On the outside, it looks like a nicely restored piece of Ozarks history.
But what’s found inside the barn on a Bucyrus couple’s 80-acre property near the Little Piney River clearly represents the manifestation of a passion.
And it just so happens that the passion is for beer.
Brian Durham and his wife Joleen Senter Durham have for years been fans of small-time brewers, breweries and “craft beer.” In turn, they have met many a local brewer and sampled many a local brew.
But when the couple came across a New Yorker Magazine article about craft beer and brewers, a strong reaction was triggered.
“I showed Brian and said, ‘these are our people,'” Joleen said. “He read it and basically said, ‘yeah.'”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Having already enjoyed brewing five-gallon batches on the stove in their 100-year-old farmhouse and doing the fermenting in the basement, the couple decided to take the leap and go bigger.
In July of 2010, they purposed in their hearts to refurbish the old barn on their property and set out on an elaborate project to transform it from a 1940s-era hay and dairy building into a brewing and drinking venue where the focus was “liquid enjoyment.”
They got their hands on a state-of-the-art Sabco “Brew Magic” brewing system that could produce 10-gallon batches. The barn was named the BARn, equipment for producing larger batches was ordered, a web site and blog were created, and the Piney River Brewing Company was born.
While neither half of the couple has plans to leave their day job (Joleen works at Texas County Memorial Hospital and Brian manages a farm implement manufacturing facility in Plato), they each enjoy their new routine of coming home, switching gears and stepping into their own little beer world.
“We’re a little bit insane,” Joleen said. “But we really love this.”
The largest organization of brewers in the United States, known simply as the Brewers Association, defines an American craft brewer as being small, independent and traditional. Small means having an annual production of six million barrels of beer or less, independent means being less than 25% owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not a craft brewer, and traditional refers to having an all-malt flagship – the beer brewed in the greatest volume among a given brewer’s brands.
There are currently about 1,700 craft breweries in the U.S., the biggest being Boston’s Samuel Adams. Many of the smaller craft breweries fall into the category of “nanobrewery,” an unofficial term that refers to brewers producing batches of three 31-gallon barrels or less.
For the time being, Piney River Brewing Company is a nanobrewery. But the Durhams have high hopes for their beer endeavor and much of the equipment is already in place to increase their brewing capability to 440-gallon batches, including a pair of 15-barrel fermentation vessels.
A seven-barrel brewing system, ordered from Big Muddy Brewing in Mufreesboro, Ill., is expected to arrive this month. When it begins yielding beer, Piney River Brewing’s status will quickly go from nanobrewery to microbrewery.
“With the 10-gallon system, we’ve been able to supply the word-of-mouth locals,” Brian said. “We feel like we’re ready to handle more people. Whether we are or not, we’ll deal with it.”
So far, only people visiting the BARn on Saturdays have had the chance to taste Piney River Brewing products, with the first customers being welcomed last March. But that will soon change; a distribution deal is in place with Grellner Sales and Service (a family-owned company that covers a 27-county area in south-central Missouri) and kegs and cans should begin circulating later this year. Craft beer cohorts at Public House in Rolla referred the Durhams to Grellner and manager Rodney Edwards.
“Most of the distributors in the state deal with big companies and buy huge quantities of beer,” Brian said. “But Rodney has a heart for craft beer and he believes in his area. This was a good fit for us.”
Piney River Brewing Company currently offers five different beers, each bearing a name with some connection to the Ozarks, and each having its own distinct personality.
While customers have since last spring been able to take home half-gallon bottles (a.k.a. “growlers”) of Piney River brews, on-site canning of “Piney Pints” will begin this fall and four-packs of 16-ounce cans will then be available at selected area stores.
Two beers have been chosen to kick off the company’s canning era: Missouri Mule IPA (Indian Pale Ale) and McKinney Eddy Amber Ale. There were a few specific reasons why those two brews got the nod.
“With the IPA, we wanted to appeal to the craft beer enthusiasts who are looking for the complexity in a beer,” Brian said. “On the flip side, we also wanted to use something that you could say is river-floatable, something that’s a little more easy drinking.
“The other reason is those are two of the beers we’re almost always out of. I can’t seem to brew them quick enough.”
Piney River Brewing Company will be the first micro-brewery in Missouri to do its own on-site canning (others produce cans, but their canning is contracted out). The Durhams are looking forward to sharing their product outside the walls of the BARn.
“We don’t really want to be a place where people have to come to get their beer,” Joleen said. “We want them to be able to go to a store or to their favorite restaurant and have our beer.”
If all goes as hoped, five-gallon kegs of Piney River Brewing Company product will begin moving out in about two months, and the first Piney Pints about a month later.
“Probably a realistic goal for the cans would be October first,” Brian said.
“In time for Oktoberfest,” Joleen said.
Being beer historians and wanting to give credit where it’s due, the Durhams point out that they’re not pioneers, but rather following in the footsteps of other Ozarks “beer people.” High on that list is Stephen Markley of Willow Springs, who started Little Yeoman Brewing Company in 1994. Chad Frederick, one of Markely’s brewers, bought the business in 2004 and moved it to his family farm outside Cabool. But the memory of Markley’s efforts lives on.
