by Amy Strauss
After traveling 17 years as an X Games’ professional skater, snowboarder and BMXer, Matt Lindenmuth decided to settle down in his hometown of Kutztown, focusing his competitive energies on an entirely different market—opening a brewery. With his previous stovetop brewing sessions typically teetering on the adventurous side, always incorporating ingredients he found locally no matter where he was traveling, the 32-year-old felt drawn to the idea of debuting his brewery in the agricultural landscape of Berks County.
Just five months ago, Lindenmuth made his Saucony Creek Brewing Company official by debuting in the southeastern Pennsylvania market. And while last year’s successful Kickstarter helped funnel attention to the wide-eyed brewer’s local-focused brewery, the breakout success came with Philly Beer Week 2013, as he garnered publicity through bold, sustainable acts like canoeing a keg down the Schuylkill River to an event.
But from where the founder and his head brewer, Mike LaRosa, previously of Rock Bottom Brewery in King of Prussia, stand now, the challenge is continuing to pull off his extreme dedication to the hyper-local concept.
“Ever since day one, I’ve strived to make ‘truly local’ beers, from our farms to your pint,” Lindenmuth explains.
With a goal in mind to consistently craft all-local beer, using only resources from Berks County, Oley Valley and Kempton farms, Matt soon realized he was as much in the agriculture business as he was the brewing industry.
“It wasn’t as easy as going to the local feed store and getting barley,” he says. “We had to grow brewers’ barley ourselves.”
Malting was another step he and his team planned to do themselves, purchasing the necessary equipment and educating themselves on the processes. Locally grown hops weren’t out of the question either—several farmers are in the process of growing varieties for their use, including Cascade, Nugget and Willamette.
“Other breweries out there just don’t do what we’re trying to do [on this level],” he continues. “We have a vision and we’re taking the extra steps to achieve it.”
By fall 2013, the Saucony Creek Brewing Company will have enough resources to be able to craft their first 100 percent Pennsylvania beer. 200 acres of winter barley will be ready later this year, which will act as a base of their beers and allow them to host a “80–85 percent Pennsylvania grain bill.”
By October 2013, Lindenmuth reveals that the general public will be able to visit and tour their brewpub. “Our brewery tour will be unique. It’ll show the malting process, the grain handling and roasting. It’ll be unique for those who say ‘visiting breweries is all the same’—now we have a chance to give people the first-hand tour of what happened before the grain and barley comes to the brewery.”
For Saucony, their dream is to create a lifeline of farmers, woodworkers, artists and others with their own unique craft, and unite them over a pint. Breweries across the Philadelphia region agree that successful, symbiotic community partnerships have become crucial to surviving in today’s beer industry.
Perkasie’s Free Will Brewing Company joined the local brewing ranks in 2012, conscientiously starting to take green-thumbed measures in sourcing their beers’ ingredients. In June 2013, brewmaster John Stemler reported that they have successfully planted a third of an acre of hops in Bucks County, which will yield 100 pounds of hops for the local brewery to use. Their current hop inventory even nears ten varieties, which include Chinook, Centennial, Cascade, Northern Brewer, Nugget and Columbus, with Bullion, Canadian Red Vine and Sterling on the agenda to be prosperous in 2014.
“Malt is a harder local source to find,” Stemler went on to explain, “but, we are working with a local 4H Club of Harleysville, who has a sister farm in Montgomery County, to start a small malt house. Though not certified, the house will of course be organic.” From the relationship, Stemler and Free Will’s co-owner Dominic Capece intend to produce a seasonal one-off stemming from the eco-conscious collaboration, and they are looking to spark more local partnerships that will contribute to future releases.
Such missions aren’t just about incorporating local ingredients into the recipe, but rather fusing the community into the business too. It’s a simple concept that rings sound at another suburb-based brewery, Boxcar Brewing Company.
Jason Kohser, co-owner of the West Chester-based brewery, believes their beer is a product of community. “All our beers are bottled by volunteers. Our community bottling days bring people to the brewery and gives them ownership. We have the ‘town hall’ feel, allowing the community to be part of what we do, making them feel part of the process and respecting the craft.”
Jason, along with co-owner Jamie Robinson’s endgame is to have all of their beers be 100 percent local. Their plan to source nothing from beyond a twenty-mile radius, they hope, will come to fruition over the course of the next five years.
“I hate that I make 4 to 5 beers using ingredients from 5 to 6 countries,” confesses Kohser. But, when a local opportunity presents itself, he’s enthusiastic about the partnership. “We work with a local farmer and send him our spent grain. He’s becoming our local barley source too, he’s even testing out growing 12 acres of it. If it’s good, we’d love to use it for all of our beers.”
The 10-barrel brewery also maintains a partnership with the Newtown Square Colonial Plantation, a living historical site that, among other things, allows history buffs to learn about the art of hop growing in the late 1700s. In turn, Boxcar is supplied with hops and includes the plantation in profit sharing.
“As a brewery, you keep finding ways that best expresses what your brewery is and will be—this is one of them.” Kohser went on to explain how inspirational exploration within your own turf can be as a brewer, and how the use of local ingredients opens creative floodgates. “You’re an artist [as a brewer] and if you’re a good one, you should be able to do something creative with what you have, especially local ingredients.”
For instance, he and his assistant brewer have a cream ale in the works, crafted from all Chester County corn. “We’re in the era of doing stuff that we wouldn’t have done, making beers that make you think. We want to make the best beers we can with the best ingredients we can get, and progress towards a more close-to-home mindset and more natural ingredients.”
