Ballard has a new house of saison.
Ballard has a new house of saison. Lester Black

The owners of Fair Isle Brewing have been extremely busy for the last three years, although not with selling beer.

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Fair Isle started with an Instagram post back in 2016, announcing that the owners had impressive beards (they must know beer) and were going to start a brewery in Seattle with a little help from their spiritual advisors at the venerable Texas brewery, Jester King (so hot right now). They launched a crowdfunding campaign and reminded the world a dozen more times they are friends with Jester King (4real though, wow, legit beer connect). The beer didn’t start flowing but the social media stream couldn’t stop.

They were seen on Instagram holding glasses of beer while wading off what appeared to be the Washington Coast (legit), or posing as they vacuumed fields of grain (funny and legit), or carrying wicker baskets as they foraged for ingredients in winter fields (fuck, these guys definitely know beer).

They hosted drinking salons around Seattle where they shared their homebrewed beers and debated whether or not they should be calling them saisons or mixed culture beers or farmhouse ales (they eventually decided on saisons). They launched a beer club (called the Knitting Circle) so people could pay more money to get more of their hypothetical beer. Then they reminded the world that they’re friends with Jester King.

But selling beer was the one thing this Very Online Brewery wasn’t doing.

Now that’s changed. As of last week, Fair Isle Brewing has successfully transitioned from an Instagram marketing concept into an actual brewery.

And the beer is actually… quite good.

Fair Isle is focusing exclusively on saison, a style originally brewed in the farmhouses of continental Europe with local ingredients and funky, mixed-culture yeast. Fair Isle’s initial draft offerings include seven different saisons, with slight dances of nuance differentiating each tap. I started with their Eliot, a saison that had a nice balance between sweet lemon flavors and some musty farmhouse notes, all wrapped in a playful carbonation. Then, it was on to their Madame R. Galle, a musty and funky saison with citrus notes and plenty of sulfur funk.

Don’t expect to see any Fair Isle IPA—they promise they will never brew one. But hop fans should try their Petra, the brewer’s standard saison that had an impressive minerality and a strong drying bitterness that was reminiscent of an IPA.

The brewery didn’t have any fruited saisons—my bet is they’ll have some impressive fruit options by this time next year—but those looking for a fruit beer should try the Winona, a saison brewed with spelt that had an incredible peach flavor on its nose followed by a soft and pleasant body.

It may have taken Fair Isle 36 months to open their doors, but Ballard hasn’t wasted any time visiting. The line stretched nearly out the door last Friday at the smartly designed Ballard taproom on 49th Avenue (roughly between Rueben’s Brews and Populuxe Brewing).

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“I’ve been waiting on this forever,” I overheard one bearded man say. “I hear they are connected to Jester King,” an unrelated bearded man said. “Sorry there’s a long line, but I didn’t want to miss this,” said yet another bearded young man, who appeared to be on a date.

Their taplist includes seven house saisons, nine guest beers, and five wines.
Their taplist includes seven house saisons, nine guest beers, and five wines. Lester Black

Lots of beer barrels.
Lots of beer barrels. Lester Black

The space is handsomely designed and looks more like an urban winery than a brewery, with a gabled ceiling made of exposed wood and ample wood barrels spread around the main taproom. You can feel good bringing friends who normally aren't comfortable spending time in one of Seattle’s more traditional cold concrete breweries. Fair Isle stocks an impressive selection of natural wine; on my visit, there were five wines including glass pours of a chenin blanc from France, an orange wine from Puglia, and a cabernet sauvignon from Yakima Valley.

If you don’t feel like having a saison (the only style of beer Fair Isle is currently brewing), the brewery has augmented their own beers with an impressive tap list. On my visit, it included respected breweries like Heater Allen, Wayfinder, Garden Path, Art + Science, and yes, of course, Jester King.

There’s no shortage of beer in Ballard’s brewing district (by my count, there’s now 11 taprooms within a short walk of Fair Isle and at least two more breweries on their way), but Fair Isle is adding a welcome new dimension to the scene.