This interview was conducted in late August. It has been edited for clarity.
Jesse Bussard, Craft Maltsters Guild (JB): Tell us about Wooden Robot Brewery. Who are you? How’d the brewery get started?
Dan Wade (DW): Wooden Robot is a 15-barrel urban farmhouse brewery in Charlotte, NC that draws inspiration from traditional Belgian farmhouse breweries and the innovation of American craft brewing. Our journey began when I met Josh Patton in middle school, and we became friends. Our friendship continued as we became enthusiastic homebrewers and led us to the creation of Wooden Robot Brewery. The name Wooden Robot represents the blending of seemingly disparate elements into a wonderful union. The wood represents the brewing tradition that inspires us: high-quality ingredients, expressive yeast strains, and extended aging in oak barrels. The robot represents innovation: the unique, creative beers that we craft using these traditional methods and ingredients.
JB: The term “farmhouse brewery” means different things to different breweries. You call yourself an “urban farmhouse brewery.” Can you breakdown your take on this concept for us and how you’ve adapted it for an urban setting?
DW: Traditional farmhouse breweries use locally farmed ingredients to brew their beer. We were inspired by the seasonality and locality of farmhouse brewing, so we vowed to use 100% local malt and fresh fruit, herbs, and other artisanal ingredients whenever possible. The “urban” part comes from our location in Charlotte, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. In addition to using the terroir of the fresh ingredients from the surrounding region, we strive to use the “cultural terroir” of a diverse, bustling city. This includes locally artisanal ingredients like freshly roasted coffee and cacao nibs but also the inspiration of local artists, chefs, and creators of all types.
DW: Our philosophy revolves around the combination of art and science that goes into creating beer. We are constantly tweaking and adjusting to allow the ingredients to shine.
JB: What kinds of beers do you typically brew? Tell us about some of your favorites. (Brownie points if they’re malt-forward styles!)
DW: We brew a pretty diverse range of beers from mixed-fermentation farmhouse and sour ales, to crisp lagers, and hoppy IPAs. The common thread that connects everything we brew is drinkability. Our beers are designed to have a level of balance and simplicity that allows the drinker to enjoy more than one.
JB: Why did your brewery decide to become Craft Malt Certified? What does the certification mean to you? How are you using the Craft Malt Seal in your sales and marketing efforts?
DW: We believe the foundation for all craft beer begins at the hands of our farmers. It has been our goal at Wooden Robot Brewery to use a majority of local malt to support not only local businesses but our overall economy and community as well. We are proud to be a Certified Craft Malt Brewery! We source over 95% of our malts locally from Epiphany Craft Malt located in Durham, NC. Being a small, independent brewery allows us to experiment and continuously improve our recipes focusing heavily on quality. Working one-on-one with Epiphany allows us greater control over our raw materials than simply ordering out of a catalog from one of the larger producers. We like to talk about Epiphany Craft Malt and the Craft Malt Seal in our marketing efforts and on social media as a way to educate and inform our customers. Supporting local is big for us, so this is a great opportunity for us to talk about what it means to be Craft Malt Certified.
JB: Now, for the obligatory COVID-19 questions. How has your brewery adapted during the pandemic? What changes (if any) have you made to your business?
DW: We specialize in one-off specialty beers that are available on draft for consumption in our taprooms. We do not readily package and sell our beer through distribution, due to our size and cost, so when the NC Governor gave the Executive Order for all bars and restaurants to shut down on March 17, we were forced to pivot quickly. With over 75% of our sales coming from on-premise consumption in our taprooms, we’ve had to completely change our business model and come up with innovative ways to stay open to cover ongoing expenses. We acted quickly, and that afternoon we began selling beer to-go from our patio window using 32 oz crowlers. We also built an online ordering platform for our website to offer a home delivery service. Since then, we’ve been able to open our taprooms back up at 50% capacity.
JB: Lastly, do you have a favorite malt? If so, what is it and how do you use it?
DW: Lately, our favorite malt has been Epiphany Munich. It has a lovely, soft baked-bread character that rounds out the body of a beer without being overly sweet. We use it in a wide variety of beers to lay down a nice baseline to play off of hops, roasted malts, or specialty ingredients.