Building a Brewery, Chapter 1: Oakhold Digs In

Chapter 1: On the Benefits and Challenges of a Rural Brewery

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

We want to be a farmhouse brewery in the truest sense. To better embrace the ethos of what that means, we have been planting fruit and hops each year that we will add to the beer, further adding to its sense of place. We also hope to set aside acreage to grow heritage varieties of wheat and barley so we can produce a fully “estate-grown” beer. But that will surely be years down the road.

Planning our farmhouse brewery has presented opportunities and challenges not typically faced by breweries within city limits. Because the brewery is being built in a rural area without any existing buildings or infrastructure, a ton of work has gone into carefully planning for the build-out.

On the plus side, it gives us the opportunity to design our building from the ground up, and we have valued the input from other brewers and the hands-on experiences that Caleb has had while working as assistant brewer at Fair State. For example, floor drains don’t have to be cut into existing floors, but instead are poured as part of the foundation. Electricity service is sized appropriately and won’t require extensive (and expensive!) rewiring or additional service panels to be installed.

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

But whereas many small breweries don’t think much about water use and wastewater treatment, instead relying on municipal services to deliver water and treat effluent, we don’t have that luxury. Instead, we had to drill a well through 320 feet of hard northern Minnesota granite. And when we didn’t get the flow rate we were hoping for, even at that depth, we had to hydrofrac, adding significant expense to the project.

Because there is no city sewer service, we also had to design a septic system and wastewater treatment system to service our brewery. Water conservation will be a necessary part of who we are as a brewery, for the simple reason that we can’t turn on a tap and expect to have the water pressure that breweries in the city are used to. Neither can we wash everything down the drain and expect the city to take care of it.

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

Photo courtesy of Oakhold Farmhouse Brewery

But even these problem areas offer opportunities to practice the ethos we value. We look forward to recycling heating and cooling water, irrigating our orchard when possible, making a conscious effort to use environmentally friendly cleaning agents, and working out the best way to dispose of our byproducts in a sustainable fashion.

Caleb and I are excited to start sharing our beers with the world, and if everything goes as planned, we are hopeful that we will have beer maturing in oak before the end of this year. Because of the uncertain timeline inherent in the production of sour beers, it’s hard to say exactly when that means we’ll be able to have beer in kegs and bottles.

But we’ll keep you up-to-date on our progress here.

Levi Loesch

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