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.
“We were all very pleased with how the original Three Plows came out,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink, but since it was our first time using any of the ingredients we didn’t entirely know what to expect out of it.”
“It was important to us to have the first 100% NJ-sourced beer in almost a century be a classic American-style ale to stay true to our Northeastern roots,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm, “but this year the gloves came off and we decided to have a bit more fun and really play around with the flavors we knew we could capture.”
This year, we decided to do a Farmhouse IPA. Traditionally, Farmhouse ales were brewed with whatever was at hand: if your farm grew barley and rye, your beer had barley and rye. If your farm grew wheat and oats, your beer had wheat and oats.
More recently, Farmhouse ales have become almost synonymous with the Belgian Saison style or the French Biere de Garde.
“This is why we decided to use this moniker for this years Three Plows,” Jimmy says. “We used ingredients sourced from local farmers to brew up a great IPA with an amazing Saison Brasserie yeast strain.”
The difference between an American IPA and a Farmhouse IPA lay primarily in the malts and yeast. Some other breweries, when producing a Farmhouse IPA, will simply brew up an IPA and ferment it with a Saison yeast strain. While that can yield a very nice, balanced beer, we designed this one from the ground up to be a Farmhouse IPA.
“Most American IPAs are a simple base malt with perhaps a touch of crystal malt and maybe some wheat, but that’s about it, and it’s fermented with a standard Ale yeast,” Jimmy tells us. “This year’s Three Plows utilized some malted rye and malted wheat along with the Pilsner and Munich base malts we used, and was fermented with a very special blend of Saison yeasts.”
Again, we sourced the malt from our good friends up at Rabbit Hill in Shiloh.
“Hillary and Blair are great people,” Brian says, “really some of the best people I’ve ever encountered. I feel like we’ve met most of the family at this point and they’re all wonderful people, but we’ve gotten the chance to really get to know Hilary and Blair and they’re the kind of people you want to work with.”
“The crew up at Rabbit Hill are just great people,” he says. “They are so much fun to work with. Couple that with a great product that is locally sourced and you can’t NOT work with them!”
Hillary Barile of Rabbit Hill really enjoys working with us, too.
“I think we’ve really started to build a nice relationship with the different people within Cape May Brewing,” she says. “It’s really fun for us when we get to deliver malt and show up and catch up with them, talk about beer, and what different things they’d like to make with our malt. I really like the enthusiasm that you guys have for using local ingredients and finding ways to incorporate local ingredients into plans that you might already have.”
This year’s iteration of Three Plows has barley, wheat, and rye, building on last year’s simple barley-based malt bill.
“This is our first year growing rye,” Hillary tells us, “and we made two batches of rye malt, and we’re really happy with the different grain flavors that came out of it. I’m really excited to try Three Plows. I think this year it’s going to have a little more complexity.”
Last year, we told you about Rabbit Hill’s floor-malting process. A nearly-forgotten, space- and labor-intensive, and completely outmoded method of malting grain, floor malting involves spreading the grain in a thin layer and continually turning it with a special rake. It’s labor-intensive and time-consuming, but creates an artisanal feel to the malt that simply can’t be captured with modern malting methods.
“Has it gotten any easier?” we ask, and are greeted with uproarious laughter from Hillary.
“We’ve gotten used to it,” she says, “so we’ve learned some tricks. We’re on our second rake design, so the rake is better, but there is still a lot of manual labor that goes into floor malting, and that’s not going to change.”
But you really can’t beat the results.
“They work really hard to make their malt the best it can be,” Jimmy says. “They started just over a year ago, and the malt they are doing now is very high quality. They have given the local scene something it never had before, and we’re all the better for it! It’s a joy working with them.”
In the hops bill this time around, we used a firm yet gentle dose of Magnum hops for bittering with a hard hit of Centennial, Cascade, and Chinook in the whirlpool.
We went back to our friend Mike Kane at Laughing Hops again this year, but he’d run into a few problems with his crop.
“Oh, Lord!” he says, exasperatedly. “I had the downy mildew [a disease that often affects hops plants] under control, but this year’s weather was challenging, and I ran into some potato leafhopper nymphs.”
They sound adorable, but potato leafhopper nymphs are tiny little insects that like to feast on hops leaves. You can tell they’ve visited your crop by a yellowing leaf as well as curling and necrosis. These little buggers feed on the juices in the leaf veins, then their saliva blocks the veins so that no nutrients can get through.
