Wooly Pig Farm Brewery

Wooly Pig Farm Brewery?  “Pig” and “farm” are words that go together nicely, but “wooly” and “pig”?  Or how about “wooly” and “brewery” or “pig” and “brewery”?  I have to admit that all of those words together piqued my interest when I was looking along the route of my recent road trip for interesting sounding places that focus on brewing German-style beers.

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Kevin Ely
Kevin Ely

The Wooly Pig Farm Brewery is a family enterprise.  Brewmaster Kevin Ely and his wife Jael Malenke were working in the brewery when I arrived and Kevin was generous with his time in showing me around a bit.  Kevin explained that Jael’s brother Aaron Malenke and his wife Lauren Malenke are their partners in the enterprise and take the lead on the farming side of things.

Kevin’s brewing background includes stints at Ska Brewery in Durango, Colorado and Uinta Brewing, in Salt Lake City, Utah.  While at Uinta, Kevin was involved in trips to Germany to procure a variety of brewing equipment and was able to also visit a variety of country breweries, particularly in the region of Franconia.  Kevin described being engaged by the way that those breweries often combined traditional farming and brewing practices to create places that are key to their communities.  These ideas became important parts of the vision of Wooly Pig Farm Brewery.

When a former dairy farm became available near the farm where Jael and Aaron had grown up, the two couples purchased the farm and founded the Wooly Pig Farm Brewery.  Kevin said he was intrigued by the similarity of the landscape where the farm is located to the Frankische Schweiz or Franconian Switzerland – he said that some people even call this part of Ohio “little Switzerland”.

nearby Hand Hewn Farm offers workshops in charcuterie (image by Hand Hewn Farm)

The farm has been worked for more than 150 years and the group is committed to sustainable farming practices.  In addition to sheep and horses, the farm is home to curly-haired Mangalitsa (pronounced mahn-ga-leets-ah) pigs that are rightly referred to as wooly pigs.  Mangalitsa’s are a breed of pig originating in Hungary that some people have referred to as “the Kobe beef of pork.”  Kevin told me that it is particularly good for use in charcuterie given that it is so flavorful.  Its name means “hog with a lot of lard”.  Think of Mangalitsa as a throw-back breed — a pig that is meant to forage and that still has fat and marbling (thus flavor).  More important to Kevin though is the pigs’ role on the farm as consumers of spent grains and other brewery by-products.  “they play an important part in the handling of our brewery waste streams.”  They do sell meat from the pigs but the demand from repeat customers has meant that there is no need to advertise or sell other than directly.

wood-clad brew kit
wood-clad brew kit

The brewery and taproom are located in a repurposed equipment shed.  Kevin designed and spec’ed the brewhouse himself to be efficient for lager brewing.  Wood-clad kettles and horizontal lagering tanks pop out on a walk-through.  The breweries kit allows for 10 to 12 beers to be available on tap at a given time.  The small taproom is open four days per week and is supported by considerable outdoor seating in a covered shed, in a grassy meadow, and in several free-standing, covered booths inspired by European “salettls”.  I’ve encountered salettls from time to time in beer gardens in Germany and Austria – they are often small gazebo structures, always rustic but they can get quite extravagant as well.  Wood harvested from the farm is put to good use everywhere.  A vintage red barn figures into future plans for repurposing as event space.

Wooly Pig Rauchbier
Wooly Pig Rauchbier

The biers available when I visited cover a nice range of German styles plus a few more.  Kevin is in basic tune with the spirit of German Rheinheitsgebot but expressed reservations about the current day implementation and administration of the standard.   The Helles, Festbier, and Schwartzbier I sampled seemed like traditional renditions to me.  You get a sense of the experimental in the Coffee Pils, the IPL, and the Fruited Gose.  Everything I sampled was well presented and I particularly enjoyed the Rye Dunkel and a Rauchbier that was close to ready for the taproom.  Kevin told me that about 60% of their business comes from destination visitors and a smaller amount from local trade.  The only place you can purchase a Wooly Pig beer other than at the brewery is at the Germania Singing & Sport Society in Columbus.  The organization picks up kegs of Wooly Pig Schwarzbier to serve on tap at their social club.  Kevin says there are no current plans to grow distribution – he likes the scale they have achieved.

The Wooly Pig Farm Brewery is in rural eastern Ohio in the middle of a triangle between Cleveland, Columbus, and Pittsburgh.  The County Seat of Coshocton is about ten miles west of the brewery and was my base for the visit.  When I asked about hiking in the area neither Kevin nor Jael had much to offer, but they did say that river floats on the nearby Tuscarawas River and country road gravel biking are popular outdoor activities.  I had a nice walk around historic Roscoe Village adjacent to Coshocton and into the downtown.  Part of the walk was along the former towpath of the Ohio and Erie Canal.  I asked about the brewery at the visitor center at Roscoe Village and was told,  “oh yes … you won’t be disappointed by any of the beers out there.”  Agreed!

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