Where I Want to Be

Monday, August 3, 2015

Returning the Favor @pendruidbrewing

Pen Druid's soft opening on July 31.
 A few weeks back, we had visitors from a couple of breweries out at the hop yards - Pen Druid Brewing, who were on the verge of opening over the mountain in Sperryville, and Tin Cannon, who operate in Gainesville, not too much farther away.  I put up this post - we really had a great day at the farm visiting with these folks and learning that much more about the Virginia Craft Brewing Industry.

Flash forward a few weeks, and here we are with the Pen Druid Brewing soft opening on August 1 - neighbor Dan and I trekked over to have a look around and try some truly crafty beers!  David couldn't join us for the visit, since he and Heather were up in Frederick for a race, but we'll make a plan for a follow-on visit soon.

Enjoying the vibe with the Pen Druid team!

I first learned about this team back in May, during a visit up to Black Hops Farm in Lucketts - somehow I missed posting about that road trip.  I met with Jonathan up there and he showed me around the operation - again, lots of collaboration and creativity going on, and that's an aspect of this whole thing that is really growing on me.

That's really the theme of this brewery, as you can see on the tap board from our visit.  Dan and I sampled all three of the offerings, and got a little tour of the place as well.  We tried the 10 oz. pours of all three beers - doing an "ABV ladder," starting with The Mild Child before progressing through Janis' Southern Wrecker and Suzerain.

Creativity in chalk.  I think Pen Druid is a
good example of what craft brewing is all about.
I'd like to highlight that last one - over the last few years, in my home brewing experience, I'd seen kits that offer combinations of beer and wine, and I had thought I might give one a try over the summer.  That didn't work out for me because of the hop yards schedule, so I was pleased to have a chance to try the one these guys had worked out.

They obtained a chardonnay barrel from one of the nearby wineries and aged this Saison in it.  From the process, this beer picked up some wonderful flavors that are complex and delicious - but still respect the summer's heat - so they are very refreshing.

These barrels are part of the creative process at Pen Druid.
The brothers walked us through their plans to experiment with several beers this way.  There's even a sherry cask in the inventory, and Dan and I agreed we'd look froward to that one!

It's terrific to have this new brewery so close.  I'm looking forward to future visits - and perhaps some collaborations with hops from Hawksbill Hop Yards!

Congrats guys!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Watchful Eye @hawksbillhops

Here's a branch of Chinook cones.  Piney goodness.
This weekend we walked through the hop yard scouting the plants for signs that they are ready - our conclusion is yes they are!  We have finally agreed upon the dates we're going to do this:  August 6-12.  We're planning an event associated with it, so those details are forthcoming.

I've been writing about the varieties we're going to have at harvest, and after our walk yesterday it is clear that we are going to have a decent quantity of each of the Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus varieties.   I suspected the Goldings and Fuggles might need a couple of years, and that is the case.

Those same Chinooks.

After the walk, we sat on the front porch across the street for a little while and enjoyed the view of the new hop yard.  If you'd asked me last October, when we really buckled down to write the business plan for this venture, or even last March, when I went to the hop growers conference in Winston-Salem - there's just no way I could have foreseen that we would be here doing this right now.

But that is how it goes sometimes.  It's been a lot of fun so far, and I'm looking forward to each step of the way.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Getting Close @hawksbillhops

Here's a great big Cascade cone!
Since I knew that harvest is nearly upon us, I decided that I would stay back in Alexandria last weekend.  I took care of a few errands I have been trying to get to - and I brewed two batches of beer using some honey a work colleague gave me.  In the meantime, I missed my check-in at the hop yard, but fortunately David indulged me with a few snaps.

By the way, the two brews were a honey lavender kolsch - this will use the lavender tincture process I've discribed before (click on the label with this post to see how that was done), and a honey peppercorn saison.  The backyard honey I had was a very light amber, so I figured I'd use it in summery brews.  Later I'll get some buckwheat honey from our cover crop that I will use in a porter.

We've been tracking the Cascade, Chinook, and Columbus for the last few weeks, since those plants all did well enough in their first year to give us a harvest.  The Fuggles and Goldings all have cones as well, but the quantities aren't enough to consider them with the same intensity.  I will likely go out this weekend and hand pick the cones from those.

