Local Farms = Local Beer (Part 2)

Every Saturday morning from mid-May to late October my farm packs up our pasture raised chicken and eggs and heads to our stand at the New Milford Farmers’ Market.  Every time, I wish I could be placing a few cases of beer in the truck along with our farm goods.  One of the motivations for trying to produce and keep our product local, is the ability to get to know your frequent customers and answer questions about our operation as they come back week after week.  In that way, farmers markets are not too different from a brewery’s tasting and tap room.

While applying for Kent’s Farmhouse Brewery special permit we did not include an application for onsite tours and tastings.  This is a separate permit within the town’s zoning and planning regulations, one which we ended up deciding to postpone to a later date and focus overcoming one hurdle at a time.  To open a brewery without being allowed to give tours, pour samples, and sell a bottle of beer yourself is very very difficult.  Beyond the business disadvantages of having no retail space, it creates an unwanted distance between our consumers and us  The shared experience of seeing where a product is made, getting to know the people making it, and carrying that with you as you enjoy it off site is lost.  If Connecticut had a farm brewery law on the books as it does with farm wineries, allowing us to accomplish these goals by selling our beer at local farmers market could alleviate the impact.

Last year this almost changed (and without me having to lead the cause). In the January 2013 session of Connecticut State Senate, Bill 217 was introduced.  If passed, this bill would have allowed the sale of Connecticut made beer and spirits at farmer’s markets.  While the bill did not make it off the floor, the question of whether to try and revive it was brought up at the most recent CT Brewers’ Guild meeting (download our app!).  And I have not been able to stop thinking about it since.

[throws curveball]  Like most things you don’t have to work hard for, it would have come with a price.  The bill’s statement of purpose reads, “To allow the sale of Connecticut manufactured beer and spirits at farmers’ markets.”  I was not able to find any other information about the proposal of this bill.  If this is it, and there is no requirement to have the beer or spirits to be produced using a certain percentage of Connecticut grown ingredients I fail to see the benefit to CT farming.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, the most abundant ingredient in brewing, and also the most difficult to source locally, is malted barley.  Rarely do brewers know who is growing their grain, even rarer is an economic benefit (aside from spent grain) to their local agricultural community.  Most malt is ordered through large distributors and come from a handful of gigantic malt houses in the midwest or abroad.  I frequently receive flyers in the mail from Cargill encouraging me to buy their malt.  For those that aren’t aware, Cargill is one of the largest agribusinesses and mega-corporations in the country.  They produce and use GMO seed, chemical pesticides and fertilizers among other industrial agricultural practices to which my farm seeks to provide an alternative to.

I look around to our neighboring states and see the positive effect that farm brewery laws have had on and want the same for Connecticut.  By requiring a minimum use of ingredients grown in state, they allowed farm breweries to serve pints on premise and receive lower licensing fees.  In turn, the states have seen their agricultural communities willing to invest the time and effort in producing ingredients for brewing.  In Massachusetts, Valley Malt has grown by leaps and bounds each year, providing brewers large and small (including us!) with malt for their beers; putting craft malting back on the map.  Since NY passed their farm brewery law in 2012 more than 14 farm breweries have opened, acres in hop production have doubled each year, and a handful of craft malts houses have opened up as well.

In my opinion, for local agriculture to be a success it must be diverse and tied to economically viable and scalable industries.  Reconnecting breweries across the country with a more local supply chain for malt, hops, and other fermentables will help do just that.  Allowing breweries to sell at a farmers market without requiring that they use state produced ingredients will not.  For that reason, I’m not upset this bill died where it did and I will continue to push for a state wide inclusion of brewing and distilling into the definition of agriculture and passage of a Connecticut Farm Brewery Law.

We have truly great brewers in Connecticut, and now it’s time to make a push for truly local beer.

Local Farms = Local Beer (Part 1)

When we met with Kent’s Planning and Zoning commission late in 2012 to discuss the idea of brewing on our farm, the first question was whether it would fit under the state definition of agriculture.  In CT there exists a farm winery statute, which includes ciders, brandies, and eau-de-vie made from fruits, whether it be grapes, apples, cherries, or pears.  Since there was no mention of brewing, it was up to us to make the argument.  And it goes a little something like this.

