Ramble On

Friday, May 13, 2016

Visiting Pale Fire Brewing ( @palefirebrewing )

My flight at Pale Fire!
Knowing that our strings and w-clips were on the way for the hop yard, I went on a shopping trip down to Harrisonburg to pick up some additional supplies at Home Depot.  Since Harrisonburg downtown is home to four breweries, I decided to make a side trip to one of them - Pale Fire, which quite a few of my Luray friends have visited and recommended since it opened last year.  I was not disappointed!

The brewery is set in a adaptive re-use development in downtown proper, just across the street from the farmers market.  It's an old industrial facility of some sort, and they've set up some of the old pumps and machines around as art and interpretive elements of the old site.  There's a nice circular drive up into the property that I assume can accommodate a food truck or two when needed.

I grabbed a seat at the bar and began to check out the offerings, eventually deciding on a flight of five 4 ounce pours.  I was soon to learn that the name Pale Fire comes from the Nabokov novel of the same name (I'll have to reacquaint myself with the author, which I read often during my enlistment as a Russian linguist).  On tap were some interesting choices, and I settled on two Belgian styles, two pale ales, and a stout.

The Belgians - Saving Grace and To Hell w/ Good Intentions - were good, both made with the same yeast strain.  Saving Grace is Pale Fire's take on a traditional farm house Saison, and I'd like to have a taste of it again someday when I'm taking a break from weeding the hop yard.  The other one, To Hell w/ Good Intentions, was a collaboration with Adroit Theory Brewing in Purcellville, highlighting another Belgian tradition, using fresh adjuncts - blueberries and Thai Basil, in this case.

The stout, Lucille, was a good beer, but what I really enjoyed was the two Pale Ales, a style that has been growing on me for the last couple of years since I found a stray six-pack of 21st Amendment's Down to Earth at Bethesda Market.  Both of the Pale Fire versions were good, but Razor's Edge, a Rye Pale Ale, carried the day, in my opinion.

While I was enjoying the beers, which were accompanied by excellent write-ups, I took the time to smell the beers deeply.  I wanted to get some insight on the hops they used, since I grow a few of the varieties in evidence here.

One of the owners was sitting nearby and noticed my activities, so we struck up a conversation.  I told him I was growing hops and he was encouraging - only they have a 40 barrel brew kitchen.  I asked for advice about how a nascent grower like Hawksbill Hop Yards could potentially supply a brewery their size.

First of all, they require pelletized hops for consistency.  It's a fact that none of the current Virginia growers can supply a brewer at this scale consistently - even at full production our one- and two-acre farms could only deliver enough hops for a few batches!

However, it may be possible to support a Virginia hops harvest ale, using freshly picked, whole cone hops.  At 40 barrels, we estimated that Pale Fire would require about 120 pounds.  I expect to have that much in Cascade this year, but that would be almost the entire crop!  I offered to track how our plants do this year and check in again in July, when I make a final estimate of what the harvest will look like.

I was really glad to find the time on my hands to make this stop.  As an aspiring grower, I got some great insights to the process for supplying a brewery operating at this scale.  We'll have to work on coming up to speed in a few years, and come back around to see if we can make something happen.

No comments: