By Stefanie Donahue
The 60 hop plants growing at Atwood Ales in Blaine are nearly ripe for picking and a small team of brewers is gearing up for more than just their annual harvest – last month, they announced plans to nearly double the size of their craft brewery by next spring.
Atwood Ales opened over a year ago and is operated by husband and wife team, Josh and Monica Smith with help from their son Xavier Felmley. Parents Steve and Leslee Smith and Steve and Nancy Felmley also lend a hand. The small-batch brewery is located at the Smiths’ 100-year-old family farm on Sweet Road.
The brewery regularly produces four types of beers, including Grange, a farmhouse ale; Mo’s Saison; No Whey, Bro, a sour blonde ale; and Dark Harbor, a stout made with oysters. The brewery creates experimental brews throughout the year, including its most recent batch called Rhuty, a sour ale with rhubarb.
Most of the ingredients, including five varieties of hops, are grown on the estate while the rest is sourced from local vendors.
“There’s an element of nature involved in determining every batch,” Josh said after emphasizing the importance of being cautious when experimenting with flavors. “I’m really interested in balance and approachability.”
Josh spends upwards of 60 hours a week brewing up batches of the French and Belgian-inspired farmhouse ales. A full batch makes 26 cases of 12 beers that are hand carried up to a small barn attic for bottling. It’s an arduous ordeal in the summertime – one reason they’re looking forward to expanding the brewing workspace, Josh said.
“After just over one year in business, we are seeing opportunities that we want to take better advantage of,” read an announcement released by Atwood Ales in July. “Since our inception in the spring of 2016, one of our goals has been to produce barrel-aged, mixed-culture, wild, spontaneous and sour beers. While we have managed to produce some of these products, it has been tough to do consistently and in any real volume.”
“We are not trying to turn into a huge production brewery with this expansion, it’s more about increasing efficiencies with our existing systems, and having the space for cooperage and long term storage of the delicious and time consuming beers,” read the announcement.
The Smiths hope to nearly double the size of their brewery by next spring.
Josh and his dad Steve will tackle most of the construction and plan to install a walk-in cooler, a temperature-controlled bottling and conditioning space, six to 12 new oak barrels for sour and experimental beers and an open work space. In the old space, they’ll add a few more tanks for fermentation and storage.
The expansion will help the brewery satisfy their growing customer base, which now spans from Tacoma north to Vancouver.
So far, about 20 businesses in Washington sell their ales, including The Copper Door in Tacoma, the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham and the Drayton Harbor Oyster Company in Blaine.
They’ve also partnered with Bellingham restaurants, including Ciao Thyme, Old World Deli and Northwater Restaurant, to host beer and food pairing events.
On weekends, they sell their beer at the farmer’s market in Bellingham and last month, they went up north for British Columbia’s celebration of saisons and wild ales at Farmhouse Fest. Their beer made it on to Beerthirst’s “Rare Beer” portfolio and is being sold in liquor stores in B.C. for a limited time.
Both glimmering with optimism about the future, Josh and Monica emphasized the importance of maintaining an operation they can sustain as a family. They’re not ready to hire and they’re not ready to expand distribution out of state, but eventually they hope to open a tap room and sell their beer in more restaurants, said Monica, who oversees sales and marketing.
“What’s fun about our operation is that you get to do everything,” Josh said. “This isn’t the normal reality of most brewing situations.”