After spending the past couple of years working on constructing a brewery in a barn that dates back to 1912, Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery will finally open its doors to the public tomorrow, Saturday, May 14th. Located on the edge of Oregon’s famous wine country, Wolves & People was founded in 2014 by beer and travel writer Christian DeBenedetti on his multi-generational family farm in Newberg, Oregon.
The name Wolves & People dates back to when DeBenedetti was a kid and the nighttime game of tag that he played with family members on the family’s Springbrook Farm. The “wolf” would seek out the “people” as they attempt to travel across the expansive yard and back without being tagged by the wolf. Then the name gets a bit deeper and more in common with brewing as hops were once called the “wolf among weeds” that makes this childhood game come full circle.
When the initial brewery build out was to begin back in the fall of 2014, DeBenedetti went to crowdsourcing to raise some capital through CrowedBrewed, a craft brewing site similar to Kickstarter but only for the brewing industry. Here DeBenedetti raised an amazing amount of money, $48,565, from family, friends and strangers wanting to assist and be part of the brewery. In lieu of actual ownership and interest being paid back, these in kind donations allowed donors to receive gifts ranging from apparel to high end growlers to being a member of a $350 Inaugural Cellar Society Membership. Granted this is only a fraction of the capital it takes to open a brewery, but this does go a long way in purchasing different parts of a brewery to help get it off the ground.
This was also the time that DeBenedetti recruited head brewer Jordan Keeper from revered Austin, Texas brewery Jester King Brewery. After assisting for about six months in the brewery build out he was offered a position at Brasserie Trois Dames in Switzerland. This offer proved too good to be true. “He had long dreamt of working in Europe and I certainly don’t blame him for jumping at that rare opportunity! He did great work, including early recipe development and a lot of hard manual labor and construction, and remained working here for several months as we got closer to production,” states DeBenedetti. “I’m happy for him and we keep in touch. Yes, we have talked about collaboration brewing, possibly this summer.”
Since Keeper’s departure DeBenedetti hired another head brewer with an impressive resume when Jake Miller took on the position. Miller relocated to Oregon from Tulsa, Oklahoma where he was in charge of Prairie Artisan Ales’ 10-barrel pilot facility. “He is highly skilled with and passionate about farmhouse styles, wild ales, and spontaneous fermentation, among many other styles and traditions. He was following our progress and had wanted to get in touch, and was looking at some job possibilities around the country at some truly great breweries,” writes DeBenedetti.
“Meanwhile Chase Healey (founder and brewmaster of Prairie) was eager to resume his duties as head brewer of the pilot facility. I was searching for the right new colleague to help me launch Wolves & People. During GABF, Chase invited me for beers to ask how things were going. When I told him that I was looking for someone new, his eyes got sort of wide and he gestured toward Jake. We all spent much of the weekend talking about the W&P project, and soon after, with Chase’s blessing, I brought Jake on board. Jake started in December and by his day two; we were racking wild ales into barrels. In the end, everyone is very happy about the move. Jake is a serious outdoorsman and loves the Willamette Valley lifestyle and Oregon beer community, and it’s been just terrific working with him. I honestly believe you are going to love our beers.”
Now with Miller on board, Wolves & People began brewing on its 6-barrel steam fired copper brewhouse a few months ago and have tucked away a lot of this beer in wooden barrels. “It’s a little slower than modern breweries but we love it,” stated DeBenedetti last month at a preview of the brewery. This brewhouse was once home to Heater Allen Brewing in nearby McMinnville, Oregon before Rick Allen retired it to expand to a larger system. The goal for 2016 is to produce 650 barrels, many which will be resting in former wine and spirits beers to take on new complexities.
Wolves & People will brew beers that both DeBenedetti and Miller both truly enjoy. These styles include American versions of saisons, wild ales, and barrel-aged beers that are more prevalent across Europe. Currently many of these beers are patiently aging away in barrels to be released over the coming months ahead.
Since being located on an operating farm and in a barn that dates back to 1912, Wolves & Peoples have the luxury many other breweries do not with its close proximity to fresh bounty and the ability to grow its own wild yeast. Named Sebastian, this yeast strain honors the Bavarian born settler, Sebastian Brutscher. He moved from Germany to the US and settled the land by growing wheat, oats, and hops on the property where the brewery is now located. The old barn that has been converted to a brewery was once used for hazelnut harvest, J.K. Carriere Winery, and an oak barrel maker.