Beer is made with 4 key ingredients; water, malt, hops, and yeast.  Without farms, you just won’t have much luck getting hops or malted barley.  Our intention is to source as many of these ingredients locally as possible, with a minimum of 20% by weight being form within 50 miles of our farm.  What is not agricultural about that?

Small scale brewing and farming share more than inputs and outputs.  What I love most about both their processes and products is that they are enjoyed infinitely more when shared with good friends and community.  I’d rather buy squash and pumpkins from Megan Haney at Marble Valley Farm in Kent, rhubarb and berries from Ralph Gorman at White Silo Farm and Winery in Sherman, or pears and cider from Tyson Averill and his family at Averill Farm in Washington for use in different beers than overtax our land and staff to make sure it is being grown here.   I believe this is a model for farm breweries that will go farther in supporting local agriculture than attempting to grow everything on one site.

IMG_7553Megan Haney flanked by her farmer staff, Abe and Lauren in front of carnival and butternut squash

526261_10150790229564928_1757663607_n (1)Ralph Gorman standing in front of his winery entrance (not pictured: thousands of pounds of fruit)

20101202-131Tyson Averill holding two bottles of cider wine from his cider house, their stand is across from us at the New Milford Market

On our farm we have a 1.4 acre hop yard that we hope to produce 3,000 lb. of hops annually at maturity.  Yet no matter how much beer we brew or the importance of our hops to our finished beer, this yield will not cover the 20% weight requirement due the sheer volume of malt used in production. The core challenge facing “local” (by our definition) beer production is to source locally grown malt.  To solve this problem, I have done everything from pull my car over on the side of the road and run into the middle of a field to approach an unknown farmer on his tractor, to googling to the bottom depths of the interwebs to find out someone having similar interests who might be good to speak with..  Despite receiving my fair share of “no’s” along the way, each day I continue to work at it and am seeing the fruits of this labor of love.  I have made some amazing relationships that have enriched me personally and pushed me toward surpassing the 20% local requirement by a good margin in our first year.

The original intent of this post was to discuss selling beer at farmers markets, but I have a lot more to say and think that backstory is necessary to truly get my point across.  So on my way to making that point I’ll begin to share updates on the beers we will be producing, what ingredients are coming from what farms, the people behind them, and stories of how I got to know them.  After all, that’s kind of what we are all here for isn’t it?!  Beer!

Happy Birthday Kent!

At a recent event hosted by the Kent Historical Society I was asked to contribute a picture from our hop harvest to the town’s time capsule commemorating it’s 275th birthday.  Along with the picture, they requested I write a vision for where I see myself in 2039 when the time capsule is dug up and the town is celebrating it’s 300th birthday (founded in 1739!).  I was rather surprised and honored at this, to be present for such a small portion of the town’s history yet asked to be a recorded part of it, with eyes on the future is something that means a lot to me.

 

pix_155So true.

 

In the very near future we will be brewing our first official batches of beer as Kent Falls Brewing Company.  To think about what we’ll be doing twenty five years from now is absolutely absolutely wild notion.  The three years spent planning and opening the brewery have been the most enjoyable working years of my life, and the excitement that builds when thinking about doing this for the next quarter century is indescribable.  BUT…

Just a few moments later, this excitement for what is to come and gratitude for being included in such an event gave way to a flashback of my first night at Muhlenberg College and deja vu set in.  All the freshman were gathered in front of a dorm and asked to write a note to their graduating self and say what they hope to accomplish in their four years in Allentown, PA.  Exactly what was on the card I don’t remember, but I am 100% certain I am holding myself to higher standards today than I did as a goofy 18 year old.

So here it is:

In 2039…

I will be looking back on 25 incredible years of brewing in Kent.  To celebrate an even bigger birthday, I hope to be releasing a special batch of beer brewed in honor the town’s 275th anniversary, and sharing it with the amazing community that we are proud to call home.

Unfortunately, rules prohibited me from burying a bottle of beer with the time capsule.  Thankfully, there is plenty of field space on the farm for us to bury a case or two of beer and make our own time capsule. 😉

Until then, I would love to hear your visions for the CT Beer scene over the next 25 years. Let’s hear what you have to say!

Happy Birthday Kent.   Here’s to many years of delicious beer together.  Cheers!