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?”
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.
“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
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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