An Oregon beer maker returns to the land, and launches a “farmhouse brewery”—and the next phase of American craft beer.
Growing up on a 21-acre hazelnut farm in Oregon wine country, Christian DeBenedetti and his four brothers made the homestead an arena for a feral take on the game of tag. One brother would play Wolf and stalk People as they ran through fruit orchards and farm fields. Now, DeBenedetti is back on the family farm preparing for the 2015 opening of Wolves & People—a farmhouse brewery.
The idea is to adapt historical brewing methods from Belgium, where farmers simply flung open windows near vats of beer and allowed wild yeast to spontaneously ferment beer. Wolves & People will harvest wild yeast strains from plum and apple trees on site to craft Belgian style, barrel aged beers. It’s a departure from standardized, modern beer production, which uses pure yeast cultures to deliver consistent taste and mass-market appeal. Farmhouse brews are marked by unique, complex flavors. “It’s like the difference between Wonder Bread and a really nice sourdough,” says DeBenedetti. “There’s a tanginess that ranges from mildly tart to full-on sour and acidic.” The Wolves & People ingredient list also includes Pacific Northwest barley, hops grown on the farm, and pure well water.
It’s a back to nature take on brewing. Which is nothing new to the pastoral property: In the 1840s, a Bavarian settler tilled hops on the farm. And it’s where DeBenedetti produced his first homebrew as a teenager in the early ’90s. During the intervening years, he’s worked as a beer and travel writer, penning The Great American Ale Trail and publishing the Weekly Pint website. (Plus debunking craft spirits in the Early Winter 2014 issue of Mountain.) He’s now in the sweat equity phase of the fledgling business, jack hammering decrepit concrete floors in the farmhouse and moving in metal tanks and wine, whiskey, and sherry barrels. To fund further infrastructure investments, Wolves & People launched a Crowd Brewed campaign to raise $60,000 by November 30. Backers who pledge $20 or more to the operation tap into incentives like hip logo-wear, brewery tours, and—of course—farmhouse beer.
DeBenedetti’s already bottled a collaborative effort with the Commons Brewery—20 miles away in Portland—that blends Wolves & People yeast and fruit with the established brewery’s beer. Look for that to pour in November 2014. Future Wolves & People beers will be crafted by Jordan Keeper, former brewmaster at renowned Jester King Brewery in Austin, Texas. “We’ll take beers that have been aged different amounts of time, with different background formulations, to assemble blends,” DeBenedetti says. “It’s like the process behind wine and whiskey.” In fact, a snooty wine term best describes what DeBenedetti’s after with his farmhouse brewing: terroir, the unique flavors of a physical place reflected in a vintage. Planned beers include the Sebastian, a dry-hopped saison brewed with wild yeast gathered from a plum tree and aged in pinot noir barrels, and Lupercal, a wild ale infused with spruce tips and fresh lemon peel. Wolves & Brewery will open its farmhouse brewery and tasting room next year. Pay them a visit, and you’ll taste freewheeling, hyper-local beers that represent the next phase in American craft brewing. —Olivia Dwyer