From Maine to Washington State, the farm-to-table movement is spreading to beer. Now beer retailers are getting behind this burgeoning trend as their customers seek out food and drinks made from locally grown ingredients. “Our restaurant guests are all about the use of home-grown ingredients,” says Jason Gotcher, director of brewery operations at Manor Hill Brewing Co. in Ellicott, Maryland. The company, owned by the Marriner Family, also operates two nearby restaurants: Victoria Gastro Pub and Manor Hill Farm. “With increased agritourism, there’s an interest in what farms are doing,” Gotcher notes. “Serving beers made with local ingredients is an added benefit for our guests.”
Manor Hill procures wheat grown in Bel Air and peaches harvested in Westminster, Maryland—both less than an hour’s drive away—for use in its year-round Farm Fuzz witbier. “With fresh ingredients, we know where they were sourced and who grew them,” Gotcher explains. “With large suppliers, you don’t know what pesticides were used and if there are GMOs. Locally sourced ingredients give you peace of mind.” Shipyard Brewing of Portland, Maine, meanwhile, tweaked its flagship brew, Shipyard Export ale, earlier this year to feature malted barley from Maine Malt House, based in Mapleton. According to Shipyard founder and president Fred Forsley, the move is just one of several that incorporates Maine-sourced ingredients into the company’s brews.
Indeed, thanks to the spread of farm breweries in many areas, an increasing number of brewers are growing their own ingredients. Manor Hill’s Pilsner, for example, features corn grown on the Marriner family’s 54-acre farm. “Our identity as a brewer is focused on our farm,” says Gotcher, adding that homegrown berries also appear in Manor Hill brews, which can be found throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C. Jackie O’s Brewery of Athens, Ohio, has been growing its own ingredients and sourcing locally since it first opened in 2006, says Brad Clark, director of brewing operations. The brewery’s farm has produced pumpkins, berries and herbs like basil, mint and lemon verbena for use in some of its brews. “Sourcing ingredients from within the local community allows us to produce beers that no one else can,” Clark says.
Jackie O’s, Manor Hill and other craft breweries are even delving into their own hop production. Bale Breaker Brewing Co. is located in Washington’s Yakima Valley, where 75 percent of America’s hops are grown. The brewery is surrounded on three sides by hop fields operated by the Loftus family, several of whose members run Bale Breaker. “Hops are in our family’s DNA,” remarks Meghann Quinn, owner of Bale Breaker and great-granddaughter of the founder of Loftus Ranches. “Each day during the hop harvest, we drive to the harvesting facility to select the hops that we will brew with the following year.”
Brewers concede that sourcing local ingredients for beers comes with challenges. Gotcher points to generally higher prices than those charged by larger producers, as well as freight issues. “Sometimes it’s just a guy and a car delivering, or we might have to go and pick it up ourselves,” he says. Clark adds that when working with local farmers, weather conditions can factor into supply. “When you’re dealing with agricultural products, the conditions and supply can change every year,” he notes.
Still, the consumer and retailer response to brews made with locally grown ingredients has been positive. Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, one of six venues operated by Foodshed, is a prime example. According to director of operations Corey Polyoka, Woodberry Kitchen pours only locally produced farm beers ($6 to $9 a 16-ounce pour), which he describes as “produced in an agricultural-zoned land, with some of the ingredients sourced from the farm itself.”
Brewers and retailers expect the farm-to-glass movement in beer to continue growing. They note that as more brewers get on board, farmers and other local suppliers will be able to increase their yields, providing a greater pool of resources. Polyoka says that the success Foodshed has seen at Woodberry Kitchen with farm-to-glass beers is inspiring the company to do the same at A Rake’s Progress, a Washington, D.C., eatery the company expects to open this winter. “We’re only at the beginning of the farm-to-glass movement for beer,” he says.