The reputation of Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery has been built up as much as any brewery in the nation. On Saturday, May 14, the public finally gets to taste the much discussed beers while enjoying the beautiful farm setting.
“It’s going to be an easy place to romanticize,” said head brewer Jake Miller, who moved to McMinnville in December from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he worked for Prairie Artisan Ales in its experimental small batch division.
The ales he prepares along with owner Christian DeBenedetti feed off their surroundings — literally. With help from some friends along the way, the two have captured wild yeast from the working hazelnut orchard and farmland and cultivate cultures in the onsite barn — circa 1850s.
“It’s not an every brewery kind of thing to do, the wild yeast. But I love it. It’s definitely my favorite,” Miller said.
The farmhouse fermentation process involves lengthier boiling times and even longer cask-conditioning.
“(The barrel process) is one of our more interesting aspects,” said DeBenedetti, who was inspired by his studies in southern Belgium and northern France in creating the brewery nearly two years before it opened. “Historically, farmhouse brewing entailed making beer with whatever was on hand. We’re doing an extension of that,” he said. The abundance of nearby farms provides what ingredients are not growing on the farm, which has been in DeBenedetti’s family for generations.
The eight or so beers ready for unveiling ran the gamut of ales, from a Belgian-style grisette with 3.2 percent ABV to a 7.4 percent strong ale with cinnamon. Also on tap was a kvass with a 2.2 percent ABV (“The Poet”), which is actually a high ABV for this Slavic-style rye beer.
Miller first sought a position at Wolves & People to assist its first head brewer, Jordan Keeper, as a sabbatical of sorts from his job in Tulsa. When Keeper was offered a job at a Swiss brewery he couldn’t pass up, Miller was available to help with a seamless transition.
“It was perfect timing for everyone,” Miller said. The only demand Miller had was that the production would include ales made through spontaneous fermentation. That involves a coolship (think of giant baking sheet) filled with wort being exposed to the air, and introduced to wild yeast and bacteria as it cools. It was a request DeBenedetti was obliged to grant.
“It’s the most obscure and crazy way to make beer,” DeBenedetti said, “Very risky and unpredictable by the very nature of it.” The method is also quite rare, yet growing in popularity in the U.S.
Wolves & People opened with a temporary small tasting room next to the brew house and a dozen or so picnic tables outdoors, covered by umbrellas from various small breweries in Germany. DeBenedetti purchased the brew house from Rick Allen of Heater Allen, the McMinnville brewery’s original setup. Without the money up front, Allen accepted a bag of hazelnuts for the deposit.
The barn is the former home to J.K. Carriere Wines, which sparked DeBenedetti’s imagination for doing his own fermenting business there. Those ideas turned into a plethora of writeups across the country long before the May opening.
“It’s exciting. It’s humbling, because there are so many great breweries in the country. We have so many friends making great beers,” DeBeneddit said. “It feels good to be working and (the hype) lights a fire in our bellies to work hard and make great beer every day.”
Miller explained how he’s used to high expectations. “(Prairie Artisan Ales) has a huge cult following; If you were going to make an IPA, you better make it great; same with sours; same with saisons,” and so on, he said.
The Wolves & People tasting room currently is open Saturdays from 2 to 8 p.m. Visit www.wolvesandpeople.com for more information.