Columbiana craft brewery supports local farmers, community

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Employees of Birdfish Brewing Co. can a new beer at the brewery's production facility on East Park Avenue in Columbiana. From left: Larry Klapp, John Tomsich, Jared Channell and Scott Hrivnak. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

COLUMBIANA, Ohio — Malted barley, hops, yeast and water. Those are the ingredients needed to brew beer. The guys at Birdfish Brewing Co., in Columbiana, can get two of the four from farmers within 7 miles of the brewery.

When possible, they source the ingredients for their craft brews close to home. It not only makes a quality product, but it builds community.

“The guys are out working on the farm, growing it right down the road,” said Birdfish co-owner Greg Snyder. “Then they’re coming in and drinking the beer. It’s one big circle. It’s a community effort that’s going in from the start to the finish.”

People can get a hands-on experience with agriculture at the Hop Harvest Festival Aug. 17 at Lamppost Farm. The event is a collaboration between Lamppost Farm, in Columbiana, and Birdfish to connect people with the source of their food and brews.

Starting out

Birdfish is owned by Snyder, Josh Dunn, Jon Dunn and Jared Channell.

They’d been home brewing for about five years when they opened their first location, the Up Top, on Columbiana’s Main Street in late 2015 with a one barrel brewing system. A one barrel system brews 31 gallons at one time.

They opened their second location, the Down Low, in late 2018 on East Park Avenue. The building was a car dealership in a past life, but now it’s home to Birdfish’s seven barrel system, production facility and taproom.

Now the smaller brewing system is where they make their experimental beers, Snyder said.

If someone comes in with an idea for a beer and access to ingredients, they might try it. That’s what brought about beers using dandelions, honey, maple syrup, basil and mint from various local farms.

Josh Dunn said they’ve brewed 200 different recipes in the past three years.

“The hardest part is not coming up with the idea, but coming up with the name,” Snyder said.

The agricultural connections don’t end once the beer is brewed. A farmer from New Brighton, Pennsylvania, takes the spent grain to feed his cattle, Josh Dunn said.

Their main partnerships, though, are with Yarian Quality Malts in New Waterford and Knucklehead Hop Farm in Leetonia.

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Josh Dunn, co-owner of Birdfish Brewing Company, and Sam Yarian, of Yarian Quality Malts, stand with a bag of Yarian’s malted barley that he grew 4 miles from the brewery. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

Barley

Sam Yarian has been farming for years and decided to give barley a try in spring 2016.

“I just took a chance,” he said. “It was only 6 acres.”

It was a small risk considering Yarian farms about 2,500 acres of corn and soybeans each year with a neighbor.

That first year went well, but Yarian didn’t yet have a plan for how to malt the barley or who to sell it to.

He planted more barley in fall 2016 because it worked better with his crop rotation, continued learning about the new crop and found a place to malt his barley.

At the same time, he started talking to Birdfish about using his barley.

Josh Dunn said they brewed a trial beer using Yarian’s barley and did some side-by-side taste tests with beer brewed with commercially available barley. Yarian’s came out on top, he said.

This past year, Yarian grew and harvested 50 acres of barley in mid-June. He plans to plant 200 acres this fall.

Birdfish is projected to produce about 30,000 gallons of beer this year, Josh Dunn said. Of that, 70 to 80% of the malted barley used will have been grown by Yarian 4 miles from the brewery.

The cost for using locally sourced products can be higher than those from commercial producers, Yarian said, but “you get what you pay for.”

Hops

Knucklehead Hop Farm and the hopyard at Lamppost Farm were born from relationships with Birdfish Brewing.

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Hops growing at Lamppost Farm in Columbiana will be harvested at the Hop Harvest Festival and later used to make a beer in collaboration with Birdfish Aug. 17. (Rachel Wagoner photo)

Jon Rydarowicz said he went to a hop conference with his friend, Josh Dunn, out of curiosity in 2016. By the end of the conference, Rydarowicz bought 160 hop plants.

“I jumped into it headfirst,” he said.

From 160 plants, Knucklehead Hop Farm quickly grew to 440 plants on about an acre of land, about 6 miles from Birdfish, Rydarowicz said. The hop farm is a side gig for Rydarowicz, who runs Leetonia Steel Erectors full time.

Hops are perennials that take time to get cultivate. By the third year, hops are considered mature and a farmer can expect to get a full harvest from them, Rydarowicz said.

Last year was year three for Knucklehead. To handle the larger harvest, the farm and Birdfish bought a hop harvester machine together.

Breweries typically used dried, pelletized hops in brewing, but fresh hops can also be used to create beers with different flavors.

If they’re going to be dried, they need to be processed within several hours of harvest or the hops will begin to rot, Rydarowicz said.

Last year, Rydarowicz said about 90% of what they sold to their breweries was fresh from the field.

In addition to Birdfish, Rydarowicz also sells to Noble Creature Cask House in Youngstown, Modern Methods Brewing Co. in Warren and Wheeling Brewing Co. in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Most hops in the U.S. are grown in the Pacific Northwest, and they can be a challenge to grow in Ohio’s humid summers. But Rydarowicz said he learns more and enjoys it more every year.

“It becomes funner and funner as you go because you meet more brewers and more people in the area,” Rydarowicz said.

Bringing it all together

Lamppost Farm started growing hops with the goal of supplying Birdfish with fresh hops for a beer and to create an educational experience for the community, said Steve Montgomery, director of farm and education at Lamppost Farm.

The beer is a 3 Mile IPA – named so because Lamppost Farm is 3 miles from Birdfish.

The educational experience is the Hop Harvest Festival. People are encouraged to  take part in the annual harvest by handpicking the hops from Lamppost’s small hopyard. They have about 50 plants, Montgomery said.

“They can rub them in their hands, smell them, see the different profiles as they work with them,” he said. “We want people to have hands-on experiences.”

If you go: Hop Harvest Festival

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 17

Where: Lamppost Farm, 14900 Market St., Columbiana

Cost: Free

What: Pick hops; Birdfish will be selling beer; Lamppost will be selling cob-oven pizza and grilled meats; and live entertainment and activities like hayrides, disc golf, bull chip bingo and yard game tournaments going on all day

And they can put the freshly picked hops in their beers to add a little extra flavor, he said. At the festival, Birdfish will be selling beer, Lamppost will be selling food and there will be a variety of activities and live music throughout the day.

The first hop harvest festival was in 2016, Montgomery said.

Hops are just one way Birdfish and Lamppost have collaborated. Montgomery said Birdfish has also made beers using their basil, mint and even bacon in the past.

“That’s the spirit of collaboration that’s happening in this area,” Montgomery said. “It’s the idea of building relationships. Birdfish is excellent at that.”

As people become more busy and separated in modern life, food and beer are there to bring them back together, he said.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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