As breweries continue to pop up in astonishing numbers across the country (there are 55 in Vermont, or according to the Brewers Association 11.5 breweries per capita) beer, despite the endless variety, is becoming more similar across categories than ever before. For instance, breweries on the west coast are trying their best to replicate the hazy, New England IPA style. Meanwhile, a brewery in Pennsylvania brews one of the best cervezas in North America. But in Poughkeepsie, New York there’s a brewery that’s making beer specific to its immediate terroir by only using New York-grown ingredients. Plan Bee Farm Brewery, founded in 2013, produces beers like Moon Shed, a spontaneously fermented wild ale that was cooled under a Blood Moon and turbid mashed with heirloom corns grown on their farm, and Best Spuds, a tart ale made with potatoes and aged in red wine barrels.
Founded by Emily and Evan Watson, this is a family affair. The recipes and branding are helmed by Evan, and the business side of things is Emily’s doing. Together, they manage the brewery’s farm (which they rebuilt themselves), as well as their quaint taproom and the beer’s bottling and distribution—of which most is still done by hand, including wax-sealing the bottles one at a time.
The pair stand out in an industry where authenticity and individuality are highlights of nearly all openings. A brewery can be city- or region-specific in the way it makes its beer, or the type of beer they make, but Plan Bee is Poughkeepsie beer—proudly and precisely. Their business is unabashedly dedicated to New York; everything from their barrels to their wheats and yeasts, the brewing system and the cleaning products come from their home state.
“Using local ingredients is part of our mission, to create beers from our community for our community. We believe it is the best way to get the freshest ingredients to represent our unique terroir and it also keeps all the money in our local economy. We are now working on becoming 100% sustainable. We have offset our electric use by signing up for community solar; we are looking to run the brewhouse on biofuel that we will generate from our spent grain and compost; we use our own well water from the well we drilled on site, and continue to find ways to recycle, reuse and reduce our waste. It is a lifestyle choice, not just a business,” Emily says.
“Our yeast is sourced from our raw honey from our beehives on the farm. The bees forage in less than a two-mile radius which means they are capturing the terroir of our farm and that is used to ferment all our beers—giving them their truly unique flavor. The property has never been conventionally farmed which means the soil has been able to reach a natural balance that gives us many gems that would have been lost with human intervention—wild strawberries, Queen Anne’s lace, nettles, wild grapes, wild blackberries, rose hips. Many of these wild ingredients find their way into our beer but the wild yeast is the cornerstone of Plan Bee that we couldn’t have without this land,” she continues.
A left turn off a dead-end dirt road leads you to their site, of which there is 25-acres worth. While they source a lot of their materials from other local businesses, a sizable amount of what they use daily comes from their farm. They maintain a wild apple orchard and an adjacent one for Bartlett Pears, Golden Apricots and Montmorency Cherries; they grow white, pink and red currants; in peak season, 11 varieties of peppers grow here; and, as beers get more experimental, they leave space for a crop of edible flowers—dandelions, rose hips, violets, elderflower, anise hyssop and carrot seed among them.
“We only use 100% New York state ingredients so we are tied directly to the seasonality of ingredients and the terroir that comes with the harvest. We repeat some of the same styles each year, but they taste very different from year to year based on the way the ingredients grew that year. The amount of sun, rain, range of temperatures, the time of the year they were harvested; they all affect the flavors in our beer. It is fun to compare the last five year’s beers to one another to see how the terroir of the harvest really does affect the flavor development,” she says.
The pair haven’t commercialized or commodified their process, despite how widely sought-after their beer is. Their practices are old-world—in a way that other breweries would never think of operating. “We do most of the brewing in the colder months,” she says. “It becomes difficult to brew in the summer when the wild yeast cultures are plentiful along with the actual winged bugs. This year we had a few problems with beer getting too sour in the summer. So for 2019, we are going to try to brew extra during the winter to see if we can get away with not brewing for the two or three months out of the year when it is hot.”
Coming to Plan Bee is an experience undoubtedly unique to the arena of craft beer. Sure, there are breweries in remote places and far-off lands that tantalize and transport. But, Plan Bee isn’t too far off the beaten path—which is what makes their efforts so remarkable. “Poughkeepsie in particular is exactly halfway between NYC and the capital, Albany. We are three miles from the train station—which is a lifeline to many different areas. We have a beautiful mix of farmland and diversity from the city,” she adds.
And while she knows their beers satisfy drinkers nationwide, she hopes to always service those closest first. “I believe breweries should work with their local communities to produce their beers—to cut down on transport of ingredients and to keep money in their local economy. As a small business owner, I hope to lead by example on how to be a responsible member of society and vote with my money,” she says. “I am not looking to be rich; I am looking to create long-lasting relationships in my community, and I can’t think of a better way of doing that than providing delicious, locally sourced, sustainable beer for them.”