“Farmhouse brewing is using what you have nearby,” stated Miller last month. “We want to utilize every season to tell a story.” From growing its own brewing yeast on the farm and using fresh water from the nearby Parrett Mountain aquifer Wolves & People will surely set itself apart from many of its fellow Oregon breweries.
Some of the first beers that Wolves & People brewed were collaboration beers. Its first beer that was served in a public setting was one brewed for The Oregon Truffle Festival that took place earlier this year in January. That beer brewed was a table stout aged on Oregon white truffle-infused hazelnuts from the family farm. This beer will be packaged shortly for a release in the coming months.
This was followed up with a collaboration with Jester King Brewery in February. “That project is a wild ale with our house yeast, Jester King’s spontaneous culture, Douglas fir tips off the farm, and the zest of 80lbs of Texas grapefruit,” states DeBenedetti. “This beer is basically forgotten in the cellar until next year at least. We’re thinking a summer release in 2017 and it will be extremely limited! The brewery has probably never smelled better than it did during that whirlpool.”
Then Wolves & People traveled to Portland’s The Commons Brewery to collaborate on a Wild Farmhouse Witbier that used dandelion root, honeysuckle, Douglas fir needles, and a mixed culture including its Sebastian wild yeast. This beer was bottled and the 30 cases will see the light of day in the near future. There will also be draft that will be poured at both The Commons and Wolves & People. From what we hear from the folks at The Commons, this beer is aging perfectly!
Closer to home for the brewery, its final collaboration was with Heater Allen Brewing and McMinnville’s beer bar, The Bitter Monk. This allowed Rick Allen to once again brew a beer on his former brewhouse that he cut his teeth on. What they brewed was a Dark Biere de Garde that was co-fermented with Sebastian and Heater Allen’s house lager yeast strains for a few months. This yet to be named beer will be released on Saturday, May 21, 2016, at The Bitter Monk from Noon to 10:00pm. After the launch this beer will also be on tap at Wolves & People and at Heater Allen.
When pressed on what future collaborations Wolves & People plan to do, DeBenedetti stated, “We are going to take a break from collaborations for a bit, but we’ve been talking to some great breweries about later projects!”
In the coming months Wolves & People hope to release its first bottles to the public. These will be packaged in 750 ml bottles with a price that is based on the effort that is put into the beer. Portland graphic artist Jason Sturgill will design label artwork. He also designed the brewery’s logo and a few other items. Currently there are four beer labels in design for upcoming bottle releases.
Once these bottles are ready for sale, most of the beers will be sold out of the brewery’s tasting room. The brewery will self distribute here in Oregon when quantities allow so. When the brewery has beer for out of state distribution DeBenedetti has already lined up with Shelton Brothers.
As for now, Wolves & People will host tasting room hours only one day per week on Saturday’s from 2:00 to 8:00pm. As the brewery produces additional beer these hours may expand to additional weekend days.
So what should one expect to find at Wolves & People? Outside the tasting room will be a beer garden complete with 16 picnic tables and accompanying umbrellas. There will be six to eight beers available on tap by the glass at $5.00 each; cash is encouraged. Since its beer is limited there will be no growler fills or bottles yet for sale. This Saturday Mama Donna’s FRESH the Food Truck will be at the brewery serving up her Cuban inspired and other comfort food. Parking is limited to the lot at Wolves & People. Please do not park on Benjamin Road, as you will be towed.
In the coming month the brewery plans to unveil the following on draft: a dry-hopped grisette, biere de garde, Belgian pale ale, assorted traditional and experimental saisons, wild ales, strong ales, a wild-ale/lager hybrid, an old ale, a wild farmhouse witbier, and a couple of stouts.
For directions traveling from Portland take I-5 South to 99W. Then head south on 99W toward Newberg for 21.5 miles, just past Rex Hill winery (and milepost 21, and a guardrail) is Benjamin Road. Here take a right and travel about 1/8th of a mile and look for the big white barn on the right and there is Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery.
Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery 30203 NE Benjamin Road Newberg, OR 97132
D.J. is a Portland, Oregon based writer that spent his formative years in the Midwest. With over 25 years under his belt of drinking beer at festivals across America and the world, he has developed a strong appreciation and understanding of craft beer and the industry that surrounds it. He can be found in any of the great breweries or beer bars that make Portland the best beer city in the world. His writing can also be found in the archives of Northwest Brewing News and can be followed on Twitter and Instagram at @hopapalooza.