On a five-acre farm in northern Whatcom County, a family-owned and operated brewery is busy crafting unique small-batch farmhouse ales. There’s no public tasting room; no roadside sign announcing its presence. Just a 100-year old barn-turned brewery, a farmhouse, and some land for growing ingredients. This is Atwood Ales in Blaine, Washington (near Bellingham).
I recently had the opportunity to visit Atwood Ales for a private tour with Annette from Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by co-owners Josh and Monica Smith — our hosts for a leisurely stroll about the farm. We squinted into the sunlight, sipping saison and tasting nasturtium flowers from the garden. We discussed rhubarb and buckwheat in the hop field, while Josh’s father, Stephen (Co-owner and Farm Manager) buzzed about the property with a weedwhacker. It was unlike any brewery tour I’ve ever experienced — in a good way.
A Brewery is Born
Joshua Atwood Smith grew up here. After leaving for college and pursuing other interests for awhile, he returned to his roots on the family farm in 2008. Josh began homebrewing, and eventually decided to start his own brewery.
“When I approached my dad about building a brewery here on the farm,” Josh explains, “he had been waiting for me to ask him to do this for about five years.”
Atwood Ales was born in 2016, making it Blaine’s first (and only) brewery. With nearly a decade of homebrewing experience under his belt — including involvement with the Bellingham Beer Lab — Josh is no newbie to the local beer scene. But his passion for brewing is just one component of Atwood Ales’ success. There would be no Atwood Ales without the help and commitment of Josh and Monica’s families.
Who’s Who at Atwood
The name “Atwood” itself is a family name, passed down through the generations by Josh’s father and grandfather. Along with his middle name, Josh intends to carry on the family farming tradition with his brewery.
“I knew I wanted to carry on the family legacy that my parents had started here with the farm, and do something new,” Josh says.
In this deep-rooted tradition, the whole family lends a helping hand. Monica takes care of sales, marketing, and distribution — managing accounts and acting as the public face of Atwood Ales. Josh’s parents, Stephen and Leslee Smith, co-own the brewery, and Monica’s parents (Steve and Nancy) are involved as well. Mothers Leslee and Nancy help out at the Farmer’s Market. Son Xavier assists with naming beers and is responsible for such punny titles as “No Whey, Bro”. Everyone pitches in with packaging.
On the Farm
The brewery itself is a “cobbled-together” 2-barrel system, which lends itself to small-batch experimentation. The benefit of brewing on a working farm, of course, is the availability of fresh, seasonal ingredients to experiment with — everything from honeysuckle and nasturtium flowers to apples and blackberries. If it grows on (or near) the farm, it’s a prime candidate for brewing.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Atwood produces their own estate-grown hops. Centennial, Cascade, Nugget, Willamette, and Tettnanger varieties are all grown onsite. This allows Atwood to do the majority of their brewing with estate-grown hops — a feat most breweries today can’t claim. Atwood’s grains are sourced locally as well, with about 80% provided by Skagit Valley Malting. Eventually, they’d like to move towards 100% estate-grown ingredients.
Don’t expect hop forward, palate-wrecking IPA’s from Atwood. In fact, don’t expect IPA’s at all. According to their website: “We do not, nor will we ever, make an IPA”. And that’s alright by me. Know your niche!
Fortunately for the rest of us, Atwood’s niche is a perfect pairing: they create farmhouse ales at their farmhouse brewery, inspired by French and Belgian brewing traditions. Think effervescent, balanced, subtle, and sessionable. They produce four styles semi-regularly, in addition to rotating seasonals. Here’s a primer on the regulars.
For those who’ve never tried Atwood Ales, Josh suggests starting with Grange. This lightly spiced, malty saison is uniquely Atwood — there’s no other beer out there quite like it. Grange is the quintessential Atwood Farmhouse Ale.
Named after Monica, Mo’s Saison (pronounced like Mos Def) is a light, refreshing saison featuring rotating seasonal ingredients. We tried the nasturtium version — bubbly and bright, with estate-grown Cascade hops and a subtle, radishy spice. Previous versions of Mo’s have featured lemon balm, rosemary and sage, and fresh-pressed apple juice from Atwood’s orchard.
Dark Harbor Oyster Stout
Dark Harbor is brewed with oysters from Drayton Harbor — located just 2 miles from the brewery. It’s a clean stout with a hint of brininess. Dark Harbor does not taste like shellfish, so feel free to pair it with fresh oysters at Drayton Harbor Oyster Company for the full experience. Drayton Harbor Oyster Company acts as the brewery’s unofficial taproom, offering an assortment of oysters (both barbequed and raw) alongside Atwood’s Ales.
No Whey, Bro
A dry-hopped sour blonde made with Lactobacillus bacteria cultured from yogurt. Atwood calls it “the lemonade of beers”. I call it, “the beer I look forward to trying next”.
After a successful first eighteen months of business, Atwood has plans to expand their brewery. This means more control for Josh in the brewery — including better temperature control for bottle conditioning, as well as a custom-built hop kiln and cabinet for drying and storing their hops. Atwood also has plans to put their coolship to use next spring.
For now, keep an eye out for Atwood’s ever-changing lineup of experimental brews. On deck are an Oyster Gose made with brine from Drayton Harbor Oyster Company, a Blackberry Saison featuring 50 pounds of berries from the farm, and of course a fresh hop beer to celebrate the annual hop harvest. To stay in the know regarding beer releases and special events, sign up for Atwood’s newsletter.