When you think CT Grown, you might not picture a frosty glass of local beer. Yet the boom in craft breweries has led to increased demand for local ingredients, which in turn has helped strengthen associated agricultural enterprises in Connecticut who grow the products brewers need.
After a short-lived renaissance in the mid-90s, craft beer and microbreweries have surged in popularity in the early 21st century. Breweries have been rapidly opening across the state, and Connecticut now boasts more than 125 independent breweries. Of course, a beer is only as good as the ingredients that go into it, and many Connecticut brewers have been turning to local sources for their barley, grains, malts, and hops.
As local brewers have increased in number, the demand for hops has also gone up. More than a dozen commercial hopyards have sprouted in Connecticut, and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has been supporting them with research and recommendations on integrated pest management and other best practices.
“Hop flavor is affected by soil and climate. Connecticut Grown hops have fruitier and more citrusy notes that allow us to develop more distinct flavors than mass-produced beers, especially when it comes to making New England IPAs that are less bitter than their West Coast counterparts,” says Alex DeFrancesco, owner of Stewards of the Land Brewery in Northford.
Some local farms and hopyards have taken the next step of opening a brewery of their own on the premises. Several farm breweries have been established since these venues were permitted under legislation passed in Connecticut in 2017.
Guests at a farm brewery have the added benefit of experiencing the joys of visiting a CT Grown agricultural producer. Instead of just tasting a flight or a pint, people can take home fresh produce, visit farm animals, or simply sit back and enjoy the pastoral surroundings while enjoying a brew made with CT Grown farm products.
“Our mission has always been to make our beers with locally grown ingredients,” says Barry Labendz, founder of Kent Falls Brewing Company in Kent. “We opened our brewery in 2015, around the same time Smokedown Farm Hops in Sharon and Thrall Family Malt (barley) in Windsor were getting started as well; before there was even a permit for farm breweries! Working with Thrall and Smokedown has taught us a tremendous amount about the physical ingredients we use to make our beer, a invaluable input with the growers about the flavors and aromas we are looking for in our ingredients, both of which play a huge part in producing delicious beers. And when a consumer purchases one of our beers, they are not only enjoying local flavors, but supporting a community of local farmers while doing so!
Several breweries and venues are celebrating the season by having Oktoberfest events. Find a full list here, and check in with your local brewer to find out how they have made CT Grown part of their work.