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

Batch 4 for the 4th!

After taking some extra time to take care of a small expansion, and other tasks around the farm the newest batch of Field Beer Spelt is finally packaged and ready to hit the shelves in time for July 4th weekend!

Batch 4 of Field Beer features a slightly paler malt (the barley is still grown in CT) which allows our house yeast cultures to shine through for a more assertive tart and slight funk character and a drier finish that complements the cereal and earthy flavors of the raw spelt.

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We have yet again increased our bottling run, and are doing our best to have the newest batch (along with all of our other beer) wherever it is wanted.  From everyone at Kent Falls Brewing and Camps Road Farm, be safe and have a great holiday weekend!

Cases have been delivered to the following locations:

Kent Wine and Spirit, Kent

County Wine and Spirit, New Preston

Classic Liquors, New Milford

Nejaimes Wine and Spirit, New Milford

Nejaimes Wine and Spirit, Watertown

Coastal Wine and Spirit, Branford

The Wise Old Dog, West Hartford

Ledgebrook Spirit Shop, Winsted 

Stateline Wine and Spirits, Canaan

Maximum Beverage, West Hartford

Maximum Beverage, Farmington

BevMax, New Milford

Sharon Package Store, Sharon

Capital Spirits, Hartford

Greenwich Wine and Spirits, Greenwhich

Warehouse Wine and Liquor, Danbury

As always, you can use our beer map to find a bar, restaurant, or bottle shop near you that carries our beer!

Bottles of Spelt

Back in the day my mother kept a steady supply of spelt bread around the house because of serious wheat allergies.  For years it freaked me out, I resisted the offers to taste it, let alone acknowledge that it was actually bread.  Things sure have changed.

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In celebration of American Craft Beer Week we released our latest batch of Field Beer, now we are extremely excited to be able to release the bottles in time for Memorial Day Weekend.

This batch features the same CT grown malt, hops, and house yeast cultures which give Field Beer it’s tart citrus like character, and the addition of raw spelt grown in the Hudson Valley, provided to us by the incredible Wild Hive Grain Project.  This addition creates wonderfully rustic undertones that delicately complement our house culture.  The absence of oats also contributes a greater perception of dryness to the beer, perfect for a long weekend in the sun!

The following stores have already received their shipments of Field Beer Spelt and should have it on the shelves by Friday AM:

Kent Wine & Spirits – Kent

Classic Liquors – New Milford 

County Wine and Spirits – New Preston

Craft Beer Cellar – West Hartford

Harvest Wine & Spirits – West Hartford

Harvest Country Store – West Hartford

Nutmeg Fine Wines and Spirits – Waterbury

Bottle Stop – Newtown

Manchester Wine & Liquors – Manchester

Ledgebrook Spirit Shoppe – Winsted

Stateline Wine & Spirits – Canaan

Coastal Wine & Spirits – Branford

Bantam Market – Bantam

BevMax – New Milford

For information on where to find Field Beer Spelt and our other beers on tap, you can always visit our map.

Move In Day(s) Part 1

The last five weeks have felt as if the brewery blueprints have been bursting off of the paper they’ve resided on for so long and into real life.  As each piece of equipment is delivered and moved into it’s place the defining contrast of stainless steel tanks and oak barrels creates sense of purpose for which it has been designed.  Each ingredient offering familiar smells in concentrated amounts not experienced brewing on our home-brew scale pilot system.  For three years this brewery has been a labor of love, from the time pencil first touched paper on the business plan for a farmhouse brewery, through our zoning approval process, equipment selection, architectural and engineering designs for the building, and of course brewing and tasting!  The anticipation built up in that time is so great that it almost serves as a detriment to properly executing the “planning and building” phase.  I would do almost anything to bring in the brewhouse more quickly and solidify the transformation from an empty floor inside a barn like building to a full fledged farmhouse brewery.

Due to shipping times, the brewhouse delivery date needed to be determined a month in advance.  Making the decision to postpone the actual date when the system is within your reach is not an easy one.  However, due to ongoing construction dust from sheet-rocking and completing exterior site work related to installation of our waste water tanks it was a decision that needed to be made.  The risk of construction dust finding it’s way into one of the many small valves, gaskets, ports, and pieces that make up the brewery does not nearly justify the need for immediate gratification.  My folks taught me well.

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Not to mention there are some holes for our wastewater tanks that needed to be filled in before the brewery shows up.

In the meantime, we were glad to have had the cold room installed to give us a safe, dry, and insulated space to store our other incoming deliveries.  In my last post about Local Malt I discussed the use of Connecticut grown barley that is being malted for us at Valley Malt for use in Field Beer, a seasonal saison focusing on ingredients grown in the area.  

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Farmer John takes the pallet of Valley Malt off the truck and on it’s way to the brewery.

After putting so many hours into sourcing local ingredients, seeing grain grown in our state, malted just a few hours away in Hadley, MA make it’s way into the brewery is a tremendously gratifying moment.  Knowing that this will be a recurring event, each and every month moving forward increases the drive to increase the acreage devoted to barley in CT, and get closer to meeting all of our demand with local grain!

 

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Welcome home

With the brewhouse delivery being delayed a few weeks, our first order of wine barrels were now scheduled to be delivered on the same day as the brewhouse.  One disadvantage to opening a brewery up in Kent Hollow compared to an industrial center, is the lack of parking, driveway space, and loading docks.

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Our pond makes for a idilic delivery scene

Lucky for us, the shipping company delivered the barrels a day early and we were able to avoid unwanted craziness.  So into the “cold” room they went!

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Sixteen wine barrels and 1900 lbs of Connecticut Malt wait patiently to get into the main brewery floor

On Monday December 8 the brewery was shipped from Prospero’s warehouse in Pleasantville, NY to Mims Riggers in Bethlehem, CT for delivery to our farm the next day.  Due to the layout of the farm driveway and all, we had to hire a rigging company to bring in and setup the tanks in our building.  That night, after sitting in their office going through inventory of what was delivered, which pieces go with what equipment and the placement for each in our brewery, I returned to the farm with only one last thing that could stop delivery in the morning:  WEATHER.

To be continued.