Stories in Virginia

A Thirst for Longleaf

Josh Chapman creates a special brew to honor and raise awareness of longleaf pine forests.

A young girl wearing a ball cap pulled down low over her eyes reaches up into the branches of a longleaf pine tree. The ends of the green pine needles are visible just above her head.
Longleaf Pine Emma Chapman helps collect longleaf pine branches and needles at Piney Grove Preserve. The organic material will be used by her father Josh to brew a longleaf beer. © Kyle Laferriere
By Daniel White, Senior Conservation Writer | November 15, 2021

Josh Chapman, owner of Black Narrows Brewing in Chincoteague, was reading his morning newspaper back in July of 2019 when a wild idea popped into his head. After reading about efforts to restore Virginia’s longleaf pine ecosystem, Chapman reached out to The Nature Conservancy with a proposition.

“Hey, I know this is gonna sound crazy,” Chapman recalls saying to open the conversation. “I really want to make a beer using this crazy longleaf pine. Do you think that's possible? Can we spare some needles?”

From Forest to Glass: Longleaf IPA (3:01) Take a journey with Black Narrows Brewing co-founder Josh Chapman from a “crazy” idea to make a craft beer with longleaf pine to an effort to raise awareness of the urgent need to restore Virginia’s founding forest.
Brewer Josh Chapman standing in the tank room of Black Narrows Brewing. A bearded man leans against a tall steel brewing tank. Kegs sit on the floor behind him with a second tank in the background.
A Brewer's Passion Josh Chapman at Black Narrows Brewing Co. His interest in TNC's work at Piney Grove Preserve led to the creation of Longleaf IPA, a beer brewed with longleaf pine needles. © Kyle LaFerriere Photography

In short order, Chapman signed on as a partner in TNC’s OktoberForest campaign. Joining with dozens of brewers across Virginia and the nation, Chapman helped focus public attention on the connection between forest conservation and the clean water required to brew craft beer.

Still inspired to do more, Chapman and his “crazy” idea found a receptive audience in Bobby Clontz, who manages TNC’s Piney Grove Preserve in Sussex County—epicenter of the Virginia Pinelands.

“One thing led to another, and I'm on a Gator with Bobby Clontz, and the little babies and Jen are with me,” Chapman says. “We're barreling through the Piney Grove Preserve and looking at [red-cockaded] woodpeckers, and it was a magical experience.”

From Forest to Glass

From a “crazy” idea to make a craft beer with longleaf pine to an effort to raise awareness of the urgent need to restore Virginia’s founding forest.

Support Forest Restoration in VA
A man wearing a blue shirt holds a pine branch steady with one hand while he reaches up with the other to cut it close to the trunk of the tree. The open savanna behind him is lined with tall pines.
A woman wearing a wide brimmed hat walks through an open pine savanna. She holds a pair of clippers in her right, gloved hand.
A young girl stands behind a longleaf pine seedling. The top of the seedling spreads out with long needles. She is looking down, her face partly obscured by the brim of the TNC ballcap she is wearing.
A man and woman stand together with two young girls. The man holds his younger daughter on his hip; his reaches around behind his wife to ruffle the older girl's hair. The woman is smiling.
A man holds open a large brown sack. A second man places a long pine branch into the bag. The second man's face is obscured by the branch's long pine needles.
A man bends a longleaf pine branch trying to break off the top portion and its long green pine needles. Large brown garden bags rest on the floor next to the man, all filled with pine branches.
A young girl with curly blond hair wearing a pink dress holds up a longleaf pine branch. The end of the branch fans out with long green pine needles.
A man uses a long handled paddle to stir a mixture of water and longleaf pine branches and needles in a steel brewing tank.
Label for Black Narrows Brewing's Longleaf IPA beer. A color illustration of a red-cockaded woodpecker perched on the side of a pine tree with an open savanna of grass and trees in the backkground.
Four beer can style pint glasses filled with beer lined up in a row. Each glass displays a color illustration highlighting VA's four priority landscapes.

From Piney Grove to Piney Notes

Following the whole Chapman family’s tour via all-terrain vehicle of Piney Grove, home to the rare red-cockaded woodpecker, the group gathered not only green pine needles, but also collected branches, bark and cones from the ground.

With his chef’s experience and sensibilities, Chapman is especially fond of fresh, local ingredients. But pine needles? Cones? Bark? Sticks? Isn’t that taking the locavore notion a bit far?

View looking down into a tall steel brewing vat filled with longleaf pine branches, needles and cones. A man stands over the vat adding ingredients.
A Toast to Longleaf Josh Chapman tends to the longleaf pine needles, branches and cones that form the base of Black Narrows Brewing's Longleaf IPA. © Black Narrows Brewing
View inside a large steel brewing vat of branches, needles and cones collected from longleaf pine trees for a new beer.
Whirlpool Steep "I went into the brew with the intention of treating the pine like it was the hop addition, and I wanted to get as much aroma as possible.” © Josh Chapman
A Toast to Longleaf Josh Chapman tends to the longleaf pine needles, branches and cones that form the base of Black Narrows Brewing's Longleaf IPA. © Black Narrows Brewing
Whirlpool Steep "I went into the brew with the intention of treating the pine like it was the hop addition, and I wanted to get as much aroma as possible.” © Josh Chapman

If you’re imagining a concoction that tastes like a household cleaner, consider that several varieties of hops—a key beer ingredient—are known for imbuing “piney” notes into the flavor profile.

So, back at the brewery in Chincoteague, Chapman enthusiastically dumped his collection of unique natural ingredients into the boil for a new IPA (India Pale Ale). The first version of his pine-inspired concoction, which Chapman dubbed Forest of Forgotten Trees IPA, began flowing from Black Narrows’ taps that October.

