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The Official Blog of Cape May Brewing Company
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Malt: Rabbit Hill Farms

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Rabbit Hill Farms.

It just sounds bucolic. It sounds like a place where great things are born, and where great food comes from to fill your great belly.

All of that is true. And even better, it’s where great beer comes from.

(Well, technically, the great beer comes from us. But they help. A lot.)

img_5212We’ve told you about Rabbit Hill before — our guys went out there over the summer to check out their barley production, and, apparently they were impressed with what they saw. So much that they’ve decided to use their barley in Three Plows.

Hillary Barile is the fifth generation to be working on Rabbit Hill, and she’s thrilled that we’re using her grain in our all-New Jersey beer. “It’s a great way to explore some of the different flavors of New Jersey products,” she says.

Her barley is a little different from what we might get from some of the larger companies, because the varieties of barley that are grown successfully in New Jersey are a little different from the ones they grow.

“The taste is going to be different, because my process is different.”

And that’s quite the understatement. Most commonly-available malt is pneumatic malted. This means that it’s put into a vessel, and it’s steeped, germinated, and kilned all in the same vessel.

img_5318Hillary, her father Abe, and her brother Blair are doing things a little differently. They’re doing what’s known as floor malting.

“We take the grain and steep it in one vessel and then when it reaches the proper moisture content, we put it out on the concrete floor for four days,” she tells us. “Every 8 hours we turn it with a specially made malt rake that my brother built, or shovels, depending on how much the grain has sprouted and grown.”

As you might imagine, floor malting takes up quite a bit of room. Hillary and her family work in one-ton batches, and once it’s spread out all over a floor, it takes up about 250 square feet.

It’s a little bit old-fashioned and a little bit artisanal, but it imparts some beautifully distinct flavors over modern pneumatic malting. “It’s a biological process. The grain is experiencing something different in terms of temperature and humidity and CO2 buildup than it would be experiencing if it were in a pneumatic vessel.”

This uncommon process has been a bit of trial and error for Rabbit Hill — you can’t just go online and find directions on a process that pretty much died out a century ago. “Floor malting is really an experimental thing. I have books from 1908 that I’m reading about how they floor malt. I have grand plans to do a tour in the UK where there’s still some floor malting, and the tradition continues to be passed down.”

img_5675But the experimentation is the fun part. “It’s like cooking,” Hillary says, “you’re gonna get something a little different, experimenting with recipes.”

And that’s kinda what we do around here. A lot.

“It’s really fun to find that the brewers at Cape May were excited to do that,” she tells us, “even though you guys have moved up to be on this 30-barrel system and are one of the bigger ones in the state. To find that culture and excitement about experimenting and trying something new is really exciting for me.”

Her brother Blair, a homebrewer, has been the guinea pig from the beginning. “That was where the whole idea for an all-New Jersey beer came from. Once he’d been brewing for several years, he was looking to find different ingredients. So, we thought it would be fun to brew a beer with all ingredients that we grew on our own farm.” Blair wasn’t sure if they could make malt, but Hillary was undaunted.

“We figured it out.”

The first few batches were malted in a food dehydrator in Hillary’s kitchen. She wasn’t going to send that to a lab for analysis, so she told Blair to try brewing with it. “Because if it brews, then we did something right.”

And they did something right.

img_5681Blair’s got a few things on tap right now. “Now that there’s bags and bags of malt in the barn, the sky’s the limit. It’s more malt than he could ever brew. He’ll keep trialing everything we have and making sure we’re hitting the things we want to hit and it smells the way we want it to smell.”

Hillary loves the fact that we’re using her Pale Ale and Vienna malt in Three Plows. “I think having a nice light beer gives everybody an opportunity to taste the malt and the hops and not be overwhelmed by a roasted malt or really dark malt that would contribute a lot of malt flavor.”

Furthermore, it’s a validation of the idea they had those many years ago. “To see Cape May pick up that idea and run with it is really exciting. It validates everything we’ve been working toward for the last year and a half.

“To have you guys make this beer and have it be available on a wide range, to walk into a bar not far from me and say, ‘Hey, we had a part in that’: that’s a little bit of me, a little bit of my brother, a little bit of our land is in that beer. It’s really great. That’s why we started doing this.”

So, how did Hillary and Co. do? You’ll just have to wait until November 10th to find out.

capemaygrowler

“Everyone from the Rabbit Hill group is just really awesome.”

Bounding through Rabbit Hill

This industry has the tendency to lead you places you never thought you’d be. Sour beer festivals in Indiana, for example. Smelling hops in Oregon. Tourism conferences in Boise.

They’ve all been amazing experiences for the attendees — we learn a lot at conferences, we make a ton of important connections at beer festivals, and selecting hops is all part of the business.

However, if you’d asked us ten years ago if we thought we’d ever be on the back of a tractor, sitting on a bale of hay, getting a tour through a gigantic grain farm in Shiloh, NJ, we’d have slapped the beer out of your hand.

