Inspired by Belgium and ‘found ingredients’ Farmington woman crafts a beer with New Hampshire brewery
By Peter McGuire
When 'Jasmine,' the newest beer from White Birch Brewing of Hooksett, N.H., is released in Maine, residents of Franklin County can be proud to call the inventor and brewer one of their own. Kate Wallace, a resident of Farmington, recently graduated from the apprenticeship program at White Birch and Jasmine is the culmination of her six-month stint there.
Wallace, who has lived in Farmington off and on since 2003, has been home brewing since 2004. She says that brewing in an important outlet for her creativity.
“I like seeing something through from the beginning to the end, and brewing is a real concrete way of doing that. You have this product that you create initially and you put some yeast into it and you watch it literally transform in front of your eyes,” she said, adding, “I also like to drink beer, so inevitably you want to create things you like.”
Although an accomplished home brewer, Wallace had never brewed commercially until she was accepted as the ninth, and first female apprentice at White Birch. She was inspired to move into the commercial brewing world after some extensive brewery touring in Belgium.
“I got back to the states and I was on a real kick to learn more about commercial brewing,” she said. The fact that White Birch gives its apprentices the unique chance to brew their own beer really attracted her. “Part of the program is creating your own recipe and having a chance to brew that on a large scale and then have it distributed, bottled and sold. I don’t know of any other breweries that have that model.”
Wallace’s fascination with experimentation influenced both her decision to use jasmine blossoms for the beer and her choice of yeast. Initially, she thought she was going to use American yeast, but then was convinced by the head brewer to try three test batches using an American, a British and a Belgian Ardennes' yeast. To her surprise, the Ardennes was her favorite.
“It had this really amazing way of blending with the jasmine and the hops and accentuating the fruity, floral character that the beer already had,” Wallace said. “I just thought it was really unique.” Jasmine was brewed in a seven-barrel batch on a single marathon brewing day in December. Nine hundred 22-ounce bottles have already begun to be distributed in New Hampshire, although she joked that she tried to get White Birch to distribute Jasmine exclusively in Maine.
The apprenticeship taught her a lot about the commercial brewing world, especially taken with how huge an undertaking running a brewery is.
“Coming back to my homebrew setup was a breeze,” she said. Kate doesn’t have any plans to start her own commercial operation anytime soon, but she still thinks about opening a local nanobrewery.
“I really like the idea of a super-local economy,” she noted, “like starting a brewery in Farmington and then keeping that beer within the community but I’m not sure that’s really a viable thing right now.” For the moment, she is content with making five-gallon batches of beer with her own homebrew setup. Her plan for the immediate future is pretty simple: “Right now my plan is just to share with people I care about."