Food & Drink

Cabarrus County homebrewers prepare to launch first local-ingredients, organic beer

The Cabarrus Homebrewers Society has partnered with a Charlotte brewery to create Cabarrus County’s first commercially available craft beer.

Made using organic hops harvested from the Elma C. Lomax Incubator Farm in Concord, the beer is expected to be available for public consumption in early 2015.

The society plans to launch the brew at a public tasting event at Lenny Boy Brewing, Charlotte’s first and only all-organic brewery.

The majority of this year’s hops harvest will help produce an organic California common-style beer, which members have dubbed the “CABREW Common.”

Ford Craven, the founder of the Cabarrus Homebrewers Society ( http://cabrew.org/), also known as CABREW, created the Concord-based support group for homebrewers in 2010.

The social group’s goals are to collaborate with local homebrewers, learn new brewing techniques and promote craft beer literacy.

“In the spring of 2013, CABREW planted 30 organic rhizomes, or root cuttings, in hopes of providing a local, organic source of hops for local brewers,” Craven said. “Cascade and Nugget varieties were planted, because research has shown that they grow well in this region.

“Hops generally don’t flourish in the South, mainly because of our location in the hemisphere and length of daylight toward the end of summer. The Pacific Northwest has the most optimum growing conditions.”

Because the Lomax farm is certified organic, no fertilizers, insect repellents or other soil treatments were used. Pests, such as Japanese beetles, were a small problem for the Cascade hops, Craven said, but they inflicted only minor cosmetic damage.

“The first-year harvest can be very unpredictable, but we were pleased at the production generated from the two hop rings,” Craven said.

The 2013 harvest yielded roughly nine pounds of wet (fresh) Cascade hops and 14 pounds of wet Nugget hops in 2013. Society members dried and packaged the hops for a net weight of five pounds of dry hops.

A variety of club brewers then produced several varieties using the 2013 harvest.

This year, CABREW members added more hops: an additional Cascade variety and an experimental Chinook variety. But even though there were more plants, the 2014 harvest produced only five pounds of dry hops.

“Hops are cyclical and need time for their roots to take a firm plant in the soil, so we weren’t discouraged by this yield,” Craven said. “In fact, we are excited, because next year will probably be the biggest year yet.”

Society members took home half the batch brewed at Lenny Boy in late November so they could experiment with various ingredients. The other half continues to ferment at Lenny Boy.

The society and Lenny Boy are planning to host a benefit event for the Lomax Farm in early 2015, tied to a public tasting event.

The craft beer industry thrives on collaborations like this one, Craven said.

“This is unlike other industries, where trade secrets and competition rule the playing field,” Craven said. “Homebrewers are your future professional craft brewers, so CABREW partnering with Lenny Boy Brewing Co. is a natural relationship.”

The finished product will be “a light-amber or tawny-colored beer with a medium body, a malty character and mildly fruity undertones, accented by an assertive hop bitterness,” Craven said.

People often ask Cabarrus Homebrewers Society members whether they will ever create a beer made with all Cabarrus-produced ingredients, Craven said.

The answer is “maybe,” he said.

“Barley isn’t sustainable to grow in a small quantity, and it is by far the largest ingredient in beer besides water. So if a local farmer decides to dedicate their land to the production of barley, then, yes, an all-Cabarrus-sourced beer is in our future.”

Steve Propst, 51, is a lifelong resident of Cabarrus County. He’s been involved with the Cabarrus Homebrewers Society for four years and serves as the hops project manager, or “head hop.”

“I got involved with this project because I think it is an opportunity to get our hop crop in the hands and glasses of the general population,” he said.

“As homebrewers, we are not able to sell our beers, and we can only share them with family and friends. By teaming up with Lenny Boy, we will be able to say, ‘Hey, look what we really do.’ ”

Propst said he expects the CABREW Common to be a slightly malty, lightly hopped beer that most beer drinkers should love.

“Many people view homebrewed beer to be of lesser quality than commercially brewed beers, but the exact opposite is true,” he said. “The homebrewing community is full of excellent brewers, who craft far superior beers than anything available at the store or bar. Our hops should impart a more earthy, rustic flavor.”

Society president Brad Hughes, 52, has been helping with the club’s hops farm since it started two years ago.

“I support this type of collaborative effort because it underscores the ‘brew local, drink local’ mindset,” he said.

Hughes agreed with Propst that the effort showcases what local brewers are able to accomplish.

“People not familiar with the craft-brew industry and homebrewers may be surprised to see this kind of collaboration between professional and amateur brewers,” Hughes said.

“While on the surface this relationship seems counter to logic, in reality one is the result of the other, so they go hand in hand.”

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