the harbor.
“There you go, you got people who are wanting to eat oysters at 10:30 in the morning,” said owner Mark Seymour after one would-be customer dropped by. “I don’t even do that.”
Although the oysters that Mark and his dad Steve farm a few hundred feet from the store are the main attraction, Drayton Harbor Oyster Company has an extra draw for its second season: a liquor license.
The store, a retail outlet for the farm that sells fresh oysters and oyster stew, will also serve beer and wine this year. To start with, Seymour is stocking cans of beer from Bellingham’s Kulshan Brewing Co., and a selection of French white and red wines, he said.
But soon, the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company will be the primary outlet for Blaine’s only commercial brewery, Atwood Ales.
The new brewery, a family operation headed by Josh Smith, will start producing beer on a family farm southeast of Blaine this month. The brewery won’t have a taproom, but its beer will be available at Drayton Harbor Oyster Company and a few other places in Whatcom County in late March or early April, Smith said.
The brewer and the oyster farmer will work closely: Smith will tend bar at the restaurant/store and the two will visit and learn about each other’s operation so that they will be able to explain how things work to customers, Seymour said. To celebrate the partnership, Smith plans to brew an oyster beer from Drayton Harbor oysters.
“I think our joint vision is a place where you can come and enjoy a local beer, local oysters, and have a conversation about them with the people who actually produce them,” Seymour said.
Seymour expects the addition of beer and wine to be popular with customers.
“Probably every other customer that came in last year was like, ‘Where’s the beer? Where’s the wine?’” he said.
Smith is inspired by the French and Belgian tradition of farmhouse beers: beer brewed on a farm from ingredients grown on the farm.
Smith’s five-acre farm produces hops, grain, fruit, herbs and vegetables. It’s not big enough to accomplish his goal of producing beer entirely from ingredients grown on the farm, called estate beers. But it is big enough to produce several beers at a time using Atwood Farm ingredients.
“We’ll be able to consistently, every year, produce a handful of beers where everything is grown on our land,” Smith said.
Popular styles of farmhouse beer include saison and biere de garde.
Smith started brewing beer the day after he graduated from the University of Idaho’s masters program in landscape architecture in 2008.
“I just homebrewed like crazy for a long time and parlayed that into some professional brewing experience,” Smith said.
He brewed at the now-closed Frank-n-Stein brewery in Ferndale, and then worked at Maggie’s pub in Ferndale until the end of last month.
In addition to beer on tap, Smith plans to offer bottles of Atwood Ales to go at the store. Oysters are also available to go and Seymour will start grilling oysters on the sidewalk outside the store later this year. Drayton Harbor Oyster Company also sells oysters to Semiahmoo Resort and at the Bellingham Farmers Market.
Ever since commercial harvest started back up in 2014, Drayton Harbor has closed annually from November to January – the wettest months, when heavy rains wash toxins into the harbor from the surrounding area, making shellfish potentially unsafe to eat.
Seymour hopes that won’t always be the case. He said water quality in the wet months is improving. He contracts with Washington State Department of Ecology to take water samples in the harbor, and he’s encouraged by what he saw in the last three months.
“All the data we collected this year lends to reopening for the winter months,” Seymour said. “The dream for us is that at some point this bay gets to where we don’t have to go week to week thinking about all these water quality issues.”
Various state and local agencies and residents have worked for years to make the harbor healthy enough for a viable commercial harvest after unsafe levels of fecal coliform closed the harbor in 1995. Now that commercial harvest is possible, Seymour hopes his business can serve as a face for the health of Drayton Harbor and increase awareness of local marine health.
“On Friday and Saturday you might get 100 people that come in. You start talking about your oyster farm and they want to learn about it,” Seymour said. “All the sudden this water quality issue comes up and they want to know about that.”
Seymour said there’s a lot of potential for oyster farming in Drayton Harbor. He said he’s currently farming about 5 acres of the 30 he leases in the harbor.
“Locals are finding out that there is a concern with water quality,” Seymour said. “Now you’ve got a community that realizes that unless this bay remains on an upward trend, they won’t have this awesome local product.”