Welcome to What the FAQ, where we ask the hard-hitting questions about an upcoming event.
Today, we’re getting down and dirty with Van Carney of Pen Druid Brewing about this weekend’s End of Oktoberfest.
Who is Pen Druid?
Pen Druid is a brewery in Sperryville, Virginia. It was founded and is operated entirely by three brothers: Jennings, Lain, and Van Carney. These siblings also constitute the three members of long-running psych-rock trio Pontiak, but Pen Druid has been their primary focus since it opened in 2015.
The Carney brothers operate a slightly unusual operation (by conventional brewing standards in 2018). For starters, the wort for all of their beers is boiled in a giant copper kettle over a wood fire. As Van said in early 2017, this is mostly about efficiency and carbon-neutral sustainability.
“We kind of did it out of novelty at first – like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do this outside and use wood?’” he shared. “Then we were like, ‘Holy shit, you can get wood so hot.’”
After the hoppy sugar water has been conjured, Pen Druid ferments most of its beers in oak barrels with either a native wild yeast (culled from outside the brewery) or a native souring culture (lifted from its barrels). Sometimes wort goes into stainless steel. Other times, it goes into a coolship (a wide, shallow, open fermentation vessel) and is left to be inoculated “spontaneously” with the microflora (i.e., wild yeast and bacteria) occurring naturally in the air.
Inspired by the Belgian Lambics, these spontaneously fermented ales are Pen Druid’s pride and joy. The brewery just packaged its first gueze (a blend of one-, two-, and three-year-old spontaneously fermented beer), though it may take upwards of a year for it to bottle condition prior to release.
Pen Druid does not send its beer to DC aside from the occasional Neighborhood Restaurant Group festival (like Snallygaster) or a very special event. Generally speaking, if you want Pen Druid beer, you have to go to Pen Druid.
“No distribution – ever,” Van once told me. “It’s not what we want to do. It’s just a different thing. We’re very specific about what we want to do. We love what we do. There’s only so much you can do with three people, but the point is not to grow. It’s not like, ‘Let’s go big!’ We don’t want to do that at all. We can have a totally awesome, healthy life playing music and running the brewery, keeping it small and focused, just being passionate about it. Size doesn’t mean anything.”
Over the past three years, Pen Druid has attracted a fervid contingent of fans, particularly within the beer industry.
“[I]t’s like a time machine back to the rustic beers of hundreds of years ago,” Right Proper head brewer Nathan Zeender gushed about the brewery in BYT’s 2016 Beer in Review.
“Pen Druid are killing it, and their mixed-fermentation farmhouse ales are very special,” added NRG beer director Greg Engert. “I couldn’t get enough of Earth at Rustico’s Novemberfest, a beer that combined aggressive aromatic hopping and floral funk in a special, seamless manner.”
If you don’t trust me, internet person, trust those two V12 palates.
What is End of Oktoberfest?
End of Oktoberfest is one of two annual gatherings at Pen Druid. In the spring, it holds Yeaster, which focuses primarily on fermented foods. End of Oktoberfest follows in autumn.
“They’re both agricultural events focused on bringing the county together,” Van told me last week. “We live in an agricultural county, and we’re agricultural manufacturers by license and law.”
For End of Oktoberfest, Pen Druid invites two farms – one produce, one livestock – to prepare and serve the fruit of their labors.
“This is an actual farm to table event,” says Van. “The farmer is literally putting food on a plate for you to eat. When people live in an agricultural area outside of a metropolis like DC, things can get lost in the mix – things can be called farm-to-table, and they’re not. People might not know what farm-to-table actually looks like. At our event, you can literally ask the farmer: when did you plant this, how did you cook this, and why are you serving this to me right now? It’s the entire pipeline, the entire chain.”
The produce side of the equation will be handled by The Farm at Sunnyside, who cultivate organic vegetables and fruit three miles down the road from the brewery. Operated by Stacey Carlberg and Casey Gustowarow, the farm regularly provides Pen Druid with wheat and fruits for its beers. At this point, Gustowarow is also a staple of Pen Druid’s agricultural gatherings.
“In the past, Casey has done all kinds of stuff for us – roasted root vegetables and braised spinach and all kinds of greens,” Carney says. “This time of the year can be kind of tricky with what they have. The End of Oktoberfest is always a pig roast, and this year Casey is making tacos. He’s roasting peppers, and we’re getting the tortillas locally made from organic corn.”
The heritage pork for these pig-roast tacos will come from Bean Hollow Grassfed, who raise lambs and pigs in the county.