“The cool thing was bringing it all back here, getting to use the ingredients and having the beer turn out even better than I could have hoped,” he says.

But again, he wanted to do more. Buoyed by the success of that initial brew, Chapman has continued to refine his recipe, and this year he returned to the Pinelands not only to replenish his pantry, but also with a new plan to amplify the conservation story behind the beer.

A hand holding up a can of craft beer. The label reads Longleaf India Pale Ale and shows an illustration of a small brown and white woodpecker perched on the side of a longleaf pine tree.
Longleaf IPA "Using longleaf pine, something so unique, gives us an easy conversation-starter for the history of the longleaf and why it matters to the commonwealth." © Kyle LaFerriere Photography

New Brew: Longleaf IPA

This fall, Chapman will debut Longleaf India Pale Ale. This new longleaf-infused IPA will be canned, with a label designed in collaboration with TNC. Emblazoned with a red-cockaded woodpecker perched on the trunk of a pine, each can tells the story of Virginia’s once-vast longleaf forests—and how to help bring back this critical habitat.

For Chapman, the “grapefruity notes” from longleaf impart not only a great taste, but also evoke a sense of place—in this case, of the Virginia Pinelands and the nation’s Founding Forest.

“When people come here, they get to taste where they are,” Chapman says. “The more that our beers can reflect where they come from, the better people will be and the better planet we’ll have.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. A smiling man points to the beer can he is holding showing the piney woods and red-cockaded woodpecker on the label. He is standing in a forest of tall pine trees.
Celebrating Longleaf Pine Virginia Governor Ralph Northam holds a can of Longleaf IPA during the dedication of Piney Grove Flatwoods, Virginia’s 66th natural area preserve, November 23, 2021. © Office of Governor Northam
× Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. A smiling man points to the beer can he is holding showing the piney woods and red-cockaded woodpecker on the label. He is standing in a forest of tall pine trees.
Virginia Associate State Director Nikki Rovner. A woman wearing a dark winter hat holds up a beer can showing the piney woods and red-cockaded woodpecker on the label.
Protecting Our Forests VA Associate State Director Nikki Rovner at the dedication of Piney Grove Flatwoods. The designation confers the highest level of permanent land conservation possible in VA. © Office of Governor Northam
× Virginia Associate State Director Nikki Rovner. A woman wearing a dark winter hat holds up a beer can showing the piney woods and red-cockaded woodpecker on the label.
Celebrating Longleaf Pine Virginia Governor Ralph Northam holds a can of Longleaf IPA during the dedication of Piney Grove Flatwoods, Virginia’s 66th natural area preserve, November 23, 2021. © Office of Governor Northam
Protecting Our Forests VA Associate State Director Nikki Rovner at the dedication of Piney Grove Flatwoods. The designation confers the highest level of permanent land conservation possible in VA. © Office of Governor Northam

Adding a New Chapter: Piney Grove Flatwoods

In September 2021, Piney Grove Flatwoods became Virginia’s 66th natural area preserve. TNC will retain ownership of this 446-acre tract; it becomes part of an ecologically significant conservation area spanning 10,000-acres that also includes Big Woods State Forest, Big Woods Wildlife Management Area and TNC's Big Woods.

Governor Ralph Northam attended the formal dedication ceremony of the new natural area preserve in November—an event appropriately christened with Lonfleaf IPA. The designation as part of the Virginia Natural Area Preserve System brings the state’s highest level of protection to this critical habitat at our Piney Grove Preserve.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), through its Natural Heritage program, will bolster TNC's efforts to protect vulnerable wildlife such as barking frogs and red-cockaded woodpeckers. Establishing Piney Grove Flatwoods Natural Area Preserve is an exciting new chapter in pine savanna restoration, building upon DCR’s 20 years of expert science and contributions.

A field of small yellow flowers bloom in the grassy savanna underneath the straight trunks of towering pine trees. Large puffy white clouds fill the blue sky above.
Virginia Pinelands Flowers in bloom at Virginia's Piney Grove Preserve. The open pine savanna habitat is a hotbed for biodiversity. © Robert B. Clontz

Longleaf Pine: Learn More About Virginia's Founding Forest

In Virginia, more than 1 million acres of longleaf forest extended south from the James River when English settlers arrived in 1607. This sprawling forest, which helped found the Virginia colony, was harvested to near extinction by 1893. In 2005, a sliver of just 200 native trees remained in Virginia. 

Life Cycle of the Longleaf

As a seedling, longleaf looks more like a clump of grass than the slender, towering tree it will become.  This grass stage can last from one year to a dozen, depending on competition for resources with other plants.

The young longleaf isn’t very impressive above ground, but makes up for its lack of height by putting down a massive root system.  Energy stored below ground and lush thick needles help the seedling survive fire events. 

At the bottlebrush stage, the tree grows three to four feet straight up with no branches.  After a few years, branches emerge and a sapling is born.  After 30 years, the longleaf is finally ready to reproduce, dropping huge pine cones, and the cycle begins anew.

Era of Restoration

The Nature Conservancy purchased a 2,700-acre tract of pineland in Sussex County, Virginia from the Hancock Timber Resource Group in 1998 to create Piney Grove Preserve.  

Our mission was to restore the property to a pine savanna, showcasing the remarkable biological diversity of southeastern Virginia’s longleaf forests. Since our first purchase, we’ve expanded the preserve and adjacent public lands to more than 10,000 acres in partnership with the commonwealth.

Longleaf pine trees vanished from Piney Grove and adjacent lands many years ago, but guided by science, TNC and partners are gradually restoring the tree to its former prominence.