Haw River Ales Native Yeast Homebrew Competition

When we start talking about beer and homebrew ideas with Ben Woodward of Haw River Farmhouse Ales (often after consuming a few brews) the result is almost certainly a crazy idea.  Last time it was our smoked hop beer, and we’re still talking about making a beer using beer instead of water (it’s gonna happen).  This time, however, YOU get to benefit and participate in our latest NC Homebrewing & Haw River Farmhouse Ales experiment.

If you have been following Haw River much, you may have heard that they recently collected, isolated and banked their very own native yeast strain in Saxapahaw, and they’ve created a few internal test batches, as well as a commercial beer called Little Miss NC (a collaboration with Trophy Brewing Company) to test it out.  Exciting stuff, right?

The strain has worked wonderfully in test batches of a Belgian Blonde, a Saison and a Belgian-style Tripel that they have brewed. According to Ben (and a few samples), with the right malt bill, it flocculates beautifully, leaving a crystal clear beer after about 20-30 days (although it finishes out a ~1.060 wort in about half that time). Again, assuming they want it to, it can attenuate at room temperature quite easily, leaving a clean, crisp, dry beer.

OK…so where do YOU come in?

Haw River wants to know what happens if you ferment the yeast cooler than 68˚F? How do the flavors meld with roasted malts? What happens when it’s pitched into a more fermentable wort? A less fermentable wort? A wort with a low pH? An original gravity over 1.100? A copious amount of crystal malt? A highly hopped India Pale Ale?

While they would love to test out all these scenarios, they’re a little pre-occupied building a brewery, so they are teaming up with yours truly and Bull City Homebrew to reach out to YOU, our homebrewing brothers and sisters to host a competition of sorts.

Here’s the idea: Haw River will provide you with a 50mL vial of their Saxapahaw yeast strain, and you brew whatever you want, then let us taste a few bottles and figure out which ones we like the best. The brewer of the “winning beer” becomes an official Haw River Farmhouse Ales Barn Raiser (and receives a Premium Barn Raiser box) and gets to help Haw River create a single batch of the winning recipe on their 10BBL system after wetheyopen later this year! First runner up gets a bunch of goodies from Bull City Homebrew, and third place receives a special collection of fancy merchandise from Haw River Farmhouse Ales and a high five.

Oh, and did we mention…it’s FREE!

So, if you’re up for the challenge, brew a Russian Imperial Stout and age it on French oak. Or craft a West Coast Red Rye IPA and ferment cool to keep those esters down and shoot for a clean ferment. Concoct a big, burly Wheatwine and dry hop the heck out of it with New Zealand rarities. There ain’t no rules with this one (well, a couple, we suppose… but you can throw the style guide out the window and pretty much do what you want… you just gotta use their new Saxapahaw yeast).


1. Brew whatever you’d like. With whatever ingredients you’d like. And whatever crazy fermentation schedule you’d like to use. The only rule when it comes to ingredients is that you may only primary ferment with the yeast strain we provide you (if you’re interested in pitching a little Brett in secondary or bottling with champagne yeast, feel free!). There are no style categories in this contest, and a single participating brewer can enter two different beers, if you’d like. (Although keep in mind that if your beer ends up winning first place, we’re hoping to scale the batch up to 10BBL. Which means if you dry hop your 5 gallon batch with burgundy truffles found on a remote Canadian glacier, they may have to make a few substitutions)

2. Take great notes and share the recipe with us. Part of what Haw River is hoping to gain by hosting this competition is vital information regarding how different ingredients work with the native yeast strain and how it imparts flavors on certain types of recipes. We want you to have fun, but we also want to be able to see how you got there. Each beer must have an accompanying BJCP recipe form submitted alongside to be considered for judging (which you can find on the BJCP website).

3. Pinky-swear not to bank the yeast or sell it to the highest bidder. Seriously. Once Haw River officially opens, if homebrewers want to come by for a fresh pull off the unitank, they’re up for it, so be patient!

4. Pick up your yeast between June 3rd and June 8th, and make sure to drop off your beer before July 29th. Read the rules on the Haw River site for details on how many bottles you’ll need, where you can drop them off, etc, etc. And if you have any questions, feel free to send an email to myself or Ben—if there’s any info that arises that’ll help everyone, we’ll post it via Facebook and Twitter, so follow us and Haw River on either of those social networks and we’ll keep you posted.

Complete Rules & Entry Information can be found here!

Best of luck – and stay tuned about a possible judging party and awards ceremony.