This is a story happening right down the road from where I live…and that is not a figure of speech. The road is Washington Route 16, connecting the South Puget Sound with the Kitsap Peninsula, and the drive is 21.7 miles, door to door. The destination takes some searching or a good GPS, because the name of the destination is not in a lot of less comprehensive GPS databases…yet. That, I predict, is about to change.
But this is also about this same thing happening somewhere near you. And you can safely bet that, even if it is not happening yet, it will be soon.
The massive success of a tiny, farmhouse brewery, just outside the Greensboro Bend, Vermont, a sleepy town of 105 souls, as of the 2019 census, just off Vermont Route 16 (apparently a magic number for this kind of thing) is what has made this sort of “Beer At The End of The Earth” thing possible. It involved a young local guy named Shaun Hill who caught a fairly serious case of the Brewing Bug, left Greensboro to get some practical experience in making beer, and came back to round up some backing and start the kind of quaint, low-stress farmhouse brewery he had visited in Europe.
If you know beer at all, you know about Shaun and his Hill Farmstead Brewery and the unprecedented success he has had at making that barn on his family farm into one of the acknowledged brewing behemoths on Planet Earth. People far more meticulous than I have written several million words about him and Hill Farmstead. I need not go into that here and, besides, the only relevant fact is that Shaun was among the first farm breweries, using a lot of foraged additions. It was a farmstead brewery, not so much for its location as because Shaun grew a lot of what went into the beers.
But Shaun was hardly the first. In Europe, where the original idea came from, thousands of farmers brewed at home, most notably the beer-obsessed Belgians, who have been making beer in their kitchens and barns and tool sheds for almost a thousand years. Even here in America, Hill Farmstead opened in 2010…but so did Austin, Texas’ Jester King Brewing, where Jeff Stuffings also took the Euro model and planted it in a rolling meadow just outside the state capitol, just off Texas Route 290 (Thank God not 16, eh? That would have been weird!), west of the city. In that same year, just 48.4 miles from my door, in the tiny city of Poulsbo, Washington, my pal Dave Lambert opened the doors to a pair of sheds on his own tiny farmstead and debuted Slippery Pig Brewing. But even before that, former Full Sail Brewer, Dave Logsdon, opened his Logsdon Farmhouse Ales, in the hills just south of Hood River, Oregon. His 2009 opening was well noted, as he was known and admired for his Full Sail work, and Logsdon became an immediate regional success story, even before Hill Farmstead started up.
Since then, there have been more than a dozen notable farmstead breweries spring up, all over the country. Scratch Brewing in Ava, Illinois; Degarde Brewing of Tillamook, Oregon; Plan Bee Farm Brewery in Fishkill, NY; greenhouse-turned-brewery, High Hops Brewing, in Windsor, Colorado; and the fabulously well-funded Blackberry Farm Brewery in Walland, Tennessee, an adjunct of the sublime, internationally prominent Blackberry Farm Resort. And more are popping up every year. Around here we have Garden Path Fermentation of Burlington, WA, and Farmstrong Brewing, in nearby Mount Vernon. Alesong Brewing & Blending, just outside Eugene, Oregon, and The Ale Apothecary of Bend are both turning out thoughtful, very different ales from the general run of American beer, as does Casey Brewing of Glenwood Springs, which sources almost all its materials from right there in their Colorado home.
And now…Yoked Farmhouse & Brewery, whose address is shown as Port Orchard, Washington, but is closer to Purdy, the only claim to fame of which is the Washington Correctional Facility for Women, former home of the notorious Mary Kay Letourneau.
Yoked is set on an actual working farm, producing fruits and veggies, organically raised meats, and even some packaged “groceries” from farm-raised products. Yoked is headed by three principals: Seth Hanson, Gary Winn, and Gary’s mother, Phyllis Tiernan. The brewery is a two-story tin barn brewery and tasting room, built just to the east of Phyllis’ house, on a long gravel driveway off Pine Road SW. Gary and Seth are both brewers and helped drive their former brewery, Silver City Brewing of Bremerton, WA, to the title of Medium Sized Brewery of the Year at the 2020 GABF, the country’s largest beer festival. Silver City hangs a bushel of various medals for individual beers, too, many of which involved Gary and Seth. But Silver City has a well-established reputation in Washington and Pacific Northwest brewing and making experimental and even eccentric ales is not really their forte. As with Paul Arney and his brilliant Ale Apothecary, down in Bend, Gary and Seth had Other Ideas that didn’t fit Silver City, as Paul couldn’t make his beers for his former employer, Deschutes Brewery. Phyllis had a farm, Gary had Ambitions…Voila! Farmhouse brewery.
