Califonia Bountiful

Field-to-glass brewing

March/April 2021 California Bountiful magazine

Hobby turns into 10,000-barrel business

Medium-grain rice, planted in April and shown being harvested in September, is a key ingredient in Farmers Brewing Co. beers. The rice is grown on the Weller family's Sacramento Valley farm, which is also home to their brewery. Photo: © 2021 Fred Greaves

Sometimes, a casual hobby can turn into a full-time endeavor.

For farmer Bill Weller, brewing beer began as a hobby, using grains grown on his family's Sacramento Valley farm. It started in his home garage and soon expanded to an old barn on the farm. But it didn't stop there.

Weller, a fifth-generation farmer, took his passion for brewing to a higher level last year by putting the finishing touches on his new Farmers Brewing Co. facility: a 25,000-square-foot operation capable of producing up to 30,000 barrels of beer annually. Weller anticipates brewing close to 10,000 barrels this year.

The new brewery and taproom overlook his family's rice and wheat fields—key ingredients in the lineup of Farmers Brewing Co. beers. Family-farmed almonds are also featured in some of Weller's seasonal brews. The family has farmed rice, wheat, almonds and walnuts in Glenn County for three generations.

"Our initial plan was to build a small brewery," Weller said of the vision he shared with his wife, Kristin, who co-founded the company with him in 2017. "But that changed when I located the brewing equipment I needed at a brewery that had closed in Arizona. It took 18 truckloads to move it here."

It also took three years of retrofitting equipment, permitting and construction to complete the project from the ground up.

"It was a lot of work," Weller said. "But we have the equipment, and farmers are used to getting their hands dirty, so we did much of the work ourselves, including installing drainage and setting the tanks."

Weller's goal has always been to use ingredients from the family farm to make Farmers Brewing Co. beers.

"It's very satisfying—both as a farmer and a brewer—to use our own rice and wheat," he said. "It also provides us with a unique branding position: We're a field-to-glass brewery."

Bill and Kristin Weller started Farmers Brewing Co. in 2017. Photo: © 2021 Fred Greaves

Rice is king in these beers

A main ingredient in beer is cereal grains, most commonly malted barley, used as a source of starch that becomes fermentable sugars during the brewing process.

What sets Farmers Brewing Co. beers apart? Each contains at least 20% estate-grown rice as its grain component, which helps create beers that are light in style and hue. One beer uses only rice as its grain, making it gluten free.

"Rice imparts a clean, crisp finish in our beers," said Adam Gruntz, Farmers Brewing Co. production lead, who works with Weller to oversee the operation from field to packaging. "We aim to make traditional style beers that are incredibly refreshing and easy to drink."

Rice has been used for many years as a key ingredient in light and dry beers, including Japanese beers. American beer powerhouse Anheuser-Busch is the largest single buyer of rice in the United States, and uses rice in its popular Budweiser beers.

Farmers Brewing Co.'s proximity to its grain sources, storage silos and well water helps ensure a fresh, quality product, according to Gruntz.

"We create our beer from the ground up, working with it in the brewhouse before it gets to the glass," he said. "We monitor the grains during the growing process, then control every step in brewing to get the cleanest rice and wheat qualities.

"People who visit the taproom can sip beer while looking out to our fields of rice and wheat, and see where it all begins," Gruntz added.

He and the brewery crew share their pride in their Calrose rice by giving it a name: Calvin Calrose. The medium-grain rice is planted in late April and harvested in early September.

Six styles of Farmers Brewing Co. beers are available in cans. Photo: © 2021 Fred Greaves

A varied beer lineup

Customers can choose from 12 beers on tap, including a revolving list of seasonal brews, in the new Farmers Brewing Co. taproom in Princeton.

Four core beers in the lineup are available year-round. The most popular is Farmers Light, a low-alcohol light lager. Its name calls to mind the early-morning working hours of farmers.

"It's clean and easy drinking, and has more flavor than mass-produced light lagers," Weller said.

A flavorful, unfiltered wheat ale called 530 (a double play on the region's area code and time of day when beer drinking is popular) is brewed with wheat farmed especially for the brewery by Weller himself.

Valle, a Mexican lager named by the farm crew, pairs well with spicy foods.

Sun Up 'til Sun Down is a light IPA with notes of orange blossom and fresh lemon zest that uses untraditional hops. Its name is a nod to a farmer's work ethic as well as its light, session IPA style.

Special releases include Daughters Wit, a Belgian-style beer brewed with estate-grown rice, barley and unmalted wheat, orange peel and locally grown coriander seeds. Its pinkish hue and slight tartness come from the addition of hibiscus. Stubborn Mule uses estate-grown rice as its only grain, making it a crisp and gluten-free beer.

Visitors to the taproom can enjoy a seasonal lineup of beers and views of the brewery's grain sources. Photo: © 2021 Fred Greaves

Seasonal and experimental brews

Imaginative, seasonal brews featuring local ingredients are available in small batches in the taproom.

Seasonal, fruity lagers have included Tree Shaker, brewed with local peaches and made to taste like a peach cobbler with the addition of graham cracker crumbs and cinnamon. It was a hit last year, so Weller said to expect to see it in the taproom this year. Other experimental brews have included jalapeño peppers and dill pickles.

A Baltic-style porter called Winter Migration, featuring family-farmed almonds, was released last fall to recognize migrating waterfowl along the region's Pacific Flyway. The brewery donated a portion of its sales to conservation efforts. Its creamy, smooth mouthfeel came from lactose supplied by nearby Rumiano Cheese, the oldest family-owned cheese company in California.

"We're constantly developing ideas for beers," Gruntz said. "Once we decide on a new recipe, the brewing, production, packaging, quality control and marketing teams get creative and work together to make it happen."

Weller added, "We've surrounded ourselves with a great team on the farm and in the brewery—and it's been a wonderful experience to have the family involved."

The Weller family has been immersed in all aspects of the operation since the beginning, from building the facility to developing recipes. Kristin Weller helped develop the branding, established the taproom and oversees the brewery's merchandise, while the couple's children—Lauren, 16, and Ryan, 13—are learning the business and performing chores around the brewery. Lauren was responsible for choosing the pink hue of the brewery's Daughter's Wit beer.

Brewing was a garage hobby for Bill Weller before he built a facility that's capable of producing 30,000 barrels of beer annually. Photo: © 2021 Fred Greaves

The brand continues to expand

Last year, Farmers Brewing Co. expanded by installing a canning operation at the facility. When COVID-19 restrictions slowed keg sales to restaurants and bars, Weller accelerated a long-term plan to can and distribute beers in six-packs to retailers.

"We'd planned to package and release cans for sale later in the year, but decided to move quicker to keep employees working and product moving," he said.

Besides being available at the taproom, Farmers Brewing Co. beers can be found on the shelves of more than 350 stores from Sacramento to Redding.

Jolaine Collins

What's in your beer glass?

Water, malted grain, hops and yeast. These four, basic beer ingredients are just the starting point for craft brewers who revel in creating new recipes that delight beer lovers with equally adventurous tastes.

Although brewers typically use malted barley as a grain, they earn their reputations by experimenting with flavors, style and body by adding items—called adjuncts—such as specialty grains, fruit, spices and even hot peppers to their beers.

Specialty grains add nuances and character to beers. For example, rye adds crisp, spicy qualities. Oats provide body and a silky mouthfeel. Wheat beers tend to be pale in color and low in bitterness. Rice lightens beer, while adding a snappy character.

Other ingredients added during the brewing process may include tart and tangy citrus fruits, warm baking spices or spicy chiles. Dark chocolate or coffee adds rich aromas and extra depth to beers.

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