Food by VICE

This Tiny Oregon Brewery Is Making Rustic Beer with Fruit and Nuts

The founder treats trees as if they were different hop varieties. His Sebastian Rhubarb ale, for example, is a full-bodied, “basement-y” saison brewed with Douglas fir needles from his farm and heirloom rhubarb.

by Javier Cabral
Jan 26 2017, 12:00am

Fact: A rustic, farmhouse-style saison tastes better when it is brewed inside of a barn at a working family farm.

Last year, when a nearby brewery was selling their old brewing equipment, Christian DeBenedetti jumped at the opportunity and showed up to the brewery with a five-pound sack of his family farm's hazelnuts as a down payment in late 2013. He had been homebrewing since his college days, though only as a hobby. After college, he worked as a journalist for nine years until he hit a wall and "needed to get out of his head." That was when he considered actually making his freshman dreams of opening a brewery come true.

He started a Crowdbrewed account, got some funds, and decided to build Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery in his parents' 105-year-old barn. (The name comes from a childhood game of playing tag in the forest).

It wasn't too soon after opening when the beer nerds started to show up in droves for his limited batches of saisons—cloudy, full-bodied, tart Belgian farmhouse ales. His brewery quickly received accolades from the beer community, being named among the top 34 new breweries to open in 2016 on BeerAdvocate.

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What makes his beers stand out from the rest is his access to his family's fruit and nut trees.

"We're a small enough brewery where we can literally take one tree and make it into a batch of beer," DeBenedetti tells me. "When the tree is ripe, we taste it, and then I think about how I can make it into a beer."

So far, he's made about one new beer per variety of fruit or nut tree. On the day that I stopped by for a few sips, half of his taps were dedicated to different variations of fruit-based saisons. There was a dry-hopped dark saison that was fermented with peaches, and a complex saison brewed with tree-ripened green figs. DeBenedetti treats trees as if they were different hop varieties; his Sebastian Rhubarb, a full-bodied, "basement-y" saison, is brewed with Douglas fir needles from his farm and heirloom rhubarb.

Wolves & People also has a solid lineup of slightly more traditional beers, like a light English mild that tastes exactly like a chocolate-dipped raspberry, and a pale ale made with spelt. DeBenedetti makes a tasty table stout —called that because it is only 4.7 percent ABV—with hazelnuts and truffles, whenever truffles are in season. All of his beers hover around 6 percent ABV.

The fruit and nuts aren't the only hyper-local ingredients DeBenedetti uses, either. He brews his beers with untreated soft water from the aquifer beneath his farm. And once his single-batch barrels of experimental beers are done, they are gone for good. The only beer he's repeated is a malty French Flanders ale, but the rest are always slightly tweaked, with varying types of malts and hops.

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DeBenedetti is perfectly content making only a couple hundred barrels a year, mostly for locals or other Oregonians who make the 30-minute drive from Portland out to his brewery. His beer is also on tap at some in some of Portland's best restaurants, like Tusk, Le Pigeon, and Imperial Restaurant.

"It's just nice to be this small, because you're not locked into this rigid production schedule," DeBenedetti says. "Why not embrace being a small, nimble brewery inside a real barn in a working farm?"