Amber Waves is getting to know the brewers who will be in attendance in a series called Who’s the Brew. As we get ready for the second annual Amber Waves Brewfest we look back when we sat down with Sam Yacko of Fenwick Farms Brewing Company. This year FFBC is a major sponsor and Sam talks about the brewery, the beers and the role it plays in the community.
How long has Fenwick Farms Brewing Company been in business now?
Since mid-august of 2017. We haven’t even been open a full year, but I think we’ve represented the community of Rensselaer well. And we’ve done a good job of servicing the town of Rensselaer by giving them a locally made craft beer option. Currently the only locally made craft beer option.
Why did you feel Rensselaer needed this kind of option?
Ah, I wish Kenny was here to answer that one. I drive down more than 45 min everyday. Whereas Kenny and Ron, the other two co-owners, live right here in Rensselaer and can speak into that a little more thorough. They introduced me to this town and I fell in love with it. It’s this great small town right in the middle of Chicago and Indianapolis. With our location right off I-65 we get a lot of travelers stopping in. Adventurers looking for new craft breweries. And so far we’ve been pretty well received with what we have to offer.
You mentioned you wished that Kenny and Ron were here. Were you all here from the very beginning? Or did Kenny and Ron say, “hey, I know who needs to brew for us…”
We were all involved from the very beginning. Kenny and I met years ago when we worked at the same company in Crown Point. We talked about opening up a brewery together. He moved on to another opportunity and later so did I. We met back up when this building we are standing in became available. There was this perfect storm of events and Ron was on board at this time as well. And here we are now. Still growing, still expanding and trying to do our best every single day.
Were you brewing somewhere before Fenwick Farms Brewing Co.?
Not at the scale I am now. I originally started like everyone else on a piddly, little home brew kit that was nightmarishly messy. I learned a lot from Kenny at this scale and I love the result we are getting. Beats staying in the basement.
You don’t miss basement bucket brewing?
I couldn’t afford a decent home brew setup myself. No question. It’s much better having professional regulators, gauges and testing equipment. It’s a lot easier to hone in your recipes than guessing what went right or more importantly what went wrong. I’m proud of what we are doing. We definitely started this the right way.
Is the beer you’re most proud of, the most popular or best seller?
It’s kind of hard to tell. The Iroquois River Cream Ale gets a lot of attention partially because the Iroquois River runs right through town so the locals love it. It’s an easy drinking traditional light brew that a lot of people gravitate to. My favorite is our Fly Free Wheat Ale. Unfiltered and light on the tongue, served traditionally with a slice of orange. I would stand behind our Hop Yard IPA any day. It’s not an overly hopped IPA. It’s on the mild side. We use locally grown hops from Cone Keepers Hop Yard. We use freshly crushed cones and never pellets. It has made all the difference.
Why did you decide to brew a milder IPA?
Neither Kenny or myself prefer a punch in the face hoppy beer. In our first conversation with Cone Keepers and what they were offering combined with what it is we wanted to brew, I feel like we did them justice. I feel like we developed a well balanced IPA that showcases the floral, fruity, citrus-like, piney American-variety hop character.
Have you considered barrel aging?
Absolutely. That has been part of the conversation since day one. We all love barrel aged beers. And with this location we have this tremendous basement that would be perfect space for housing barrels. However, keeping up with demand has been a little taxing. So for right now we’d like to continue to do the special edition limited offerings that benefit the community before we get into barrel aging.
Update: Fenwick Farms Brewing Company has a Knob Creek maximum char white oak bourbon barrel to age their Snow Angel Holiday Ale for a winter release.
How many flagship beers do you currently have?
We have 6. Fly Free Wheat, Spéirbhean Irish Red, Willow Switch Porter brewed with local Willow Switch coffee, Hop Yard IPA, Iroquois River Cream Ale, and Fort & Outpost Lager. Read more about them here.
Update: They’ve since added a 7th, Bravo 4 APA. An American Pale Ale brewed as a tribute to co-owner Kenny VanHouten. A must try when it’s on tap.
What is the defining differences between your cream ale and your lager?
The yeast that’s used imparts very different flavor profiles. On top of that, our cream ale is brewed with vanilla and ginger just to spice it up a little bit. Our Fort & Outpost Lager is a traditional recipe. I consider that our gateway beer. Being that we are the first craft brewery in town, a lot of our guests are new to these varieties. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “…I don’t really like those bitter tasting things.” So I direct them to our lager for a familiar taste.
Is there something you’re excited to try in the future?
Yeah. I’d love to make a sour. I was hesitant at first. I wasn’t sure how well received it would be. We’ve had a couple on our guest taps and so far they’ve been pretty popular. So that’s encouraging.
One of my favorite beers of all time is Dead Guy from Rogue Ale in Oregon. a German Maibock made with their proprietary yeast. To me that is a perfect beer. I’d love to have an opportunity to do a collaboration with them. I wouldn’t even have to have any input, I would just love to hear what they had to say. I’d love to see what a collaboration at that scale would bring to the community.
How important is community to this brewery?
That has always been the first thought in our minds. We brewed our Snow Angel Winter Ale as a limited release. We discounted it heavily and gave the profits to our local rotary club. If I remember correctly it was just over $1,700 which helped 50 plus families in need within the town of Rensselaer and Jasper County enjoy a holiday meal. We plan on doing that again and taking what we learned last year to make this year even more of a success.
Fenwick Farms Brewing Co. is going to be at Amber Waves. Is this your first brew fest?
We’ve been to a handful but not one at this scale. This will be the largest and most local we’ve attended. We’ve talked with the Jasper County Fairgrounds and they’re excited for it. It’s the first time they’ve hosted anything like this. We’re both hoping it brings a lot of people to Jasper County who have never been here before and it will help put our name on the map.
Update: Second time. Still excited. If not more so.
What’s next for Fenwick Farms Brewing Co.?
We’ve just expanded our building and put in a kitchen, so look for our food menu online soon. We are partnering with local food providers to round out the menu. We get our cheese from Fair Oaks Farms and our meat from Culp Farms. We’ve got a great staff to help out with that and a handful of people have put in a lot of work to make this happen. So we are really excited about that and excited about the future for this small town.
Update: They’ve hired a chef and you can see the menu here. They’ve added cocktails as well.