Brewer Spotlight: Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery’s Sustainable Water, Local Ingredients, and Outside-the-Box Beer

It makes perfect sense that Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery is named for a body of water. Water, in its purest, cleanest, most natural form, is as ingrained in this brewery’s identity as is outstanding-quality beer. While we’re here, let’s address the name that Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery acknowledges gets a lot of “questions and giggles.” A “lick” is waterway, similar to, but smaller than, a stream. The term originated centuries ago, used by Native Americans and early colonists who traced animals to licks for hunting, because animals sought out the waterways’ nutrients and minerals -- in other words, these “licks” were “licking holes” for local wildlife. 

Today, that wildlife is free to roam around Lickinghole Creek’s stunning 290 acres of land in Goochland County, Virginia. “Almost every kind of wildlife in Virginia is well suited here,” says the brewery’s CEO and cofounder Lisa Pumphrey. Calling home the brewery’s rolling hills, three creeks, and groves of poplars and aspens are everything from bears, bobcats, and coyotes to turtles and raccoons. Pumphrey says they’ve even seen a resurgence of once-threatened bobwhites. 

Are you already daydreaming of hiking through this lush land (which you can do: the brewery welcomes hikers and runners), keeping an eye out for friendly turtles and heading toward a delicious beer? Sigh, us, too. For now, we were excited to get to know Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery in all of its natural splendor, and hear especially about its commitment to the environment and the greater good. Pumphrey filled us in on Lickinghole Creek’s origins, mission, and creative brewing.


The Growth of Farm Breweries in Virginia

Lisa Pumphrey’s years in school studying environmental law established her path for both working to protect the great outdoors and, along the way, loving craft beer. While attending university in Montana and then Vermont, Pumphrey discovered some of the country’s best breweries. When she moved home to Virginia, there was only one other brewery in Richmond, and Pumphrey wanted to bring the magic of craft beer she’d been exploring to the city and the state. After looking around at buildings within Richmond, though, Pumphrey had the idea to set up shop on land she owned with her mother in Goochland County. 

“I had been using [the land] as a conservation area and studying how to make it economically viable,” Pumphrey explains. “Because, it was less than 500 acres, so how can we make it a profitable farm? Typically with big farming, you need more than 500 acres just to make ends meet, and qualify for government subsidies.” Pumphrey says she wanted to come up with a way to incentivize conservation, the beauty of the outdoors, and the protection of that space. Using her background in environmental studies and law, she worked to devise a farm brewery system for Virginia. “It existed in places like New York, but we wanted to create an economic model here,” Pumphrey says. 

This model laid the framework for farm brewers to sell their beer directly from their farms, so they can retain most of that income. Now, there are about 50 farm breweries in Virginia, 12 years after Pumphrey moved back to the state to get to work on this endeavor, and seven years after Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery opened in 2013. It’s no wonder the model caught on. Brewers can open their farms to guests and sell their own beer, as well as other crops, without having massive plots of land over 500 acres. (Pumphrey actually wrote a zoning law for Goochland County so farmers only need 60 acres or more to create a farm brewery.) Pumphrey’s goal has been met: farmers are incentivized to work and protect their land instead of clearing and developing it. Plus, the bubbling up of farm breweries has generated a buzz of agricultural tourism in Virginia, which, Pumphrey points out, stimulates the local economy. The community adores the system today, she says, and Pumphrey is thrilled to have made an even bigger impact in Virginia agriculture and American beer beyond just having her own brewery. 

“Everything we do has some bigger purpose,” Pumphrey says. “It’s never just about creating income, that’s never been something that’s excited me.”


Clean Water and Sustainability

What does excite Pumphrey? Clean water, sustainability, helping communities near and far, and incredible craft beer, to name a few things. When building the brewery, Pumphrey realized how much water the brewing process requires. So, she made a massive investment in the brewery’s sustainable format and had a water filtration purification system installed. Pumphrey is grateful that on Lickinghole Creek’s land, they have access to 100% untreated well water that naturally filters through granite. Natural, pure water goes into the beer, and any spent water from the brewing system is returned to the water table and utilized for fertilization on the farmland.

“90% of beer is water, so that really facilitates us,” Pumphrey reasons, considering how much effect water has on beer’s flavor -- beyond soft water making for good pilsners and hard water making for good stouts, beer is only as good as the water used to brew it. It’s rare that a brewery can sustainably source its own water, and use untreated well water, and that sets Lickinghole Creek’s beer apart. “Utilizing [water’s power] is a core trait of the brewery,” Pumphrey says.

Lickinghole Creek’s emphasis on sustainable water practices extends far beyond its own land. In addition to many philanthropic efforts that Pumphrey and the brewery take on, like working to help create access to healthcare, food, and clothing for those in need in Goochland County, the team is actively engaged in creating that kind of safety net around the world, and recognizes the vital role of clean water in that. Pumphrey works to put wells in remote regions around the world, and partners with her friend, Bob Marley’s half-brother Richard Booker, to create access to clean water in Nine Mile, Jamaica, where Marley was born and is buried. Pumphrey says she fell in love with the community while living there. Ever since, she has been committed to improving the village’s water access, which has led to other initiatives, like repaving roads and establishing work training and job opportunities for the locals. 


Local Ingredients and Creative Beers

Lickinghole Creek’s beers strike a rare balance: they’re creative, exciting, and envelope-pushing, but never gimmicky or for the sake of a trend. When asked where the inspiration for what Lickinghole Creek brews comes from, Pumphrey chuckles. “From the very beginning, it has everything to do with what I want to drink,” she reasons. 

The brewery’s lineup never stops innovating, offering mainstay favorites alongside new, novel twists. This is due to a few factors: the creativity of Pumphrey and the brewing team, the modus operandi of taking classic styles and adding American flair, and the local ingredients Lickinghole Creek uses. 

Many of those ingredients are grown right on the brewery’s farm. Lickinghole Creek grows its own hops (Cascade, Centennial, and Nugget, varieties that grow well in Virginia) and barley, wheat, and rye, along with the additions you might find in any of their beers, like watermelon, blackberries, sunflowers (for their saison), pumpkins, carrots, strawberries, and more. When the brewery needs to use different kinds of hops, grain, or other ingredients, they painstakingly source to be local, responsible, and sustainable. The end result gives beer the kind of terroir many associate with wine: these beer styles taste like the land of Virginia and all it has to offer. 

That’s extra special when you consider the unique combination of, say, a Belgian style with those American ingredients. That equation -- long-loved styles reinvented with American flavors and ingenuity -- drives Lickinghole Creek beer. For example, Three Chopt Tripel Ale takes that classic Belgian style and, as Pumphrey puts it, “non-stop hops it,” using both New Zealand and American hops that add tropical notes. The Heir Apparent is an imperial stout with those style-defining flavors of roasty chocolate with caramel, but Lickinghole Creek adds Mexican peppers for some heat. Then there’s the Nuclear Nugget, an imperial IPA made with honey from the brewery’s own bees. Not only is this beer sustainable and local, but it’s a beautiful balance -- Pumphrey describes the honey as giving this hop bomb a smooth swallow, adding a bit of sweet to the bitterness. 

From the brewery’s crops and water to its philanthropic missions to its beer, there’s an incredible amount of thought, care, and planning behind Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery. As Pumphrey says, “Every beer has a story; there’s a full background to every beer we create.” Considering the farm-grown ingredients of each beer and the fact that each brew is fueling work to widen access to clean water, we think that story is pretty great.

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