Farm Fresh… Beer?

We are fortunate in Humboldt County to have a plethora of locally grown and manufactured products to choose from. I have lived in and visited quite a few different places in my life and have seldom seen as many local farms, farmers markets and locally owned, family run businesses as can be found here. We are also blessed with a lot of local craft breweries. But have you ever seen or tasted a commercial craft beer that was 100% Humboldt County local? I don’t just mean that it was produced locally, I mean a beer made from barley and hops that were planted, harvested and processed by the same person brewing it. Well if the answer is no, worry not, because soon you will have a chance to find out exactly what that is like, thanks to the man behind Humboldt Regeneration, Jacob Pressey. Jacob spent 7 1/2 years brewing at Eel River Brewery and has studied soils and alternative agriculture at HSU to prepare him for the task. If everything goes as planned his community supported brewery and farm will be selling growlers of his farm fresh beer out of his McKinleyville brewery this summer.

Jacob Pressey, owner, farmer and brewer at Humboldt Regeneration

The farm where Jacob is growing 2-row malting barley and hops is just south of Fortuna in the Vanduzen River Valley. He will be floor malting and kilning the harvested barleycorns to prepare them for the brewing process at his brewery located in a warehouse space in McKinleyville. His brewing equipment consists of 1/2 barrel (15.5 gallon) commercial kegs that have been cut and welded back together to give him the capacity to brew 1 barrel at a time. His shiny stainless steel fermenters and bright tanks were purchased in Oregon. While I was there I noticed some oak barrels in the back corner which will be used to barrel age some special releases.

Humboldt Regeneration will be modeled after a CSA farm (community supported agriculture) and will give customers the opportunity to participate in a growler exchange. For a monthly fee you can periodically come to the brewery and have your growler filled with the latest offering. For those interested in some special releases there may be an option to pay for multiple months in advance. If you were lucky enough to attend the Humboldt Homebrewers Festival in April, you may have tasted some of Jacobs tasty Blasphemy Brew. If not, support your local beer farmer and sign up for his growler exchange. Visit the website for contact details. http://humboldtregeneration.com/

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Saison Du Humboldt Release

May 14th was a highly anticipated day for me and 4:00 couldn’t come soon enough. It was the earliest date and time to get a taste of Saison Du Humboldt and the only place to get it was Humboldt Brews.

I staked my real estate claim at the bar just before 4PM and asked for a pint of Saison Du Humboldt. I was expecting to be told no because it wasn’t time yet. But the bartender happily obliged and the gentleman next to me, who I quickly named “Stranger #1” in my head, followed suit. Both were delivered at the same time and Stranger #1 asked, “Are you waiting until four?” I replied, “Hell no!” then we clinked glasses and drank.

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The keg had just arrived and didn’t have time to settle.  So the pour was from a pitcher because it was too foamy.  It was cloudy, and Saisons should be cloudy, but this was really cloudy, again due to the recent transport.  The aroma I got was estery orange, some clove and a little banana.  That’s all typical and it was what I was hoping for.  There was a lot to think about in the taste.  It was bright and lemony and a spice I couldn’t quite put my finger on but I learned later what that was.

Saison, or farmhouse ale, has its origins in French Belgium and is meant to be brewed in such a way that it could last the warm summer months.  This is all before common refrigeration and there was nothing special about it that “made it last” through the summer months –there were no more preservative ingredients than any other beer– but the typical ingredients found in a Saison gave some abilities in covering up some of the funk and twang that can come with an old beer that has been stored too warm for too long.  (funny, we aim for that now with many styles!)  Common Saison can have spices, acid malt, be phenolic and estery and are hopped a little bit more than usual in a Belgian beer.  And all that varied based on the farmhouse.  Each could bring not only their own recipe, but their own regional funk and method.  So if all that geek speak goes over your head, just remember in the end its meant to be a refreshing quaff on a hot day and that’s all you need to know!

Curious about the ABV, I asked the bartender if she could tell me anything about it.  (this episode, and others like it are a continuing inquiry of mine and will be a later blog post)  She couldn’t, but I don’t blame her for not being informed because it probably wasn’t shared.  Her answer to my question was to pull off a piece of paper from the wall and hand it to me.  “This is a write up”, she said and I was looking at my blog post that originally announced Saison Du Humboldt.  And in all fairness, that was just a press release so I cheated on that one.

Your intrepid reporter did his homework however, and tracked down these stats:

  • O.G. 1.070
  • F.G. 1.012
  • ABV 7.68%
  • IBU 32.5
  • SRM 4

In geek speak translation, the first two numbers you have to know to get the third, which tells us the alcohol content for the beer. The IBU is about what you would find in a pale ale and the last is a measurement on the color, which is very light.  Your lesson is now over, go drink it.

Continuing with an experiment I’ve been doing lately, I struck up a conversation with a total stranger.  I’ve been getting amazing results and this was no different.  Stranger #1 turned out to be Dan, who was the original artist for the Humboldt Brewery logo and artwork.  “You see that?”, he asked, pointing at the artwork on the wall, “The hummingbirds shadow on the rock is in the shape of an eagle.”  There was my first payoff in my conversation with Dan.  That was new to me.

Eel River Brewing’s head brewer, Matt Vivatson arrived and began chatting with who I think was his girlfriend (Stranger #2) and after a while, I rudely butted in to ask him some questions about the beer.  Matt happily obliged to answer some questions.

