Fingerprint

Six months of the year, the first thing that I see as I walk out of my front door and head over to the brewery are the green canopies of hops in our yard towering over the rest of our farm. It’s an amazing way to start a day. Walking through the rows hot mug of coffee in hand, taking mental note of the plant’s growth and competing weed and pest situations, the morning dew soaking your feet and making putting on brewery boots that much more difficult.

Then, each year the wild activities that make up our farm brewery come to a crescendo. Over one hundred people ascend to the farm to help us take down the bines, pick a couple hundred pounds of cones getting thrown right into the kettle for a mixed fermentation harvest ale.  It’s the beginning of the end of our farming season. It’s possibly my favorite day of the year; not only is it the most social and public day on the farm but it is the best opportunity we can provide to put the daily collaboration that takes place between the farm and brewery on display, to publicize and put the adage “No Farms No Beer” to work.

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Harvesting hops is not for those that don’t like heights

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Community members young and old make it out for our annual harvest

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Derek loading the first batch of wet hops into the lauter tun to act as a whirlpool vessel.

There’s a ton of work that goes into the brewery and farm, and the hop yard is one of the more challenging components. To have so many people come and join us in the harvest is as rewarding and welcome of an end to the season as we could ask. Yet there’s another part to making our harvest beer that too often goes unheralded, and that is the malt. Last year we used six row barley grown and malted in the Hudson Valley. This year, we’re beginning a new and exciting chapter of brewing locally. The malt used for our harvest beer, and all of our farmhouse beers for the coming year (and hopefully beyond) will be coming from fields in Farmington, CT; less than 40 miles away.

In early spring I received an email from Andrea at Valley Malt about someone in CT attempting to grow barley. I immediately reached out to Rob to inquire about his operation; methods, interests in working together, and whether or not this was a one time side project. Last year we found ourselves in a similar circumstance, and after bringing in 8,000 lb of malted barley from Rocky Hill, when we finally met the grower we were unpleasantly surprised by the fact that he had no interest in making a business out of barley – and that it was grown with more conventional methods than we had hoped.  Thankfully, this time around things are very different.

Rob’s background is in machinery and asphalt, but last year he tested his hand at farming and planted a small crop of wheat which he successfully harvested and sold for seed.

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Rob showing me his first combine. This combine is smaller than any combine John Deere now makes.

For any “local” small scale hop or barley farmer the post harvest challenges are equally if not greater than the actual challenge of growing the crop itself. In some ways, they’r even more daunting.  After all, barley and hops are plants. They both want to live. They don’t however have any preference as to whether they are dried to the right moisture, cleaned, stored and malted in the right conditions (barley) or pelletized and packaged in mylar bags filled with inert gas and stored below 30 degrees (hops). In both cases quality begins in the field, but counties all the way through the supply chain until it reaches the end user – the brewery.

 

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Unloading barley for cleaning at Valley Malt

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Barley must be cleaned/sorted before the malting process can begin to ensure a quality product

Barley must be cleaned/sorted before the malting process can begin to ensure a quality product

Simplifying our supply chain is part of the reason we have chosen to plant only an acre and half of hops (a third of which is being replanted this fall) and use our harvest straight off the bine in a single batch of beer. This allows the qualities of our hops to come through in their natural state, make a product unique to the season and our farm, as well as avoid potential challenges (and costs) of drying and pelletizing smaller volumes of hops. Small scale pelletizers are either risky or extremely expensive. Hops are very sensitive to heat – to get the sense of a hops character you do a rub test. Break the cone apart and rub it between your palms to spread the lupulin oils and activate the aroma with moderate friction and heat.  Just as if you boil hops for 90 minutes you extract more bitterness than if you whirlpool or use them post fermentation if you dry them too intensely or run them through a pellitizer without any cooling mechanism built into the dye and you’ll scotch out all the flavor and create (in our case an unwanted) bitterness.

Thankfully there are some larger yards being planted in our area – 5 and 9 acres respectively which will require and are investing and building proper harvesting, drying and pelletizing infrastructure. By the time our yard is at maximum yield, we hope to be able to work with our neighbors and begin utilizing our hops in additional batches of beer. In the meantime we are excited to begin bringing in the hops we have signed contracts for with Smokedown Farm and Pioneer Hops; the two largest hop growers in CT and only a short drive from our farm.

Some of the 5 acres planted at Pioneer Hops in Morris.

