The drinking population, increasingly located in cities as we carve through the invisible gelatin of time's future, has been separated from the earth. Beer taps in brick buildings reflect the light of televisions, and fluorescent light sears our retinas as we grab a shiny cardboard package from metal coolers. We obtain beer from chrome. The paradox is that brewing culture in the extravagantly digital 21st century has begun to bring us a little closer to the farm, and to the inextricable link between agriculture and beer.
Breweries were farms and farms were breweries, for most of human history. People fed themselves with what they grew and raised, but they also drank it, and the beers changed based on whatever crop was in season. We still drink the different styles of beer which resulted from these changes, but now we hardly ever see the farm. That's beginning to change, in food as well as beer.
The traditional three-tier model in beer sales goes Brewer->Distributor->Retailer, but I'm thinking of a differently tiered system: Grower->Brewer->Drinker. The cool thing is today the brewer/drinker relationship goes both ways. America's post-prohibition craft beer boom has been a leap forward in the quality and flavor of our beer, but it's also allowed us to retrace the steps the beer took to get to us. All you have to do is visit a local brewery to literally get closer to what you drink. Breweries are popping up like crocus in the spring, and one of Connecticut's newest is Kent Falls Brewing.
The brewing company's motto is "Beer unique to our land, unique to each season," and they really mean their land. Their location on Camps Road in Kent was established as a farm by the Camps family in the mid 18th century, and stayed in the family all the way until the 1970s. It was subsequently the Fools Farm dairy, and has now become the home of Kent Falls, who are continuing to put the land to use.
Kent Falls' model is based on the practice of Brewery Supported Agriculture, like a CSA, except directly linking brewer and field. Kent Falls Brewing Company is in its infancy, but they're already using mostly Connecticut-grown barley and hops, which will upgrade to 100% local when their on-site hop varieties mature.
The brewery's fields and apple orchards will be watered and partially fertilized by its own treated wastewater, chicken and sheep raised on the farm will be partially fed on spent grain, and plans are in place to pre-heat the water used in the brewing process using solar power. We can't quite call Kent Falls an "estate" brewery yet, but they're getting pretty close.
My first taste of Kent Falls beer was their Field Beer saison. This farmhouse ale is currently brewed with both barley and oats, and the brewers say they'll be changing the recipe every now and again "to emphasize the seasonality of agriculture and brewing." Almost to prove the point, my first Field Beer was actually their second batch, which they differentiated from the first, more traditional saison by adding their house souring culture.
Field Beer is a slightly cloudy, light amber color, with no head as it was poured, and an unmistakably acidic aroma. An immediate sizzle of tartness hits with the first sip, not too far off from the sensation of licking a 9-volt battery, but it's replaced by a smoothness like fresh bread. The rich grain of the barley and oats last, and follows into the aftertaste alongside that nice yeastiness. It's not exactly mind blowing as a saison or a Connecticut beer, but it is a tremendously encouraging start from a brewery that's barely out of the nest. I've been following their progress for about a year now, and these first few pints I had only encouraged me. I had mine at Walrus+Carpenter in Black Rock, but you can find Kent Falls beer here.
It's exciting to see all the different directions modern brewers are heading off in, not just with their recipes, but with how those beers are conceptualized and produced. There's always something new. Spring is about revival, after all.
See you out there.