Farm breweries infusing beers with homegrown ingredients

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French Toast brown ale made with six-row Thoroughbred barley and Throatlatch Imperial Farm IPA with Cascade and Nugget hops fresh from the farm are among the products farm breweries are crafting with homegrown ingredients.

“Brewers are starting to use more Virginia-grown ingredients in their craft beverages, and growing crops on our farm for our beers allows us to help conserve agricultural land,” explained Lisa Pumphrey, co-owner of Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery in Goochland County, where French Toast is made. Pumphrey described herself and her husband, Sean-Thomas, as “passionate brewers who learned about farming.”

On-farm hops preferred

Craig Nargi, owner of Stable Craft Brewing in Augusta County, which brews Throatlatch, prefers growing his own hops because they are available when he’s ready to brew. The former chef and restaurateur said he prefers the purity of whole-leaf hops to readily available pelletized hops. He flash-freezes freshly picked hops that he grows on site and uses them in all of the beers he brews. 

Hops provide flavoring for craft beers. “You can make the same malt recipe and change the flavor of the beer with the type of hops you use,” Nargi explained.

The Pumphreys grow their own hops as well. They bought their property in 2005 with the intent of farming it and leaving its pastureland for wildlife. “It wasn’t enough land to make a living growing grains, but adding the brewery enabled us to have a sustainable livelihood,” Pumphrey said. The brewery opened in 2013 and has allowed the farm to expand. Grain producers Gary Hodges and Raymond Hawk grow barley, hay, rye and wheat on the property, while Sean-Thomas Pumphrey concentrates on growing hops.

Nargi bought his former horse farm in 2006. He continued to lease barn space to horse owners but also converted part of a barn into an event space for weddings. He wanted to expand into agritourism, and boarding horses helped pay the bills.

“I started growing vegetables and herbs for the weekend events, and someone suggested I grow hops,” Nargi said. He experimented with 100 plants and realized he could grow them successfully. In 2010 he contemplated converting the property into a farm brewery, and in 2012 he bought commercial equipment that would enable him to brew on a larger scale. The tasting room opened in May 2016 with 16 beers on tap.

Brewers want locally grown ingredients

While Nargi uses his own hops in his beers, he buys grains from malt suppliers in the Midwest. “If they were more readily available in the varieties we’re looking for, I’d buy them from Virginia growers,” he said.

The time is right, Nargi said, for Virginia landowners—whether they are brewers or farmers—to grow hops, barley and other ingredients for craft beers. “The idea is there, but we need more malting facilities. Eventually, making beer with 100 percent Virginia ingredients is doable.”

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