Thursday, March 12, 2015

Kent Falls Brewing - Connecticut's First Farmhouse Brewery, and Certainly It's Most Bear Flavoredest

Kent Falls Brewing Co

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Where to Find the Beer

I've been neglecting to tell you guys something, and I'm very sorry. It's exciting news. (At least for me!) News that's going to give me a lot to talk about in both the near and distant future. And as such, news that I needed to hold off on until I have some glimpse of hope that I'm about to get my head above water, with everything going on in my life. This whole last year was extremely difficult, stressful, exhausting, et al. These last few months I've had to devote almost every waking moment of free time to working on this whole book thing that is soon due. There were rotten shark adventures to be chronicled, cheeses to be eaten, sleeps to be deprived, and more. I'm inching slowly but surely closer with the book, thankfully. And while there's still plenty more editing to be done, and it'll be a while before I can get a good night's sleep, it's about time I talked about the second big adventure consuming my daily not-free time.

I really didn't want to just casually drop that I'm now a professional brewmaster (I mean: lol) and then not have the time or mental energy to write about it at all for four months. Granted, it's not like I'm really going to have much more time to write in the next few months even once I am done with a draft of the book, but I'll try my best. Starting up a new brewery is an exhausting endeavor all on its own, but I'll do my best to talk about everything there is to talk about, of which there is a lot. Not much should change here at — I'm just going to continue to have a ton of weird brewing stuff to write about, plus catching up on posts from my backlog of homebrew batches and experimental batches. New adventures, new experiments, new opportunities, and a lot of new things for me to learn, this time with some economic pressure not to fuck up. Woo!

But about the brewery.

However you feel about homebrewers starting up new breweries by the coat-tails of their boot-straps, I have to say first off that I did not start this brewery. And thank god — do you have any idea how much work is involved in opening a brewery? It's insane. Couldn't do it, myself. I got off crazy easy: brewery manager and co-owner Barry, who launched the brewery project here at Kent Falls, has born the brunt of the work. You hear how opening a brewery is like 2% brewing beer. This is true. And people talk about how much cleaning is involved. This is also true. What you do not hear is that the other 90% is spent on the phone. Mostly yelling at people. Or sweet-talking people. Or whatever. There's always a lot of red tape involved in opening a brewery, and in Connecticut, they seem to come with a few extra rolls of red tape. There are always unforeseen challenges and hiccups and setbacks. In building a new brewery from the ground up on a swampy farm in the middle of nowhere, there's a million things that can go wrong. Or just set you back month after month.

Camps Road Farm
Pictured: a good working environment.

Barry is very good on the phone; problem solving, networking, and working out general business machinations. This is wonderful for me because I would probably suck at all those things. I just brew the beer, which frankly is maybe the easiest part of running the business.

Our set-up is an interesting one, and a set-up that hooked me immediately, when Barry first approached me in spring of 2014. The brewery is one part of a multi-tiered effort. Kent Falls Brewing Company is located on a farm, but the farm operates independently as a separate business — Camps Road Farm — and includes a 1.4 acre hop field. We are the first farm brewery in the state of Connecticut, and as far as we can tell, also the first commercial hop growing operation in the state. We're growing six varieties: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Brewer's Gold, Northern Brewer, and Willamette. In addition to hops, the farm grows a whole bunch of stuff in greenhouses, raises sheep, raises chickens, sells eggs, and will expand its livestock options to include pigs (and I hope goats, because I desperately want a goat sidekick brewer's assistant named Brett. So badly). The farm is gonna grow a whole bunch of different berries that I want to throw into beer, squash, various herbs and spices, and just lots of fun other stuff. We're looking for every possible way to meld the worlds (and economics) of small-scale farming and small-scale brewing. Farmer John is relentlessly productive and impressively skilled at what he does, and I can't even describe how exciting it is to run a brewery that's not just situated on farm property, but on a working, productive, autonomous farm operation. Did I mention my life goal of having a goat for a brewer's assistant?

The third tier of the business is a distillery called NeverSink Spirits, located about an hour away from the farm and brewery, in Port Chester, NY. They'll be doing apple brandy and whiskey, among other stuff. We'll be collabearating on things in the future. I will snatch up their barrels when they aren't looking. Once again, this is unbearably cool. Having a source of barrels, having partners who can take one product we make and transform it into another, adding options, adding knowledge. Adding barrels. Barrels!

Red and White Wine Barrels
Barrels! They patiently await funky dry Brett saison.