I began by asking him, “How did you decide on a saison?”

“That was between ‘Los (Carlos Sanchez) and Dylan (Schatz) and Meredith (Ripley), and I think it might have been Meredith who threw out the idea of a saison.  I wasn’t here personally for the meeting that they chose it on.”

“You were there for the brewing, right?”

“Yes.”

“How was it with five of you, it was more like nine really….”

“We took two shifts….the morning shift was myself and the Six Rivers guys and Dylan and the night shift, Lost Coast and Redwood Curtain.”

“So there wasn’t a problem with too many cooks in the kitchen, no disagreements on recipe?”

“No it was fun.  We talked that stuff through at the beginning.  Everybody that was there we’ve known each other for years.  It was more just like hanging out doing the brew.”

“So would you do it again?”

“Collaboration?  Totally, it was fun.”

“Annual for Craft Beer Week?”

“Possibly.  That’s up to everybody.  It was an enjoyable experience.”

The next day I caught up with Dylan Schatz, head brewer at Mad River Brewing Company.   He took a few minutes out of his brew day to sit down and talk with me.

“So how did this all come about?  You and ‘Los did the thing about four or five months ago with the wee heavy and I know that was the impedes of that….”

“That kind of started it.  We did that and it went over well and we were at GABF last fall and we all sat around talking about that and figured we should try and get everybody to do a collaboration.”

“And everybody was really cool with that?”

“Yeah, I mean, we kind of forgot about it for a while (laughs), and actually Meredith was the one who got us all together finally.  It was a couple months ago when we actually sat down.”

“So when did you do the brew?”

“It was about a month ago.  It was four weeks in the tank.”

“How did you guys decide on a saison?”

“When we first got together we just started figuring out what we wanted to do and Redwood Curtain already had that thought in their mind, so did Six Rivers and I said ‘Sure, lets go for it’….that one was easy for us.”

“So can you share the recipe at all?”

“Yeah, it was….pilsner, the rest made up with two row… rye….wheat, Styrian Goldings….. US Goldings….. and Sterling…..   We also threw some spices at it…grains of paradise and curacao orange.”

I asked Dylan if he minded if the recipe went public.  He declined, citing that he was really just one of the collaborators so it wasn’t up to him.  I honored his request and intentionally left out some key information in repeating the recipe here.

“So would you do it again?”

“I would, yeah.”

“Annual Craft Beer Week brew?”

“We were talking about it last night maybe more specifically for Humboldt Beer Week.  It seemed more appropriate.”

So the history making collaborative brew has hit the rough and tumble streets of Humboldt County.  Every participating brewery is serving it, as well as The Local Beer Bar and Blondies Food and Drink.  (as reported by the press release) It has also been learned since then its at Big Petes Pizzeria and they now have $2 pint nights on Wednesday.  Get it while it lasts and start dreaming of the next collaborative brew of the Six Mad Lost Red Eels.

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Big Brew Day at Mad River Brewing Company

The fist week of May had some really oddball weather in Blue Lake. It was bi-polar from day to day. But Saturday it was absolutely perfect weather. The beer gods smiled upon us. May 5th wasn’t just Cinco De Mayo, it was National Homebrew Day and there was a celebration to be had in the form of Big Brew. 6 hearty souls producing four beers and 35 gallons hauled their gear to Mad River Brewing Company and set up their breweries next to the beer garden. These were some of the members of the Humboldt Homebrewers; a rag tag group of zymurgists from all walks of life. Three rules were employed at the start of the Humboldt Homebrewers, and are still used today:

  • No discussion of politics or religion.
  • Pay beer karma forward.
  • Always respect other brewers, regardless of skill level. Everyone has something to teach and learn.

Pete rocked the Coleman for his signature ginger beer, John and Stephen made yet another…brown ale (c’mon, expand guys!), the Humboldt Beer Terroirists made an explosive effort in their saison on the “Ring of Fire” 3-tiered system, and yours truly made a Belgian pale ale. Hot water and cool tunes were graciously provided by the brewery and tap room.

This year saw half the brews of 2011 but gained much more public interest. All day, folks entered the beer garden, walked straight through to the exit on the other side, and made their way to the festivities. They first stopped by the informational table featuring 11 grains to sample, took a beginners informational magazine and observed the equipment starter kit that would be required to brew their own beer. One by one, they made their way down the different breweries, snacked on chips and BBQ, sipped their Mad River beer, asked about a thousand questions and saw the many steps of brewing a beer.

The day wound down with chilling wort and filling carboys and your author, who up to this point was being responsible with the occasional Steelhead XP, finished the day with an “Old School”, which is a Shaun Cordes blend of 3/4 Jamaica Red and 1/4 DIPA.

I regrettably rushed out of the Peaceable Hamlet of Blue Lake to get back to the shop before closing. I could slowly feel my sunburn setting in. After a long winters night, it was a feel good burn and much needed UV. It was kind of like eating some really good hot wings invoking a fifth sense into their enjoyment. It was an absolute perfect day; great weather, great beer, great brewing, great food and friends and when I got home, I had the pleasure of reading that my beloved Steelhead Extra Pale Ale won a bronze medal in the Golden Ale category at the 2012 World Beer Cup. Big Brew Day could not have been any better.

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