Monday, July 19, 2010

Nanobrewery Interviews: Wolf Hills Brewing Company (Part 3)

While most of us have toyed with the thought of starting up a nanbrewery, others have taken the plunge.  To find out more about who these people are and what makes them do what they do, Jeff and I embarked on a series of interviews with regional nanobreweries to get their stories.

Wolf Hills Brewing Company
Abingdon, VA

In the final portion of our interview with Wolf Hills Brewing Company, we conclude our discussion with Chris Burcher and he shares a couple recipes with us.  Chris founded the nanobrewery in 2009 and has enjoyed enough success to be building out an expansion.  Wolf Hills beer can be found in Abingdon, Virginia at the The Martha Washington Hotel and Spa and at the brewery.  Earlier parts of the interview can be found here (Part 1, Part, 2).

*  *  *

Lug Wrench (LW): In our correspondence, you indicated that your nanobrewery is considering expanding.  Can you provide us with the expansion details and how you have been able to grow successfully?

Chris Burcher (CB): First, it was either grow or quit.  That was the plan.  Our nano-scale was not sustainable with respect to quality control or maintaining our brand through time.  This business operates on small margins, meaning you make a little bit on each keg rather than a lot.  At first I thought it would be more like a farmers market deal, where quality products cost a lot more and people are willing to pay for it.  For example, asparagus from wherever can cost $2 at the grocery store, but you pay $6 for locally grown organic stuff.  I found this NOT to be true with beer at the restaurant level.  Overall, it's still up to the restaurant manager to decide what he/she wants to sell and I can see where it would be hard to pay $60 for a keg of ours over $50 a keg for an established brand (costs are listed as an example, only).  So, we need to make more beer to sustain the business.

So, we got quotes for new equipment that were very high.  We searched the used market and found a brewery that was going out of business and was selling all of their equipment as a lot.  We were also offered a great building in town that's almost 6,000 sq feet (as opposed to our 288 sq ft current locale).  It is the old icehouse and the owner wants to maintain its historic value, which we can accommodate.  We are currently rehabbing the building.  After that, I have to learn how to use it - having never brewed on this type of 'real' equipment before.

The expansion will allow us better control over our product and to make it more resistant to the perils of distribution.  We will be able to produce more beer and move into more restaurant accounts.  We will be able to have more than 3 retail hours a week and will try to add Saturday hours and maybe one lunch-time session per week.  We will be able to offer educational tours (as a teacher, I love that part of the job) and 'show off' our equipment/brewery.

Eventually, I hope to double our fermentation space and do small bottling runs to put us in the local grocery stores.

LW: Is there anything else you think our readers might enjoy learning about you or your brewery?

CB: As homebrewers advance they learn that brewing is largely sanitation and fermentation.  The actual brewing is a small part of the job.  The transition from homebrewer to brewer/owner has been very similar.  The fun things (brewing, talking to beer lovers) is a small part of the job. Sanitation and fermentation are still the largest aspects of brewing, but there is so much more.  Like I said, I embrace and enjoy most of these things.  My stress level has been fairly low, but at times it has been rough, especially worrying about the beer once it is out the door.  Eventually, I figure, this will ease but the stress will be about something else.  Overall, it is very exciting.

LW: Many of our readers are homebrewers and love to hear about new recipes.  Could you provide us with a recipe you think may be of interest?  It can be a recipe from your current brewery, one from your homebrewing past, or even one you always wanted to try, but never got around to doing.  Anything goes.

CB: Many of my recipes are still evolving.  When starting a recipe, I refer to Palmer and Zainasheff's Brewing Classic Styles book, Ray Daniels, and to the plethora of clone recipes on the internet and in works like Clone Brews.  I look at the commonalities of the style and look for patterns and differences.  Then I make a 'bumped up' recipe, figuring that most of these recipes are smaller or less intense than I prefer.  I then brew a test batch and go from there.

Here are two recipes from my homebrew days that were eventually scaled up and probably changed a bit, but they represent very close approximations of current Wolf Hills Brewing Company offerings.

The recipes are all-grain, single infusion mash recipes that yield 5.5 to 6 gallons to the fermenter.  They assume an approximately 7 gallon pre-boil volume.

1) Dry-hopped American style Pale Ale
  • 8 lbs domestic 2 row brewers malt or pale malt
  • 1 lb wheat malt
  • 1 lb munich malt
  • 1 oz magnum/horizon bittering addition at 60 min
  • 1/2 oz simcoe 10 min
  • 1/2 oz centennial 0 min
  • 1 oz amarillo/1 oz simcoe 7 day dry hop in secondary - rack after 10 days primary fermentation
  • Fermentis Safale US05 or California ale liquid yeast with a yeast starter
  • Mash at 152 F - single infusion
  • Target OG ~1.054

2) Double IPA (slightly based on internet Pliny the Elder recipes)
  • 20 lbs 2 row brewers malt (note, need big mash tun or some DME)
  • 2 lbs munich
  • 1.5 lbs wheat malt
  • 0.5 lb crystal 40
  • 2 lbs table sugar end of boil
  • 1 oz chinook mash hop (just for fun)
  • 90 minute boil
  • 1 oz chinook/2 oz magnum 90 min
  • 1 oz magnum 45 min
  • 1 oz centennial 30 min
  • 2 oz amarillo, 1 oz centennial, 1 oz cascade 0 min
  • Dry hop with 3 oz amarillo, 3 oz centennial for 7-10 days
  • Big starter with California ale liquid yeast or 2 packs Fermentis Safale US05
  • Mash at 152 F - single infusion
  • Target OG ~1.090
*  *  *

Prior parts of our interview with Wold Hills Brewing Co. can be found here (Part 1, Part 2). 

We want to thank Chris for taking the opportunity to share this information with us and our readers.  It is very much appreciated.

If you want to find out more about Chris or Wolf Hills Brewing Company check out their website or better yet, if you are in southwestern Virginia, stop by the brewery.



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