At Wood Ridge Farm in Nelson County, growing barley is the first important step in a hands-on process by which Barry Wood oversees production of craft-brewed beers served at his Wood Ridge Farm Brewery.
Wood Ridge is a 300-acre farm that has been in Wood’s family since the 1800s. He grows 40 acres of winter malting barley and 55 acres of malting barley in the spring, along with wheat, rye and oats. Although barley is the most commonly used grain in beer, Wood grows all of the grains used to create the 14 distinctive beers served on tap at his brewery.
“We not only grow all of the barley, we malt, roast and toast the barley. It is brewed right here using all of the ingredients we possibly can from the farm. That’s what makes it unique—everything is sourced locally, from the dirt to the glass,” Wood said.
The farm even produces some of the hops and some of the yeast needed for the beers.
Brewers are starting to use more Virginia-grown ingredients in their craft beverages. Wood is among those reviving the age-old craft of farm brewing, but he also is tapping into a growing interest in local barley and grains among burgeoning craft breweries and distilleries.
“Barley is an essential ingredient for brewing beer, and proper quality of barley is determined in the field,” he explained.
Virginia farmers planted about 46,000 acres of barley in 2015, but the crop grown now is used almost entirely for livestock feed and is not suitable for malting.
Wood is helping to re-introduce the production of malting barley in Virginia. He grows four kinds of barley for brewing, but he readily admits that it involves trial and error to meet the challenges of that specialty crop. Malting barley is a much more sensitive crop than traditional feed barley.
The Virginia Foundation for Agriculture Innovation and Rural Sustainability, based at Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, provides resources to Virginia breweries, wineries and distilleries and has assisted Wood Ridge Farm Brewery.
“For beginning farmers and those who have never grown malting barley before, starting small and working with knowledgeable individuals is key,” explained Chris Cook, executive director of VA FAIRS. The foundation recently published From Barley to Beer: A Guide for On Farm Brewing, available atvafairs.com/resources.