After our short-lived visit to Winston-Salem, NC, we made a trek to Haw River Farmhouse Ales on Monday, 3/3/14 to visit with Nick Mangili – a friend of ours who we met when he was a brewer at Deep Ellum Brewing Company back in Dallas, TX. He is now brewing test batches for Haw River Farmhouse Ales since they’re not actually open just quite yet. This brewery is going to be incredibly unique, utilize local ingredients including a house yeast they collected from their backyard on their own, and will be opening sometime later this year.
Founders Ben Woodward and Dawnya Bohager found a location just next door to the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, NC after Ben sold his graphic design business a few years ago. The idea originally started as a concept for a restaurant, but soon turned into a brewpub, and again morphed into being an idea for a production brewery. Once they had settled on that idea, they began talking to the locals and realized it would make more sense to go a rustic route utilizing local ingredients in their beer from the farms in the area. For example, we tried a Cherry Flanders of theirs and they are in talks with a cherry farmer in Virginia to see if they can be supplied by them. Some other examples of local ingredients they use in their beer include pecans, squash, pumpkins, figs, and Muscadine grapes.
One of the most unique things about this brewery is the fact that they caught their own yeast. A little over two years ago, Ben put out a couple of yeast traps, caught some yeast, and intended on using it immediately to make some beer. After posting his thoughts on a blog, a woman approached him at a beer festival and told him that it would be dangerous and possibly lethal to do so. That woman, Deb Springer, ended up taking his yeast samples, brought them into her lab, isolated colonies, ran DNA sequencing to ID what they had, and returned four clean yeast samples back to Ben. He then brewed ten gallons of a Saison recipe, split it into multiple carboys, pitched a different yeast into each one, and then watched what happened. Based off of those samples, they thought that one of the batches shined more than the others, so they took that strain and brewed a bunch of recipes with it. As they kept using it, they liked it more and more, and took note of the fact that it dries out the beer really nicely and gives it an interesting, somewhat honey-like flavor. They also had a homebrew contest where they gave out that yeast to 80 people around town and had them each brew a batch with it to see which styles work better with the yeast.
Nick, Ben, and Dawnya are planning to have four year-round beers right from the start: two ‘wilds’ and two ‘cleans.’ Newlin’s Original Belgian Oatmeal Pale is one of the clean beers and a dry-hopped cask version was recently available on stage at DPAC; the other clean beer will be known as St. Benedicts Breakfast Dubbel and has coffee, oatmeal and chocolate in it. Rusted Plow Farmhouse Saison and Cotton Pickin’ Farmhouse IPA are the two year-round wilds, and each of them utilizes a different kind of Bret. They are also going to have a multitude of other offerings and small batch collaborations throughout the year, including an upcoming special collaboration with a brewery right down the street that they’re calling a Dill Pickle Gose – we luckily got to taste – and it has fresh dill, coriander, Sichuan & black peppercorn, mustard seeds, and All-Spice in it. Coming up on March 27th, Haw River Farmhouse Ales will be having a beer pairing at The Eddy Pub where you can try that test batch of Dill Pickle Gose as well as the St. Benedicts Breakfast Dubbel, the Saxy Machismo – a smoky, pepper quad – and a wine-grape Saison that uses both red and white Muscadine grapes from Benjamin’s Vineyards. If you are unable to attend that dinner, do not worry; April is NC beer month and you will be able to find their beer at a few events. Last year, the brewery did a collaboration with Trophy using 100% North Carolina ingredients called White Pine Saison which had Riverbend malt, Farmboy hops & toasted malt, pine needles from the white pine trees outside of the Haw River Ballroom, and Haw River’s house yeast.
Through their website the brewery plans to host a farmer exchange program that will list all of the farms they use to get their ingredients and what else those farms offer, in hopes that the farms and public will use it to get in touch with each other. We were also informed about a few things they are going to do in order to focus on sustainability, like having batteries for the grain mill get powered by a stationary bicycle that the public can come ride . They’re also looking to install solar panels on the roof that will preheat water, send it through a grid of hoses running under the floor to ambiently heat the room (known as radiant heating), then send it into the hot liquor tank for use in the beer. There is a bunch of other unique things Haw River Farmhouse Ales has going on which I had to leave out from this write-up, so just make sure to keep an eye on them! Huge thanks to Nick for being such a cool guy, and to Ben and Dawnya for speaking to us.
Author: Michael Roberts