Arthur Lucas has a love jones for natural products. The founder of Freehouse Brewery in North Charleston spends many a day tracking down organic grains, organic hops, and even organic cleaners. "Yesterday, I spent most of the day tracking down organic dextrose," Lucas says.
The brewer started Freehouse, the sixth brewery in the Charleston area, with a strict set of principles in mind. For one, he knew he wanted his company to be 100 percent USDA-certified organic — no easy task. In fact, Lucas and company are still working to get there. "We can't just brew any beer we dream of. We're tied down by constraints of the seasons and availability," Lucas says.
In addition, Lucas has outfitted his brewery with as much American-made equipment as possible. Everything from the grain mill to the three fermenters were fabricated in the United States. During a tour of Freehouse, he says, "This grain mill over here, it was made in South Dakota. This is the Ford of mills. Not only do we use it to mill the grain, but it doubles as a stairway to get to the attic. It's built Ford tough."
Freehouse is also using a natural gas burner as its boiler, something you don't normally find in the States, but it gives the brewery more temperature control. And the equipment doesn't come cheap, but Lucas has found ways to cut costs and make it work. "You have to spend money on the important things and get creative with others," he says. "We built this grain table out of pallets, and we built the bar ourselves. The bar top is made from 120-year-old wood from a seed mill in Abbeville, S.C. We like to be a part of a more localized economy."
Of course, Lucas isn't doing this alone. For starters, there's Devon Hamilton, his head brewer. "Devon and I met online on ProBrewer.com. He was brewing at Great Adirondack Brewing Company in Lake George, N.Y., and we had talked about my vision many times before I eventually told him I could use his help down in Charleston," Lucas says. "He's really been great, and he knows his stuff. He's my right-hand man."
Both Lucas and Hamilton have been working hard to put together what they consider to be a very approachable craft beer portfolio with a focus on Belgian-style farmhouse ales and hoppy English brews. Currently, they're making three year-round brews and a few seasonals. The Green Door IPA was the first year-round beer to hit taps around town. At 5.8 percent a.b.v., this 100-percent organic English-style IPA is about as drinkable an IPA as you can get. The tame hop profile and modest malt backbone balance each other nicely. On the Belgian end of the spectrum, the Ashley Farmhouse Ale is a take on a traditional saison style. It's floral and fruity with a dry finish.
There's been talk about barrel-aging and souring beers, but it in order to remain organic, the barrels must never have contained non-organic wines or spirits. Lucas plans to use four American oak barrels with a medium-long toast and begin experimenting. As far as sour beers go, Lucas says they're not out of the question, but he's a bigger fan of using "Brett," a.k.a. Brettanomyces, a funky yeast strain that typically heightens the flavor profile of beers such as saisons.
And that's not all. Lucas says that Freehouse has a 5.5 percent a.b.v. brown ale on the way, and he promises it will be roasty and sweet. They're also going all out for Brewvival with a bunch of casks and a randall, a water filter hooked up to the flow of beer. "Brewvival gives us a chance to really take it to the next level," Lucas says. "I'm not quite sure how it's going to work yet, but we plan on filling a randall with fresh steamed oysters before running our oyster stout through the line." In addition to the randallized oyster stout, they've brewed an imperial version of the Ashley Farmhouse that'll be dark, strong (9.2 percent a.b.v.), and cask conditioned with organic honey.
We don't know about you, but that sounds sweet to us.