The health of local ecosystems might not be the first thing on someone’s mind when sitting down and cracking open a cold one. Bellingham-based Aslan Brewing Co. is changing that.
Cans of Fish Have Feelings, the brewing company’s salmon-safe West Coast IPA, were brought back on April 22 as part of their Earth Day celebration.
Fish Have Feelings is a seasonal beer that Aslan Brewing Co. has released annually since 2019. The hops and grain that are used to brew the IPA are grown by farms that have committed to protecting local watersheds and ecosystems through sustainable growing practices. The farms are certified by Salmon-Safe, an organization based in Portland, Oregon.
Salmon-Safe has been certifying vineyards, farms, university campuses and more as “salmon-safe” since 1997. Salmon-Safe’s website lists three main goals of the program: protecting water quality, maintaining watershed health and restoring habitat. The nonprofit was founded by Pacific Rivers, another Oregon-based conservation organization.
To meet Salmon-Safe’s certification standards, hop and grain farmers must commit to practices like optimizing water use, conserving soil long-term and using pesticides and fertilizers that don’t harm watersheds.
According to the International Hop Grower’s Convention’s 2019 economic report, the U.S. is the leading grower of hops in the world. Hop Growers of America reports that Washington, Idaho and Oregon account for the vast majority of U.S. hop growing, with Washington state growing almost 70% of U.S. hops.
According to the Washington Beer Commission, the conditions in the Yakima Valley, Washington’s main source of hops, make it one of the most important locations for the global beer industry. One of the main advantages of the region is the strong irrigation of the Yakima River Basin.
Dan Kent, Salmon-Safe’s executive director and co-founder, said that craft brewers recognize the importance of water systems like the Yakima River Basin.
“The breweries understand that something like 80% of U.S. hops come from a couple of salmon watersheds,” Kent said. “So there’s a real opportunity, if craft brewers are sourcing [Salmon-Safe] certified hops, to inspire farmers to change their practices on the ground.”
Kent said that while it is difficult to quantify the impact that Salmon-Safe certifications have had on the overall health of water systems in Washington and Oregon, farmers have reported significant changes to the ecosystems of the land they work with.
“We get a lot of positive responses from the growers in terms of the biodiversity enhancement requirements of Salmon-Safe,” Kent said. “In terms of native flowers and pollinators and perennials, we have a lot of enthusiasm for bringing more nature onto the farm.”
Layne Carter, Aslan Brewing Co.’s brand and sustainability manager, said that when Fish Have Feelings first debuted in 2019, the brewery was still just beginning to use Salmon-Safe certified hops. Now, the IPA is made using fully Salmon-Safe and organic ingredients, namely hops and grain sourced from Skagit Valley Malting based out of Burlington and Yakima Chief Hops.
Carter said that commitments to sustainability are a major part of what it means for the brewing company to be a Certified B Corporation. B Corps must commit to meeting high social, environmental and legal standards. Aslan Brewing Co. received the certification in 2016.
Fish Have Feelings is the brewing company’s only West Coast-Style IPA, which Carter said differentiates it from the brewery’s other IPAs, which are often hazy or New England style.
“This one really leans into the malt and is a little more clear,” Carter said. “I would say it embraces the bitterness and the pineyness more than most of our other IPAs.”
Dashell Adams, a third-year student in Western’s business and sustainability program, said she enjoys Bellingham’s beer scene for its diversity and the interesting craft beer that is produced. Adams added that local breweries’ commitments to sustainability have an impact on what she purchases.
Adams said her passion for the environment, specifically salmon, makes purchasing products like Fish Have Feelings important to her.
Adams, who spends her summer working on a fishing boat in Alaska, said that certifications like salmon-safe are also important to workers in the fishing industry. She added that keeping ecosystems healthy contributes to the longevity of the industry she works in.
“I know a lot of fishermen who aren’t environmentally conscious,” Adams said. “But there are also a lot of really good ones who are actually looking out for the industry and are hoping to have their children and their children’s children be able to make a living wage off of fishing.”
Aslan Brewing Co. partners with a different organization each month to raise money through matched donations at their three locations. In April, the brewing company partnered with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association. Carter said they were able to raise $1,290 for the nonprofit, which is based out of Bellingham.
In addition to the April fundraiser, the brewing company has also pledged to donate 15% of the profits from the Fish Have Feelings rollout to the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association.
“We all have a special place for salmon in our hearts,” Carter said. “It’s one of the most important parts of the ecosystem in the Northwest, and that’s why we decided to make Fish Have Feelings.”