Tuesday 16 June 2009

The Session 28 (Better Late Than Never): Hollow Way Brew Co.

I wrote this for the previous Session (hosted here) but was feeling a little rough after drinking the night before and didn’t get around to posting it. It seems a waste to just leave it unpublished, so here it is.

I visited Hollow Way Brew Co. earlier this year. It’s an unreal place. Grayson Holloway, the owner and head brewer met me when I got off the bus in the middle of nowhere. He’s younger and better looking than I expected (if a movie of his life were made he’d be played by Kevin Costner circa 1998 or Ryan Gosling) and he drives me in his pick-up to the ranch where he has built his brewery.

It’s only been around for a few years, he tells me. I tell him that I haven’t been able to find any information on the place and there’s no website. They are working on the whole PR side of things and he has big plans for the next year. His girlfriend, Abbie, is setting up the brewpub and she’s also helping out with the website. The brewpub will be the big draw, he hopes.

We arrive at the brewery-come-ranch. It’s a hot and dusty day and the air hangs still, full of the heady aromas of fresh hops. The place consists of two large barns and two old farm houses (he lives in one, the other will be the brewpub). He has around ten acres of land, part of which is used for growing hops (currently Eroica, Green Bullet, Olympic, Symphony and Zeus – a bunch of lesser-known varieties) and part is an established vegetable garden which will supply the brewpub. He also has a large greenhouse where he grows herbs and spices and other delights. It’s a pretty wonderful sight for a beer geek like me.

The brewing area is split in two: the main brewhouse barn and the experimental/storage barn. The main one has the capabilities for one 35hl brew a day, plus 4 UNI conditioning tanks. The other barn is like a secret cave a goodies (plus a cave of barrels and bottling machines). There are old whisky barrels filled with beer, there are a whole range of ingredients like dried fruits and spices, coffee beans and tea. Plus there’s one of his first projects: Wild One. It’s his own lambic which he brewed over a year ago and which he hopes will be ready in another year or so. That’s his baby, he tells me. There is also a Wild Two (working title) ageing in champagne barrels.

Following Gray around it’s clear that he’s hugely passionate about brewing. He started the brewery up after receiving an inheritance and now he wants to make it big. He’s seen the craft beer market take off and he wants to be involved in that. He wants his name as well known as Stone, Dogfish Head, Russian River and Mikkeller. He wants to see his beers flying up the ‘Best Of’ lists. He wants to win awards. He wants people to visit him from far away and to love his beer. He wants to be someone special.

But what are the beers like? I got to try a few while I was there but to be honest I was a little disappointed. I expected more from all of the beers and none of them really delivered. I think Gray sensed that I was slightly underwhelmed and it was then that he said this: ‘They aren’t perfect yet, I know, but they will be.’ His voice was full of a raw emotion, something intangible, something deep-rooted; a sadness that he hadn’t got it right, but a hope that he will. And you know what? He’s an impressive guy. He knows about beer. He knows what he wants and I’m pretty sure that he’ll get it.

Session One. 5%
The session ale modeled on a British bitter. A deep amber with a thick, creamy head. It has a nose of toffee, bread, earthy hops, blackcurrants and spicy citrus. The body is a little thin but it drinks well enough. There’s a good malty base, nice and bready, finished with plenty of rounding-off hops.

Session Two. 4%
A pale ale. Zingy and fresh and light. Biscuity malt and finished with a hefty load of hops. This was a good beer (in the same vain as HopHead) although he tells me that it doesn’t sell too well.

Dark One. 8%
Hollow Way’s stock stout. Big and black. A nose of coffee, milk chocolate, liquorice, heavy soil, toasted nuts and a berry bitter-sweetness. Great nose. Unfortunately it doesn’t carry through onto the palate which is a little one-dimensional.

IPA Two. 10%
A double IPA. This is more my kind of thing. It’s hopped with a selection of the ones he grows at the brewery along with Centennial, Columbus, Simcoe and Cascade: a real hop bomb. The nose is just what you’d expect: citrus and pine with floral hints of mint, and sweet notes of white chocolate and toffee. It’s the best brew I tried there. Brutish, strong, in your face. Fairly well balanced although I’d want it more bitter, in truth, something which he intends to do anyway with the next brew.

Super One. 15%

This one took 15 hours for Gray (and his assistant Jacob) to brew. It then spent 10 days in primary fermentation and a year in whisky barrels. It’s massive and I was so excited about trying it. It pours a thick crimson-brown with little head. The nose is immediately smoky from the barrel aging, then it’s got dried fruits and a slight sourness, blackberries. Drinking this was a little odd though. The smoky and oxidized sour notes clashed in a strange way. The strength was fiery and there was little sweetness to claw it back. Gray is disappointed with this one, but he’s working on a few more in the Super Series (Super Two, Three and Four).

While I was there I also got a quick taste of the Wild One (a big privilege as this was the first time Gray had even tried it!). He tapped a little off into our glasses and held it up to the light: a blush of pink. The aroma: winter fruits, mustard, hay. He was smiling at this point. The taste: still sweet, straying into sour with cherry and under-ripe plums. This one is turning out well and he’s delighted with it. Although it’s not perfect yet.

So there we are, my little trip to Hollow Way Brew Co. Gray is doing some cool things and he sure is ambitious. You may not have heard of him yet, but remember his name because someday soon I’m sure you will.

I didn’t get any pictures because my camera wouldn’t work when I got there. I was really pissed off about that.


  1. Wow, I feel for the guy just reading that. Still, with that passion I'm sure he'll get there!

  2. Liams, this is a rather confusing post! Where in the flying &*^%$ is Hollow Way Brew Co??? There is no internet listing? Is it a US or UK brewery?? If it's US, then how dare you!! The West Coast is the place to be. You need a hardcore tour of the West Coast Double IPA style. From reading this article is sounds like you were in Montana, or *#@! knows where!! Get it straight!

  3. Did Grayson let you try any of the new make spirit that they are holding in tank?

  4. Barry, I think he'll do it. Keep an ear and eye out for this guy. He could spread like a virus with a little point in the right direction - he's doing things that no one else is.

    Wurst, a West Coast IPA marathon is high up my list of beer holidays, I just need the money to be able to do it!! Fingers crossed for next year!

    Zak, I tried everything that I could! I tasted a couple of the unfinished ones from the tanks which was coming along nicely. I also saw some of his new ideas for new beers.

  5. All the details are in the first paragraph... Northern California, close to the Oregon border.