When did you first become interested in brewing beer?
I started working in breweries in my early 20s. I was the assistant brewer at Calhoun’s [later known as Cally’s] from 2001 to 2008 alongside brewmaster and owner Eric Plowman.
What was it that made you want to strike out on your own with Pale Fire?
It’s really just that independent spirit, you know? Wanting to make our own mistakes and do it for ourselves. Not to say that me and Jamie are green or anything. We’ve been brewing beer for a long time and most of our growing pains have happened on someone else’s dime. We’re not just cutting our teeth here. We opened our doors in April and even though it wasn’t perfect, I’d like to think we got a lot of things right.
Why did you decide to open your brewery in Harrisonburg?
Jamie and I have a lot in common, including our love of Harrisonburg. I grew up in Arlington and it’s done up there. Things are so built up and mature in that environment, there’s no room for newcomers like us to get off the ground floor. But Harrisonburg has so much potential! The City of Harrisonburg really lends itself to the entrepreneurial spirit right now. Relatively inexpensive rent and a lot of smart people who are excited to see the town grow and are happy to help out a neighbor. You still have to have a great vision and put in a lot of hard work, but the barriers to getting started are lower here than in more developed urban areas.
Which beers are you brewing currently?
We’ve got four available on tap. Saving Grace is our table beer, it’s a low-alcohol, full flavor Belgian made with our house Saison yeast. Deadly Rhythm Pale Ale is inspired by the punk band Refused, specifically their classic album The Shape of Punk To Come. Village Green Double IPA is a big hoppy beer that’s 8% alcohol, but its flavor isn’t overwhelmed by bitterness. There’s a trend right now that says the bitterest IPA wins, but we don’t feel that way. That would be like saying the best band is the one with the loudest bass. Finally, we have our Salad Days American Saison, a tart summery beer with notes of grapefruit, peach, and bubblegum.
It sounds like you draw a lot of inspiration from music.
Sure, but it’s more about creativity in general. Back in 1998 when Refused was on tour with The Shape of Punk To Come, they played their last performance here in Harrisonburg before abruptly disbanding. That album has gone on to become one of the most influential punk albums ever and I really relate to that kind creative endeavor. All art is kind of like a perpetual motion machine: it’s never really done and you never know who it will inspire for years to come. It’s an energy that doesn’t end and we just want to be part of that.
Red Molly Homebrew
Red Molly's rich character starts with a foundation of authentic Irish Ale malt. Cherry notes and a slight residual sweetness come from Crystal and Munich malts, with a touch of chocolate wheat. A clean bitterness, courtesy of mild British hops, balances the malt complexity and results in a flavorful and refreshing pint.
Ingredients (yields 10 gallons)
17.5 lbs Irish Ale malt
1.1 lbs Crystal malt (65L)
1.1 lbs Munich malt
0.3 lbs chocolate wheat
1.3 oz Northern Brewer hops
1.3 oz Goldings hops
Clean and sanitize all equipment. For the mash, combine 7.5 gallons of water with crushed malts and wheat. Sparge with 9.5 gallons of water. Transfer to kettle and boil for 90 minutes. Add Northern Brewer hops for the entire boil, Goldings hops in whirlpool. Ferment with an ale yeast. Once fermentation is complete, chill and transfer to bottles or keg, then carbonate.
To try Pale Fire for yourself, visit their taproom at 217 S. Liberty Street. Learn more at palefirebrewing.com.
Photography by Brandy Somers