Monday, June 23, 2008

Farm + Brew = BrewFarm

We first mentioned this about ten days ago. First picked up on by Wisconsin's Bio Energy Forum, we posted a link to a St. Paul Pioneer Press article about a new brewery in the works up in Wilson, Wisconsin. Well, we were able to track down the guy starting up BrewFarm, and managed to get him to answer a few questions in his free time.

Madison Beer Review: Who are you? What is your brewing experience? What were you doing immediately before starting BrewFarm?
David Anderson: Who am I? Dang good question. I suppose how it relates to beer and brewing would be most relevant.

I started homebrewing in 1993-4 and people seemed to enjoy my creations. I took that encouragement and attempted to open a brewpub in Plymouth, MN from about 1995-2000 - long story short, I couldn't raise the needed investor money to get the project fully funded and operational. In 1996 I went to the Siebel Institute in Chicago, IL for commercial brewing training. My first brewing job was with Ambleside Brewing Co. in Minneapolis - was there for the 1.5 years it existed. [ed note: Ambleside sold its brewing equipment to Wisconsin's Tyranena Brewing Company] I then sold specialty beer for the Wine Company in the Twin Cities. Moved to Massachusetts to work with a beer importer, got back into brewing with Paper City Brewery in Holoyoke, MA for 2.5 years. Created a craft beer export company ("Brewer's Alchemy Exports") and then moved back to Minnesota to (eventually) open a brewery.

Prior to starting this incarnation of Dave's BrewFarm, I picked up a few consulting jobs: I spent nearly three months in Vietnam working with a start-up brewpub, 10 weeks in Aosta, Italy working with a start-up craft brewery, two week in Israel working with a start-up, one day in Tulsa, OK doing a site selection audit for a start-up. I also worked with a brewery in South Dakota on brewery layout and equipment sourcing.

I am also a Great American Beer Festival Judge and internationally, I've judged the last two years of the "Birra dell'Anno" (Craft Beer of the Year) in Milan, Italy. I judged homebrewing contests on/off for the past 12 years.

MBR: When did you get the idea to start BrewFarm and what prompted it?
DA: The BrewFarm concept was hatched in the Summer of 1995, and as to what prompted it, I've always enjoyed being out the countryside and had thought the idea of a farmhouse brewery made a lot of sense - combining passions.

MBR: Being from Minnesota, what made you choose Wilson, Wisconsin? What was it about the state laws and regulations that made you choose Wisconsin over Minnesota?
DA: I drove all over western WI for 6+ months looking at dirt - the 35 acre site in Wilson has a wonderful combination of rolling pasture and woods, with great wind and solar resources.

WI is just a lot more pro-brewer/brewer-friendly than MN. I have a lot more freedom to sell my beer as I see fit, though I do plan on shipping back to MN - the Twin Cities is a very good specialty beer market with a lot of enthusiastic beer fans.

MBR: What is the basic philosophy of BrewFarm and what are the some of the highlights that put that philosophy into practice?
DA: Dave's BrewFarm will be a sustainably-based venture. I received my permit for my wind generator - it's going to be a Jacobs 31-20 - a 20 kW generator on a 120-foot tower. Heating and cooling will be handled via geothermal. I will have solar panels for thermal water heating - breweries use a lot of hot water. A lot of engineering will go into process energy use and efficiency - how to use, save, utilize energy without sacrificing. A lot of thought is going into this. And it's not just "green" for green's sake – all the renewables and processes have to make functional and fiscal sense. I guess the philosophy is one can make great beer and be "gentle" on the environment; it just takes a bit of forward thinking and some additional funding up-front. It will pay for itself in a relatively short time.

MBR: What kinds of hops and barley will you grow? Will it be more than you need? What will you do with the excess?
DA: I only plan for hops - barley and the associated malting process is very intensive, way beyond the scope of what I want to accomplish. I have 50 fuggles rhizomes growing at the moment. I will be planting many varieties and other herbs/spices/fruits/vegetables for use in the brewing process to create unique beers. Any excess hops would be sold. Once a web site is up, I would make it known what is for sale. The land is "organic" - not yet certified but hasn't had chemicals used on it for more than 10 years. I'm not using chemicals for the hops - more of a "holistic" approach to growing. Wisconsin was the number one hop growing state during the 1860-1870s, so yes, hops can/do grow in WI. Hops are kinda "weed-like" - it's often harder to kill them than grow them. I plan on growing 1-2 acres of hops - that's about 200-300 vines. Harvesting will be by hand (I pay volunteers in beer to pick hops - A lot of beer...). [ed note: anyone who likes beer want to go pick some hops?] Hops take a few years to become established and productive, so percentage-wise, it'll be small. There are so many varieties out there, not all will come from my land.

MBR: What kind of distribution do you envision, if any?
DA: I will self-distribute. I plan on being small and staying small. This is not about knocking out thousands of barrels of beer - I want to create "curious beers of distinction" [ed note: we'll put a TM on that for ya] and spend time crafting and aging. Interesting things can happen...

MBR: Will you give tours or on-site seminars to help others?
DA: Indeed, tours and seminars are planned. I'm definitely into the passing on of knowledge and any other assistance I can lend. Goodness knows that's how I got to this point!

I hope to enlist the help of students at UW-River Falls and UW-Stout for various agriculture projects and renewable/sustainability projects. I want to promote a "living classroom" atmosphere at the BrewFarm.

MBR: What's the official name of this thing? Dave's BrewFarm? The BrewFarm? BrewFarm?
DA: The dba names are: Dave's BrewFarm Brewery on Little Wolf Farmstead. Essentially two businesses but intertwined. I'll be growing hops, therefore the name of the farmstead: The botanical name for hops, Humulus Lupulus comes from its old German name, humela, plus lupulus meaning "Little Wolf" – and there it is ...


  1. I drove out to Wilson this morning about 11:20 saw the PVFarmer crane setting the wind turbine up on its foundation. One lad was out there steadying it with a cable, and three more came in to the base to fasten it together. About 12 men and women were out in the cold wind and hazy sunshine, gettin' er done. Everyone was bundled up to the hilt. Saw plates from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and saw some pvc & rope structures that looked like just the right environment for raising up hops vines. The wind brewfarm is on a very pretty, intimate hilly site, a nice combination of open land and deep woodlots. Saw two redtail hawks huddled near each other in a sugar maple on my way out. Seemed like a good omen. The two birds, hunkered down, sheltering out of the wind, sociable, free, interdependent, satisfied. All the best to ya up there, Dave and crew!

  2. Sound pretty amazing. I'm curious about the need to go through commercial brewers training, or acquiring some sort of license, before being able to commercially sell/serve the beer you brew. Is it necesarily to go through this sort of program? I realize you are probably in better shape if you do, and I read that you went from homebrewing to an attempt at opening a brew pub, which is what I want to do. Any insight or advice into this would be greatly appreciated.


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