Barley Mowat 

Estate Breweries Are Coming

with 2 comments

Breweries are changing rapidly these days. In the 1980s the first brewpubs in North America opened, inspired by the ancient watering holes of old Europe. Shortly thereafter, the first commercial-scale craft brewers started putting out beer with actual flavour instead of just cans of slight bitter booze-water.

From there, the brewers started experimenting with styles and ingredients. They adopted increasing amounts of the newer hop varieties to create the IPA explosion of the late 90s/early 00s. They even began experimenting with barrel-aged beers, and souring beers in said barrels.

Recently, though, the trend is towards single-origin hops and barley. Notably Russian River and Rogue Brewing in the States are selling beers created from single-farm ingredients. If you’re interested, the beers in question are Russian River’s Row 2 Hill 56, and Rogue’s Chatoe Rogue series. Along with single-origin beers came actual, honest discussions about terroir in beer without anyone snickering or asking a condescending “are you serious?”

From there, it’s only a matter of time before someone joins the complete package and creates estate breweries. Don’t believe me? It’s already starting: “The Farmery” is a new estate brewery breaking ground in Manitoba as we speak, and undoubtedly more are in the works.

Once I cover the guest bedroom floor
with dirt this will be epic!

Breweries are starting the move from run-down industrial parts of town back out into the country where they grew up. But which part of the country are they moving to? Location is everything when it comes to wine, and you sure don’t see a lot of estate cideries up in the Yukon, so where’s the best place to grow both the barley and hops required for good beer?

Barley likes areas with a low or no frost, and lots of nitrogen in the soil. Hops also hate frost, but like lots of sunshine in warm–but not hot–climates, preferably in areas with a slightly low soil pH. Using the handy-dandy maps Environment Canada makes available for such things you quickly discover there are two major areas that have all the ingredients. One is in South West Manitoba, right where our friends above are setting up.

The other? The Gulf Islands of BC. Yup, Saltspring, Pender, Galiano, etc. Those are all premium estate brewery locations. Notably Gulf Islands Brewing is already operating in the area, and they do grow their own hops. Estate Barley, though, is not planned at this moment (but maybe after reading this article they might change their minds?)

We can only hope that the next major phase of craft beer will result in a cluster of awesome breweries just a short ferry ride away. I look forward to plotting my multi-day trip through the Islands, with many stops to visit and taste barrel-aged, malt-forward estate ales within a stones throw of all the ingredients in the glass.

Sure, a multi-year barrel-aged beer such as the once I just spent five minutes fantasizing about is expensive (what can I say, I have weird fantasies. Oh like your fantasies are sooooo normal?), but it’s not bank breaking. Running some back-of-the napkin numbers based on barley & hop yields, bottle and barrel prices, brewery equipment and labour costs, I figure a small 2-3 hectare brewery and barrel room could operate profitably with a once-a-year release priced at only 15-20 bucks a bottle. Even less if they produce non-aged beer the rest of the year… or charge for tours.

So, who wants to start a brewery with me?

UPDATE: Oops. Replace “Saskatchewan” with “Manitoba” in that article (I’ve already updated it), for both the location of the Farmery and prime estate brewery territory. More than 2 hours sleep is recommended before fact-checking your own work.

Written by chuck

November 12th, 2012 at 3:30 pm

2 Responses to 'Estate Breweries Are Coming'

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  1. Crannog deserves a huge shout-out too, not just for their estate-grown hops but for doing the whole brewing-on-an-honest-to-god-farm thing in 2000 before even Oregon got into the farmhouse brewing game.

    Dave S.

    12 Nov 12 at 17:00

  2. The first and second draft of this did have Crannog in it, but it just didn’t tie into the location-theme. Editing for content can be a bitch. I was going to throw an ASIDE at the end about them, but I need to get to the Alibi soon 🙂

    Also, from what I can tell they’re not doing the estate brewing aside from their hops and some small experimentation with barley.

    Now, they ARE doing hops on a large scale. Fact is, most other breweries and homebrewers are playing around with house grown hops that they bought from Crannog.


    12 Nov 12 at 17:04

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