That situation isn't unexpected, and it's also nothing to worry about.  Especially with the Goldings, I figured the plants might need as much as three full years to mature to full yields - so we're going to patiently wait on them.

I suppose I have been obsessing about the harvest almost since we planted the rhizomes back in May - and my worries only increased once we started getting burrs on many of the plants.  At around July 4, I'd even picked a lupulin laden Columbus cone off of one of those bines.  I'm still not happy with myself about the harvest plan - we've never been through the cycle before and we definitely don't have a solid process, so I'm a little worried.
Here's a monster Chinook bine.

The other side of the argument is that it is the first year, so the yields are unpredictable anyhow.  The range of maturity times throughout the hop yard is varying widely within the varieties and between the varieties, which is typical of a first year crop, from what I hear.  So the decision we've made is to go ahead and harvest all at once, setting a date that is about a week later than what we're hearing from the guys down in Richmond and Charlottesville - we're one growing zone away from them, as confirmed by the arrival of Japanese beetles a week or two after they all got them.  

So that's our story for now.  We'll be working on the logistics for the harvest, and for oasting, as a next step.  The real fun is about to start!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Important Visitors @hawksbillhops

The team under our new trade show tent, with the new
banner and stuff.  (left to right: Kenner, me, David)
Funny how progress goes.  I'm stretched for making a post here because a lot of our activities at Hawksbill Hop Yards right now are watching the bines grow - which they are, enthusiastically! - but I do have an update to report at last:

We had our first brewery visits a couple of weekends ago!

The growth of craft brewing in Virginia has been astounding.  After a few years of languishing behind other states (I'm not talking about California, Colorado, or Vermont here - I'm talking about Georgia, Maryland, and North Carolina, for goodness sake (no disrespect intended)), at last Virginia is seeing a surge in breweries.

Visiting with brewers from Tin Cannon and Pen Druid.
In 2013, the Brewers Association listed a mere 60 breweries, including the Coors establishment in Elkton and the Anheuser Busch operation in Williamsburg.  A directory check at Virginia Beer Trail now will offer over 120 breweries throughout the state, with even more scheduled to open through the rest of 2015!

At the hop yard, we hope to supply some of the new breweries, especially in the Shenandoah Valley and Northern Virginia areas - geographically close to us - with our high quality hops.  So we invited a few of the new brewers out, and we were very pleased to welcome Pen Druid Brewing from Sperryville and Tin Cannon Brewing Company from Gainesville to the yards on a recent Sunday morning.  In addition to the breweries, a couple of local VIPs joined us - our ag extension rep, Kenner, and Ligon from the Page County Economic Development Authority.

We had a good time with a brief tour of the rows and discussion of how we got this whole thing started, as well as our plans for the harvest.  As we get closer to that, and solve some of our logistics challenges - nothing too difficult, in fact very typical for any start-up - we'll be reaching out to these folks and other brewers with news of what we have to offer.

That'll be great progress and we're looking forward to it!  The next post will be an update on how the hops are doing, along with a preliminary harvest schedule.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bethesda Flyover

Off and on during my career, I've had offices in the Clarendon or Ballston areas of Arlington, Virginia.  Among the other advantages these neighborhoods enjoy, one is their proximity to Arlington Cemetery - and because of that, there are regular flyovers of memorial formations for the military funerals that take place there.

After a six year Air Force enlistment - one that had amazingly few encounters with military aircraft, given my career field and the locations I was assigned, I am still thrilled whenever I see one or more of our military aircraft flying by.  So I was attuned to the sound of a military flyover when I worked in those Arlington offices, and I would rise and rush over to a window to check them out.

Flyovers happened a few times now in my Bethesda digs.  I imagine that whenever the aircraft are based somewhere north along the east coast, the sortie exits the area by flying along the Potomac, which takes them into our field of view.

And so it happened a few weeks back that I caught site of this squadron on its way home after a ceremonial Arlington flyover, the missing man just catching up with the rest of the group and preparing to form up.

Whenever I have the opportunity, I'll stop and look up for this - pausing my thoughts just long enough to consider the significance of the flyover, and then picking back up with the thrill of seeing the planes.