Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery launches crowd funding campaign today

I recently had the opportunity to visit with Christian DeBenedetti at the barn that will house his new brewery, Wolves & People. This farmhouse brewery, specializing in sour, wild and spontaneously fermented ales, is nestled inside a barn on his family's 21.5 acre hazelnut farm where he grew up and spent his childhood. As I pulled into the driveway, just off Highway 99 in Newburg, OR, I was amazed at how picturesque the area is, surrounded by vineyards and orchards.

Walking into the side door I see the six-barrel brew system delivered from Heater Allen Brewery on June 19th. Heater Allen had just upgraded to a 15-barrel system and Rick Allen had wanted the system to stay local so he worked with Christian to make the sale happen. The six-barrel, steam fired system along with the four, seven-barrel jacketed conicals are in fantastic condition.

Six Barrel Brew System from Heater Allen
Next to the brewing equipment lies 32 pinot noir barrels, most from Evening Land winery just up the road. Being contaminated with brett, the winery was getting a little weary of any funk that could show up in their wine. Christian plans to completely clean and recondition the barrels for his use. These barrels are only the beginning of his wood fermenting aspirations, in the future he plans to expand to a large foudre, as well as expanding his barrel selection to brandy, sherry, and tequila if he can find them. His ultimate goal is to build up a stockpile of barrels, so there will be lots of options when its time for beer blending. The "White Whale" of barrels he has been hunting for are sauvignon blanc, most wineries don't barrel age in them because it can triple the cost of production.

Conical fermenters 
From the brewery we walked through a couple of smaller rooms into a beautiful open space adorned with rustic wood. Everything in this room appeared to be original and from the same era the barn was erected. Christian's plan is to do some sanding and cleanup, to make it more welcoming but leaving the room close to its original state as possible. He really wants people to come to the brewery to just taste and hang out. There were zoning and permitting issues that needed to be worked out but they have been resolved.  Wolves and People will have a brewery/public house license so they will be able to sell pints and fill growlers.

Future bar location in tasting room
From the future tasting room we walked up an aged set of stairs to the attic to find a huge sculpture filling almost the entire room.  The "SoulBoat" was created by an old family friend Larry Kirkland. The sculpture had previously been on a traveling art installation tour with the Smithsonian Institute. At the end of the tour a new home was needed for the SoulBoat and the barn attic seemed the perfect location. Installed in 1994, the SoulBoat is covered in a thick layer of dust gives the impression that this has been here since the barn was built. The SoulBoat will most likely be opened to public viewing.


Christian spoke nostalgically with incredible fondness about the barn, having spent much of his childhood helping his father bring in the hazelnuts to process and dry each season with his four older brothers and step sister. At several locations he pointed out where a piece of equipment had once stood or an elevator had passed through the floor. I could tell that this barn was not only the vehicle for his adult dream of opening a brewery, but was also an essential part of him. He told about his ninth birthday in which his parents got him a huge stack of hay bales in the back of the attic to build his dream-fort. In addition to a brewery this space has also been an art studio, was the previous home of wine barrel cooperage Oregon Barrel Works, and then winery for ten years.

The Wolves & People name is as full history and memories as the barn. Wolves and People was a nighttime tag game Christian played as a child on the farm with his siblings. It is still played by his younger family members and Christian occasionally jumps in. The Latin name for hops is humulus lupulus or "little wolf among weeds" because of the plants rapid growth. In addition it is also a reference to the Wolf Meetings held a few miles from the brewery by early settlers. These meetings, eventually lead to the founding of Oregon as a state. In a more philosophical sense Christian states that,

"In moderation, beer relaxes our inhibitions and inspires healthy laughter and goodwill. Meanwhile, a prevailing tension in human life is often between wildness and society, order/disorder, socialized 'acceptable' behavior versus the hunt for untamed creativity and exploration... in my mind, the latter is a journey that should never end. Otherwise we are just following the rules. Giving up. In this day of computerized, gadgetized everything, it's far too easy to forget that we are quite literally part of nature, part of the animal kingdom, yet we tend to be far more aware of cellphones and screens than the real people and (disappearing) natural world around us. Out here on the farm, we do our best to stay focused on people and place, music, and a sense of where are and what we are doing right now, not blips and beeps we have to 'upgrade' every 6 months. "

Wild yeast donating plum tree
Fermentation will be a huge part of Wolves & People's yeast forward beer styles. Three wild strains have already been isolated for use in beers from various fruit trees around the farm. Two strains are being used in an upcoming collaboration with The Commons, and a third was captured from a large plum tree in the field in front of the brewery.  Additional collaborations with Odell, Evil Twin, BoulevardThe Bruery and others are also planned.

One of the first expansion that will be made after the brewery becomes fully operational is the installation of a coolship in the back corner of the barns attic, behind the SoulBoat. Louvers will be installed the end of the barn, so the south-easterly prevailing wind can blow across the coolship. The yeast that comes in with the wind should have a distinctly different character from the fruit propagated strains. Since the brewery is surrounded by fruit orchards, there will be a variety of wild brett to feed the coolship. Christian plans to bottle condition almost all beer that is produced.

