Behind the Barn Door: The Haw River Blog

filed under: Wild Yeast, Beer Culture, Beer
posted by: Dawnya Bohager

Hey Homebrewers! Let's Get Wild!

UPDATE (5/21/13): Last Friday morning, when we announced our Native Yeast Homebrew Competition and opened up registration around 10am, we couldn't have imagined we'd have all 40 spots reserved before folks basically got back from lunch that day. So we're opening up 40 more spots THIS FRIDAY (5/24) MORNING AT 10AM.

The link to the registration page won't allow you to register until 10am on Friday, so if you're interested in reserving a spot, make sure to bookmark this page (or the registration page itself) and revisit on Friday morning. And if you don't catch a spot on Friday, don't sweat it too badly—we're planning another competition this fall, and more than likely it'll be style-based and BJCP-sanctioned, if that sounds more interesting to you. Thanks for all the support, by the way!

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As many of our friends and followers know, we've recently collected, isolated and banked our very own native yeast strain from right here in Saxapahaw, and we've been letting it stretch its legs in a few internal test batches we've brewed, as well as a commercial beer called Little Miss NC that we recently collaborated on with Trophy Brewing Company.

Little Miss NC, in all her stunning glory,
atop the bar at Trophy Brewing Company in Raleigh, NC.

So far, we've been thrilled with how our little Saxapahaw yeast strain has performed. It's played wonderfully in test batches of a Belgian Blonde, a Saison and a Belgian-style Tripel that we've brewed here. If we give it the right malt bill, it flocculates beautifully, leaving a crystal clear beer after about 20-30 days (although it finishes out a ~1.060 wort in about half that time). Again, assuming we want it to, it can attenuate at room temperature quite easily, leaving a clean, crisp, dry beer.

But what happens when we ferment is cooler than 68˚F? How do the flavors meld with roasted malts? What happens when it's pitched into a more fermentable wort? A less fermentable wort? A wort with a low pH? An original gravity over 1.100? A copious amount of crystal malt? A highly hopped India Pale Ale? Oh, the humanity!

We'd love to test out all these scenarios, but we're planning on being busy building a brewery this summer. ;) So we're teaming up with our friends at and Bull City Homebrew and reaching out to our homebrewing brothers and sisters to host a competition of sorts. How's this for an idea: We provide you with a 50mL vial of our Saxapahaw yeast strain, and you brew whatever you want, then let us taste a few bottles and figure out which ones we like the best. The brewer of the "winning beer" becomes an official Haw River Farmhouse Ales Barn Raiser (and receives a Premium Barn Raiser box, of course) and gets to help us create a single batch of the winning recipe on our 10BBL system after we open later this year! First runner up gets a bunch of goodies from Bull City Homebrew, and third place receives a special collection of fancy merchandise from Haw River Farmhouse Ales and a high five. How's that sound?

So we want you to flex your muscles a bit with this one. Brew a Russian Imperial Stout and age it on French oak. Or craft a West Coast Red Rye IPA and ferment cool to keep those esters down and shoot for a clean ferment. Concoct a big, burly Wheatwine and dry hop the heck out of it with New Zealand rarities. There ain't no rules with this one (well, a couple, we suppose, listed below... but you can throw the style guide out the window and pretty much do what you want... you just gotta use our Saxapahaw yeast).

    1. Brew whatever you'd like. With whatever ingredients you'd like. And whatever crazy fermentation schedule you'd like to use. The only rule when it comes to ingredients is that you may only primary ferment with the yeast strain we provide you (if you're interested in pitching a little Brett in secondary or bottling with champagne yeast, feel free!). There are no style categories in this contest, and a single participating brewer can enter two different beers, if you'd like. (Although keep in mind that if your beer ends up winning first place, we're hoping to scale the batch up to 10BBL. Which means if you age your 5 gallon batch on burgundy truffles found on a remote Canadian glacier, we may have to make a few substitutions)

    2. Take great notes and share the recipe with us. Part of what we're hoping to gain by hosting this competition is vital information regarding how different ingredients work with our native yeast strain and how it imparts flavors on certain types of recipes. We want you to have fun, but we also want to be able to see how you got there. Each beer must have an accompanying BJCP recipe form submitted alongside to be considered for judging (which you can find online here).

    3. Pinky-swear not to bank our yeast or sell it to the highest bidder. Seriously, we're thrilled with how this yeast strain has performed so far, and we're excited about making it a big part of Haw River Farmhouse Ales when we open a little later this year. We want to bring you guys and girls in on something kind of fun, while also gaining a little more knowledge on our end in the process. Trust us—once we're open, if homebrewers want to come by for a fresh pull off the ol' unitank, we're game; just don't FedEx a gallon of it to Sam Calagione* before we get a chance to play with it on a commercial scale.


  1. Pick up your yeast from Bull City Homebrew starting at 11am on Monday, May 27th, and make sure to drop off your beer before July 26th. Read the rules below for details on how many bottles you'll need, where you can drop them off, etc, etc. If you don't live too close, you can still participate, but keep in mind you'll have to pick your yeast vial up from Bull City and drop off your bottles in person (sorry, but shipping yeast and bottles becomes a bit too much of a hassle)—come visit Durham, it's worth the trip! And if you have any questions, feel free to drop us a line—if there's any info that arises that'll help everyone, we'll post it via Facebook and Twitter, so follow us on either of those social networks and we'll keep you posted.
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General Rules & Entry Guidelines

What kind of bottles are required?
Bottles should be 12 ounces in volume and free of paper labels or identifying caps. Corked bottles are fine as well. Bottles not meeting these requirements will be disqualified. Seriously, if we get any bottles with commercial labels still stuck to them, Ben will quite literally go insane.

How many bottles do I need to submit?
Drop off at least three 12 ounce bottles for each distinct entry in this competition. You can enter two different beers, if you'd like—just make sure you fill out a BJCP form for each beer (not each bottle, of course) and that we get 3 bottles of each distinct beer for judging.

How much are the entry fees?
None, silly goose. This one's on us—we appreciate your participation and look forward to chatting with you about your experience.

What are the dates I should remember? When is the entry deadline? Why did you just call me a "silly goose"?
All participants must be registered via our online registration form no later than midnight on Friday, May 24, 2013. Yeast vials will be available for pickup starting at 11am on Monday, May 27 at Bull City Homebrew. Entries must be dropped off in person at Bull City Homebrew in Durham before 7pm on July 26, 2013. As the deadline approaches, we'll announce the day of tasting & judging (and probably plan some fun stuff surrounding it), but it'll most likely be that weekend of the 26th-28th.

To enter Haw River Farmhouse Ales' Homebrew Competition, simply be one of the first 40 registrants to fill out our online registration form by Friday, May 24th, 2013. We'll send a confirmation email to each of the 40 participants on May 25th with instructions for picking up your yeast, as well as any other judging criteria, specific rules or guidelines, and any details that may be helpful. We'll also likely provide a few details regarding a few of the properties of the yeast we've recorded so far, but we don't want you to fall into any particular preconceived mindset when planning your recipe. Sky's the limit on this one, folks!

Have fun, get that registration form submitted ASAP, and start thinking about your recipes!

*Not that there's anything wrong with Sam Calagione—we love Dogfish Head. He was just the first commercial brewery guy we thought of. :)