F!RST Issue: Saving the Land-With Beer
A cluster of rogue entrepreneurs saves a historic property by building a brewery.
By Matt Amis Published October 20, 2006 at 12:00 AM
Our founding fathers were educated rebels, loudmouths and drunks who didnt agree with a crooked Empire. Invariably, they spilled some beer, bent some rules and busted some skulls until they decided on a country most of them were happy with.
It is no small coincidence Sam Hobbs has direct ties to this history. His 250-acre family farm in Greenville once contained, according to legend, a pear tree under which George Washington sat and planned the Battle of the Brandywine.
Now Hobbs and his stouthearted men are planning a battle of their own. Their battle plan involves preserving the historic Twin Lakes farmland in Greenvilleand theyre using beer to do it.
Three years ago, Hobbs, 40, founded the Twin Lakes Brewing Co. with partners Matt Day, Jack Wick and master brewer Mark Fesche. By re-making the land into a viable business, they have effectively eliminated the need to sell out to developers, keeping alive an important and scenic piece of land in rapidly suburbanizing Greenville.
We knew we wanted to preserve this farm, and it all sort of culminated, Hobbs says. This is my experiment to keep this farm as open space. It just snapped: Were gonna be preservation on tap.
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Twin Lakes Brewing Co. isnt easy to find. The brewery celebrated its grand opening on June 3 with food, live music and 400 or so in attendance, but on most other days, there isnt even a sign out front. From Kennett Pike, the place looks more or less like a horse farm.
This is hardly happy hour at Iron Hill. Twin Lakes is quiet and secluded, with just a few men milling around between the four-vessel, gravity-fed, barn-housed brewery. A heavy shroud of beech and hornbeam trees yawns all the way from Del. 52 to Valley Garden Park. Much of the land on this 250-acre farm is untouched, which, to Hobbs, is the point.
If youve lived here long enough, you slowly start to see this natural landscape disappearing, Hobbs says. Im really just a caretaker of this property. I ended up purchasing it from my family, but I want to be able to preserve it and pass it along to future generations.
That says nothing for the previous generations who have enjoyed the Twin Lakes farmland. Hobbs grandfather, artist George Weymouth, famously opened up his frozen ponds every winter for eager ice skaters.
The Brandywine Conservancy and New Castle County are also fans of Twin Lakes. The land and its spring-fed ponds are home to more than 30 species of waterfowl, as well as white-tailed deer, red fox and the occasional bald eagle. The actual twin lakes serve as vital watersheds for both the Brandywine and Red Clay creeks. The property, which has been a working horse farm for centuries, butts up neatly against Valley Garden Park and Hoopes Reservoir, creating a patchwork of nearly 3,000 unspoiled acres.
Hobbs is driven by his affinity for keeping this natural and biologically diverse land intactand useful. (He and master brewer Fesche have begun growing their own hops on the property.) But pressure from developers still exists, he says.
Every once in a while, wed get someone in here asking if wed be willing to sell some of the land, Hobbs says. Theres always that pressure. With a property this vast, we wanted to make it agricultural again. At the same time, we want to be part of the community and have some fun doing it.
The idea for a brewery sprung almost overnight. Hobbs, who wanted to start a winery, met Day and Wick, who were in the market for a brewhouse, but couldnt nail down the financing. When Hobbs realized a winery in chilly Delaware wasnt feasible, the three trekked to the Nantucket Winery, Brewery and Distillery, which is built on rustic farmland. Thats when it clicked, Hobbs says. I loved that historical look, and that was the final nail in the coffin.
From there, Hobbs, a Berkeley grad and a former Wall Street shark, knew what to do. The team cleared zoning regulations and struck a deal with Standard Distributing Co., Days former employer. Last spring, the kegs began to roll out.
It appears Twin Lakes is off to a very good start. The three varieties of brewa pilsner, a pale ale and a stouthave received rave reviews from local vendors and national beer experts. Popular bars and restaurants such as the Deer Park Tavern in Newark, and the Columbus Inn, Deep Blue and Harrys Savoy in Wilmington carry Twin Lakes on tap.
Were selling a lot of it, says Barbara Stitz, general manager of Buckleys Tavern, just a few miles up Kennett Pike from Twin Lakes. The customers love it, and the staff is really pushing it because its an easy sell for them. Especially with people touring the area, they want to taste something local, and theyre pleasantly surprised when its good. People are coming in and asking for it specifically.
Says Day, We think, if given the choice, people will pick the fresh, organic, locally produced beer. Fesche, a Beer Festival gold medalist and a degree-holder in fermentation sciences, utilizes pale malt from Wisconsin and fresh, flowered hops. Only natural filtration is usedno pumps or pellets.
Hobbs reveals Twin Lakes secret, something no other brewery in the state can claima spring-fed well hidden deep within the farm property. We have whats known as a bright water source, Hobbs says as crayfish scurry around inside. Its rock well water. It doesnt go through a water treatment plant, so theres no chlorine or fluoride. It really comes through.
The water is perfectly balanced for pH and alkalinity and, as a quick scoop of a cup can attest, tastes just like something out of a plastic bottle.
I think the brewers and the microbrewers all have something that makes them stand out, Stitz says. That water is really going to give them a special characteristic.
Theres clearly something in the water at Twin Lakes. Hobbs and his crew made a grand entrance at Buckleys Tavern, arriving on an 18th-century horse and buggy. Theyre in the process of drafting a sort of Declaration of Beer-dependence that theyll co-sign with Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione.
Every taproom and every restaurant has its own little fabric of a community based around it, Hobbs says. We want to be a part of those fabrics.
The American Revolution took place in the bars and taverns. Thats where the voices were first heard. If we lose the right to drink beer, we lose everything.