Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Farm to Brewery in the Free State

Recently, my beautiful Angel, Clare, organized a surprise for my birthday.  She kept all of the details under wraps, except one: we would be having a picnic.  That's it: a picnic.  All of the other details, such as where we were having a picnic were a mystery.  While a picnic with my wife is a birthday treat in and of itself, I knew that she had other plans.  I also know that she knows me very well.  Just how well she knows me was reinforced when I learned of my surprise: a tour of a couple of Maryland's Farm to Breweries.  Farms + Breweries = a very happy and intrigued Keith!

The Farm-to-Brewery movement in Maryland was sparked by a bill passed by the state legislature a few years ago.  That bill created a new license -- known as the Class 8 Farm Brewery License -- which allows farms that grow hops to produce their own beers.  Not only could farmers produce their own beer, but the license allows them to sell the beer on premises, as well as to distributors or individual customers.  However, farmers are limited to just 15,000 barrels per year (that's 1,840,000 pints of beer).  The farmers must also use at least one ingredient grown on the farm, such as barley or hops, (the other ingredients do not have to necessarily come from the particular farm in question).

The first stop in our tour was Red Shedman Farm Brewery & Hop Yard.  The name "Red Shedman" hearkens to a story of the owner's father about a mysterious stranger who lurked in the red shed in the yard.  The father told the story to explain the source of mysterious sounds -- the bumps in the night -- to his frightened children.

Needless to say, the Red Shedman now refers to the Farm Brewery, whose buildings are all decked out in a solid barn-red color.  The farm cultivates Cascade, Chinook, Columbus, Nugget, and Crystal hops,  It does so only on one-half acre of land, which is a small area compared to the 70 acres of grapes grown by Linganore Cellars, which is owned by the same family. Nevertheless, that half-acre of hops makes its way into the beer, such as the Pump House IPA.

The Pump House IPA -- a West Coast Style IPA, produced with farm grown hops and supplemented with Amarillo and Summit hops -- was one of six beers that I tried during our visit.  I also tasted the Utopia, a farmhouse Belgian Saison that was well balanced.  (The only negative I can say about that beer is that my sample kicked the keg and there was no more for a pint.)  I also tried the Suicide Blonde Nitro, which was an adept combination of a classic Belgian Wit and a dry-hopped India Pale Ale.  The Suicide Blonde featured the best of each style -- the lighter, fruitier aspects of a wit with the bitterness of the IPA.  I also tried the Lunatic Fringe, a "lightly aged" Habanero IPA.  This beer had just the right heat from the habanero peppers but still allowed someone who is not accustomed to such heat to enjoy the beer.  The last two beers that I tried were the Grinder Espresso Stout -- a Chocolate nitro stout blended with Colombian coffee -- and the Honey Bourbon -- a limited release aged in bourbon barrels.  All in all, the flight provided a range of beers that were very good.  The best of the beers was the Pump House IPA (although the Utopia was a close second).

After sampling the beers, we moved on to the second stop on the farm to brewery tour ... Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm.   The Stillpoint farm raised sheep, cultivated hops and even had an apiary.  However, the owner was a home brewer and wanted to pursue brewing as a way to supplement his income. (After all, a farmer could make more money selling beer than selling hops.)  He worked with farmers, brewers and officials to help to pass the law that gave rise to the Class 8 Farm Brewery License.  The owner then opened the Milkhouse Brewery, which was Maryland's first farm-to-brewery operation.  

We sampled nine beers at the Milkhouse brewery, which spanned the spectrum of beer styles.  There was the Dollyhyde Petite Farmhouse Ale (a Belgian "Patersbier" made with honey from the Stillpoint farm), the Goldie's Best Bitter (dry-hopped with Chinook hops from the farm) and the Homestead Hefeweizen, which was a very good example of the style.  We also sampled a couple of IPAs, including the Throwback IPA and the Stillpoint SMaSH Pale Ale, both of which were good.  Another noteworthy beer was the Petite Summer Sour.  While Clare did not care for the beer, I thought it was very good for a sour.  The beer was tart, full of a lemony citrus character, and light on the tongue. It would make a very good palate cleanser.  We also had the Coppermine Creek Dry Stout, which was good, and a couple of other beers, whose names escape me at the present time.  Overall, the Milkhouse Brewery had several beers that were standouts, such as the Hefeweizen, the Summer Sour and one of the pale ales (whose name I cannot remember).

In the end, this little foray into the farm to beer movement was a great introduction to the types of beers that could be produced by farmers-turned-brewers.  It also provides us with a new way to support local businesses.   And there are more such local businesses to support, including Manor Hill Brewing, Ruhlman Brewing and even the Brookville Beer Farm, which will be opening close to where we live in the near future.

So, there will be more to come.  Stay tuned!

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