Celebrating the lands and waters on which all life—and beer—depends
By Daniel White, Senior Conservation Writer | Last updated September 1, 2023
Scooping seagrass from the deck of a skiff. Foraging sassafras leaves under the canopy of a mountain forest. Clipping red spruce tips after a hike up a steep ridge. Gathering pine needles, bark and cones from a longleaf savanna. No, these aren’t scenes from Gordon Ramsey: Uncharted. Nor is it how craft brewers typically procure ingredients.
Carefully collected by hand, four wild ingredients offer an expression of Virginia’s lands and waters that you can literally taste.
These adventures kicked off a collaboration to create the OktoberForest Virginia Collection. The brainchild of Black Narrows Brewing co-owner Josh Chapman, the venture built upon his original crazy idea (his words) to brew an India pale ale with longleaf pine, which TNC and our partners are restoring in the Virginia Pinelands.
Chapman proposed inviting three additional breweries to expand this collaboration. New participants Fine Creek Brewing, Väsen Brewing Company and Crooked Run Fermentation each paired with one of TNC’s other landscape-conservation programs to create a new beer that—like Chapman’s Piney Grove IPA—features an iconic local ingredient.
Continue scrolling to meet the brewers and click on the tabs above to learn more about each beer. Go behind the scenes of the careful collection of the wild ingredients that offer an expression of Virginia’s lands and waters that you can literally taste. And save the date for September 30 to join us at OktoberForest Fest!
Allegheny Highlands Farmhouse Ale
Sassafras leaves foraged from Warm Springs Mountain Preserve—where fire is bringing diversity back to iconic Appalachian forests—highlight this farmhouse ale.
Fruits of the Forest
The Central Appalachians are known for ecological diversity, so identifying one signature ingredient was the first big challenge in western Virginia's Allegheny Highlands. Blueberries were a first thought. But then the TNC team rallied around Program Coordinator Zoe McGee's more creative suggestion to feature chanterelle mushrooms.
"We were nervous because we felt like it was a little bit of an unconventional ingredient," McGee says. "But the second we pitched the idea to Brian at Fine Creek Brewing, he was so excited."
"Chanterelles have a really amazing character, but it's not aggressive," says brewer Brian Mandeville. "They've got a really robust kind of earthy profile … a little bit funky … with this great subtle fruit character." While common comparisons to apricots may be a stretch, he says, the flavor suggests "definitely [some] kind of dried stone fruit."
Still, Mandeville and his Fine Creek team were anxious about finding enough chanterelles. "Mushrooms can be kind of fickle as far as availability goes," he says. "You're not going to find this amount of chanterelles in, like, Richmond."
On Warm Springs Mountain, mushroom abundance is not an issue—but timing can be.
Fruits of the Forest
As our climate changes, the Appalachians are serving as a crucial habitat highway—it has never been more important to invest in healthy, dynamic and diverse forest systems. It’s a message that resonate in the taste of Allegheny Highlands Farmhouse Ale.Explore the Allegheny Highlands
Cooking Out at Camp Sassafras
According to Conservation Project Manager Laurel Schablein, an experienced forager, “chanterelles are just dispersed all throughout the forest floor.” For optimal growth—and foraging—you need moisture, but the days leading up to the planned collection date had been dry.
In 2022, two days of foraging yielded 50 pounds of mushrooms; this year, bright spots of orange were few to be found. The team needed to pivot—quickly. They settled on sassafras. Numerous Indigenous communities in North America have used the plant's leaves for medicinal purposes. Sassafras is the main ingredient in traditional root beer, and when dried and ground into filé powder, it's a distinctive element in Louisiana Creole cuisine.
While there weren't enough chanterelles for beer, the intrepid foragers returned to historic Trappers Lodge with mushrooms enough to enjoy during a gourmet campfire dinner. “We had a big old pot of mushrooms bubbling away on the campfire and had a really lovely feast,” Schablein says.
The team took care to help ensure there will be planty of chanterelles next year. To promote resprouting and new growth, they cut off each mushroom near its base. “Then we put them in a mesh basket or bag to spread the spores as we collect them,” she says.
Flavors of the Forest
Whether it’s mushrooms sprouting from spores or future mighty oaks bursting from acorns, regeneration is what The Nature Conservancy’s work in this landscape is all about.
“This part of the Central Appalachians is known as a hotspot for biodiversity,” says Blair Smyth, who leads TNC’s Allegheny Highlands team. Decades of fire suppression, however, threaten a stagnation effect. So a major focus here has been reintroducing fire, which creates openings, lets in sunlight and encourages new hardwood seedlings.
As our climate changes, the Appalachians are serving as a crucial habitat highway for plants and animals to migrate. Thus, it has never been more important to invest in healthy, dynamic and diverse forest systems. The TNC team here hopes this message will resonate as people taste Allegheny Highlands Farmhouse Ale, and consider the intricate connections between our food and drink and the natural world that provides them.
“I really see beers being this vehicle to reconnect people with things that maybe we've lost touch with otherwise,” Mandeville says. “That's the history of beer in the first place; it's reflected the land that it came from.”
