Having launched Imperial Valley’s first brewing operation, Holtville farmer Eric Strahm still starts at day break on the family farm, but by office hours he is at his Humble Farmer Brewing Company producing six core craft beers locals grab with gusto.
Located at 438 Walnut Avenue in Holtville, the seed of the idea began 10 years ago as a Father’s Day gift for his dad, Loren, when Strahm purchased a home brewing kit online.
“We really got really into it,” recalled Strahm. “The capacity of the system is five gallons, quite a bit more than you can use and some of it was pretty good so we put it in bottles and handed it out to friends and family.”
That started a buzz among locals. It was just a hobby for several years until early 2015 when friend Drew Williams informed him Williams’ father’s building, the former Country Meat Store and idle for years, was for sale.
“It already had the cold rooms and floor drains but a lot of work was needed,” remembered Strahm. “It took about a year to convert. It was just Drew, Chris Marrs and me (and recently, brother Matthew Strahm). But a year ago Drew got out of the business.”
Humble Farmer Brewing Company opened on March 17, 2016—fittingly on the traditional beer-drinking fest of St. Patrick’s Day--and the community took a lot of interest. It was the first area brewer even though the micro-brew revolution had been sweeping the nation in the decade-plus prior.
The tap room is open Thursdays through Saturdays from 3-9 p.m. Lance Magin, Holtville motor sports champion and musician, plays guitar on Saturday afternoons.
While the Holtville location is dedicated to brewing and the tap room with no food served, Strahm noted he hopes customers patronize local eateries, whose fare they can bring into the tap room to enjoy with their beers.
“There’s plenty--George’s Pizza and Taco Shop,” said Strahm.
Current craft beer selections include Humble Farmer’s 1st Cutting India Pale Ale, 80 Acre Carrot Ale (with local produce), Border Town Blonde, Highline Stout, Humble Pale Ale and Humble Red Ale, among seasonal and specialty brews.
Additional local produce in the beer is honey dew melons in the Alma Rio Hazy IPA, lemons from Niland for beer with citrus notes and honey from Holtville’s Imperial Honey Co. for the Honey Blonde beer.
The success of the brewery in Holtville spawned a restaurant and bar in Imperial that opened at 116 S. Imperial Ave. at the beginning of 2018. The restaurant serves lobster tacos, sliders, macaroni and cheese and chicharrones (fried pork rinds), one of the more popular menu items. Also a hit at the Imperial location are the corn hole (bean bag toss) tournaments.
“We wanted to do something with Market Days,” said Strahm of doing the cornhole competition during Imperial’s popular monthly winter street fests. “We use the tournaments to benefit different foundations: Meadows School, Eric Silva Memorial Fund (a Marine corporal killed in Iraq) and the Holtville Rotary Club. We’ll have another tournament at the end of March.”
During the most recent Market Days on Feb. 16, also the 7th Annual Tri-Tip Cook-Off, another bean bag toss competition was in full swing and all the hand-to-eye coordination stimulated the palate for beer.
Kiddo Moreno of Brawley was at his third tri-tip event but the Humble Farmer Brewing Company was where he found his mission.
“The beers are good, here,” stressed Moreno. “I’m having an Alamo Rio Hazy IPA.”
At his neighbor’s bean bag station, Kristina Shields and Angela Mcelvany were both imbibing some of the house specialties.
“This is really good and citrusy,” Shields said.
Added Mcelvany, “I’m having a Hazy IPA. It’s a little hoppy but not too strong.”
Away from howling winds at the bar Imperial County native Kristy Geiszler said she had arrived from her current residence in Phoenix to visit family.
“I’m drinking a Tiger IPA. It’s really good--a strong beer,” she said.
Getting into the details of his creations Strahm pointed out not all strong beers are dark as color is determined by a longer-roasted barley. Once the barley, wheat and water are combined the mixture is poured in a masher to produce a wort.
The wort can be thought of as a "beer starter." It is the malty liquid that begins by converting the starches of malted grains into sugar (the process of mashing). Hot water is added to this mash to allow the enzymes to finish the conversion from starch to sugar, i.e., the wort. It then goes through a process called lautering. During this stage, the grain husks and other solids are separated from the liquid wort.
The wort must be boiled because it sterilizes the liquid and halts the starch to sugar conversion. Hops are also added to the liquid wort during boiling. They add final flavors. After boiling, it is ready for the yeast to be added and for fermentation.
Strahm said he is fascinated by the science of brewing.
“The brewery is time consuming but something I enjoy. I get to learn a lot about the history (of brewing) and the biology from how it’s made,” he explained.