Barrels: so far we don't have any whiskey barrels. I will eventually put stuff into whiskey barrels and do some fun stouts, absolutely. But those types of beers are not going to be a focus of the brewery initially. We do have sixteen wine barrels to start off with, which will be home to funky farmhouse ales and sours. In fact, without ever actually sitting down and consciously deciding upon it as a particular focus, it seems most of the beers I will be doing in the first six months or so are all pretty sessionable. With most of my beers, I will be aiming for something juicy and drinkable and expressive. Often, weird. To get an idea of the sort of things I'll be brewing at Kent Falls, see: my blog.

Under construction.

Something that's probably obvious from the recipes I post here: I love my IPAs. In the future, I hope to do lots of IPAs, and we're honing in on a final recipe for a sort of flagship clean IPA that I'm very excited about in a few regards. Securing hops to do the IPA you really want to do can be a huge challenge. That, and juggling a number of house cultures, means it'll probably be some time before you see significant quantities of Kent Falls IPA hitting the market. I'll talk about all that more in the future — I find the juggling you have to do as a commercial brewer developing recipes to actually be very fascinating.

In the meantime, we are, to my great delight, going to be brewing two extra-dope-but-not-clean IPAs: Waymaker, a Brett IPA, and Alternate World, a "sour IPA" or dry-hopped gose, depending how you wanna roll. We're planning to can both beers in 16 oz-ers, which is maybe the most exciting thing of all. I'm hoping we'll be able to get the canning going by late summer / early fall, just in time for peak hiking season. I'm gonna need to get in some serious relaxation this fall, and nothing in the world could be more exciting to me right now than having my own vision of the ideal hiking beer, designed specifically to be drank on top of mountains, on top of a mountain, out of a can. Is this the Matrix?

We have a pond.

All these beers will get their own post eventually, but our first beer to be released, Field Beer, definitely deserves more words than just a brief paragraph here. Until then: it is a saison, it uses all local malts (and will eventually use all local hops), its recipe will rotate based on the season, and it necessitates a somewhat complicated brewing process to get some nice tart funk all up in there. More on Field Beer soon.

Besides being on a farm, what is this brewery like, you may wonder?

It's a good size. I say that having seen firsthand the trend of nano-brewing that's emerging all over the place, and in the Northeast especially. We've got a 15 bbl Prospero compact brewhouse. Two vessels, with the lauter tun on top of the hot liquor tank. Rakes built into the kettle, so we can do all sorts of stuff in the mash (when mashing in the kettle) before pumping over to the lauter tun. This is good, because we'll be using decent quantities of unmalted local grains for certain beers. All our batches will be double brews to start, however, as we currently employ three 30 bbl tanks. In addition to those, we have 8 red wine and 8 white wine oak barrels, and, most interesting of all, an old milk chiller from the 50 acre property's previous incarnation as a dairy farm. The milk chiller holds about 7 bbl, or a little over 200 gallons. The idea is that we'll set it up to use as a coolship (I mean, milkship), which would be really fun — but even using the thing as some kind of open fermentor would be fantastic for now, too.

Moving the milkship out of the old dairy barn.

You may be wondering how a mere homebrewer such as myself stumbled into the brewmaster position at such a bitchin-sounding new brewery operation. This would be a very good question, and I'm not entirely sure myself. Though if I had to guess, I would assume it involves some really effective blackmailing. I will say that such an undertaking would be complete madness without a very good, effective consultant to help you get up and running on the equipment and processes. (You wouldn't believe how many valves are involved in making this beer). While all the recipes are of my design, I'm not sure how they would've ever made it to the tank intact without the wisdom and reassuring McConaugheyian cool of someone much smarter and more experienced than me. While this is still a totally insane venture, the help of our consultant has taken this from "coma-inducing levels of stress inspired by disaster" to merely "mental blackout eyeball bleeding levels of stress necessitated by unmanageable work load."

What else? There are so many things to write about, I know I can't cover them all right now and I'm not even going to try. Various observations and experiences will give me great fodder for many blog posts to come, certainly. I mean, what do you guys want to know? What are you curious about, on the front lines of an experience and opportunity like this? I'll be writing about it all, just hopefully distilling it down one topic at a time. Let me know what you're wondering about and I'll be sure to address it. At some point. Once I finish the book. And get some sleep. Good god I'm exhausted I didn't realize it was physically possible to drink this much coffee.