<insert Yosemite Sam-like grumble here>
Mike was only seeing about half the harvest that he saw last year and, since he’s grown in popularity, he wasn’t able to source us everything that we needed, so he hooked us up with Anthony Verdi at Sky High Hops, just up the street from his farm.
A 2015 graduate of the University of Delaware with a degree in Environmental Engineering, Anthony had grown up on the farm, and the technicalities involved with hops farming appealed to his engineering side.
“And I have a love for craft beer,” he admits.
That helps, too.
He started farming hops on about an acre of his mother’s 65-acre horse farm. This was his first full year growing hops: they erected their trellises in December and January of ‘15 and ‘16, and planting followed in May. Nonetheless, it’s quickly become a passion for him. It’s more of a side project right now — he still works a full-time job at an environmental engineering consulting firm — but he seems pretty happy with the way things are going. He got more than he expected that first year.
“That allowed us to forge some connections with some local places,” he says.
This year, he wasn’t even sure that the plants would come out of the ground.
“But they came out in late March,” he says, “and that extra time, coupled with some of our late-season nutrient additions, helped us get a great yield. Specifically with our Cascade crop.”
He started off growing Cascade and Centennial in the first year, and they’ve added a few test varieties such as Willamette and Medusa.
“We’re pretty happy with how the Medusa grew,” he says.
He’s since added Chinook, “and they grew incredibly well.”
Hops farming in New Jersey still has a lot of hurdles to overcome, like the climate and lack of demand due to having relatively few breweries in the state. But guys like Anthony and Mike are forging ahead.
“Seeing this beer come together,” Mike says, “it really makes it all worthwhile.”
And we will continue to source them whenever we can.
“Since long before I worked at CMBC,” Brian says, “farmers and potential farmers alike always asked if we’d buy their hops and if it’d be worth it or not, and by the time I started, our standard response was ‘grow them and we’ll buy them,’ and we’ve pretty much stuck true to that.”
Still, if we attempted to use only New Jersey-grown hops and bought every single pound of hops grown in the Garden State, we’d only get through about a month or two of production before we’d have to look elsewhere. Still, there are enough small producers in the state to allow us to do something really special with them, like the wet-hopped Cape May IPA we did last week with the hops from Bad Cat Farms and, of course, Three Plows.
We rounded out Three Plows with a great Saison yeast from our friend Al at East Coast Yeast. The Saison Brasserie strain we used is a combination of several Saison yeasts, giving the brew a dryness with both fruity and spicy characteristics.
“We all love how it came out,” Jimmy says. “It lent a nice complexity to the beer. We’ll definitely be using it again.”
Everyone is really looking forward to this year’s batch of Three Plows. It was a huge hit last year, but with the complexities that were built into the recipe this year, everyone expects a much more robust brew.
“I think it really captures the terroir of the malt and hops much better than last year’s Three Plows did,” Jimmy says.
“The fact that you’re using three different grains all grown here gives more opportunities for the common characteristics of those grains and our malting style to shine through,” she says. “Last year’s Three Plows was brewed just a few months after we’d started malting, so it was the first time that anybody in New Jersey had been working with it.”
She says that the year of experience will prove to make a better beer.
“Because of this last year of experience, we’re one year better maltsters. And we’re one year better on this iteration of a beer that is using all-New Jersey ingredients.
“I think it’s going to be better than last year’s Three Plows because everyone has the experience to draw from.”
Jimmy thinks that this beer is “going to blow everyone’s socks off. Beer connoisseurs are going to love the complexity and uniqueness of this beer, and these styles of beer tend to be the kind that turn on those who think they don’t like beer, due to the dry, almost wine-like composition of Three Plows.
“And everyone is going to dig the fact that, once again, it’s 100% Jersey!”
Hillary loves the fact that she and her family get to be a part of an all-New Jersey beer for the second time. More than that, she loves what a brewery can do to change the face of agriculture in an area.
“People want to know that the beverage that they’re choosing was made locally,” she says, “and now you can take it even further: it was made with local ingredients and it’s supporting local farms and farmers. It’s really exciting to see that. And then you go from Cape May being — it used to be lima beans, that was awhile ago. It’s not really lima beans anymore, but now it’s grapes, and hops.
“Watching agriculture change in response to a brewery choosing to use local ingredients is really cool.”
Three Plows is on tap now in the Tasting Room, available for flights, pints, and growler fills. Stop down and let us know how this year’s recipe turned out!