Some of the 5 acres planted at Pioneer Hops in Morris.

We have the luxury of a brewery just a few hundred feet from our yard (I’ve never measured) that most hop farms do not. So while those guys will surely have PTO harvesters attached to tractors rolling down their rows, we will hopefully have close to 200 people on our farm helping us pick, listening to bluegrass, enjoying some beer and a pig roast.

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Hop yard on the left, the brewery is just south of the solar panels in the center of the frame. Barely two inches from each other.

There are very different styles of harvest for small yards like ours and larger commercial farms like Smokedown Farm in Sharon and Pioneer Hops in Morris. But even for them, they could use their machinery for most of the farm and have a harvest festival for a small portion of the yard. Barley farms however, don’t really have that opportunity. Even the smallest barley farm’s social harvest would seem to be quite dangerous – imagine people walking around a field swinging sickles! It’s unfortunately much less dramatic, perhaps as much because of the nature of the plant as it is the process required to use it.  I don’t know of any breweries who make wet  barley beers; there’s no getting around the maltster.

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9 Acres of hops requires serious infrastructure. Smokedown Farm’s PTO harvester/baler is beautiful!

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Wolf Harvesters may be old school, but the are as serious of a harvester as there is. With it Pioneer Hops can process up to 200 bines an hour!

Which is why we are so thankful to be close with and growing alongside Andrea and Christian at Valley Malt. They produce an incredible product that is incredibly important not only to making beer – but to establishing viable farming options for new and experienced farmers alike.

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Prior to renovations, Valley’s floor malting took place in a modified attic. Not much vertical space – raking barley while crouched over is not easy!

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The same floor malting facility after their recent renovation

Setting up a hop yard is incredibly expensive ($10-17k per acre!) for the distance to max harvest, potential yields and risks due climate, and supply chain issues that currently exist in the Northeast. As a perennial, once you establish a yard that is what you will be growing there. There are cover crops that can be grown in between the rows, or you can rotate your pasture raised chickens and pigs in the yard as well to utilize the space for as much revenue generation and free labor/fertilizer/pest control as possible; but for the most part and especially at larger scales a hop yard is purely a specialty crop with one primary end user.

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Raising chickens on pasture in hop rows not only supplies free fertilizer but reduced Japanese beetle problems

Cereal grains on the other hand play an absolutely key component to our diet; and establishing local and non-conventionally grown barley and wheat farms go much farther than producing a locally grown beer – it can change the food system and viability of small scale or organic/non-conventional farming. It has been four years since NY State passed their farm brewery law, and while there is a lot that remains to be known about it’s long term affects, it is causing real change.  The demand from breweries and distilleries for locally grown barley has risen such that it is now an insurable crop in NY State – letting farmers know that if they grow it, even in face of environmental challenges they will be covered. These types of changes can affect change far beyond the brewing and distilling industries, and is why farm brewery laws are important, but that is another matter entirely and this post is already getting long.

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Valley Malt’s expansion. The first time I visited there were no silos.

When I got the chance to drive out to Farmington and walk through Rob’s 10 acres of barley, taste the sweet, biscuity and nutty flavor of the seed picked freshly off the plant I became extremely excited. If there’s a terroir to beer, I think it must start with the most abundant ingredient – malt. Part of Andrea’s job as the maltster is to help new farmers with their farming practices – and in some ways play farming psychologist for the struggles that come about. Part of my job as the end user is to give a sense of security back along the supply chain so they can farm with confidence and not fret about sales. But even with post harvest processing – drying, cleaning, storing, malting all taken care of the challenges of how to make the other crops in a proper rotation viable are surely great. Rob is currently planning on taking over some corn fields in the fall to expand his acreage – planting beans to replace the nitrogen depleted in the soil by the corn, and eventually bring back to grain. Lets just say I wouldn’t be surprised if there were cows on the property at some point – but I’ll spare you the details and recommend you read Third Plate by Dan Barber instead. The point is that it all basically boils down to soil health – if you have good soil, and farmers dedicated to their process and flavor there is amazing results that can be had.

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Rob’s barley fields run parallel and just west of the Farmington River

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Oh, those beautiful plump Conlon barley seeds.