Explore Our Work
Allegheny Highlands Program
Working to ensure that these mountains at the edge of Appalachia remain a natural stronghold against climate change.
Fire, Management and Monitoring
Learn how the Allegheny Highlands Program uses fire to maintain biological diversity in an ecosystem critical to climate change migration.
Last updated Jun 04, 2023
Warm Springs Mountain Preserve
Explore this 10,000 acre preserve in the heart of the Allegheny Highlands.
TNC Coastal Scientist Bo Lusk grew up on the Eastern Shore, learning from his grandmother how to fish and catch crabs. Together, they waded with dip nets into eelgrass beds along the Chesapeake Bay’s shallows. And he remembers listening to her stories about eelgrass disappearing from the peninsula’s seaside waters.
“Eelgrass here on the seaside disappeared when she was a teenager,” Lusk explains. The habitat was likely already in serious decline when a major hurricane in the early 1930s ripped out the rest. Or so it seemed.
In a case of right place at the right time, Lusk graduated from the University of Virginia—where he’d been studying seagrasses—in the late 1990s. Around this same time, Bob Orth at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) was working out how to restore the system following the discovery of a tiny patch in South Bay.
The rest is not yet history, but it is historic. For the past 15 years, Lusk has collaborated with VIMS on the largest, most successful seagrass restoration project in the world. “What we've planted [600 acres] has actually spread on its own to nearly 10,000 acres of grass,” he says.
Lusk has taken the torch from his grandmother and become the storyteller, singing the praises of this incredibly rich system to anyone who will listen. “I can geek out on it until people totally stop listening to me,” he says. “To get the Väsen crew out here—they're so interested to learn about this grass, not just what it tastes like, but how we're doing this, why it matters—it's made for some really good conversations.”
Eelgrass (Zostera marina) provides critical nursery habitat for commercially important species like crab and bay scallop, helps take the punch out of storm waves and could play an important role in carbon storage as we confront a changing climate.Explore the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve
Sippin' on the Top of the Bay
Väsen’s Spenser Jett imagined that the price for entering into this conversation would involve squeezing into snorkeling gear and swimming with scissors. It’s hard to tell whether he’s relieved or disappointed that collecting eelgrass for brewing turned out to be easier than expected.
“I saw how much cleaner and more available it was than I could have imagined,” Jett says. “I mean, there are rafts of this eelgrass sitting on the surface of the water like it’s almost begging for us to pick it up.”
Similar to how Lusk and his grandmother had fished for crabs, he guided the Väsen crew through wielding a dip net to scoop up eelgrass leaves into a pile on the deck of the boat. In short order, the team filled several mesh laundry bags—plenty for the brewing process Jett and his team had in mind.
“We decided on making a gose, a German sour ale,” Jett says. “It's a light-drinking, mineral, crispy, enjoyable beer basically made for hot days.” Pronounced go-suh, the style typically also has a salty flavor, and the team anticipated the eelgrass contributing briny-seaweed notes.
After tasting the grass, however, Jett was pleasantly surprised to discover more complexity than expected: “It reminds me of some kind of herb, maybe parsley or like a really mild shiso [with] just a bit of sweetness underneath it.”
Jett compared the planned brewing process to making tea. “We'll wait until we're done boiling and the wort starts cooling down,” he says. “Then we'll add the eelgrass and let it steep.”
Suds and Sustainability
“I was so excited to hear that Väsen wanted to make something out of eelgrass,” says Lusk. “I'm super pumped to get to work with them.”
Asked if his grandmother would approve, Lusk laughed. “She would hate it,” he says. “A lady like that would never drink beer.”
With the explosion in popularity of craft beer, however, a generational tide has turned. Moreover, goses and other sour beers are riding a wave of popularity. So, both TNC and Väsen are eager to introduce their combined audiences to the flavor of eelgrass and the story of its resurrection in the Eastern Shore’s seaside bays.
“We would love for people to drink these local sustainable beverages, just like we want people to eat local and sustainable food,” Jett says. “I think it helps strengthen people's connection to the things that they consume. And I would love for people 200 years from now to be able to experience the environments that we experience today.”
Explore Our Work
Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve
Learn more about our work to protect and preserve the longest expanse of coastal wilderness remaining on the east coast.
Restoring Eelgrass on Virginia’s Eastern Shore
Go into the water and behind the scenes at the Volgenau Virginia Coast Reserve for the largest and most successful seagrass restoration project in the world!
Last updated Mar 24, 2023
VVCR's 14 barrier and marsh islands provide ideal habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.
Oct 19, 2022
Clinch Valley Saison
Appalachian red spruce tips carefully cut from trees high up on Clinch Mountain—a focal area for restoring the Appalachians' iconic red spruce forest—accent this refreshing saison.
Did You Say Beer or Bear?
“We want to be bear aware,” Tal Jacobs tells the group. “We probably won't see any with how many people we have, but it is Beartown Mountain,” Jacobs adds, with a laugh.
