North Fork Brewery does it all: pizzeria, small batch brewery, beer shrine, and wedding chapel. Did I mention that the brewery is nestled in the foot hills, right off of Mount Baker highway? North Fork is the kind of quirky-unique community space that only the love of craft beer can inspire. Owned and operated by Sandy and Vicki Savage, North Fork Brewery opened in 1997. Sandy Savage graduated from Seibel Brewing Technology, then worked at Triple Rock Brewery of California. But they shared the same dream with the majority of homebrewers: open a brewery. Also, Sandy Savage needed somewhere to store his growing collection of vintage beer curios.
The inside of the pizzeria feels lived-in—not like an old couch cushion—but in a comfortable way like family room of your grandparents' house on holiday mornings. The majority of wall space is draped in antique beer advertisements and pub paraphernalia. Out back, a modest oasis of a beer garden offers a babbling fountain, bamboo shade, and comfortable patio chairs. Though the entryway to the building features a beautiful stained glass window (in front of which wedding ceremonies are preformed by ordained minister, Vicki) I found that the glass case of empty bottles created itself a stained glass mural of amber, crystal clear, and bottle green. Beer shrine indeed.
On staff as well are Eric Jorgensen and Kreg Pressley, helping to run North Fork like a well oiled machine. Jorgensen took over brewery operations in 2000, and Kreg Pressley is head of kitchen operations—making sure those pints and pies make it out to an eagerly waiting public. The location of the brewery might seem off the beaten path in comparison to the urban breweries dotting the Seattle—or even Bellingham's downtown breweries for that matter—but location is perhaps one of North Fork's biggest strengths. Mount Baker Highway enjoys traffic in the summer from hikers and backpackers to Baker and surrounding foothills. In the winter, the brewery is a perfect stop for a hearty meal and beverage after a day on snow-packed slopes. And it's not just those passing through the area who find themselves pulling up a stool at the bar. While visiting the brewery, we ran into one of my (Rachel's) professors. He was just in for an afternoon pint, which he sipped while chatting with the bartender before heading out again—the whole affair seemed seemed like a regular occurrence.
For good reason too, as North Fork is damn near close to a perfect score in the three categories that make for an amazing brewery: location, community, and good beer. I've covered location, and I'll get to beers in a moment, but I think it's important to note how community plays a part of North Fork Brewery. First of all: everyone working there is friendly, welcoming, and you can tell they love their beer. The brewery hosts its own collection of regulars, each coming in just as much for the atmosphere as for the consumables. North Fork also participates in beer festivals and pouring events—despite a brew system of only 3.5 barrels.
But what North Fork lacks in size, they make up for in taste. Brewing tasty British style ales, including the rotating selection of one or the other Barleywines: Son of Frog or Spotted Owl. The beer menu spans the rainbow from Wheat beers to a dry stout. And while most will sing the praises of North Fork's IPA (for good reason!) I am going to encourage you to go a different route: order the ESB. At North Fork, the ESB is served on nitro-tap. We're both suckers for a Cream Ale in the summer, and agree that you can't ever go wrong with a nitro-stout on a winter evening, but ESB was something we'd never come across. The smooth mouth feel combined with a floral hop bouquet is a euphoric experience after a day hiking in this region. Nitro cuts the bitter aftertaste, but doesn't smooth out any of the flavor. Why serve ESB this way? It's how the regulars prefer it. Do be careful though—this beer is so delicious and smooth, it goes down far to easily. When you're out hiking in the foothills, just make sure you budget enough time to pay your respects at this shrine.