So, it’s not a German-style Oktoberfest?
It is not. The name is a joke – a wink at the fact that Americans often celebrate Oktoberfest in October, when it traditionally begins in mid-September over in Munich.
“It’s a tacit, kind of funny way for us to say, ‘It’s not an Oktoberfest,’” Van explains. “I guess it’s a little esoteric, but we just thought it was funny.”
It’s not even really a “beer fest,” is it?
No, do not show up looking for pretzel necklaces and plastic sippy cups and Perennial barrel-aged Abraxas and drink tickets.
“We don’t do beer festivals – that’s its own thing,” says Van. “We’re really clear about that. We don’t have bands. What we’re trying to do is focus on where things come from.”
Why does organic farming matter?
“It’s sustainable and effective and it works,” Van explains. “In terms of soil health, organic farming really does work. It produces better produce. At the end of the day, our goal is produce the best beer we can possibly make. When you’re a farmer and you’re trying to produce the best vegetables and best meat, you gotta do it organically. If you do it any other way, you get a mediocre product. And you can taste it.”
However, the brewer notes that organic inputs do not equate directly a perfect beverage.
“Just because we use organic malt doesn’t mean we’ll make the best beer,” he continues. “It’s a step in the right direction towards a healthy, sustained, eventually delicious product.”
When is End of Oktoberfest?
End of Oktoberfest is Saturday, October 27, from noon to 7:00 p.m.
Where is End of Oktoberfest?
At the brewery. In Sperryville. Which is a place. In Rappahannock County. It’s about a 90-minute drive from DC. Ask Siri or Alexa about it.
How much is End of Oktobefest?
It’s [extreme 070 Shake voice] freeeeee.
Well, you will need to pay for food and beverage, but no ticket required.
What should I drink at End of Oktoberfest?
Pen Druid will have a full line-up of beers. In fact, since the brewery only has six taps, it will have more beer than it can pour at once. Highlights include…
- Hermès: A 4.4% blonde hoppy table beer. Hermès is brewed with raw wheat from The Farm at Sunnyside and pilsner malt, then fermented with Pen Druid’s house wild yeast. “It’s a clean beer,” says Van. “It’s really super drinkable and really showcase our wild yeast.” All of Pen Druid’s “clean” (i.e., not sour) beers are fermented with this wild yeast, which originally came from outside the brewery. “It can go anywhere from tasting like a saison – like a Dupont or Blaugies – to a Belgian wit,” Van says of the strain. “It’s estery, probably a little phenolic sometimes not too much, just nice and fruity. It’s definitely not a mellow, clean yeast like a California ale yeast. It has quite a bit of character to it.”
- Earth: A 7% farmhouse ale, Earth is hopped assertively during fermentation it. “It’s just a hoppy, spicy, a little fruity beer,” Van observes. “It’s quite nice.”
- Colonial Panic: A collaboration with Lost Lagers, Colonial Panic is based on a historic recipe, though it’s now “gone lactic,” per Van. It was brewed with local barley and oats, Pennsylvania sorghum molasses, and organic hops.
- Sun People: Sun People is essentially the Pen Druid house sour ale, fermented with a native souring culture that comes from the barrels Pen Druid used to age spontaneously fermented beer.
- Electra: “Electra is basically Sun People fermented along with Vidal Blanc and Chardonnay Juice from Linden Vineyards,” Van says of the popular 9% brew. “It’s the least beer-like thing we have.”
- Golden Swan: Van likens the rustic Golden Swan, a 6.5% blonde ale, to a witbier.
Will there be anything aside from Pen Druid beer?
OK, rude question, but yes.
Wild Roots Apothecary will be bringing “non-alcoholic and herbal-infused libations” (and “herbally inspired” confections.)
Charlottesville’s Potter’s Cider is sending… hold on, let me check my notes… ah yes, cider.
And fellow Sperryville brewery Hopkins Ordinary Ale Works will be complimenting Pen Druid’s offerings.
Can I bring my dog?
No. Pen Druid hates dogs.
Or at least that’s what some people on Facebook seem to think.
“It’s a non-dog event, which tends to piss off people who are irrational and unreasonable,” says Van. “There’s just no way that we can provide a safe space for dogs when we have over a thousand people here. It wouldn’t be fair to the animals.”
They’re good dogs Ven.
I’m trying to rage. Is there an after-party?
Yes, Headmaster’s Pub will host an after-party, complete with a Pen Druid tap takeover.
Based on extensive analysis of this establishment’s website, the burgers look very good.