Yellow Springs Brewery and Davidson Family Growers collaborate on Robust Porter
By Tom Morgan
Photo: New Carlisle’s Davidson Family Growers and Yellow Springs Brewery’s Robust Porter
The growth of the local food movement has had many trickledown effects, and craft beer is no stranger to this influence. Locally grown hops have had an increasingly visible presence in craft brewing, and local grain production and malting has followed suit. While local grain for local beer might not be the type of collaboration that makes beer nerds go nuts, it is the type of sustainable agricultural development that creates and supports community. Beer, after all, is from a place, and so are the parts that go into it. The more those parts work in tandem, the better the experience for beer drinkers as a whole. For me, it is these decidedly less sexy connections that reflect the most interesting developments in craft beer, developments pursued not for the sake of notoriety, but to make local beer an integral part of local community.
The collaboration came about when Kevin Davidson, owner of Davidson Family Growers, contacted Yellow Springs Brewery to see if they were interested in locally grown malt. While growing barley for beer was a new direction for Kevin, farming is not. His family farm covers 800 acres around New Carlisle, centered around the original 80- acre farm Jacob Davidson bought in 1882, making Davidson the fifth generation to farm the land. His interest in adding barley to his crop portfolio was one way to build local connections for his different crops. Having witnessed the number of breweries opening in the state, Kevin saw an opportunity to keep money and business local, as well as a means of reducing the environmental footprint connected to shipping and transportation costs. The result was the approximately 31,000 pounds of Wintmalt 2-Row barley, 1,000 of which ended up in this particular batch of Robust Porter.
For brewers, locally grown grain is an opportunity to embrace local terroir. Jeffrey McElfresh, master brewer at Yellow Spring Brewery, was excited about the possibilities that came with using local grain.
“I enjoy being able to build beers from local ingredients, especially malt. Malt is the second most-used ingredient in beer after water,” he explains. “The ability to use locally grown and malted barley allows me to experiment with ingredients and flavor profiles distinct to the area, and that are not available elsewhere. This specificity allows me to experiment with local flavors created by our growing environment, season, and location.”
Capturing that essence in the glass is part of the challenge that continues to inspire him when contemplating ingredients and process.
“I want to push the envelope of what beer can truly be beyond just an alcoholic beverage, to make the beer in the glass taste familiar but also reflect where we are regionally. To make beer a regional expression that captures an idea in the flavor profile.”
I also talked to Nate Cornett and Lisa Wolters, co-owners of Yellow Springs Brewery. Both agreed that the chance to collaborate with Davidson Family Growers malt was an easy and obvious choice. As they described it, the prospect of using local products and supporting local farmers is an important way to build community and “make all of us stronger.” Noting that finding local ingredients has been at times “frustrating,” Cornett and Wolters expressed excitement over the recent growth of local agricultural options.
Besides her work at YSB, Wolters is on the board of the Ohio Craft Brewer’s Association, so thoughts on the importance of local beer are never far from her mind. As she notes, “I hope that as we move forward and as more malts and hops are grown here in Ohio, local means closer to home.” Cornett agrees, citing the importance of the brewery’s location in the village of Yellow Springs, ensuring that the beer is “brewed, bottled, and distributed locally.”
He also notes that this collaboration with Davidson provided an opportunity to speak at the 2017 Ohio State Malting Barley Conference in Greene County on March 24. Not surprisingly, both look forward to new opportunities to continue working locally in the near future.
And the beer itself? Robust Porter pours a rich, dark chocolate with a tan head. The nose is cola and chocolate up front, with coffee and hints of roastiness in the background, while the beer’s flavors focus on caramel, brown sugar, and dark chocolate. The coffee and slight roastiness of the nose is much more subdued in the flavor, coming through in the final third and setting up finish, which is more brown sugar and milk chocolate with hints of cocoa and maple syrup. The mouthfeel is rounded and creamy, and flavors meld together nicely as the beer warms. A malt-forward beer, Robust Porter showcases malt complexity, a hallmark of the grower, the brewer, and the brewery. As a creation of place, Yellow Springs Robust Porter is worth seeking out.
Yellow Springs Brewery is located at 305 Walnut St. B, in Yellow Springs. For more information, please call 937.767.0222 or visit YellowSpringsBrewery.com. Davidson Family Growers is located at 3446 Addison-New Carlisle Rd. in New Carlisle. For more information, please call 937.765.0174 or visit DavidsonFamilyGrowers.com.