It was a dark cold day in January when I first visited Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery. As you’re driving down highway 99W on the way to Newberg, you could easily miss the turn onto Benjamin Road, off of which lies the unassuming old white barn that has been an artist studio, a winery, and a cooperage, surrounded by hazelnut trees and a couple of guest houses. It was muddy and a stream ran out through the orchards and down the gravel driveway that leads to the barn. Outside, a couple of oak barrels and a small black logo proclaim that you are in the right place. It’s both perfectly as I imagined and equally hard-to-imagine that this is the brewery I declared the “Most Anticipated New Brewery of 2015,” a prediction that saw the date proven wrong but has left the anticipation even greater. As of this date, Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery has not released any of its own beers to the public, but it has filled many a barrel full of beer and is brewing on a fully licensed 7bbl workhorse of a brewhouse the team obtained from Heater Allen Brewing in McMinnville. Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery opens to the public (if all goes as planned) on Saturday, May 14th, and will operate one day a week, with Saturday 2-8pm hours for now.
On my first visit I was an hour late arriving and I was antsy and slightly embarrassed, but it became obvious that my late arrival may have been scarcely noticed by farmhouse brewers, who spend their lives patiently waiting, after all. Wolves & People is already a year behind and founder Christian de Benedetti lives in a small house on the property right beside the barn. The brewery’s name is a game he played as a kid on this same property where he grew up.
Christian de Benedetti (left) and Jake Miller (right)
The Brewery & Tasting Room
A tasting room and outdoor beer garden is beginning to take shape out here in wine country. Soon the gravel path and freshly poured cement slab outside the brewery will be scattered with beer geeks traveling from far and wide, with lines forming for the latest bottle release from the reserve society. Maybe even limos and tour buses that do so much business serving wine tours of the valley will be pulling up for the latest malt and yeast destination in this up and coming old town.
Inside the roll-up barn doors are dozens of wine barrels, all full, and processing the secrets of the art of collaborations with Jester King Brewery, Heater-Allen and The Commons. Outside on the newly paved lot will eventually be a beer garden with plenty of outdoor seating and a walk-in cooler with taps.
Wood and iron doors with materials salvaged from the historic Rainier brewery
Inside, through recently installed grand wood and iron doors that were salvaged from Rainier brewery, sits the copper brewhouse off to the right, grain room in the center, and through a doorway in the back corner is the main entrance to what will be the public tasting room. For now it’s all dusty creaking floorboards and cobweb covered wardrobes. It’s the kind of dark room you would be scared to enter if it was a cabin in the woods. With a new (over a decade old) bar built of redwood, pine and fir, some decoration and lighting the space should have the rustic barnyard charm often missing from modern day farmhouse breweries.
With small handcrafted limited batches and hard to find beers, a strong brand development and story, W & P must still deliver on the beer. Utilizing the surrounding family owned farm where he grew up, Christian de Benedetti has sourced hazelnuts, plums and even his own native yeast strain isolated from said agriculture. It will be a brettanomyoces heavy brewery and hopefully at some point will even have its own koelschip (open air fermentation vessel) in the attic beneath open doors. Both the location of the brewery and perhaps because of some influence from original head brewer Jordan Keeper’s history with Jester King brewery — Wolves & People seems to rely on strange to beer, but naturally foraged ingredients, herbs and spices. It goes hand in hand with the original farmhouse ales of France and Belgium, a tradition that Christian is trying to keep alive “we are trying to keep this as local as possible” he said, including water from the slopes of Parrot Mountain in East Newberg.
Wolves & People Founder Christian de Benedetti
Wolves & People’s Jake Miller
Jake Miller brings his experience and passion for wild ales, barrel and bottle fermentation and mixed culture ferments to Wolves & People Brewery as the new Head Brewer. Jake was formerly with revered Prairie Artisan Ales of Oklahoma, a brewery that also concentrates on farmhouse ales. He is passionate about doing things naturally, keg and bottle conditioning wild ales with un-tested brettanomyces strains may be a challenge and will certainly be time intensive.
water logged hazelnut farm in winter
On a more recent visit this past weekend, special guests were invited back to sample from in-progress beers and small batch experiments. Within the only five different beers tasted, a great variety of flavors was explored in the confines of farmhouse brewing. From the most traditional (and only full sized batch), the “Landbouw” grisette may be the most traditional. This low-alcohol 3.2% ABV orange tinged brew is full flavored, earthy, funky and more bitter from Falconers Flight dry-hopping than you might expect. Kvass, a nearly extinct and very obscure style of beer made with actual loves of bread, is also pretty traditional. New Head Brewer Jake Miller’s eyes lit up when he described mashing separately a regular malt grist and another made up of whole loaves of bread from Portland’s Pearl Bakery and letting it sit over night to really develop the flavors of the bread, rather than having them lost amongst a grain mash. The next day they combined the worts and fermented them with a bread yeast. That baking yeast is not as pure as a beer yeast and includes many varieties and bugs and though the Kvass was young some tartness was coming through. Next they had a small batch Flemish-style Red called “Grand Rouge.” It was young for the style, aged six months on their house “Amigos” blend of lactobacillus, pediococcus, and brettanomyces. Still it achieved more than a mild sourness that should please beer geeks but was light on the rich malty depths of imports like Rodenbach Grand Cru. Then the beers got even more wild with a love-it-or-hate-it beer called “Vivrant”, a smoked and heavily hopped dark saison. Last but not least was “Snooze” a session saision brewed with spelt, Ethiopian coffee from Bespoken Aricha coffee and Ceylon Cinnamon. Barista Garrett Ewing did a 12 hour extraction on the coffee beans which I think added a smoother, fruitier, nuttier and more subtle note than most coffee’s add to beer. The cinnamon added some depth and reminded me a big of beers like Stone’s Xocoveza if it was a lighter brown saison.
With only a 7 barrel brewhouse and most of the beers spending significant time in barrels and then carefully bottle or keg conditioned the time investment is significant. While Wolves & People has already signed distribution agreement with Shelton Brothers, it seem unlikely that much of the beer will be found outside of the tasting room anytime soon.
Which means the public tasting room only open 1 day a week to start on May 14th will be the prime place to get their beers as well as at the New Oregon Breweries Showcase and the Sour & Wild Ale Seminar during Portland Beer Week
Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery opens Saturday May 14th 2pm – 8pm.
30203 NE Benjamin Rd