Pintful: At Farm Boy farms, craft brewing starts with craft farming

jfrank@newsobserver.comJanuary 14, 2014 

  • What’s On Tap

    7th Annual

    Winter Warmer

    3-7 p.m. Jan. 25 at the U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville

    The annual festival celebrating the warming power of beers and the dark beer styles popular this time of year will feature dozens of great breweries, including a few that are hard to find, such as Holy City Brewing from Charleston, Surly Brewing from Minnesota and Big Storm Brewing Co. from Florida. Tickets cost $45. Info:

    Big Operator Release Party

    5-8 p.m. Jan. 30 at Tasty Beverage Co., 327 W. Davie St., Suite 106, Raleigh

    Brewed with local Escazu cocoa nibs and raspberry puree, the Big Operator, a Belgian black ale, is a you-can’t-miss beer each year in the Triangle. Big Boss Brewing Co. will team up with Tasty Beverage Co. bottle shop for a release party. Info:


    Sexual Chocolate

    Bottle Release

    10 a.m. Feb. 1 at Foothills Brewing, 638 W. Fourth St., Winston-Salem

    Start making plans for the release of one of the state’s most anticipated beers: Foothills Brewing’s Sexual Chocolate. The sales start at 10 a.m., but the line will begin forming just after 2 a.m. to get numbered wristbands for the limited release. The brew pub opens at 8 a.m. for breakfast and a bottle share party with Sexual Chocolate on tap. Info:

— The day after a storm blew through Chatham County, knocking down trees and swamping low-lying areas, Dan Gridley is eager to check his crops at the farm.

The dirt road to the fields outside Pittsboro is muddy and rutted from the rain. The truck dances as it rumbles to two plots near the back tree line.

Lynn Mann drives. He owns 300-plus acres where Gridley’s Farm Boy Farms contracts to grow two-row barley and rye grain on 27 acres.

It’s winter, and most fields lay fallow, awaiting a spring planting to bring them to life. But Gridley’s plots are already green.

Stepping down from the truck, he finds the fields are wet but unharmed. And that’s good news for local craft-beer drinkers.

Planted in late October, the barley and grain have grown a few inches tall and now lie slumped over, hardy against the cold. They will nap like this until late March, when a growth spurt will push them toward shoulder-height by harvest time in May.

Once culled from the fields, the harvest will go to Farm Boy’s malting house down the road. Later, it will be shipped in large sacks to local brewers, along with hops grown on Gridley’s farm, to meet the ever-increasing demand for local ingredients for local beers.

Gridley’s operation is part of an emerging niche in the state’s agriculture industry aimed at supplying North Carolina’s booming craft-brewing scene. He grows four types of grain – barley, wheat, rye and milo – and five varieties of hops.

The grain, from his farm and others, is cleaned, malted and packaged at Farm Boy Farm’s property off N.C. 87. The four white silos that sit outside the malting barn will house the 100,000 pounds of two-row barley and 15,000 pounds of rye grain he expects to malt this year.

Aviator Brewing in Fuquay-Varina recently bought just about everything Farm Boy had left from the 2013 harvest to make a new local pale ale planned for release this spring. Other brewers using Farm Boy products include Mystery, Deep River and Trophy brewing companies.

The Farm Boy Farm mantra: Craft farming plus craft malting plus craft brewing equals true craft beer. The ground-to-growler mentality is booming. “The hops are sold before they are harvested. … We can’t grow enough grain to keep up with the demand,” Gridley said Sunday when I visited.

Gridley, 37, is a special education teacher in Raleigh, where he lives with his son and his wife, who is also a teacher.

He spends as much time on the farm as he can, working after school and weekends with help from one employee. And his passion shows.

Gridley is an evangelist for spreading the word about local beer with local ingredients. Feeding off the local food movement, he takes his show to local beer festivals and homebrew clubs to tell the backstory on how a beer becomes a beer.

Many people, he said, “don’t think back to how everything comes from the ground.”

What I’m tasting

Add a new North Carolina beer to your list: Railhouse Brewery’s Mastiff Oatmeal Stout. Made in Aberdeen, it’s a variation on the sweet stout that is mellow and smooth, showing how the style isn’t necessarily heavy drinking, despite the color.

It is far from the big boy stouts with rich roast flavors and high alcohol, but still satisfying. Info:

Contact John at 919-829-4698 or

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