Three cheers for
Three Brothers Brewery by Sydney Palese | photos by Matt Schmachtenberg
From the beer to the bar, nearly everything in Three Brothers Brewery in downtown Harrisonburg is made by hand. Located on South Main Street in an old Coca-Cola bottling factory that the eponymous Shifflett brothers – Adam, 31, Jason, 28, and Tyler, 25 – flipped within months, Three Brothers Brewery creates craft beer that not only appeals to the local crowd but is increasing in popularity across Virginia. “We like making things, whether it’s with our hands physically making something or building a business — all three of us have that in common. Making something your own and being able to make it successful and also giving the opportunity for other people to come work with you is huge,” Jason says. The brothers keep their product tied to the community, as implied by the names of a selection of their beers such as “The Great Outdoors” and “Senantona” (Native American for “Shenandoah Valley”). The many pieces of running the brewery are broken up among Adam, who conceptualizes the recipes and does project management; Jason, who focuses on marketing and the taproom; and Tyler, who does production. But the art of brewing is where all the brothers got their start; it remains the bottom line of the operation, and what drives Adam, Jason and Tyler to keep reaching for success. 12
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Jason broke down the process of making beer. The brothers start by grinding up grain. And while grain comes in many different varieties, they choose to predominantly use barley. Some types of barley come in light forms, while others are toasted or caramelized under a fire to get a darker appearance. The toasted version lends itself to flavors like chocolate and coffee, often used in porters and stouts. An important distinction to note about beer brewing is that the flavors associated with many beers come from basic ingredients like grain, barley, wheat, hops and yeast. Rarely does a brewer add the particular ingredient to the beer. Once the grain is ground up, the brothers let it steep like a tea bag as hot water runs over it. During this process the grain is soaked up and broken down as colors and sugars are pulled from it. When nothing else is left to be added, the brothers transfer it to the boil kettle. Then they add the hops, which is added one at a time depending on the flavor and type of beer desired. The hops should be added in in increments of time beginning when there is 60 minutes left in the boil, then 15, then five. “Hops, in general, have a lot of flavor,” Jason says. “It gives a bitterness even if it isn’t really bitter like an IPA.”
It is during this stage that there is also a potential to add spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, which is used in the seasonal Five Pound Fall Ale, its first ever communitysourced beer, according to the brewery’s website. Once this is finished, they let it sit for the time required and rest. The beer typically spends 20 days in the fermenter. When the time is up, the brothers transfer it out of the fermenter and add yeast, which Jason says gives a lot of flavor to the beer. Yeast is also what gives alcohol its alcohol content. The yeast eats the sugar from the grain, resulting in alcohol. “We get to pull off yeast from the bottom of the fermenter and reuse that same strain,” Jason says. “Every brewery that does that has beer that has a similar taste even though they may be drastically different styles.” When this process is over, the brothers add it to another vessel where it ferments and then they bottle it. Three Brothers also uses barrel aging to achieve a unique flavor. With barrel aging, or souring, the basic beer is made, but instead of putting it in a fermenter, the brothers put it in a barrel and let it age, which often takes 10 months to a year. “It pulls flavors from the wood. Obviously, if it’s a spirited barrel like a wine or rum or bourbon [barrel] those flavors are infused into the beer,” Jason says. “Sometimes you’ll referment it to add different types of yeast or bacteria … so it’ll create a new flavor profile that you would not be able to achieve in a normal stainless steel vessel.” It was this process that led to a bronze medal award at the Great American Beer Festival this past summer for its Rum Barrel Aged Belgian Dubbel style ale in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Style category. “I think we were kind of taken aback. Most of the breweries there had been established for awhile, particularly in the barrel aged category,” Adam said. “When Three Brothers was announced [as the winner], it was a great nod to the city and the brewery,” Adam said. Its most popular beers are the Great Outdoors and Hoptimization (IPA). Jason said that these two, sold in six packs, are its biggest volume sellers. However, many fans of Three Brothers have their own personal favorites. Trevor Nichols, a senior sport and recreation management major, is a fan of The Admiral, which the brewery’s website characterizes as “the IPA that’s in charge.” “[The Admiral] is a big bold IPA with grapefruit flavors and a lot of hops, which adds a great taste to it,” Nichols says. Emily Bixel, a senior at U.Va., also likes to recommend Three Brothers Beer to the patrons at the tap house she works at in Charlottesville. She also usually suggests The Admiral to people who are looking for “a good IPA.” In the future, the brothers hope to grow the business as much as they can while staying local. Jason said they’re pushing a lot of production and hope to have a strong presence in all of Virginia and outside of the state lines. “Within the next couple of years we hope to spread out and distribute more throughout Virginia, Adam says. “We’re big believers in keeping [the business] as close to home as possible if you have the ability to.” n
TOP Three Brothers uses barrel aging to add a different flavor. BOTTOM The Great Outdoors and Hoptimization (IPA) beers are its biggest volume sellers.
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