“He laid the groundwork and got people around here started on craft beer years ago,” Brian said.
“We remember moving back here after college and seeing Little Yeoman in local stores and thinking how cool it was that it was made here,” Joleen said.
The varying tastes of Piney River’s five beers results from using different types and mixtures of grains, yeast and hops.
“But the one common ingredient is our good Ozarks water,” Brian said. “It’s great; it’s a harder water, very similar to what some of your best English ales, porters and stouts are being made with.”
The pouring station in the BARn has six taps. Brian has plans to periodically experiment with new recipes and will at times attempt to tweak existing ones. What will officially be called “the sixth tap” will be used to fill glasses with the results.
“We’re going to have fun with adding some different local ingredients to the beer,” he said. “The sixth tap will be one of this brewery’s best attractions.”
Brian said that in addition to making beer, a brewer must expect to spend a lot of time cleaning brewing equipment.
“As a brewer, you’re really also a professional janitor,” he said. “There’s the cleaning process to prepare to brew, keeping things clean and sanitary while you’re brewing and then afterwards you have to clean it all to do it again.”
The Durhams aren’t by any means the only craft beer fans willing to put in some miles to seek out and sample various brews.
“There are groups of craft beer lovers who will travel together to try new craft beer,” Brian said. “It’s kind of well known that there are wine trails around Missouri, but now you can do the same kind of thing with craft beer. For example, you can go from Rolla and then swing through here, then head on down to Cabool, and then go to Springfield and try different beers.”
“Online there are even beer maps where people can find out what breweries there are in a place they’re going to,” Joleen said.
The Durhams look forward to future expansion of Piney River Brewing Company and Brian has already envisioned a new, larger facility on top of a hill on the property. He hopes to someday have to hire a brewer to keep up with increased demand.
“But for sure, any future growth that happens will happen here,” Brian said.
But first things first. Long before any new facility is built, there’s a lot more to be done with the current set up, including filling kegs and cans and finishing the refurbishing of the BARn.
BARn plans include turning its 2,000 square foot hayloft portion into a rustic gathering room with hardwood floors and a 1,000 square foot outdoor deck. Sprucing up the 70-year-old old building (that was originally constructed using red and white oak trees harvested from the property) was moving at a feverish pace for many months, but has tapered off of late because of a somewhat more pressing issue.
“That process has slowed down a little bit because people were telling us, ‘you need to start brewing beer,'” Brian said. “They were like, ‘the brewery looks nice, but we want beer.'”
The outside of the BARn has been completely covered with local wood obtained from Houston Wood Treating and the inside has been extensively coated with blown insulation. The downstairs brewing zone is outfitted with metal siding and the upstairs walls will eventually be partially lined with old barn wood removed from the outside.
The planned deck will face east, offering patrons a great view of sunsets and the surrounding Ozarks landscape.
The makeover of the historic structure represents the fruition of a feeling the Durhams had about it all along.
“We had this barn, and we always wanted to do something with it,” Joleen said.
“But we didn’t know what,” Brian said.
“Then we just jumped off the cliff,” Joleen said.
As the Durhams have discovered, brewing craft beer takes plenty of time and effort, both of which the Piney River Brewing Company founders are glad to contribute to their liquid endeavor.
“I’m at work most of the day sitting at a desk crunching numbers,” Brian said. “Then I come home here and work my butt off. I’ll be out here brewing till midnight sometimes.
“But it’s relaxing; it’s something different and I enjoy it.”
“I told Brian about 11:30 last night ‘we can sleep when we die,'” Joleen said.
Piney River Brewing Co. produces five types of beer. Herethey are as decribed on the company website:
Bronzeback Pale Ale – On the Big Piney, theperfect cast is under an overhanging branch or beside a bluff face.The perfect catch is a smallmouth bass that dances across thewater, bronze back glinting in the sun. Our handcrafted pale alecould be the perfect end to that day.
Ozark Firefly Wheat – A night in the Ozarksshould be enjoyed outdoors with friends…the moon, the stars anddozens of fireflies twinkling in the darkness. Our handcraftedwheat beer is like friends and fireflies…there should always bemore than one.
McKinney Eddy Amber Ale – In the heart of TexasCounty, McKinney Eddy on the Big Piney River was home to our friendand master blacksmith, Charlie McKinney. Charlie toiled over ananvil with purpose, passion and pure Ozark creativity-aninspiration for our handcrafted amber ale.
Old Tom Porter – Dense black beard, brilliantplumage, reverberating gobble–Old Tom is notorious for hauntingthe Ozark hills. He’s a prize gobbler with the wisdom to stay justout of reach. Our handcrafted porter is also memorable, but it’sone Old Tom that won’t get away.
Missouri Mule IPA – Missouri mules hauledhundreds of wagons across the West and packed supplies in WorldWars I & II. For decades, mules were also the most reliableOzark farm hands. Like a Missouri mule, you can rely on ourhandcrafted India Pale Ale. This IPA packs a hop explosion thatwill not let you down.