On the cold March Saturday when we found out about Yoked in a casual Android Google search, we sat in the wide open tasting room and sampled what was one of the best new-brewery line-ups I’ve encountered in a long time. The list included a 6% dark ale called “Candied Black”, “Cold Steep” Brown ale, a fat and pleasingly semi-sweet Baltic Porter, “Purdy’s” Pale Ale, “Rustic Kölsch”, and a rather staggering Farmhouse Saison that managed to stuff its medium-bodied framework with a grab-bag of flavors that I immediately assumed came from infusions…which Gary Winn flatly refuted, “Nope, just yeast and grains and hops and water,” he smiled.
The notable thing about the Yoked ales was the definite and unmistakable impression of completeness and skill, which was what led me to find out that Gary and Seth came from Silver City…it was gonna be some accomplished brewery because, visiting as many breweries as I do in an average year, I’ve found that those which have been established by well-funded homebrewers with limited experience are deadly obvious. The beers have holes in the mid-palate, finish weak and watery, have gaping stylistic inconsistencies, and not rarely show obvious off-flavors. Yoked’s entire taplist was polished and professional and showed aesthetic touches that set them distinctly apart from Silver City, while retaining the down-to-earth nature than marks the whole enterprise. The stand-outs, for me, were a near-perfect Baltic Porter, which walked right up to that line of sweetness and excess that marks most craft beer Baltic Porters but stopped two steps short, at “pleasing and complete”. It showed fat cocoa and graham cracker and fig notes and finished long and rich.
The Farmhouse Saison was nothing short of a revelation. In a state which came VERY late to the stylistic party for anything other than the core ales of British brewing traditions – the IPA and Pale and Brown and Amber and ESB and Stout and Porter – we have made up for that late start with a gusher of various of Saison/Farmhouse ales, over the past five years, that have been, for me – with about a dozen notable exceptions – largely a wall-to-wall disappointment. I believe many brewers have the idea that a Farmhouse cannot be dry, which is an easy mistake to make (because, in the US, most are) but a mistake, nonetheless. Yoked’s is slightly and appealingly sweet, but a crisp, honeyed sweetness that tickles the tongue but doesn’t paint it. It’s an off-dry, fresh, light, stoopidly refreshing beer that begs for the next sip. The Kölsch was dead-bang authentic and dry and had that touch of saline and honey and restrained hops that make them so enduring as a summer beer choice. They’re fermented with ale yeast, and draws citrus and spice flavors from that but, unlike an ale, is fermented cold, taking more time to make but paying off in a purity that is breathtaking, when made right and Seth and Gary have outdone our PNW standard in making this.
The title to this post says “second wave”. The crest of this swelling wave of farmhouse breweries came with the 2009/10 births of Logsdon and Hill Farmstead and Slippery Pig and Jester King. Led by the insane prominence of Hill Farmstead, the other First Wavers tapped that unserved audience which vibes intensely with the idea of Home Made, Back to Nature, hand-crafted, and that primal appeal contained in the idea of “farm”. The broad trough of that swell – the Degardes and Garden Paths and Caseys and Alesongs, etc., which make up the second wave of Farmstead breweries – have done the near-impossible: they’ve reached an audience which had long gone unaddressed and even mostly unrecognized. They have made the idea of this thing called a “craft brewery” NOT being ghettoized into an urban or suburban industrial park or warehouse or a converted garage or showroom not only thinkable but doable. It has, somehow, started to change the idea that beer lovers will not drive a few miles to get to a brewery which is really delivering something exceptional, special, and revelatory.
YES…it is still very much a struggle for a brewery located on a backroad in East Bicycle or Lower Bumfutz to gather the kind of audience that will casually fall by the local warehouse district, almost by accident. We are, after all, maniacs for the concept of “one-stop shopping”, hence the supremacy of CostCo and Sam’s Club and WalMart and Target, et al. But that is changing, somewhat as a result of our collective reaction to the pandemic, as more and more people embrace the safety and ambience of a leisurely sight-seeing drive down wooded lanes and a stopping for a beer or two while looking at pretty flowers and trees and smelling something better than exhaust fumes, unhampered with the spacing miseries of social distancing among hordes who may or may not mask up or maintain six feet.
Yoked Farmhouse & Brewery is a primary example of how knowledgeable, accomplished brewers, given the facilities and the setting, can create a space and a style that make a killer first impression and invite repeat visits. Yeah, it may be a bit hard to find but once you Arrive, the beer and the people and the setting more than reward the search.
NOTE: In addition to the numerical scores assigned to individual products, starting here breweries, wineries, and distilleries will be rated with a term that recommends the place. The first one, here, is literal: Yoked is an Exceptional destination for pure aesthetic appeal, friendliness, and quality.