Restaurant News & Reviews

How farmhouse beers rate at Atwood, Kulshan and Wander

Grange, a spiced farmhouse ale from Blaine’s new brewery, Atwood Ales.
Grange, a spiced farmhouse ale from Blaine’s new brewery, Atwood Ales.

Only a handful of craft brewers have the luxury of consistently using ingredients fresh off the farm. It sure seems to help make some of the craftiest beers. In the Pacific Northwest take for example Bale Breaker, or Rogue Farms, or — oh man — Logsdon Farmhouse Ales. All make beer that feels fresh and different.

So I’ve been intrigued ever since hearing Atwood Ales, our county’s newest brewery, would make farmhouse ales and British beers at a family farm near Blaine. A true farmhouse brewery is one thing we’ve never had.

There’s no Atwood Alehouse. Bombers are $10 each, give or take a couple bucks, and they’re not especially easy to find yet. Barrel-aged and wild yeast beers are in the works, but right now the lineup is short and sturdy: a flagship spiced saison; une bière de garde; a Scotch-style ale; and an oyster stout. Already these beers are fleshed out and unique.

Speaking of local farms, as a city dweller it’s possible to forget over 95 percent of the state’s red raspberries are grown here in Whatcom County. So in the heart of berry season, it seems like a good time test out Wander’s Raspberry Millie, one of their newest bottle releases. And while I was in the neighborhood, Kulshan had a couple of farmhouse ales on tap, too. Sure, why not, we’ll try those too.

Atwood Ales Grange. Head is generous, soft, foamy, off white, with good retention, on a body that’s persimmon-orange. Carbonation billows up this 5.8 percent alcohol ale. It’s bottle-conditioned. So pour gently and beware of slurry at the bottom. On the nose I get apricot, a faint ethyl bite, and an intro to the spices that define the beer. This doesn’t have much in common with Saison Dupont, a kind of gold standard. Grange has roots in an older Belgian tradition, when saisons were brewed with leftover grains around the farm. Texture leans to the sharp side, viscosity is medium, with a bustling mélange of malt flavors that zigzag across the palate. This ale is strikingly peppery, layered and — come to think of it — sneakily bitter, for a saison. Some will find it too busy. Because it is busy. The question is whether it’s too busy for you. Tried it three times, and each time I found something new to appreciate. There’s a bright future here. B+

Kulshan Saison du Kulshan. The look is thin, icy gold, topped with sticky, bright white head. Under 4 percent alcohol, this is a summery session saison. Here any saison funk is more sour than fruity, with citrus notes like lemon zest present, and an aftertaste that leaves a hint of grapefruit. Sourness snowballs on the back end, in a finish that never felt too cutting, but at times I didn’t feel invited back for another sip. Overall: not great, not bad. C

Kulshan Foreign Export. Stiffer, darker and fruitier than the Saison du Kulshan, this ale uses yeast imported from south Belgium. The pour is amber gold, with a lacing of white head, and an aroma of orange citrus and apricot. Malty, though it’s not quite in the same field as bière de garde. Taste and texture in this 7.5-percent alcohol ale feel complete and fluid, in the sense that each layer plays off the next. It’s less funky than most full-bodied saisons, but not lacking in flavor. B

Wander Raspberry Millie. This very acidic ale fills the glass with a bright but frail shade of red. Minimal white head vanishes immediately, even with an aggressive pour. Like a Berliner Weisse the base feels, for lack of a better phrase, fuzzy around the edges. Then it’s saturated with raspberry, a whole lot of raspberry. Carbonation doesn’t look too active. Yet it pops in every other way. Up front on the palate it’s two-parts tart to one-part sweet, and more softly tart in the end. And to me that juicy earthy finish is the impressive element, that weirdly good sulfur note in real fresh raspberries. You’ll find it in the aroma too. This would be a refreshing beer for hot weather, though the aggressive sourness keeps it from being crushable. And that seems intentional. B+

In other brews …

By the end of the month Aslan Brewing plans to release Summer Solar Ale, a dry pale ale, to raise funds for solar panels at Lydia Place, which helps the homeless find housing. Atwood Ales are now on sale at Elizabeth Station, Maggie’s Pub, the Drayton Harbor Oyster Co., and every other week-ish at the Bellingham Farmers Market. Boundary Bay took home two gold medals for its 2014 vintage of Old Bounder, a barleywine, and Nautilus, a sour with Brett. Interested in a Chuckanut Brewery beer pairing dinner aboard the Schooner Zodiac? Check; cost is $85. At K-2 Kulshan is serving up their Hop Howdy Belgian Blonde, a strong six-hop golden ale with 9 percent alcohol. North Fork sold out of Electric Berryland bottles before I could get my hands on some, but Velouria, a sour red ale aged in whiskey barrels, was a fine consolation prize. Stones Throw continues to roll out summery beers: a blonde, a saison, a Kölsch. Fans of Structures Brewing drank up Juice on Juice, an intensely dry-hopped Double IPA with 7 IBUS (yes, 7), in a matter of weeks; the brewery plans to start canning (!) in fall. And coming soon at Wander Brewing: a fruit puncheon made with 400 pounds of blackberries.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276,