John and Bonnie Branding are partway through their mission to save and reinvent historic Wheatland Spring near Waterford, and their next project is both an homage to its past and a new idea for brewing in Loudoun.
The Brandings are launching a community-supported farm brewery, akin to community-supported agriculture. Because beer, after all, is an agricultural product.
“You might see farmers with dirty boots and hands walking around, because that’s how it comes to be,” said John. “So, we’re trying to celebrate the entire process of how something comes from the ground, gets made and then is delivered.”
On Wheatland Spring, a farm dating to the 1830s, they are planning to make beer as rooted in the area around Wheatland as the name. The beer will be served in a barn dating to the 1870s and brewed in another dating to the 1920s, and all of it will be in view of the acres of wheat they’ve planted for ingredients—along with the hundreds of acres of farmland around theirs.
“When we were thinking about locations for a farm brewery, one of our key criteria was saving one of Loudoun’s old farms,” Bonnie said. “Certainly, people can build a building from scratch, but the character and the history that lives in our 19th-century barn and early-20th-century barn, you can’t replicate.”
The inspiration for that sense of place in their beer came, perhaps ironically, from their travels overseas. The Brandings lived in Germany for years, spending time in the beer gardens of Munich and Berlin.
“There’s a term that they use called Gemütlichkeit, that essentially means a sense of belonging and comfort,” Bonnie said. “And it’s something that we felt there in our local beer garden that we would visit on a very normal basis.”
They decided that would be part of their longstanding dream to open a brewery, along with another German concept: Landbier.
It’s not a specific kind of beer, but a lot of German breweries have one. It’s not just any type of beer, either.
“One of the critical components, or essential components, is that you’re taking something unique to that region, that space in the world, and making a beer of that region,” John said. “And so it’s something you can only find there.”
Using locally grown ingredients isn’t an entirely new concept in Loudoun, where some brewers are already making a point of using ingredients grown locally, or even growing their own hops and other ingredients. But the idea of treating the beer so explicitly as a farm product, by offering a model akin to a community-supported agriculture membership, is relatively new to breweries. It’s something like a mug club, with monthly memberships that include a certain quantity of beer each month and a few other member benefits, but that puts that money directly into the land.
“We think it’s a neat thing for people to be able to take part in the agriculture, as well, to help us harvest our first yield of wheat this coming June and to help with putting those ingredients into the ground that we’re going to be using,” John said.
Interest is already growing, with people contacting the Brandings about joining before the first drop of beer has been brewed, and some of the memberships filling up already.
“I had never heard of a brewery doing that, but I think it hearkens back to the fact that they are trying to really hammer home the fact that it is a farm product,” said Maureen Moutoux, one of the Branding’s neighbors. She and her husband have a year-round CSA at their farm, and advised the Brandings when they were setting up their own business. “Our upfront costs in starting a farm operation are all in the spring. You need to get a lot of things in the ground. You really won’t see that back until, with beer, April.”
Moutoux said their own business has been successful because people want to be reconnected with farms and where their food—and beer—is coming from. At Wheatland Spring, at the more expensive membership levels, members become honorary land stewards, with their name on a part of the farm’s cropland.
“They technically become a shareholder, and so they feel like it’s their farm,” Moutoux said. “It’s their space they have contributed, and it just makes for a really great community feeling.”
Wheatland Spring will open in the spring. Learn more at wheatlandspring.com.