Beartown is one of the peaks that make up the long ridgeline of Clinch Mountain, a dominant landscape feature in far-southwest Virginia. Jacobs, a conservation forester with The Nature Conservancy’s Clinch Valley program, led a recent project here to plant 25,000 red spruce seedlings spanning across a TNC easement and a state wildlife management area.
But for OktoberForest, Jacobs led an expedition. The group traveled to “one of the most difficult places to reach on any lands that we manage,” he says. Brewer McKinnen Leonard from Crooked Run Fermentation rode along with Jacobs and Clinch Valley team members as they piloted UTVs to the end of a steep mountain road. The group then continued on foot, the last hour following deer trails to their destination: a red spruce forest perched at an elevation of 4,500 feet.
The journey and the destination proved equally exciting. As Jacobs puts it, “[we were going] to really earn making this beer.”
The Reason for the Saison
That beer will be called Clinch Valley Saison, and its featured ingredient will be red spruce tips gathered from a grove covering roughly 700 acres.
As head brewer for Crooked Run, Leonard works in Sterling now, but he grew up in nearby Norton and is eager to highlight a tree that even many locals know little about because of its isolated, remote mountaintop locations. “Using local ingredients … is a big part of who we are, and trying to showcase Virginia is a big part of who we are,” he says.
Of course, as a beer guy, he was especially excited about the flavor possibilities. “Saisons are kind of my jam,” says Leonard. “You can throw a lot of things at a saison platform, and a lot of things work.”
“Spruce can give you a bunch of different flavor characteristics depending on how you use it,” he says. Those flavors can range from citrus fruit to pine resin to licorice. “The green new tip is going to be very citrus, very lemon forward.”
A Precious Resource
It’s not just red spruce that’s at stake. As our climate changes, scientists say these cool, moist forests are becoming increasingly important habitats for wildlife seeking more hospitable living conditions.Explore the Clinch Valley
Trimming the Trees
For the lemony notes he wanted to impart to this saison, Leonard planned to use only the very tips of new growth. The spruce tips—each about the size of a single hop cone (or the tip of your finger)—would be added right at the end of the boil, as the wort begins to cool.
A little bit of spruce goes a long way, and that made this whole project more palatable for Jacobs beyond the prospect of a nice cold pint. “We're wanting to be really, really sensitive about each individual tree and making sure that we take just what we need,” he says. “I'm moving around the tree and making sure that this is not going to be anything that provides stress to the tree.”
Jacobs adds that the group took extra care to “select side sprigs rather than leaders to ensure that the main branches can continue to grow outward.”
Each tree is a precious resource, because unsustainable timber harvesting nearly wiped them out by the 1930s. For over two decades, TNC and our partners have been replanting red spruce across the Central Appalachians, and new science is helping produce seedlings from parent trees with the highest genetic diversity—upping the odds for these iconic forests to survive into the future.
It’s not just red spruce that’s at stake. As our climate changes, scientists say these cool, moist forests are becoming increasingly important habitats for wildlife seeking more hospitable living conditions.
Now people can quench their thirst and be transported via their taste buds to Virginia’s majestic red spruce forests—without the strenuous hike up Beartown.
But Leonard hopes craft beer fans might also be inspired to make their own adventure: “We want people in Virginia to come drink my beer, but I want you to come and look at these beautiful trees and this beautiful landscape and enjoy nature.”
Explore Our Work
Clinch Valley Program
Community-based conservation, protecting Virginia's Clinch River and promoting sustainable economic and recreational opportunities for Southwest Virginia.
Last updated Apr 14, 2023
Cumberland Forest Project
The Cumberland Forest Project, TNC's largest-ever conservation project in the Eastern US, protects 253,000 acres of sweeping forest landscapes across Virginia, Kentucky & Tennessee.
By Adam Bloom | Jul 14, 2019
Cumberland Forest Community Fund
Supporting nature-based economic and community development in the Appalachian regions of Southwest Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Last updated Aug 15, 2023
Piney Grove IPA
Longleaf pine needles gathered from Piney Grove Preserve—the northern front for initiatives to restore the South's signature longleaf pine forest—enhance the hoppy nuances of this India pale ale.
A Crazy Idea
Josh Chapman, owner of Black Narrows Brewing in Chincoteague, was reading his morning newspaper 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?”
“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 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 not only gathered 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?
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.Explore Virginia's Pinelands
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.
Buoyed by the success of that initial brew, Chapman has continued to refine his recipe and return to the Pinelands to replenish his pantry. For him, the “grapefruity notes” from longleaf not only impart a great taste but also evoke a sense of place—in this case, of the Virginia Pinelands and iconic longleaf pine savannas.
“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.”
Explore Our Work
Virginia Pinelands Program
Protecting centuries-old cypress swamps, the state's rarest bird and iconic longleaf savannas.
Last updated Aug 30, 2023
Traveling Through Time in the Virginia Pinelands
A journey through Virginia's iconic forest habitat.
By Susan McHarris | Last updated Sep 01, 2023
Red Cockaded Woodpecker Recovery
Writing a new page in the recovery story of Virginia's rarest bird.
By Daniel White | Last updated Aug 26, 2023
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