Rob Landerman, head brewer of Ranger Creek in San Antonio, is moving to Boise, Idaho, to start a small craft brewery with wife, Keely, and two sons. After two years at the combination brewery and distillery, he is going back to his roots in the pacific north-west to realize his dream of owning his own operation. After seeing his Kickstarter campaign for Woodland Empire Ale Craft, I reached out to get the scoop. I have come to know and respect Rob and his family through various beer events in San Antonio and I hate to see them leave, but wish them best of luck in their new venture!
What made you decide to make the jump to start your own place/why did you leave Ranger Creek?
We have been talking about doing our own thing since before we got married 5 years ago. Ranger Creek has been a great experience, and a real honor to be the head brewer there. Leaving wasn’t an easy choice, but we have been wanting to do this long before I started here and now that I have a few years of professional experience under me, and before our 2 sons get much older, we felt like now was the time.
How long have you been working on the idea of & recipes for Woodland Empire?
As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been talking about opening our own brewery for quite a while. When Keely and I first started dating we homebrewed together often, and that has continued since. The beer ideas and recipes have evolved over time, but originated from those brews.
Why Boise, Idaho?
Boise is just an awesome town all around. I grew up in Idaho in a very small town, but I have missed it ever since we moved away. I always loved driving through Boise when I lived there. It is the perfect city- not too big, not too small, lots of trees and parks, a river, mountains…. It is really bike friendly, the cost of living is great, it has a great music scene and a vibrant beer culture. I would say more but I don’t want to convince too many people to move there or the rent will go up! The biggest question was always ‘Where?,’ and the “where” involved two important things: weather and beer laws. We want seasons (4 of them, not 2!), and the ability to distribute our beer and sell it directly to consumers. In Idaho it’s all there waiting for us.
What is the current craft beer scene like in Boise? Do you think they will embrace your beers/philosophy?
Despite Boise’s small-town status and the notion that it’s beer scene is just starting to emerge, I think the city has had a vibrant love of craft beer for quite some time. There is a lot of support for the brew pubs and breweries and excitement for new ones to open. It is a very close-knit city and we’re excited to be part of the community. We want what we brew to have a distinctly Idahoan persona, and so many of our beers focus heavily on supporting local agriculture by using ingredients that are locally available and only when in season. Our philosophy embraces the creativity of art, food, music, books, and imagination and since those things are fundamentals of the culture of Boise we believe the people there will embrace us.
Where did you come up with the name “Woodland Empire Ale Craft”? What is the message you want to convey about Woodland Empire to the public?
The nickname for Boise is “The City of Trees.” Woodland Empire is our whimsical exaggeration of that. We chose to use “Ale Craft” rather than “brewing company’ because we felt it embodied our spirit more- creative, imaginative, homespun. We want people to see those things in our imagery, our beer names, and in the ingredients we use. We aren’t about gimmickery. This is just an honest representation of who we are even when beer isn’t involved. We love laughing and having fun, we love creating things together and expounding on old ideas in an effort to make something that is exciting to the two of us. What we hope to convey through Woodland Empire is just that. We don’t want to come across as arrogant, this is just the way that we live and the way that we brew. If an idea comes to us, we don’t see any reason not to give it our best shot!
There are great breweries in Boise already, and we are excited to add to what they are already doing.
How big is the system you’ll be brewing on?
In sticking with the original dream we had of opening a family-run brewery, we have decided on a 10 barrel system. It’s small in terms of your typical micro brewery but will allow us to maintain a core year-round line-up and also focus on lots of special, limited releases.
Can you tell me about the different beers you have planned? Why did you choose the different styles/additions you did?
Our 5 year round beers will be:
‘Til Death- a dark and hoppy NW ale brewed with juniper berries. Keely originally brewed this for our wedding, and the name is both a nod to that and our favorite Richard Brautigan book, Willard and His Bowling Trophies: A Perverse Mystery.
In The Morning- a traditional low abv English Dark Mild brewed with locally roasted coffee from DOMA in Post Falls, Idaho. (Awesome coffee!) There’s a really great band from Boise called Built To Spill that has a song we borrowed the name for this beer from. The folks at DOMA have been very supportive of us, and we have been using their coffee in our test batches.
Rabbit Fighter- a traditional ESB brewed with Bramling Cross hops. We love ESB’s, and it is a style you don’t see much of. The name came from a T. Rex song we love.
Meek Warrior- our take on a Belgian witbier. Instead of citrus we use Idaho grown lavender and have been working with Silver Fox Lavender farm outside of Boise to use their lavender. We also use raw wheat and raw spelt, both of which come from Hi-Stakes Spelt in Idaho. We named this beer after an album and song from the band Akron/Family.
Faux Paw- I love a good pilsner. Though I’m not really into the whole idea of, “You’ve gotta have something light in your lineup,” we decided to do this just because a pilsner is a beer you can drink anytime. Being that this is a “Bohemian-ish” Pilsner, the faux pas is that we use Pacific NW Cascade hops rather than the ubiquitous Czech Saaz.
Beyond that we plan to do as many different beers as we can per year, most of them one-offs and a select few as reoccurring seasonals. We’ll brew wherever our imagination takes us, but we want to revisit some classic styles at the same time. Some others we have planned are a gruit that will involve community herb growing that we will call W.E. Grew It!; a Scotch Ale brewed with heather and sweet gale rather than hops we will name Gayle, after Keely’s mom; Let The Wind Blow- a stout with wild harvested mushrooms named after a Beach Boys song; and a cherrywood smoked Imperial stout with locally grown cherries called Beast Moans after the band Swan Lake’s album, plus tons more we won’t list here.
How is the process of opening a brewery different in Idaho than Texas?
For all intents and purposes it’s pretty similar. The regulating alcohol body is the state police rather than a separate entity like TABC. All in all, the time frame and licensing is pretty much the same. It’s once we’re open that it’s totally different.
What is your timeline for being in Idaho/brewing/selling?
We are raising funds right now and have an optimistic timeline to be open within a year. In reality things always take longer than you want them to, but we will keep on truckin’ until we’re open. Regardless of where we are at on the business end we will be relocating to Boise the first part of 2013.
Will you develop relationships with local farmers in Idaho for a barter system, like at Ranger Creek? (spent grains for beef/etc.)
Absolutely. Since what we want to do is based on the idea of a small farmhouse brewery, using ingredients from the local agriculture and giving back to local farmers and growers closes that circle.
Will we ever see your beers in Texas?
Hopefully. We are still working out our goals for future growth and distribution. Time will tell, but we certainly hope so!
Why did you decide to use Kickstarter? What will the money be used for?
We chose Kickstarter because it embodies this community spirit where people help each other creatively as well as financially. It allows anyone to make a go of their dreams. If our project is successful, the money we raise will be used to secure a building and order a pilot system. The downside is that if we don’t get 100% funded we don’t get any of the money we raise. We urge people to help us spread the word and to back our project.
What will you miss most about Texas?
I will miss the extremely supportive craft beer community here. People have been very supportive of me since I started brewing at Ranger Creek, and it has been awesome to meet and collaborate with them.
Anything else about Woodland Empire you would like to share?
We’re starting this brewery because craft beer is a way of life to us. We love to brew because it is artistic and creative, something that brings joy to people and something we can share with those around us. We want what we brew to make people happy and able to just enjoy the beer for what it is and why it was created, what went into making it rather than the style guidelines it does or doesn’t fit into. Not only is beer a huge part of our lives, but it’s also a perfect accompaniment to good food, laughter, music and friends.
Thanks to Rob for giving me the low-dow on his new, super-cool brewery plans. I’ll have to put Idaho on the travel list!