Wild yeast are sometimes unpredictable and can vary with the season, so the number of wild and spontaneously fermented beers Wolves & People will produce may as well. Early tests suggest the yeast is very viable so wild beers will hopefully be a substantial part of their portfolio. A list of the six beers, already on the schedule can be found below:

Coup de Foudre:  Meaning “lightning bolt,” or “love at first sight”, a wild golden ale fermented in foudres in the barn and seductively dry-hopped.
Sebastian: Dry-hopped saison made with estate yeast “Sebastian”, harvested from our oldest plum tree and aged in pinot barrels for at least 4 months. Later versions will transform with farm fruit additions.
Lupercal: Meaning “she-wolf”, this is a refreshing, complex, spruce-tip infused wild ale with fresh lemon peel, subject to a mixed fermentation with Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and our house wild yeast, Sebastian.
Brutaal: Brutaal, meaning “bold” or “audacious” in Dutch is our homage to De Ranke’s XX Bitter, which is itself a tribute to the original character of Orval, the Belgian pale ale that first captured our founder’s imagination and inspired his love for Brettanomyces beers.
Corylus: Imperial hazelnut stout with Magnum, Columbus, and Mosaic hops aged on estate hazelnuts in a mix of bourbon, port, and sherry barrels; approx 11-12%abv.
Landbouw: Meaning “farming” or “agriculture”, this is a dry-hopped, harvest beer based on grisette with a sociably low ABV of around 2.8% ABV.

Wolves & People will be self-distributed in the Portland area and throughout the state if possible. Most of the beer will be reserved for local consumption in the Oregon market. In addition, they will be working with Shelton Brothers, who only distribute a hand full of elite american breweries, to send the rest out to key accounts in the world. Jordan Keeper, the former head brewer at Jester King, moved from Autin, TX in October to work with Wolves & People.

Portland Craft Beer: What made you decide to transition from writing about beer to starting a brewery?
Years of writing about beer and breweries and writing my first book especially pushed it into overdrive, I've been writing about beers and studying beers since I was 18. That experience when you walk into a brewery, that’s amazing, it’s a beer you’ve tasted and you’re getting to see where it’s made for the first time and getting to meet all the people that make it around the world and some of them are just incredible personalities. I always wanted to get back into the production side of things." Even though I became a beer journalist in 1998 as well as a travel writer I always thought I would come back and get in the production side. I've written hundreds of articles and that’s great. But sitting in a chair and writing more articles is not what I want to do at this stage in my life; Even if they are amazing assignments and I know I’m lucky to get them, but this is a totally different level of interacting with beer having a chance to make it and share it is like a dream.

How did you recruit former head brewer at Jester King, Jordan Keeper to come brew?
Jordan and I met at the What the Funk Festival in Denver a couple years ago. We were just standing in the middle of the room tasting some beers and we got to talking. We were enjoying the incredible selection they had and I was peppering him with questions about Jester King, one of my favorite breweries in the world. We ended up talking for a couple of hours talking shop about his beers. I started telling him about my dream to do this and at that stage I was definitely planning to do it but I was not where I am now. He was really enthusiastic and excited to hear about it and we kept in touch. He let me know that he was leaving Jester King to pursue his own thing. I sent him a note right after I heard to have him let me know if he was coming through Oregon. We chatted and then it just went from there. We spent so much time talking about it he came up here and visited the farm for a day. By the end of the day we were convinced we had to make it work.

Sliding door to tasting room
What is something that will distinguish Wolves & People from other Breweries?
Building a brewery in Oregon is an intimidating thing. There’s already so many great breweries and so much great beer, great brewers, and great products everywhere. Wolves & People is going to be different because it’s a farm based brewery and it’s still a working farm. It’s out in this beautiful chunk of countryside. A lot of great breweries don’t have the luxury of this open space, so I think that will set it apart. There's not very many breweries here in the wine country. A few breweries are popping up but this is a region that could definitely use more brewing destinations. There’s 400 wineries in 30 miles radius of here. I think that will set it apart a little bit, the location. The ability to use our own well water, our own multiple strains of wild yeast as well as just spontaneous beers. We're going to use our own hops to the extent that we can. Like Agrarian has an acre I think that’s the extent of it for now. We're not going to be a hop forward brewery, I can tell you we're going to be more yeast and fruit driven and acid driven beers. I just see it as one of many great breweries in Oregon.

Being a working farm Wolves & People is striving to be as self sustaining as possible. They will be using and treating their own well water. Christian had the well water sent to a lab to be analyzed. After the results came back he sent them to brewing author John Palmer, to confirm his suspicions. John confirmed they had great neutral chemistry, which is ideal for brewing. I sampled a glass and it was very clean and refreshing. After all, need great water to make great beer.

Wolves & People will be running a crowd funding campaign beginning today on the brewing industry specific site CrowdBrewed. Similar to Kickstarter there will be different levels of buy in, but Christian explained one important difference, "CrowdBrewed has a higher rate of success than Kickstarter and Indigogo by five or six times and I think it’s because it’s by, for, and from your community." The crowd funding campaign will last 40 days and is going to be critical to opening the doors. The money raised will be used for a boiler, glycol chiller, as well as other brewing equipment and improvements (such as floor drains) to help bring the over 100 year old barn up to modern standards. There will be multiple levels of participation and award levels. Christian explains, "The CrowdBrewed Campaign is more of a chance for people to participate, giving them the added reason to come out to the tasting room and pick up their beer."

If you would like to get involved in the CrowBrewed campaign you can find more information CrowdBrewed site that launches today.

A huge thank you to Christain DeBenedetti for taking the time to show me around the brewery and farm.  I look forward to trying the beers the Wolves & People Brewery is going to make.

Find out more about Wolves & People:

1 comment:

  1. This is a great article! Something about this whole concept is especially exciting. This will be a truly novel entry into the crowded Portland-area beer scene. I'll be keeping an eye on these guys for sure.