Over in North Wales, the use of all-natural ingredients, sourced locally, has been the foundation of Rob DeMaria’s Prism Brewing Company since he debuted in late 2009. “Really, for us, we got into brewing because we enjoy making flavorful beers,” he says. “The use of fresh ingredients allows you to get the most flavor. That’s why we don’t filter our beer—we want to keep as much flavor in the beer as possible.”
Prism’s Bitto Honey, a local honey-infused ale, was DeMaria’s “break” into Philadelphia’s market, and has now been established as his best-seller and his roster’s mainstay. At first he worked with a Montgomery County apiary to source the local honey, but when the demand exceeded the beekeeper’s inventory, he began a new partnership with another raw honey purveyor, Chester County’s Swarmbustin’ Honey.
“The honey is amazing,” he explains. “It literally is spun out of the nest.”
His locally-loaded beer doesn’t end with his flagship—his entire inventory is built on ingredients procured from area-wide farms and co-ops. Prism’s Love is Evol, for example, weighs in as an enhanced brown ale brewed with locally sourced strawberries and jalapeños, while the meaty Insana Stout is brewed with a specialty-smoked pork belly from Lansdale’s Bespoke Bacon.
“At the core, we’re all about using all-natural and as much local products as possible,” DeMaria shares. “Our growth model is to keep it local and grow slow. When it comes to the time where we will be selling beer in Florida, in California, we’ll put a brewery out there. We will never ship beer to California [from Pennsylvania], we want our beer to stay local.”
Boyertown’s Other Farm Brewing Company strives to follow the same “farm fresh” mentality as Prism. Launched as part of Frecon Farms, a family fruit farm dating back to 1944, the small-batch brewery came to fruition in January 2013, as a spin-off of their three-year-old, bottle-conditioned cider line.
“Our backbone is our fruit farm. We had grown our own fruit for our ciders, and foreshadowed what we wanted to do with the brewery,” explains Hank Frecon. “We knew we wanted to grow our own hops, so we planted hops on the farm [in preparation for the brewery].”
Frecon hopes to build up to supplying 100 percent of the hops the nano-brewery needs. Currently, Cascade, Chinook and Centennial hops are grown on the Boyertown farm.
Working off a small-scale brewing system ,similar to what Sam Calagione used to start Dogfish Head Brewery, Frecon and his crew flip the Berks County estate’s crops into extremely local releases.
While Hank himself proclaims he’s not a “fruit beer fan,” he digresses that if done the “‘right way’ without syrups and concentrates,” the farm’s fruit comes through “powerful, allowing the fruit to speak for themselves.” In the heat of sour cherry season, the brewing crew took the whole cherries and rapid-froze them, forcing them to pop, split and break down the cellular walls—all to incorporate the natural, “true” flavors into a sour cherry saison. Other Farm followed similar steps with blueberries, allowing the robust crop to be seen in a new light—in local blueberry wheat beer!
However, the pride and joy of the farm-fresh brewery has nothing to do with fruit. A hop head’s paradise, the Estate IPA, is crafted 100 percent with the farm’s hops, released late winter and late summer. “We’re currently running tests on our farm’s spring water, with hopes that it will be our main water source for brewing moving forward,” says Frecon.
Appreciation for local water sources and the no-brainer decision to make use of what’s right in your backyard is a common denominator for many local breweries, especially Downingtown’s Victory Brewing Company. Victory first released Headwaters Pale Ale in February 2011 to pay homage to the pure water sourced for their beer from the East Branch of the Brandywine Creek. Since beer is made up of four simple ingredients, with water being the most valuable part of the equation, the brewery attributes the local water for giving their beer much of its character.
“We’re not just trying to highlight the local water source, but we are also trying to improve the local supply,” shared Adam Bartles, Victory’s Director of Brewing Operations, who reiterated that the brewery is utterly reliant on the well-being of the local watershed. As part of the release, the brewery even established the Headwaters Grant, which donates one cent for every bottle sold to environmental advocacy groups protecting the Brandywine Watershed.
“We’d love to do something very local, not just with the water,” he continues. Since local-minded brewing has been the focus of Victory Brewing Company since its inception, he relayed that they are in the process of sparking partnerships with those trying to develop another major player nearby—barley.
“Cornell and Virginia Tech are working on techniques of growing barley in eastern climates, attempting to break the rules of traditional barley malting on a local level,” Bartles says. “We want to be on the forefront of these discussions and share our input on what protein levels we want and give our two cents. We want to be be there from day one and talk about it, as we’d love to release a beer with all local ingredients and that’s what we’re driving towards.”
Since Victory Brewing Company’s production exceeds that of many local, small-batch producers, the brewers must think on a larger scale when aiming to source locally. In 2012, Victory produced 93,196 barrels of beer, and with the new Parkesburg brewery expansion, they now have the capacity to produce more than twice that amount—225,000 barrels per year.
“The current yield of local farmers may not be applicable to the brewing industry, but we’re going to keep talking about it and keep pushing to show our interest. We’d love to make a Chester County-Lancaster County-Eastern Pennsylvania pint,” states Bartles.
“We use local ingredients to highlight relationships with the community and the local industries,” he continues. “Using local barley would follow the same avenue, where we’d highlight the local farmers and local malters we’d be collaborating with.”
Location is everything for the Philadelphia beer industry’s all-local, suburb-based kings. From Saucony Creek and Free Will, to Prism, Boxcar, Other Farm and Victory, each calls a sustainable community their home, and strives to represent the community in which they reside—pint, after pint.