'Tis the Saison

Fair Isle Brewing (Finally) Opens in Ballard

The mixed-fermentation hub has landed in the neighborhood's brewery district with a handsome taproom.

By Stefan Milne January 23, 2020

Fair Isle owners Geoffrey Barker and Andrew Pogue. 

At the end of 2016, Geoffrey Barker and Andrew Pogue announced their new Seattle brewery called Fair Isle. They were homebrewers, who’d gotten into mixed-fermentation saisons. They hoped to open in 2018. They started making waves when they partnered with Austin’s revered Jester King Brewery and Draft Magazine ran articles on them. I wrote one in early 2018. They didn’t have a space, yet, but they had hype.

Today, after years of setbacks in finding a location, Barker and Pogue are opening Fair Isle in Ballard down the street from Populuxe, at 936 NW 49th Street. Hours are 3–10 Wednesday to Friday and noon–10 Saturday and Sunday. The space is 21+, so it can serve guest beers, wines, and ciders. And because it has a small kitchen, no dogs inside (only in the beer garden). While the brewery doesn't have a food menu, Pogue says you can bring in outside food, and food trucks might occasionally stop by. He’s more excited, though, about the pop-ups the space will host: everything from ticketed tasting menus, like one from Herbfarm chef and sous Chris Weber and Jack Gingrich, to a chef friend of theirs who’ll be coming by to grill burgers for $4 a piece.

The space itself feels like an upgrade from much of what the neighborhood offers in brewery settings. The floors are still concrete; oak barrels still line a wall. But the bar itself is copper, the rafters are wood, and there’s a living-roomy couch and chair set up in a corner. There are 80 seats inside, divided between the more bar-like front room and a back area with long communal tables which will fuse with the outdoor beer garden and its 40 seats in better weather.

Most exciting, though, is the beer. In a city awash with breweries, few are doing what Fair Isle is, and even fewer are doing it as well as they are. All seven of the beers they’re opening with are saisons, meaning they were fermented with Fair Isle’s wild house culture. What’s fun is the range of expressions they can pull from the same yeast. The Madame R. Galle ($9 for a half liter, $6 for a third—indicative of most prices) is the mainstay house brew. It drinks effortlessly, the sort of beer to convert a champagne drinker: very carbonated yet soft, dry, a little stone-fruity. Its acidity and funk are suggestions more than overstatements. The Bobbi is more aggressively hopped—citra, loral, mosaic—so you get a blast of fruit and bitterness that drags the house strain closer to an IPA. The Elliot is brewed with einkorn, a type of farro, that brings in a bready, nutty bass. Down the road expect more experiments, like fruited and barrel-aged beers.

Don’t dig saisons? Or beer at all? To start, Fair Isle serves five wines—three playfully natural, like the beer, and two more typical domestic styles. There’s also a housemade non-alcoholic seltzer, right now with rosemary. And they’ll fill out the 17 taps with guest ciders and beers—currently a Heater Allen / Modern Times rauch tentbier, a Wayfinder pilsner, and an Art and Science cider-wine hybrid. Just don’t expect stuff from elsewhere in Ballard. “We love all the breweries in our neighborhood, but if you want a Stoup beer,” says Pogue, “by all means go to Stoup.”

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