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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!