As I sat enjoying a beautiful fall day on the 112-year-old porch at Wild Wolf Brewery on Virginia’s Brew Trail, one thing stood clear – this organization is committed twenty-four seven, fifty-two weeks a year to providing the most environmentally friendly, sustainable brewery products and experience you can have.
Six years ago, Mary Wolf began her “green” journey with her son head brewer Danny Wolf, “I go back to my original business plan, an entire section was devoted to the fact that we were going to be a green company. And we had a little expression that we never really used it since it’s kind of corny, but it was like ‘where everything could be green but the beer'”.
Today, that dream has come true. Wild Wolf Brewery has been awarded the prestigious Virginia Green Brewery of the Year Award in both 2015, 2016, and 2017. The Virginia Green award is a statewide program that works to reduce the environmental impacts of Virginia’s tourism industry. It is run as a partnership among Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging, and Travel Association. Virginia Green Breweries is a self-certifying program in which facilities must verify that they are, at a minimum, practicing the Virginia Green Brewery core activities by implementing the following:
Provide Recycling: highly-visible recycling opportunities for guests
Minimize the use of disposable food service products: use products that are made from bio-based or renewable resources and provide for recycling or composting of items
Water Conservation: have a plan for conserving and using water efficiently
Energy Efficiency: have a plan in place to reduce overall energy consumption
Offer a Green Events Package: provide recycling at such events and be willing to work with “environmentally-aware” customers
Danny Wolf is also quick to point out that being a sustainable brewery goes beyond the manufacturing process at Wild Wolf. It has to do with being a good community partner and a desire to be connected locally. “I think a lot of new beers are actually born out of me finding a fresh local product and wanting to use that. The Blonde Honey is an excellent example of that. We initially sold local honey in the homebrew shop, and I was brewing Belgium Blonde one day, and I was walking through the store looking for my different options to put sugar in there. And I chose the local honey. So the blonde has honey in it now because of that.
Another example at Wild Wolf Brewery is the Area 151 product. When this Belgian style ale was created, we added REAL local blackberry puree during fermentation that we sourced locally, giving the beer a beautiful taste and color.
Something that makes our beer really unique is that we don’t use any natural flavors. Natural flavors typically have propylene glycol and other preservatives. All it means that the flavor comes from a natural source and is the condensed down and bottled. We’re always brewing the freshest ingredients possible. We broke down fifty pineapples for the Haze of Future Past IPA, made real pumpkin puree for the Howling Pumpkin and got real spices from the Cheese Shop out in Staunton.”
It’s obvious that Mary and Danny believe in sustainable products. But I really wanted to dig a little deeper and ask why it was so important to them. Mary replied, “You don’t have to look very far, it’s scary to look at the world’s water resources starting to dry up in different locations, and on hazy days you look around and ask did we do that? I believe it our responsibility. We are out here with a 10-acre property in a beautiful place, and we want to preserve that.” Danny added that “we want to share this with other people. We have huge kind of billboard that we use to say, this is why we are green, this is what we are doing. Look how easy and fun it is and hopefully help encourage and inspire other people to do the same. I know there are a lot of breweries trying to year after year get the Virginia Green Brewing Award, and we keep winning it, but we are also inspiring other breweries to work harder.” Mary said, “We tell people everything we are doing. We’ve had people ask us ‘why do you do that.’ It’s not a secret, bring it on. Someone will take this award from us. Fine. Then that means we have inspired a bunch of other breweries to start doing the same thing we are doing.”
On the surface, Wild Wolf Brewery’s process does not seem that complex. However, when you peel the layers, it becomes obvious that Mary and Danny take nothing for granted. “Most of our sticks, 100 percent of the leaves, all leftover restaurant food scraps, waste yeast, all go into the compost pile. We feed the grain to local cattle. We then repurchase the cows from the same farmer that picks up the leftover grain. We have amazing hamburgers. We are very proud of our burgers.
In the summertime, we use other waste products to grow chives, lettuce, and tomatoes, to go with all the food as well. We have chickens, geese, and ducks. The geese have been great keeping the predators and hawks away. We had the best yield in our third year of hops due to our animals fertilizing like crazy! They eat the bugs, are supposed to eat the weeds, but not so much. They are not great employees in that respect but are great at fertilizing.”
Wild Wolf Brewery is dedicated to more than just the brewing process. It’s located on Rt. 151 in Nellysford and sits on a 10-acre plot. Part of their commitment to green included the restoration of a 112-year-old school house and multiple outbuildings including a couple of tobacco barns.
To keep up with demand for the product, increase quality, and fulfill requests from customers for event space, Wild Wolf added; two new production buildings, numerous pieces of new brewing and lab equipment and an event center that can only be appreciated when seen firsthand.
If you want to support a brewery that has genuinely taken sustainability to a new level, make sure you stop by Wild Wolf. The hamburgers are superb.