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We have been building a great cellar collection at Friends of Ham for some time now. Scouring beer lists for hidden gems & being the fastest finger on the hottest lambic pre-orders has led to us having an extensive yet eclectic mix of incredible beers. From rare American wild ales to some of the best Belgian Lambic, we are proud of what we have built. But with that being said and with transparency, we always find some of the beers, no matter how delicious just don’t sell themselves. So, to help us change this and give you guys a touch more information about what’s hiding down there, we are starting a series of blogs to go into a bit more detail about some of the quality beverages by some of the lesser-known breweries we have floating about in our cellar.

First up, Garden Path Fermentation. Located in the Skagit Valley, Washington, this brewery focuses on making hyperlocal beer, mead, cider & wine exclusively using ingredients sourced from their surrounding area. All grains and fruit used in their beers are Skagit Valley grown with the honey often used for conditioning originating from local bees. All the hops are Pacific Northwest hops and all products are fermented with 100% Skagit yeast.

Being experts in aging and blending, there are few who can make incredibly balanced beer with careful nuances like Garden Path do. They seem to always be striving to create an extremely thoughtful drinking experience for those lucky enough to experience. I am personally a lover of beers that are challenging on the palate, not just beers that challenge aggressively with assertive bitterness or high levels of acidity, but beers with beautiful subtleties that you can really delve deep into. In a time of American beer booming in the UK, these guys are flying under many people’s radar as their small batch releases don’t often make it onto our shores. When they do, it’s always worth grabbing a few bottles to give a whirl.

Amber Watts & Ron Extract (most aptly named beer guy ever) moved to the Skagit Valley from Austin, Texas after they both worked at the Am-Lam legends, Jester King Brewery. Ron, a managing partner and Amber, holding a range of different roles. Ron previous had years of experience working in distribution, brewing and beer sales prior to this too. You know with such an awesome beer background, that when they founded Garden Path Fermentation in 2016, it was in good hands and their beer definitely shows it. The brewery are going from strength to strength this year as their first 100% spontaneously fermented beer was released in early January. It’s there first crack at an Am-Lam gueze and from reviews I’ve heard it’s been a total success.

I popped open a bottle of first edition (2018) The Dry Hopped Steams Well. It’s a 5.3% wild ale fermented in an open-top foudre, aged in oak & stainless steel, blended with additional barrel-aged beer, and dry-hopped, prior to bottle-conditioning with local blackberry honey. It’s quite a mouthful isn’t it?

Speaking of mouthfuls, here’s my take on the beer:

I’ve tried all the Garden Path beers we have had in stock previously, but when deciding which one to try for this blog I couldn’t help but be curious about this one. I remember opening a bottle over a year ago and it being delicious, but the beer then still maintained most of its hop character. Unlike the other beers we have from this brewery, this one is dry hopped, so I expected over time the grassy & citrus hop flavours would have faded considerably. Sometimes with beers in a similar style to this flounder over time due to the hops totally vanishing, but my hopes is that it performs well over a couple years. I’m using Cantillon – Cuvee Saint Gilloise as a prime example, of how dry hopping can affect mixed/spontaneously fermented beers positively, even over time. I’m hoping it can live up to this!

Upon opening (over the sink for extra safety) the bottle let off a surprisingly gentle hiss. I didn’t get the huge explosion of froth I was expecting from possible secondary bottle fermentation, but I think I have just come accustomed to it from drinking too much Fantôme of late. It poured a gorgeous straw-gold colour which was moderately hazy, with a lovely level of carbonation leaving me with a fluffy, long lasting head.

As I poured, I was surprisingly greeted by a hit of floral & grassy notes on the nose. The hop aroma seemed to be still going strong 3 years on, I still got heaps of grass & lime zest from it. All this is rounded off nicely with a slight hint of funk and intense oak, reminiscent of both a classic Belgian Saison or a natural oaked chardonnay. 

From the moment you take your first sip you are hit with a touch of sweetness from the malts that quickly balances out with real sharpness and zippy acidity. A light tartness balances to create a creamy yet spritzy mouthfeel. The remaining hops developed beautifully over the time in the cellar, they ride proudly alongside a subtle funky brett spice, with an elderflower and acidic lime flavour on the palate. The hops hadn't faded, they changed. They seemed to have a much farmier and bitter character than the same beer I drank fresh. To say they had faded would be a disservice to the beer. It left a spectacularly dry finish, with a touch of aniseed and a drop of vanilla, giving a polite nod to the oak barrels the beer had been aged in.

If there’s any positives we can take from this most recent lockdown it’s the fact I’ve been forced to drink this whole 750ml bottle on my own. I’m besotted with this beer. It ticks all the right boxes for me, and I believe I prefer it now to when it was fresher. Much more well-balanced, with much more interesting characteristics that have developed in the bottle over time. It’s a real easy drinker, light & refreshing but holds real complexity too.

Well-made, well-rounded, well-good. 

Food pairing notes:

Unintentionally, I drank this beer at home alongside a paneer tomato based curry, and it worked really well alongside the fragrant spices in the sauce. The back end of the bottle was drank with a £1 Rolo easter egg, it was actually first class, and created a strange but delightful chocolate fruit cake vibe. I’d weirdly recommend.

Being sensible for a moment, I would actually recommend a beer like this alongside something like a peppery salami or spiced Coppa. Capocollo or Finocchiona would be a great choice, there pepper and herbs in the salami would marry very well with the pepper and spice in the beer. Cheese wise, I’d probably go for something quite funky but creamy like a Baron Bigod Brie. A hint of funk and mushroom flavour in the cheese would go beautifully with the farmy flavours in the beer. The sharpness would help cut through the creaminess of a soft cheese like Brie too.

By Harry Reynolds  


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