Just this past week Andrea came down to the brewery for a malt sensory exam. Without any discussion of friability, extract, and the other quantifiable statistics that you use in making a decision about what malt to use – we compared and analyzed over 24 different malts for flavor. The ability to taste wort from different varieties of barley side by side, malted in the same manner, or tank malted vs floor malted was an eye opening experience. It was unbelievable how much more flavor one variety had compared to some of the others. And will inform what varieties the collective “we” choose to grow, and how we choose to have them malted for our beers in the future; to ensure that quality and flavor are equally as important as extract potential.

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24 samples of wort extract different malts for sensor analysis.

That’s a lot about hops and barley malt. Let’s talk about yeast and microbes for a quick second. The yeast we use for Tiny House, our harvest ale is a mixed culture of our brett strains, lacto, and our farmhouse culture that has been going since our first batch of beer. So while we brew Tiny House, we will be releasing Fingerprint; our first beer with native yeast. This beer is a farmhouse ale aged in white wine barrels with wild yeast and microbes cultured off of fruit, flowers and hops from our farm when Derek and I first started brewing together a few years ago. The culture was stepped up using our old 15 gallon home-brew system located in what is now the farm’s egg washing room.  It went from a small jar of fruit to several batches of various farmhouse ales and ultimately found its way into the wine barrels along with it’s base beer to age for over a year and bottle conditioned for four months.

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Raspberries. Squash blossoms. Apples. Pears. Flowers. and of course, hops. Where our wild culture all started.

This will be a small initial release, one bottle per person who attends the harvest.  To have so many things local, native, and close to home in a figurative and very literal sense going on at the same time is wild. We could thing of no better way to celebrate local farmers, maltster, brewers, friends, family and community members alike than to combine all of these aspects into one very special day. It’s been quite some time since we have gone long form with a blog post about growing/brewing local or any other topic for that matter. It can be difficult to find the time or energy amidst all that goes on here, especially during the summer; but doing can be the best form of reflection and self-assessment on what our greater missions are. And while each and every day on the farm has its challenges, frustrations and daily dose of doubt; today, it feels like we are growing in the right direction and our excitement for this year’s hop harvest could not be greater.

We hope to see you there!

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Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.campsroadfarm.com/harvest

Hop Harvest!

Every day the brewery and the farm work together to make this place go; sharing tractors and fork lifts, spent grain being brought out to the composting area, sensory tests in the hop yard, and sitting down for a beer with each other after a hard day’s work to maintain our sanity.  There is one day however, where the collaboration is celebrated, connection between farms and brewing, and the joy that we get out of doing this can be shared with whoever would like to come.  That day is our hop harvest festival!

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                                                                        Pick me! Pick me!

So what happens at the hop harvest?

For starters, we pick hops.  We’ll be going down the rows, taking down the bines and bringing them over to picnic tables where all those in attendance are invited to help us pick hops.

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Over the course of the day there will be live music, some beers being poured, and of course the main event (food wise) is a Camps Road Farm Raised pig roast! Along with some chickens and sides as well.

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There will not be any formal tours but the entire staff will be on site, and there to answer questions and chat.

Don’t you brew a beer also?

YES.  Last year we brewed a collaboration with our friends Jason and Mike from Bacchus, this year they are on the verge of opening up Hudson Valley Brewery.  We’ll be brewing another mixed fermentation harvest ale.  What’s that mean?  Once the hops are picked and a bucket is filled it gets brought right into the brewery and thrown in the whirlpool.  At the end of the day we’ll have thrown in over a hundred pounds of hops and have almost 20 bbl of this year’s batch primed for fermentation.
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Will there be bottle sales?

Yes.  While the brewery will be closed to the public, those who purchase a ticket will be able to purchase bottles at the end of the day.  No bottles will be available for on site consumption.

But that’s not it.  This year, in addition to our production bottles made available – those that purchase a ticket will be able buy a bottle of a limited farmhouse ale aged for a year in white wine barrels with wild microbes cultured from the farm.

I’m SOLD.  How do I buy a ticket?

www.campsroadfarm.com/harvest

General – $30 (hop harvest, food and drink)

VIP – $40 (hop harvest, food and drink + limited release)

We hope to see you there!

Jobs

BREWER WANTED:

A full time brewer position will be opening up by year’s end, and we are looking for a detail oriented, dedicated person to join our team and help us continue our growth.

Brewer will be involved and responsible for tasks in every side of the operation from wort production, cellaring, harvesting and pitching yeast, packaging, CIP, and cleaning kegs as well as hands on work with our barrel program.  As a small brewery we work very closely together and welcome input into quality control, process, and all things beer.

