After an hour drive North, we made our way through the farm town of Hampstead toward Ruhlman Brewing. The long dirt driveway led to a 36 acre farm with a large house, barn, a couple renovated garages, and tall hop vines. Outside sat the Ruhlman family; dad (the owner and founder), aunt, uncles, cousins, and son, Matt Ruhlman. Everyone lounged on benches and chairs, taking a pizza and beer break before continuing work on the hop farm.
Before its founding in 2012, Henry Ruhlman was described as “not much of a beer guy.” What Matt remembers from growing up is that his father never drank beer. Henry’s experience with beer was American light lager that reminded him of the slop of hogs fermenting; he couldn’t get it passed his nose. His perspective on beer eventually changed.
During the time Matt was in college, he began a beer bottle collection and started to bring different craft beers to his dad to try. Eventually, more and more beer was brought home and Henry said “This isn’t Bud Light, I can drink this. This is pretty cool.”
How did your father’s distaste for beer lead to founding his own brewery?
We always had trouble finding gifts for him for Father’s Day or Christmas. So, after he started showing interest in the beer we brought home, for his birthday we bought him a beer brewing kit. It was just a sample extract kit, and after two or three batches he said, “I was to try the specialty grain kits” which was sort of the next step. He did one or two of those, and then he said, “I want to do all grain. I want to really learn to brew.”
It’s not often you see brewer’s using their own hops. Who decided on growing a hop farm?
When experimenting with the different home brew kits, my dad thought it was cool for just a few batches. He decided he wanted to grow some hops. This was during the time of the hop shortage when it was very difficult to get some.
My grandfather was a farmer with pastures full of steers and such. When he retired, the pastures were empty and the land wasn’t being used for anything. So, we started planting hops there.
What are your hop variations?
We originally planed 24 original plants, four each of six varieties. To keep them growing, we take a piece of rhizome, the root, in the spring and transplant it. We have been transplanting every year since. All of the plants we have come from the original 24.
Different hops are used for specific aromas and flavors. Cascade is our largest produced, used for bittering. Saaz is more mild and used for our lager varieties. All the hops we have are the foundation for our 12 or 13 different beers.
Your farm is more than that and a tasting room. What events do you host?
We have everything from yoga retreats to summer concerts. We host 12 events a year – typically including a barbecue, tasting, tour, and live music. This July we are celebrating our anniversary with a party, and in August we have our annual all-day music festival Concert at the Creek. Other events I like to host are the St. Patrick’s Day and Black Friday Disc Golf Tournaments.
Why the awesome disc-golf course?
Simply, because I love disc-golf and we had the space to make a course. It began with just a few baskets that were given to me as a gift. Eventually, it grew into a full course that is spread throughout the entire farm. We are licensed as a golf course, meaning you can drink anywhere on the property. The ideal situation is to fill up a growler in the tasting room, and go out for a round of disc-golf.
Be forewarned of my favorite basket. It’s located across a pond that easily has over 30 or so discs on the bottom.
“Our goal is to scale down to four solid beers throughout the year, with a few seasonal.”
“Flying Dog tried [our mint chocolate stout] and must have thought, ‘wow this is good,’ because they came out with their brewhouse rarity series. It tasted just like it. So, we must have done something right if the big boys are copying us.”
[all images are courtesy of the CA Photography]