Bees are so freaking cool. But we already know this. They forage in a roughly two mile radius around their hives, return home, and turn their findings into liquid energy. It’s a tasty, sweet energy that encapsulates the world around them.
Plan Bee Brewery founders Emily and Evan Watson are brewing like the bees in some ways, “using only ingredients we grow or can source from a 30 mile radius, we allow the local agriculture to influence flavor,” says Emily.
Since its inception 5 years ago, Plan Bee has always been hyper local, sourcing only from a defined radius and opting as often as possible to source what they need from their own 25-acre farm in Poughkeepsie. But recently, they released “Farm Beer” the definition of a farmhouse ale, brewed exclusively with ingredients grown on the farm, a stunning accomplishment for a brewery that is just five-years-young.
“Grain was the most difficult item to add to the farm. It wasn’t difficult to grow but not easy to harvest. We tried harvesting it by hand but it was nearly impossible,” says Emily. A vintage 1947 Allis-Chalmers All Grain harvester was the tool that made “Farm Beer” a reality. There are just four acres of organic rye grown at Plan Bee, far fewer than the acreage modern harvesters are made to work on.
“We grew 100% organic rye for the farm beer which is also something I have never seen in beer before. All breweries use mainly barley, it was another experiment because we happened to get rye seed and decided to just give it a try.”
Farm Beer also uses hops that have been grown on the farm since 2015 and yeast isolated from bee hives on the property.
A Signature Farmhouse Yeast Found in Bee Hives
That yeast isolated from bee hives is the house yeast at Plan Bee, used in all of their beers, but it wasn’t the first yeast Emily and Evan tried as a signature culture.
“First, we tried cultivating yeast off the skins of fruits that we were growing on the farm. The yeasts did not perform well and we realized the yeast cultures might be too singular,” says Emily.
Of course, the yeast and bacteria in the hives is anything but singular, “The bees forage for nectar from the farm and inadvertently pick up wild yeast and bacteria which is deposited in the hive,” she says, “We capture this culture which incorporates all these native flavors to create a truly unique product that can only be found on our farm in Poughkeepsie.”
Emily and Evan set out to “discover what a truly regional beer would taste like” and the answer is it tastes like nothing you’ve ever had before.
Brewing a “Barn Beer”
Emily and Evan wouldn’t refer to their creations as farmhouse ales, instead opting for a new term, “Barn Beer.”
“We are trying to make “Barn Beer” a style of beer itself and have had many breweries in the area brew their own Barn Beer style beer,” she says.
For a brew to qualify as a barn beer she says it must, “use only local ingredients to its area and is fermented using a culture built up from a local honey source.”
She says there is no beer style that properly describes what she and Evan are creating on their upstate New York farm, therefore it’s time for a new category: Barn Beer is the style.
What Does Plan Bee Barn Beer Taste Like?
Emily says she would describe the flavor of Barn Beer as, “A balanced lightly tart, fermentation forward beer with slight oak and a touch of hops. Softness on the pallet.”
She adds that the finish is very dry, like a white wine.
Under the slight Meyer-lemon acidity of Barn Beer, I found the bottles I tried to have a unique floral character that was fragrant, and almost reminiscent of lilies. Something I hadn’t exactly experienced in the flavor profile of any other beer.
She says, “That is all our house culture, the yeast and bacteria used to ferment our Barn Beer is giving off those notes. Some of the herbaceousness is probably from the little bit of hops we add as we dry hop our Barn Beer.” Barn Beer uses farm-grown Sterling and Perle hops for dry hopping.
I specified the flavor in “the bottles I tried” because at Plan Bee, the beer changes naturally alongside the microclimate of the farm, “Consistency is not a concern of ours. Like a winery, we have vintages to our beer. The weather (rainfall, temperature, soil health, etc.) all contribute to the agriculture products we use to make our beers,” says Emily.
Even beyond the changes occurring in the hops grown at Plan Bee and the honey harvested from the hives, Emily and Evan are subject to what is available in the tight 30-mile radius where they acquire their ingredients from.
Barn Beer is brewed with ingredients like lavender, currants, and cherries grown in the area. These variants aren’t always reproducible because the core-ingredients aren’t always available.
For example, when Poughkeepsie Farm Project grew some experimental ginger crop one year, Plan Bee was able to brew with their ginger as well as some of their fresh rainbow carrots. “We made the style Ginger Rainbow (barn beer with rainbow carrots and ginger) which was delicious,” Emily says, “The farm decided not to grow ginger again so it isn’t a style we have been able to repeat.”
If You’re Trying Barn Beer as an IPA Lover
Barn Beer will be a different experience than an IPA, especially when it comes to the juicy, full hazy IPAs.
“Barn Beer is not sweet, it finishes very dry like a white wine. It is tart and refreshing with very little hop presence,” says Emily.
It might be best to think of your first sip of Barn Beer as trying a new, refreshing white wine. Not like it’s a beer at all!
“Most of the time, I hand the newcomer a sample and let them decide if they like it. It’s hard to explain the subtle layers of complexity in our Barn Beer, you just have to try it. There isn’t much context for something that is completely unique and not trying to brew to a familiar style in the market,” says Emily.