It’s a true quaff for a locavore: a beer made mere yards from the table where it’s served, using ingredients sourced within a 45-mile radius.
Brewed at Dogfish Head’s brew pub in Rehoboth Beach, DNA (Delaware Native Ale) contains barley milled at an 18th-century mill in Milford, peaches and pears from Fifer Orchards near Dover and hops grown by the brewery’s purchasing manager, Chad Collier. Dogfish President Sam Calagione fermented the beer with a wild yeast he cultured from the orchard with help from University of Delaware microbiologists. He even persuaded Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) to declare the strain, Kloeckera apiculata, the official state yeast. “Everyone has a state flower, but I’m pretty sure that’s a first,” Calagione says.
State-centric brews such as DNA are setting standards for what it means to be a “local” beer. In Grandy, N.C., brew master Nick Williams of the Weeping Radish Farm Brewery brewed his annual Christmas Beer, a German-style doppelbock, with barley and hops grown in-state.
AC Golden Brewing, a specialty division of MillerCoors, is marketing Colorado Native, an amber lager that’s brewed (so AC Golden’s president, Glenn Knippenberg, asserts) “99.89 percent” from Colorado-grown ingredients.
Local Acre, an imperial pilsner from Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, one-ups that: It’s made 100 percent from Wisconsin barley and hops. Brewery President Russ Klisch says he’ll offer Local Acre to Washington-area distributors who already carry his gluten-free beer, New Grist.
Meanwhile, a few breweries in the Free State are approaching the goal of an all-Maryland beer.
In August, Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick released a harvest ale called Secret Stash, using Cascade and Chinook hops sourced from Stillpoint Farm in Mount Airy and Black Locust Hops in northern Baltimore County. “It was difficult finding malted barley, but we did use local corn, wheat and potatoes,” recalled brew master Matt Brophy. He says he will release a new version of Secret Stash in 2012: “Our goal is to increase the proportion of local ingredients every year.”
For more than a decade, Tom Flores, brew master for the Brewer’s Alley in Frederick, has been working with dairy farmer Greg Clabaugh to establish a local pipeline for malted barley. Clabaugh said he harvested about 14,000 pounds this year from five or six acres of his SC Willow Lane Farm in Detour. Clabaugh has improvised a malt house using milk tanks and parts from a hay elevator. “It looks like one of those junkyard wars you see on TV, but by gosh, it does the trick,” he laughs.
So far, Brewer’s Alley has crafted three Amber Fields beers using the local barley, including an English-style mild now on tap.
In Berlin, Md., a recent start-up called Burley Oak Brewing plans to begin distributing kegs throughout Maryland by early 2012. They will include an IPA spiked with rye grown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The farmer, Brooks Clayville of Snow Hill, is experimenting with a new variety of winter barley that he hopes will be suitable for brewing.
Will these small barley growers ever be able to meet all the needs of Maryland brewers? “We’re quite a bit away from that,” cautions Brophy. “We use well over 1 million pounds of malted barley in a year, and there’s no malt house of any size in the area.”
Likewise, most hop yards outside the Pacific Northwest are tiny. When AC Golden wasn’t able to secure enough Rocky Mountain hops for its Colorado Native, it provided hop rhizomes to 509 beer drinkers who volunteered to plant the rootstock in their back yards. The company then set up “hop drops” at area bars and restaurants where the amateur hop growers could leave their harvest. AC Golden collected 56 pounds of Cascade hops, says Knippenberg, more than a little short of the 7,000 pounds he estimates he’ll need for 2012. “But you hardly get any hops in year one,” he explains. “And besides, it was more about getting people involved with the beer.”
Using local ingredients is a great way for brewers to test the terroir: the effect of the climate, soil and topography on raw ingredients. Brophy says the Maryland-grown Cascade hops “came across a little more grassy” than their counterparts from Oregon and Washington. Klisch says the Wisconsin barley he used for Local Acre had a “nuttier” flavor than grain from the Dakotas or Canada.
Brewers also view these beers as a way to promote local agriculture and publicize environmental causes. Flying Dog’s latest release, a draft-only stout called Pearl Necklace, incorporates a regional delicacy: Rappahannock River oysters. The flavor contribution is minimal (only “a dozen or so” are tossed into a 50-barrel batch), but the brewery will donate part of the proceeds to the Oyster Recovery Partnership, a group attempting to re-seed the Chesapeake Bay with bivalves.
For the farmers involved, supplying local beermakers might be a key to survival. “You get entrenched in your ways,” says sixth-generation dairy farmer Clabaugh. “But the price of milk fluctuates terribly. I need something to keep this farm sustainable. I’ve got three kids, and there’s no incentive for them to stay here.”
Both Clabaugh and hop farmer Tom Barse, owner of Stillpoint Farm, plan to open farmhouse breweries, crafting estate beers from the fruits of their harvest. “We have broken ground for the brewery and hope to be able to open this spring,” says Barse. Clabaugh wants to offer his first beers sometime in 2012 and might break into the business via contract brewing while he assembles his brewery.
He envisions a 4,000-square-foot tasting room with antique farm machinery on display: “I want people who taste the beer to get an education, to learn what it’s like to live on a farm.”
Kitsock is the editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.
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