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

Some Vague Reassurances Everythings Going to Be Alright

This past weekend we actually managed to take a small amount of time off and get out of the brewery.  Upon walking back into the brewery just after sunrise Monday morning, there was an amazing sense of calm and peacefulness.  Could only a day and a half away from work really have done that much good for our psyche?  Whether or not this serenity hung around, or was all in our heads it was a great way to start a weeks worth of work.

Over the course of the day, it slowly began to feel like a farm brewery again.  “That’s weird”, I thought.  The cold room is close to 50 degrees instead of 36.  After a quick inspection to see what is going on, it turns out the gasket around the door has cracked a bit, but could that really be the cause?  A quick call to our local refrigeration guy Bob and we’d have someone out in no time to inspect it.  So off we went to keg our newest IPA.

Quickly, we noticed the brite tank was a bit our target temperature as well.  Starting to sense a pattern?  We were!  Time to check the main glycol chiller outside.  Turns out, that quiet in the brewery wasn’t just a clearer head.  It was our three phase power converter which runs our glycol chiller and cold room not working.

First thing first, inspect the beer inside each tank.  The IPA we had brewed on Thursday had clearly fermented as was evident by the thick slurry of fermentation blowoff we had to clean off the floor before we started kegging.  Two batches had already passed active fermentation, and one had yet to begin – but is a notoriously slow starter and hadn’t crossed any critical temperature thresholds yet.  All seems ok.  So get the converter up and running and lets keep calm and keg on.

Even with the converter back up, the glycol chiller is still on the fritz.  So while we wait for the new pressure switch to arrive to correct the problem all we can do is keep telling ourselves in whatever way possible that everything’s going to work out just fine.  What’s the point of sharing this with you?  Well, there couldn’t possibly have been a more appropriate time to release this beer.

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Bright beer. Dark chiller. No matter, it’ll all work out for the best in the long run.

We’ve had interest in this particular hop (oooooh mysteries!) for a long time and finally found enough to brew a single-hop IPA with it.  And we love the results!  The big alpha acid and oils in the hop produce bright stone fruit and woody floral aromas with a tropical, watermelon and light resin flavor to round it out.

So if you want some of this juicy IPA for yourself, head to one of the following locations this week and ask the bartender for “Some Vague Reassurances Everything’s Going To Be Alright.”

@ The Corner, Litchfield

Birch Hill Tavern, Glastonbury

Cask Republic, New Haven

Craft 260, Fairfield

Eli Cannon’s, Middletown

Krust Pizza, Middletown

Lucky Taco Cantina and Taproom, Manchester

McLaddens Irish Pub, West Hartford

McLaddens Irish Pub, Simsbury

My Place, Newtown

Parrot Delaney Tavern, New Hartford

Prime 16, New Haven

Prime 16, Orange

Stanziato’s, Danbury

White Horse Pub, New Preston

Widow Brown’s Cafe, Danbury

ALS

Most of our IPA releases will be one off batches, showcasing individual and blends of different hop varieties but this beer is particularly special.

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About two months ago, I was contacted by an old friend who’s father was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) almost five years ago.  Since that time, he and his family have become dedicated advocates for his father, and others afflicted with this debilitating disease.  Last year, when the Ice Bucket Challenge was taking over the internet, people shook it off as a glorified meme (is that the right internet term?!).  I’d be bending the truth if I said, at first I did not feel the same way.  Raising money is important.  But is no easy task.  Raising awareness, and doing so in a manner that gets people involved in a way that is “fun” might be the best way to do it.  After all, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised over $100 million.

So to join the fight, we’re pitching in the best way we know how – by making beer!  Ales for ALS is a partnership between HopUnion (one of the nations largest hop suppliers) and ALS.net, an organization raising awareness and funds for drug research and discovery.  Each year, a propriety hop blend is created for this program and distributed to participating brewers.  In return, the brewers pledge to donate $1 per pint produced.

After completing the necessary forms to participate in this great program, there was a bit of silence… and then… one day, a mysterious package from HopUnion made it’s way into our cold room while the brewery staff was out at an event.  Puzzled, we opened it up like a kid on Christmas.  THE HOPS!

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Several people from the bars and restaurants we work with have reached out to us and shared a story of how they have been personally affected by this disease.  Connecting outside of our beer with those we work with makes our participation in this amazing program all the more personal and meaningful.

So while everyone loves a special batch of beer, this one is truly something else.  This year’s blend of hops has us extremely excited.  Five experimental hop varieties.  Equinox (it’s a serious palate mind game) and Mosaic – two of the most sought after and hard to get hops on the market.  And a good cause.

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By producing a 10 bbl batch, we will donate over $2,500 to the program, and are asking all of our participating bars/restaurants and those of you reading this to make a donation of your own.  It doesn’t matter how big or small the donation is – we want to continue spreading the word.  Here are a few websites where you can do so.

