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JUN/JUL 2006 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST

Down On The Farm : A Brewery Is Born Again
By Mike & Lisa Pitsker

At the local farmers market, one can find vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables that they grew themselves, along with small sausage and cheese companies selling simple, natural products into which their owners poured their hearts. People can identify with the handcrafted goods and with the men and women who created or grew them. Folks visit the market for social interaction and to find that special taste of something new or unusual to bring home to their families. Farmhouse Brewing Company understands that feeling.

“That’s the idea behind our brands,” said Farmhouse Sales Manager Jeff Moses as he poured a sample of Farmhouse Kolsch Bier, a light, airy, German-style ale with a nice hop bite, cold-conditioned for a smooth, lager-esque mouthfeel. “We wanted to create a brand that people could identify with. And who doesn’t like barns?” Moses grinned. “It would be un-American.”

The labels on the 22-ounce bottles depict reproduced paintings of barns created by local artist and consultant Galen Griswold, who has been creating paintings of barns and farmhouses for 30 years. Each style of beer is represented by a stylized barn from the area in which the beer style originated. The Hayloft Pils label shows a European-style barn and grain silo with the brand name “painted” across the roof. The label captures the Czech style almost as well as the beer inside the bottle.

Farmhouse Brewing grew from its Coast Range Brewing Company roots. For more than a decade, Coast Range has brewed its own brands as well as more than 20 contracted brands in its huge concrete warehouse in Gilroy, Calif. “We decided to get away from [the Coast Range brands],” said Moses. “I thought the brewery needed a new face.” The old Coast Range logo is still painted on the outside of the foot-thick wall facing Monterey Street, but the side wall is freshly painted and waiting for a Farmhouse barn — and inside, it’s all Farmhouse. “We kept what was best of the original brands and made them better.”

Moses poured the Oasthouse IPA, and the floral aroma rose from the glass like the smell of fresh-scythed hay in a meadow. “Head Brewer Peter Licht likes big, malty beers,” Moses continued. He must also like his hops; the beer is well balanced, smooth malt to spicy hops. “We originally thought this might be our flagship brand, until the Saison,” said Moses.

The Saison 7 is a Belgian-style beer, and it’s Licht’s favorite one to brew. “It’s difficult to brew, and it keeps Peter’s attention,” Moses added. “It’s the true farmhouse beer style: small batches brewed by hand, unfiltered and pure.” The farmhouse style was originally brewed by and for farmers and their hands, brewed for taste with readily available ingredients and served as a reward for a hard day’s work. The Farmhouse version of the Saison carries its weight in flavor, and the tiny champagne-sized bubbles reflect the artistic ability Licht developed during his stint in the Master Brewers Program at UC-Davis.

One of the main differences between this and many other breweries starts with the laid-back, down-on-the-farm style. “Because of the contracts, we have cash flow,” Moses explained. “We don’t have to rush our beer to market or force a style. We can slow the process down to a manageable pace and put out our product when the time — and the beer — is right.” The Saison illustrates the patience with which Licht, Assistant Brewer Steve Donohue and the rest of the production staff are proceeding. There’s no rush down at the Farmhouse. The beers come when they’re ready. “It’s a craft,” said Moses, “an artisan product.” He is slowly getting the best placements for the brands, including Beverages & More throughout California, Albertsons and Whole Foods markets, and soon, Raley’s and Nob Hill. Moses is doing all the placement legwork to leverage a stronger position with the distribution houses.

“The Stone Fence Robust Porter is a big beer with a backbone and a smoky chocolate finish,” Moses said. Lisa loved it and has used it in marinades since our brewery visit. I liked the Siberian Night Stout, “a real dessert beer,” as Moses described it, and a true imperial stout at 11.5% abv. “It’s better when it’s warmer,” Moses added, and he’s right; the flavors began to jump out of the glass as the beer warmed to near cellar temperature. I have a bottle cellared for a try next year. I’m betting it ages well.

The last beer we tried was the newest brand, still in the development stages. Two Tractor New World Ale is an American-style pale that we tasted right from the conditioning tank prior to filtering and carbonation. I love tasting the raw product; I get a real feel for the flavor profile that way, tasting the malts, yeast and boiled hops before dry-hopping and filtering polish the brew for packaging. I’m looking forward to this brand; the base flavors are all there, and I’m interested in how the dry-hopping will change the profile.

Farmhouse also brews a soft, flavorful draft “Boot Reer” that Lisa and our three-year-old son, James, enjoyed. After a root beer and a handful of Skittles candy, James and Moses played the house set of drums for a while, hosed down some of the tanks and chased each other around the cash register.

If you visit the brewery, be sure to ask Jeff Moses about his favorite Mexican restaurant downtown. And watch for his brew festivals — the first Bay Area Beer Fest coming up June 10 in San Mateo and the Monterey Beer Festival in September. As a former television producer, Moses learned to put on quite a production, and it shows, both in his role as brewery salesman and as festival organizer.
Farmhouse Brewing Company is open for tours by reservation. Call Jeff Moses to set one up for your group and sample some of that Farmhouse hospitality.

Farmhouse Brewing Company
7050 Monterey St.
Gilroy, CA 95020
408-842-1000
farmhousebrewing.com

Mike Pitsker is an associate editor of the Celebrator Beer News and a longtime beer-industry professional.

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