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

These Jester King alumni searched for the perfect place to make the beer they envisioned, with wild yeast and ingredients sourced from within a few miles. Now, they guide their fermentations to produce beers that balance flavor and character.

Jamie Bogner May 29, 2021 - 6 min read

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

Photo: Joe Stange

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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, and the farming community between Seattle and Vancouver 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 since then have 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 a more selective, intentional approach, focusing on flavors and the means to produce them, given the self-imposed restrictions they’ve embraced. About 98 percent of their ingredients come from the surrounding valley (the rest are hops, grown in another Washington valley a few hours away).

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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Jamie Bogner is the Cofounder and Editorial Director of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine®. Email him at [email protected].