What do bees and breweries have in common? The quick answer is Plan Bee Farm Brewery. A better answer is detailed in this article.
Tucked in the corner of Poughkeepsie on a 25-acre farm, Plan Bee is an authentic farm brewery on a mission to shrink the radius from which they source ingredients to produce their local wild ales. To that end, they harvest many of the ingredients themselves and turn them into beer. Bees are also integral to their ale-making process. They collect the yeast found in honey and honey combs, which in turn helps ferment their beer.
How it started
Evan and Emily decided to marry two ideas. Evan, who had worked in breweries, had always dreamed of opening his own brewery someday. Emily, growing up in a farming community, enthusiastically supported the idea. After exploring other career paths, it only seemed natural for the pair to settle down and finally turn their Plan B into their Plan A.
They opened Plan Bee Farm Brewery in 2013 in Fishkill. Using a one-barrel system, they experimented with brewing different kinds of beer. They soon outgrew their Fishkill location and moved to Poughkeepsie, landing on a 25-acre farm plot with a more expansive ten-barrel system.
What makes their brewery unique is that they brew three to four new beers a month featuring local ingredients that are in peak season. This runs the gamut from edible flowers to herbs, fruits and even vegetables. One of the highlights of my visit to Plan Bee was seeing the array of herbs and plants they macerate into their beer: tomatillos, nasturtium and lavender, just to name a few. It’s always great to see what new beers they come up with as well as sip on something unique.
What exactly is a ‘farm brewery’?
New York legislation differentiates a farm brewery from a micro brewery. As the name implies, a micro brewery offers a limited selection of brews; They typically produce small batches of specialty beers that are sold locally.
A farm brewery is similar, yet different. They also produce specialty beers, but there is a greater emphasis on where the ingredients are sourced. According to New York State law, a farm brewery must use at least 20% New York-grown hops and no less than 20% of other ingredients from New York State by weight (excluding water) to produce their beer. Micro breweries do not have an ingredient quota.
There are many farm breweries in New York these days, but Plan Bee was among the first to get licensed. Not only have they have met the 20% requirements, they have taken farm brewing a step further by growing and utilizing nearly 100% local ingredients for their beer. Beer terroir, I’ll call it beer terroir. It’s of the Hudson Valley, made only here.
Exploring Plan Bee’s farm
On the farm sits a barn from the 1830s, which serves as their tasting room and brewhouse. What also sets them apart is their wild orchard. At first, they tried using wild yeast cultivated from the skins of the orchard fruit, but they found it produced a beer that wasn’t to their liking. Instead, they turned their attention to raw honey. There’s a lot of yeast in raw honey. And since bees forage the wild flora to produce honey on their farmland, it allowed them to make a truly unique Hudson Valley beer with minimal environmental impact.
The Hudson Valley is plentiful. Some call it untapped terroir. Plan Bee limits the amount of outsourced ingredients to showcase the region in a bottle. In a way, they have traveled back in time to the days of olde that created regional cuisine and drink in the first place.
Think for a minute, if you will, of the food items that shaped different cuisines of the world: collard greens from the South. The corn of Mexican cuisine. Jerk marinade from Jamaica. These regional foods came about due to limited resources and soon polarized their respective regions. They worked with what they had on hand.
Sometimes all it takes is a few humble ingredients to develop a regional cuisine the world loves. With that in mind, Plan Bee uses ingredients that are intrinsic to their land to make beers that are distinct to the Hudson Valley.
What’s in a bottle?
Plan Bee leans into the taste of sour beers quite often. For example, they make a Farm Beer, which is termed an all-estate beer. That means everything in the bottle is sourced right on their farm, harvested by their hands and made only by them. Think rye, whole-leaf cascade hops and last but not least the culture cultivated from their beehives. Even the water comes from a well on their property. It’s 100% Plan Bee in every bottle. As you can imagine, the effort that goes into their Farm Beer is a labor of love that really pays off. As I like to say, it’s a food of love thing.
When it comes to grains, they are highly selective and always aim to shrink the radius of their outsourced ingredients. The grains in their non-estate beers include New York State organic six-row barley and organic red wheat grown at Stone House Farms in Hudson. For their Barn Beer, they use barley malted at Hudson Valley Malt in Germantown.
Hops and fermentation
When they’re not using the cascade hops grown on their farm, Plan Bee has selected perle hops from Crooked Creek in Poughquag and chinook hops from Chimney Bluff in Wolcott, NY for their Barn Beers. This takes their fermentation to the next level, allowing them to brew a wider variety of beers that remain true to the Hudson Valley. Plan Bee open ferments in open white-oak barrels (again, sourced from the Hudson Valley) which allow the wild flora and essences of the region to soak into each of their Barn Beers.
Plan Bee seems to have an endless variety of beers to suit all tastes. Strawberries from Wrights Farm round out their tasty Amour Beer. CurrantC™ supplies the whole black currants for their Currant Barn Beer. Aged in white oak from the Hudson Valley, Karnet is a Barn Beer fermented with whole Montmorency cherries and pressed cherry juice from Bittner-Singer Orchards in Appleton. Raised Bed is a Barn Beer containing lemongrass and lemon verbena grown right up the hill from their brew house. It’s carbonated like a champagne, so it has a lot of fizz! Then there is lavender and honey, what a great combo! You’ll find this brewed into their Pastelle Beer.
Lessons I learned from my visit to Plan Bee Farm Brewery
Plan Bee is dedicated to providing the best local beer to their community. They embody the ethos of “from the community, for the community”. For Evan and Emily, it’s a labor of love that brings each piece of the puzzle together to make truly amazing local brews. I enjoyed learning how they harness the terroir of the Hudson Valley in each glass of beer they produce. Their attention to detail in sourcing regional ingredients brings together a tight-knit community of farmers. This is why Plan Bee Farm Brewery is so special. Much like Farm2ChefsTable, they bring family and friends back around the table to enjoy the seasonal bounty the Hudson Valley has to offer.