A Discussion With John Compton – Highway Manor BrewingTuesday, September 29th, 2020
By Udit Minocha
Do you remember how you got into homebrewing? John Compton III of Highway Manor Brewing, in Camp Hill, PA, remembers it all. One of his favorite beers was Franziskaner Dunkelweizen.
How John Got Started in Brewing
John started brewing in 2001. His parents, who were quite religious, were were not crazy about the idea. Since it kept him out of trouble, they felt it was worthwhile. The book that got him into brewing was “Brew Classic European Beers at Home.” He didn’t even get to try his first batch after those patient weeks of waiting because the dog got into it first. His woodworking career never took off, and John ended up devoting most of his free time to brewing.
Shortly after finding what commercial beer styles he liked as a drinker, he attempted to replicate them and their flavor profiles in his recipes. He used yeast dregs from Belgian beers. He felt it was key to understand everything about the ingredients and yeast.
In 2006 at Monk’s Café and Memphis Taproom in Philadelphia, PA, he had his first wild Belgian beer. At that time sour beers were a weird oddity and not widely available. Replicating Belgian sours was more difficult. He started doing more research on the wild yeast that predominated the area around the Abbeys. John asked himself how to get that yeast?
Replicating the Masters Before Him
First, he tried to capture the wild yeast that lived around his home. He set out one gallon jugs containing wort. Most were terrible and experience became wonderful teacher – if they smelled like dirty feet or blue cheese – he dumped them before trying them. A few attempts seemed promising.
In 2010 -2011 he met Terry Holbacher of Pizza Boy Brewing Company and Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company where he was introduced to more sour beers. John brewed a lot more sours and started entering homebrew competitions. Although sour beers were not yet main stream, they were in his future. He put together a plan; make about 3-5 great sour beers, make them stand out, and barrel-age them.
That is how Highway Manor Brewing got started in September 2015. But that is only the beginning. In the initial stages, it took five brews a day to fill one wood barrel. Fermenting and aging took about a year or more. There are as many as four different wild yeasts fermenting the sour beer at once.
The recipe formulation, legal paperwork, ordering supplies, and fixing things were was taxing as the 5-batch a day brew days. Tackling the consistency factor on wild brews was just icing on the cake. That is how wild fermentations are – sometimes they go from wild to crazy!!
John had to make more time for himself. He moved a bed into the brewery to save on travel time. Any startup brewer will tell you that there is more than just making beer. You have to sell it. That is a tale for a different day but in short, it takes a lot of time and effort.
So far the sour beers are available in Philadelphia, New York City, Rochester, New York, Florida, and Maryland while Vermont and New Jersey distribution is in the works.