Our very first beer is hitting the market like... well, right now. I mean literally this afternoon. Partly, honestly, I was waiting to 'announce' my role at Kent Falls until our beer was on the market and thus everything actually felt... real. (The twist though is that currently still none of this feels real to me). We're self distributing in Connecticut to start, mostly in the central / western portions of the state. Barry is driving around today and tomorrow delivering kegs. We'll be in New York sooner or later too... hopefully sooner. Connecticut and New York are going to be our primary regions of focus. One of the most unfortunate quirks of this operation is that there's no taproom or tasting room on the farm, and we'll have to go through a bit of a process in order to even sell beer here. To start, a bar or beer store will be your place to find Kent Falls beer. (I'll write some more updates about that tasting room situation later).

We've put up a convenient Google Maps dodad to help you track down our beer. By tomorrow (Friday, March 13th), a decent number of accounts should have our beer. Right now you'll be able to find Field Beer, our locally-grown saison, but obviously the map will be updated as new beers are released. Waymaker Brett IPA and Farmer's Table saison are up next after Field Beer.

Since we don't have a taproom, and therefore can't have a big opening celebration bash at the brewery, we're working on putting something together at one of our favorite local taverns in April. More on that as we get the details ironed out.

Thanks for following along with all my adventures so far. Thanks for supporting the Bear Flavored Merch store and helping me to put cheese on the table throughout the harrowing and hectic last year. Thank you for not laughing at me too hard at this new turn of events, my highly presumptuous decision to try to make a career out of this beer nonsense. There sure are a lot of new breweries opening, haha! It's unnerving, it's terrifying, it's destroyed my ability to get a good night's sleep, and whatever remains of my sanity is highly questionable, at best. Regardless, I'll be here in the trenches (the very muddy trenches), trying my damndest to make the best beer I can, and writing about it as often as I'm able. Bear with me.

Kent Falls Brewing at Camps Road Farm


  1. Again, congrats! That's quite a sweet setup you have there... envious! Can't wait to try your beers, whenever that will be... hopefully not TOO long from now.

    P.S. I still think your consultant is Shaun Hill, or Sean Lawson. Haha...

    1. It's not too bad! Thanks man. I'm sure you'll get to try some before too long.

      No, our consultant is actually Matthew McConnaughey, like I said.

  2. Congrats Derek! Cant wait to see what you come up with. Cheers.

    1. Thanks man! Mostly gluten-free pumpkin beers. Year round. I where this industry is heading and I'm going to ride the lightning.

    2. *know where

      **need more coffee already

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  4. Derek, this is all so awesome and exciting! Congratulations and good luck! (Hope u r grabbing a lil' shut-eye!)

  5. Congratulations, I wish you all the best, you deserve to be where you are and we deserve what you produce, so those elements are definitely aligned. Cheers my friend!

  6. How far reaching is your initial distribution? New haven/hamden? Naugatuck?

    1. Theoretically, yeah. My partner here is in full-on sales and delivery mode right now, so it's really just a matter of who's interested in carrying our beer down there, and figuring out a delivery route that makes sense. It's pretty likely we'll pop up though, I guess for now just keep your eye on the map!

  7. Derek, congrats! Very happy for you, that all sounds exciting and I think you are making the right choice by making brewing a career. As passionate as you are about it, you would be doing a disservice to yourself if you didn't follow you're heart. Looking forward to reading about you're discoveries in the commercial setting (and brewing in a legit fucking farmhouse brewery!) , cheers!

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  9. Derek,

    Really excited to see you are going pro!
    Been following your blog for a couple years now and can't wait to taste your beers.
    I grew up in the area and fish the Housatonic up past the drive up there and can't wait to visit the brewery if you open a taproom or offer tours.

    March 14, 2015 at 7:23 AM

    1. Thanks Steven! Appreciate it, would love to have you stop by. The farm is always open, and hopefully we'll have some sort of retail space before too long.

  10. Congrats! That's going to be an amazing opportunity.

  11. You caught me by surprise. So awesome to see more people that I respect and are inspired by making the leap to the pro level. It really goes to show our little obsession is going. It sounds like you have a great setup and sticking to your ideals. When you get your head above water, let's chat and figure out a coast to coast collaboration (and swapping of beers). Congrats.

    1. Haha, thanks man. Yeah, let's definitely brainstorm and plan a collaboration at some point! That'd be super fun. Real excited to try your beers too.

  12. This is like the coolest thing ever, on so many levels. Congratulatiosn!! I'm very happy for you and all the people who will get to drink y'all's beer on a regular basis. If only I lived closer.... still, I'm not too far away!


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