Yet, it’s the unknown places in our backyard that can be the most rewarding. That’s why, when Hillary and the folks from Rabbit Hill Farms hit us up to attend a thank-you picnic on the farm, we didn’t hesitate to say yes.

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...with Eddie’s recipe, we can resurrect the Misty Dawn...

Misty Dawn Sails Again!

A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.

Back in the 80s, Mop Man and his brother Jimmy found that out the hard way when their beloved 46-foot Chesapeake Bay Bottom fishing boat sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic.

For the past few weeks, we’ve had much the same thing going on with Misty Dawn, our spring Saison named for that ill-fated ship.

Like the Misty Dawn, Misty Dawn Saison was off the radar. We weren’t going to brew it this year.

Nonetheless, in life, sometimes there is a beacon to guide us home. And this time around, we found that beacon in Rabbit Hill malt.

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“Seeing this beer come together,” Mike says, “it really makes it all worthwhile.”

Three Plows 2017

Last year, we brought you the first modern beer made with all-New Jersey ingredients: Three Plows IPA. It was truly a labor of love for us here at CMBC, and we couldn’t have been more proud with how it turned out.

So, we’ve decided to do it again this year… with a twist. The ingredients are still 100% Jersey, it’s still an IPA, but it’s a completely new beer. Three Plows has a fruity and peppery yeast presence, an earthy-malty sweetness, and a pleasant, hoppy aroma flirting with a firm bitterness, yielding an IPA that is uniquely New Jersey.

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Amber Waves of Grain

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Last week, Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm and the CMBC crew headed over to Shiloh, NJ, to check out Rabbit Hill Farms.

“Idyllic,” Jimmy says about the farm. “Just rolling hills of wheat and barley. There were deer bounding all over the place. It was just beautiful.”

Our staff spent the day out there, riding on tractors and prancing through fields of barley. “It’s the stuff life is made of,” Jimmy says.

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The CMBC Crew on a tractor.
This is a thing that happened.

This 580 acre farm was started by Abe Bakker — “A real salt-of-the-earth guy” — thirty years ago, growing potatoes. They were instrumental in developing the Jersey Fresh program, particularly for potatoes. If you’ve ever bought a bag of Jersey Fresh potatoes, these people actually designed the bag.

But, as you probably know, most people don’t really have brand loyalty toward potatoes. We don’t even know what that means. We didn’t even know potatoes had brands.

So, they’ve decided to branch out into something with a little more brand loyalty. Barley…?

“We’ve grown potatoes for five generations, and potatoes have always been one of our main crops,” says Hillary Barile of Rabbit Hill. “We have, in the past few years, realized that potatoes aren’t really a profitable crop to grow in New Jersey anymore. We wanted to grow something we’d really enjoy, and my brother’s been a homebrewer for about ten years.” Brother Blair wanted to make a beer made entirely out of ingredients he grew himself.

“It seemed like we should grow something that would be fun for us to grow and a challenge for us to grow, and barley hasn’t really been grown in New Jersey for about 100 years. It’s potentially profitable with all of the breweries in New Jersey, and the demand for beers that are produced locally with local ingredients. We wanted to tap into the rising desire for the consumer to know what’s in their food and that it’s something that came from somewhere that they can feel good about.”

Robert Reed, Blair Bakker, Abe Bakker, and Hillary Barile of Rabbit Hill Farms
Robert Reed, Blair Bakker, Abe Bakker,
and Hillary Barile of Rabbit Hill Farms

CMBC was the first brewery they contacted when they started growing barley. “We saw last year that they were the first beer with the Jersey Fresh designation, on the Honey Porter, and we realized that they were a brewery that was really excited about producing beer with local ingredients.”

Ain’t that the truth!

Rabbit Hill Farms was one of the first farms in the state to participate in the Jersey Fresh program. They’ve produced under the brand almost since its inception. “We’re really proud to be a Jersey Fresh supplier,” Hillary says.

We’ll be getting some base malt from these guys — pilsner or two-row. Eventually, they plan to expand into aromatics, caramels, maybe crystals. The climate in New Jersey isn’t great for barley — far too wet, as you may have noticed recently — so we’ll be working with them to develop their system.

When they made the decision to grow barley for brewing, Blair mentioned that they’d have to learn how to malt the barley. Undaunted, Hillary said, “Well, I’m sure we can figure that out.”

You know how we like to keep things local at CMBC, and we’re glad to hear that news traveled all the way to Shiloh. Really, it’s not all that far — and Rabbit Hill Farm takes up about half the town.

Abe shows off the kiln
Abe shows off the kiln

They should be around for awhile, too. They’ve just gotten their farm preservation designation, so the land will be used for agriculture in perpetuity.

In addition to Rabbit Hill, we’re looking toward several local farms to supply our hops — so it looks like a 100% New Jersey beer isn’t far from a possibility.

“When we were working on Beets by May, we discussed a 100% Jersey beer as a possibility,” Jimmy tells us. “Rabbit Hill contacted us at that time and we thought, ‘Perfect!'”

Details are still up in the air, but look for a release sometime in the fall.

Keepin’ it local, keepin’ it good. That’s what we like to see!

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