Requirements:

1 Year or more experience in a professional brewing environment preferred.

Ability to follow specific procedures and directions, and work safely with potentially dangerous equipment and hazardous chemicals.

Ability to lift 50-90 lb object on a consistent basis

Effective communication skills

Positive team member, able to work closely with others and share ideas/thoughts

Strong problem solving skills

Ability to work in hot, wet, and cold environments on a consistent basis.

Fork lift and tractor skills a plus.

Local applicants desired.

This position comes with a full time salary commensurate with experience and health benefits.

Please email a cover letter and resume and to jobs@kentfallsbrewing.com…… and tell us what you’re going to be for halloween this year.

Ales For ALS

Each year, HopUnion and ALS.net come together and create a unique hop blend featuring both experimental and widely sought after hops.  This year’s blend is particularly interesting – featuring Simcoe and Equinox; two distinct hops we love to use in our brewery alongside seven experimental hops that we have never before had the opportunity to brew with.  The result is rather beautiful..  Once Hopunion has blended the hops, they are distributed to participating brewers who in exchange agree to donate $1 per pint sold.  Last year, we donated the money from our keg sales since we were not able to serve pints or sell bottles at our brewery.  This year, that changes.

On Saturday, June 25 we will release our first bottled IPA, this year’s batch of Ales for ALS.  To date, all of our clean IPAs have been draft only, and brewed in one of two dedicated 10 bbl tanks.  In order to bottle some of this beer we ramped up production and switched over to one of our 30 bbl tanks.  The last thing we wanted to do, even if it is for a good cause is begin bottling our IPAs and have to pull draft beer from the market as a result.

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I first found out about the program when I was tagged on Facebook by an old friend who’s father has the disease.  While doing research online I found that we would be only the second participating brewery (after Willibrew) in the State of Connecticut.  A unique hop blend, a chance to raise money for charity, and call awareness to a dreadful disease while simply doing what we wake up every morning to do… brewing beer was a no brainer.  As it turns out, participation in the program is surprisingly simple and for any brewers reading this that have not yet inquired I cannot encourage you enough to reach out to the good folks at Ales for ALS through their website http://www.alesforals.com/ContactUs.aspx and see if its not too late.  Through participation last year, we found out that Connecticut has one of the highest rates of ALS in the country.  To see three additional Connecticut breweries, City Steam, Stony Creek, and Tidal River participating this year is tremendous and I hope it continues to gain steam each and every year.

This year we will be donating a $1 per bottle sold and the equivalent of each beer in every keg distributed.  We estimate that between the two we should raise nearly $6000, three times what we donated last year!  To raise the stakes even higher, we are sending donation boxes out to each account that share a little bit of this story and ask for your additional support to raise money to fight this disease.  Once all of the kegs have been tapped and the donation boxes collected, we’ll tally up the totals and a very special keg will be sent out to the bar that has collected the most donations.

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If you can’t make it to the brewery for the bottle release or make it to a bar while our batch is on tap and the donation jars are out, you are certainly not excluded from participating!  All you need to do is click here and make a donation!  Otherwise, we hope you have as much fun drinking this and trying to get your favorite bar a special keg as we have had making it.

Here’s the list of participating accounts:

@ The Corner

Backstage

Bar 140

Birch Hill Tavern

Blue Hound Cookery and Taproom

Camilles Pizza

CJ Sparrow

Community Table

Cover Two Sports Bar

Craft 260

Eli Cannons Tap Room

Elm St Oyster House

Greenwoods Grille and Ale House

Greers and Beers

Hoodoo Brown BBQ

J Timothy’s Taverne

Krust Pizza

Little Pub Ridgefield

Local Kitchen & Beer Bar – Norwalk

McLaddens Irish Pub – W Hartford

Mikro Beer Bar

Parrott Delaney Tavern

Plan B W Hartford

Prime 16 New Haven

Prime 16 Orange

Stone Hearth

The Cask Republic New Haven

The Cask Republic Stamford

The Half Door

The North House

The Olive Bar

Three Sheets

Westbrook Lobster Wallingford

Westbrook Lobster Clinton

Widow Browns Cafe

Willimantic Brewing Co

World of Beer W Hartford

World of Beer Stamford.

 

Let’s have a beer and do some goo.