Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Brewing Local

I am just going to set my stall out right from the beginning..."local" should mean more than just the location of the factory. To put it another way, don't ask me to support local businesses if said business is not also supporting local businesses. I have posted about this before in the context of breweries, but my train of thought here was triggered by homebrew stores.

I have this crazy notion that I would like to brew a beer using only Virginian ingredients. The malt is not a problem, Charlottesville is home to Virginia's only craft malting company, Murphy & Rude, and I have brewed with their malts before and think they are excellent. Not only is the grain malted in Virginia, it is grown on Virginian farms. Hops though...I went to my nearest homebrew store and they don't stock any Virginia grown hops, in fact they looked at me like I had grown an additional head when I asked about sourcing locally grown hops.

Thank goodness though for the internet. I could, had I so wished, buy VA grown hops from a homebrew store down in Roanoke, but the shipping costs were about three times that of the couple of ounces of hops I wanted. I reached out then to a hop grower directly, in this case Mountain View Hops in Floyd, VA, mainly because they grow Challenger hops as well as the more usual C-hop suspects, you know Chinook, Cascade, etc. Challenger is a British hop variety that I have used before and really like for it's orange and spice character - think adding ginger and cinnamon to marmalade and you're kind of there. To make it worth their while I bought half a pound of whole leaf hops, which arrived just the other day and is now in the freezer.

I was however more concerned, if that is the right word, about yeast. Could I call my beer a truly "Virginian" beer if I chucked in a packet of my go-to yeast, Safale S-04? Well, not really, in my opinion, which I assumed left me with the option of doing a wild fermentation by putting the wort in a fermenter outside, perhaps near my apple trees, and letting nature do its thing. I might still do that to be honest, but not for this first project, I would want to learn how to collect and isolate actual yeast from my environment rather than a hodge podge of yeast and bacteria. Enter into the scene RVA Yeast Labs, based just down the road in Richmond.

I did a Google search for "Virginia yeast company" and the guys at RVA Yeast popped up, as did another couple of options, but I decided that I will buy my yeast for this project from them for one simple reason. They have a selection of "Native Yeasts" that includes a strain from a brewery about 35 miles from my house, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery - maker of some of the best beers in central Virginia and possibly the most beautiful brewery to sit and drink at. Apparently this strain has:

"citrus esters, a nose of sweet honey and a dash of phenolic spice, this strain will complement a variety of dry Belgian style beers. We highly recommend this strain for Belgian triple and Saison."

Now...if you know me you will know that Belgian tripel and saison are not something I drink very often. For this project then, I am trying to get myself out of the standard taxonomy of beer style to create something that is as technically competent as I can make, tastes good, and that I enjoy drinking, those are my metrics of success, my "north star" you could say...

So here's my recipe:

  • 65% Murphy & Rude English Pale
  • 21% Murphy & Rude Biscuit
  • 11% Murphy & Rude Malted Corn
  • 3% Murphy & Rude Roasted Barley
  • 17 IBU Mountain View Challenger for 60 minutes
  • 9 IBU Mountain View Challenger for 15 minutes
  • 4 IBU Mountain View Challenger for 5 minutes
  • RVA 806 - Lickinghole Creek Ale yeast
In terms of the numbers for this experiment:
  • OG - 1.050
  • IBU - 30
  • SRM - 18.7° (deep amber/brown)
  • ABV - 5.2%
The malted corn is in there as a nod to the fact that I live pretty close to Thomas Jefferson's plantation, Monticello and he hunted out a copy of Joseph Coppinger's "New American Brewer and Tanner" precisely because it contains a method for malting "Indian corn". Obviously the water will be coming out of my well.

I plan to brew this as one of the first brewdays of my next homebrew season, Virginia summers can make brewing outside a nightmare, so I tend to only do so between September and May, especially if I am doing an all grain batch rather than chucking extract in a pot and boiling for an hour or so.

So coming back to my original theme, if you want to hold on to the moniker of "local homebrew store" how about making a point of selling locally grown and sourced ingredients for homebrewers to play around with? Until such a time, maybe we just refer to them as the "nearest homebrew store", after all there is more to local than location.


  1. Looking forward to seeing how the VA Challenger turns out. Hop terroir is something I never really considered until I played with some NY hops a while back. Cascade and Centennial were fairly similar to their West Coast brethren, but Chinook was a totally different ( and much mellower ) animal.

    1. Cascade in Virginia has a distinct coconut element to it which is missing from the West Coast grown stuff.


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