Ales for ALS donation page

Charley’s Angels Walk for ALS donation page (my friend’s personal page, a thank you for his reminder about this program).

Here is a list of the locations set to receive kegs of our Ales for ALS IPA.

@The Corner, Litchfield (tapping Thursday for a 10 tap Kent Falls Brewing Takeover)

Backstage, Torrington

Bar Sugo, Norwalk

Birch Hill Tavern, Glastonbury

Cask Republic, New Haven

Center Street Public House, Darien 

Christys Irish Pub, New Haven

Coalhouse Pizza, Stamford

Craft 260, Fairfield (tapping for IPA Day)

Dew Drop Inn, Derby

Eli Cannon’s, Middletown

J Timothy’s Taverne, Plainville

McLaddens, Simsbury (donating an additional $1 per pint)

McLaddens, West Hartford (donating an additional $1 per pint)

Mikro Beer Bar, Hamden

My Place, Newtown

Olive Bar, Canton

Ordinary, New Haven

Parrot Delaney Tavern, New Hartford

Pizzeria Marzano, Torrington

Plan B, Glastonbury 

Prime 16, New Haven

Prime 16, Orange (tapping for IPA day)

Stanziato’s, Danbury

The Corner Tavern, Naugatuck

The Half Door, Hartford

Widow Browns Cafe, Danbury

White Hart Inn, Salsbury

White Horse Pub, New Preston

Westbrook Lobster, Wallingford

Walrus + Carpenter, Fairfield

New Tanks!

Want to know a secret?  In between all of the work that goes into keeping our farm brewery going, we have a lot of fun out here.    The brewery itself may be only 2,400 square feet, but it sits on and is a key function of a 48 acre working farm.  With only three full time people working each operation, most of whom live on site there exists an inevitable gravitation toward work.  If we did not love what we were doing, there would be no way to justify all of the work that goes into it.

From the moment you wake up at 530 in the morning and take a walk through the hop yard with a cup of coffee before making the distribution routes for the day to the evening when you do the same with a beer, you quickly start to notice hop bines that need pruning, rows that need irrigation, and many more tasks that almost immediately transition your “time off” for relaxation back into work mode.  The moment you step into the brewery, days quickly turn into long nights, mashing in early and cleaning the tanks late, ending just in time to repeat the following day.  Maybe it’s the long hours, lack of sleep, or copious amounts of coffee that keep us joking with each other as we work and pass time as if we’re in ludicrous speed, or maybe it’s that we all come to the table with an absolute passion for what we do and the ridiculousness of it; either way there’s a lot of character behind the scenes that we don’t necessarily get to share with our consumers (no tasting room and all…) on a regular basis.

There’s a tremendous amount of thought, planning, and intent put into what we produce on our farm brewery; from the crop and pasture grazing rotations down to the addition of specific yeast and bacteria cultures to introduce into particular barrel aged beers.  So far, we have produced three beers which we have wanted to act as the core of our brand – Field Beer, a tart saison brewed with 100% CT grown malted barley; Waymaker, a 100% brett fermented IPA; and Farmer’s Table, a dry hopped table beer (low alcohol farmhouse ale).  Soon our barrel cellar will start to be emptied and there will be 100% CT grown grapefruit sours and other sour and funky beers coming out.  Where are we going with all of this you might ask?

Well, we recently, thanks to a good friend and neighbor Mike added two 10-bbl fermenters and a second brite tank to our brewery which is going to allow us to start sharing the lighter side of our personality and brewery with you.  Did I mention it’s going to be hoppier also?  We love really hoppy beers as much as we do our farmhouse and mixed fermentation ales.  And now we finally have a tank dedicated to making them!

Told you Mike was a good guy.

Told you Mike was a good guy.

There's always egg cartons in the farm truck.

There’s always egg cartons in the farm truck.

Next stop.  Farm!

Next stop. Farm!

Definitely not a site you see every day.  Worked like a charm!

Definitely not a site you see every day. Worked like a charm… just check out the smile on Farmer John’s face!

We like our IPAs to be full of flavor, and as refreshing as our farmhouse ales.  Juicy.  Hoppy.  Not bitter.  And this is how we are going to make them.  Since we do not have big enough hop contracts (yet….) to make pretty much any IPA year round, for now there will be a lot of rotation in what we release.  Which means we need to find names for a whole lot of beers.  And this is where we start to have some fun.  We won’t be making puns about hoppiness, playing off individual hop names, or giving false pretense to a back story about why we chose the hops for each brand.  We choose them because they create delicious flavors and are what is available to us (so farmhouse of us).  SO……

All hooked up to glycol and ready to go!

All hooked up to glycol and ready to go!

In just a few weeks when you go to your favorite local bar and your bartender asks, “what’ll it be?” prepare yourself for some hoppy goodness from our farm and say, “let me get an Awkward Hug.”