I love showcasing small breweries that deserve recognition. That’s why when I found a duo of winter releases from Big Thorn Farm, I wanted to share them here with all of you.
Big Thorn Farm is located in Georgetown, Illinois – a small city halfway down the state but just seven miles west of the Indiana border.
In 2011 the owners planted their first hop plants on the 15-acre farm they have but it wasn’t until 2016 that they built their three-barrel, solar-powered brewery and earth-bermed cellar. One of their neatest qualities is their aging process - every single one of their brews is cellared and aged on wood (usually oak logs found in their own woods) before bottling.
They create small batch brews and have a very limited distribution (central Illinois and the Chicagoland area). Luckily I was able to snag their Farm Pale (with Denali) and their Ginger Juice.
I’ll start with their Farm Pale, a pale ale brewed using rye and oats and then generously dry-hopped with Denali hops before being aged on those charred oak logs. The 22-ounce bottle contains a modest 5% ABV, was packaged a few months back in the Fall of 2017, and set me back a mere $8.99.
It poured a light, golden amber color with more than two fingers of creamy, dense, slightly tan/slightly white head that had some serious staying power. Even after a few minutes there was a barrier over a finger high blocking me from the nectar below.
You could really tell this beer was wood-aged from the aroma. A strong oaky scent filled the air and was followed by an earthy pine hop profile that also featured some nutty and peppery qualities.
When I was finally able to drink Farm Pale, it began with a soft, pillowy carbonation that quickly gave way to the other flavors.
Initially there was a flash of citrus – lemon and grapefruit mostly – before the wood and hops quickly changed gears on the beer’s flavor. There was a strong earthy flavor that was complimented by notes of spicy pepper and pine nut.
However, from the midway point of each sip on, it was a battle between the hop’s two main characteristics (citrus and pine).
For some sips the citrus would meld with the charred wood and take control, while on others it was the nuts and pepper that stole the spotlight. It was shaping up to be quiet an interesting beer.
There were only two consistent qualities to this beer: each sip featured the mellow charred oak flavor that the aging process implemented so well and the hops imparted a solid bitter bite as everything was coming to a close. The beer then ended with a lingering hoppy pine nut quality with just the slightest dash of dryness.
As the brew warmed up it lost the battle aspect it originally had and, instead, the flavors seemed to mellow out into a really nice blend of oak, pine, and citrus. It did, however, still end with the hoppy, bitter pine sting.
I must say the wood added something many beers don’t have. You can really tell that this is a beer made with not just from quality ingredients but from quality brewers as well. I love big citrusy brews…but, even without the fruit taking control, this was a very easy to drink and tasty beer. Especially if you like Pales/IPAs with more pine and nuts than fruit.
Next up, I have their Ginger Juice which is a kettle-soured wheat ale brewed with massive amounts of fresh ginger (grown on their farm) and orange peel before undergoing their signature oak aging.
The 750 mL (25.4 ounces) bottle was released at the end of November and packs an average 5% ABV but doesn’t come cheap – setting me back $14.
Ginger Juice poured a super cloudy golden straw color with some nice head building up. Almost three fingers of eggshell white foam topped the brew but quickly fizzled away into just a dusting across the top.
The aroma featured an interesting array of smells. There was a prominent spicy ginger aroma that had some calming citrus notes, like lemon and orange, backing it up. Behind the ginger and fruit, you could pick out just a bit of that smoky oak aroma. I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to try it.
My first sip began with a flash of carbonation before a surprisingly sour flavor punched me in the mouth. As I was about to make that “pucker face” we all have, the ginger and orange peel really kicked in and calmed down the sour notes.
The ginger provided a nice spice but never really assaulted my taste buds like the tart encounter that started Ginger Juice off did.
Instead, it just added a nice, yet surprisingly lighter, spice to the wheat aspect of the beer. The orange peel added citrusy sweetness that was joined by a slightly tart lemon zest and the coriander/other spices from the wheats and yeast used to make this brew.
As the taste came to a close, the orange peel/citrus added a sticky resin that clung to my tongue that was amplified by a light dryness that lingered between sips.
It was a very balanced beer that stayed consistent for the entirety of the bottle – sour bite, nice ginger spice, juicy citrus notes, then finishes somewhat sticky and slightly dry with some lemony undertones.
I was a little surprised that the light smoky oak didn’t make more of an appearance in the flavor of Ginger Juice as it had with Farm Pale. But, with all that was going on already, it wasn’t needed. The ginger, orange peel, and spices had done enough to make Ginger Juice a solid beer.
Despite the initial shock from the sour punch, this was a really tasty beer. Obviously, it helps if you like ginger and sour brews. If you do, and find yourself in central/northern Illinois, look for Big Thorn Farm. It’s totally worth the extra few dollars.