High in the mountains of British Columbia’s E.C. Manning Provincial Park, the ancient Skagit River begins its meandering journey south. Running some 150 miles through the rugged North Cascades in Washington State it eventually empties into the Puget Sound. Supplying almost a third of the Sound’s fresh water, it’s a crucially important river to the greater Pacific Northwest, sustaining farms, wildlife, and indigenous communities. Unfortunately, a pending application to initiate exploratory mining at its headwaters puts the Skagit in danger.

Two week’s ago Seattle’s Fair Isle Brewing and the nonprofit organization Washington Wild released Diane, an imperial saison made with blueberries and foraged conifer tips. Money raised from the sale of the beer will help fund Washington Wild’s efforts to protect the Skagit’s watershed. Brewed in March, Diane fermented for four weeks before another two-month refermentation period on Bow Hill blueberries. Then a third and final fermentation occurred in the bottle, naturally carbonating the beer. Yakima Chief Hops donated Salmon Safe Azacca and Loral hops, while Skagit Valley Malting in Burlington, Washington donated barley and wheat malts farmed in the Skagit watershed on both sides of the Canadian border. 

         “Diane was brewed in opposition to a pending mining permit by Imperial Metals Corporation in the headwaters of the Skagit River in British Columbia,” explains Chris Chappell, who manages the Brewshed Alliance program for Washington Wild. “The beer showcases the agricultural bounty of the Skagit Valley region, which is at risk if a mining disaster were to occur upstream. I don’t know of another conservation-focused beer brewed in direct opposition to an environmental threat [and] I think the story the ingredients tell sets this one apart from other charity collaborations.”

         The name itself is a nod to Diane Studley, who along with her husband Mark owns a farm in Mount Vernon, Wash., where team members from Washington Wild, Fair Isle, Skagit Valley Malting, and Yakima Chief Hops foraged the conifer tips for the saison. According to Fair Isle owner Andrew Pogue, Studley is herself an advocate for the Skagit River and welcomed the collaborators with open arms.

“We’re excited about the intentionality of this collaboration and the direct benefit,” says Pogue. “The land here in Washington is an integral part of Fair Isle—perhaps going as far as defining it. Our house culture that we use to ferment all of our beer includes yeast and microbes native to Washington. We use hops and malts grown in Washington—including grain from the Skagit River watershed, foraged ingredients, local fruit, and of course, water. If the watersheds become compromised, Fair Isle and what we personally all love about the place [where] we live would be at risk.”  

Diane marks the first time Washington Wild has worked with Fair Isle, but over the past eight years, the nonprofit has partnered with many breweries to educate people about the threats facing the state’s wild lands and waters. And while the recipes change with each collaboration, the goal is always the same: to mobilize citizens to help protect wild places for future generations through advocacy and civic engagement. With only 10 barrels of beer produced, divided fairly equally between draft and bottles, Diane won’t be around for long. Hopefully the opposite is true of the Skagit River.