Episode 189: Amber Watts and Ron Extract of Garden Path Fermentation Bottle the Flavors of the Skagit Valley

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Amber Watts and Ron Extract didn't land in Washington's Skagit Valley by chance. Their brewery, Garden Path Fermentation, was a concept in search of a home, but the farming community between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia provided exactly what they were looking for—locally grown and malted barley, a variety of fruits and berries, and a perfect climate for the kind of unstructured, non-temperature-controlled fermentations they wanted to explore. They planted roots in 2016, and have since embarked on a creative approach to fermentation that is quintessentially Washington.

While some wild brewers set the pieces in motion and let the beers land where they may, Garden Path takes an editorial or curatorial approach, focusing on flavors and the means to produce them, given the self-imposed restrictions they've embraced. 98% of their ingredients come from the surrounding valley (the rest are hops, a huge crop in another Washington valley a few hours away). But rather than adhere to consistency, Garden Path revels in brewing as live performance. Each beer is akin to a band's live set—never exactly the same, despite similar frameworks—and no performance can be reproduced note-for-note a second time. The result is a series of one-time experiences, as they balance idealism and creativity with practical concerns.

In this episode, they discuss:

  • Balancing fruit flavors in complex, layered, and dry beers, some with smoke
  • Mouthfeel and flavor contributions of whole fruit
  • Capturing, evaluating, and building a mixed culture of wild and native yeast
  • Distinctions between their spontaneous and non-spontaneous processes
  • The benefits of open fermentation
  • Bottle conditioning with honey
  • Blending wild beers

and more.

Brewing wild beer with intention involves risk, but the reward can be huge. For Garden Path, the proof is in the glass, and it tastes like the Skagit Valley that they call home.

*This episode is brought to you by: *

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