Friday, June 1, 2018

The Session 136: Farm Brewing in Virginia


Another month has flown by, and here we are again on the first Friday of the month thinking about The Session. This month, Dave from Brewing In A Bedsitter, aka @Ramblin_Dave on Twitter, is hosting and his theme is:
Whether it's about the success of modern craft breweries like Jester King and Burning Sky, the worldwide spread of saison or the revival of international interest in Northern European traditions, farmhouse brewing is an recurring theme in the beer world....

You could talk about how the word "farmhouse" is used in modern craft breweries, or about historic brewing traditions. You might want to think about how, if at all, the two are related.

If you think that farmhouse brewing or farmhouse beer refers to something meaningful and relevant in modern beer, you could write something touching on what it means to you. What's its defining element? Is it about style, ingredients, location or something else? Would you call a crisp, clean pilsner or a hoppy IPA a farmhouse beer if it was brewed from local ingredients in a medieval barn? What about a mixed fermentation barrel-aged saison brewed in a light industrial unit in a suburb of Manchester? Why does any of this matter?

If you want to get specific, maybe talk about one or more beers or breweries that you think embody some aspect of the idea of farmhouse brewing. Or if you're a homebrewer, you could talk about ways that your own beer has been influenced by it.

Conversely, if you think that the modern idea of a farmhouse brewery is largely just about marketing and aesthetics then you could have a go at dissecting and deconstructing it. Where did it originate and what are its roots? Who popularized it? How is it constructed and signalled? Most importantly, why are people so keen to buy into it?

Here in Virginia "farm" breweries have exploded since the passing of SB430 back in 2014, which established a new brewery license type specifically for breweries located on farms. The relevant addition to the beer licenses section of the Virginia Code reads as follows:
Limited brewery licenses, to breweries that manufacture no more than 15,000 barrels of beer per calendar year, provided (i) the brewery is located on a farm in the Commonwealth on land zoned agricultural and owned or leased by such brewery or its owner and (ii) agricultural products, including barley, other grains, hops, or fruit, used by such brewery in the manufacture of its beer are grown on the farm...
The law sets out quite clearly what the definition of a farm brewery is, as far as the Commonwealth of Virginia is concerned:
  • produce no more than 15000 Bbl per year
  • brewery is on agricultural land in Virginia
  • brewery uses that farm's agricultural produce in its beer

The first brewery to take up this license type is just down the road from me here in Central Virginia, the wonderfully monikered Lickinghole Creek Brewery. I have to admit that I have only been to the brewery itself once, Mrs V and spent several hours sitting in the midst of glorious views, drinking the first batch of their Enlightened Despot Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (I realise some will be shocked by the thought of me drinking anything barrel aged) and eating extra mature cheddar cheese with crusty bread. I was also a big fan of their session IPA, Til Sunset, until they stopped making it.


In keeping with the requirements of SB430, Lickinghole Creek grow a portion of the barley they brew with, as well as wheat and rye, and many of the herbs, fruits, and vegetables that go into beers like their Carrot Cake and Rosemary Saison. In the spirit of keeping things local, they also get some of their barley malted at Woods Mill Malting.

In the 4 years since Lickinghole Creek became the first farm brewery in Virginia, at least 10 more breweries have got in on the act. So whether your in the south west of the Commonwealth, or up north, close to DC, there is likely to be a farm brewery making beer with the produce of their land near you. You're really only shit out of luck if you go east of Richmond, at lest until later this year when Virginia Beach will be getting in on the act.

Of course, when you think about it, farm brewing in Virginia is really nothing new. Peter Hemmings brewed with corn and wheat grown on the Monticello plantation of his owner Thomas Jefferson. James Madison was so impressed with the beer produced by Hemmings that he wanted to send one of his slaves to Monticello for the autumn brewing season so he too could learn the craft. The earliest recipe I have seen for a uniquely American farmhouse beer is from southern Virginia, and dates from 1765, for perhaps the original pumpkin beer, known as Pumperkin, which used that fruit for the fermentables.

All this reminds me that I still have a bottle of that original batch of Enlightened Despot sitting in the cellar...

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