CTMQ&A No. 3
Zack Adams, Owner and Brewer at Fox Farm Brewery
Farm Farm Brewery will open very soon on a leafy Salem backroad. The build out has gone as well as one could expect (read: some delays, but nothing too crazy) and as everyone that follows these things knows, it’s beautiful. Set in a renovated dairy barn, the 15-bbl, 5,300 square foot Fox Farm Brewery will be another Connecticut beer destination.
I don’t say that flippantly.
With a business degree from Babson College and many years of successful homebrewing on his resume, onwer/brewer Zack Adams knows what he’s doing. (And I use the term “successful homebrewer” purposely – more on that below.) I’ve likened Fox Farm to the love child of Kent Falls, OEC, and Beer’d.
Dang, that sounds like a lovechild I’d love a lot. It’s located at a farm. Their motto is “From the Soils Come the Spoils.” There is a coolship and there will be spontaneous fermentation happening (next fall/winter). Zack plans to use interesting homegrown fruits and herbs – some of which you may have never heard of. Oh, and he brews a mean suite of more typical ales and darks to keep everyone happy.
So get on it – sort out where Salem is in relation to you and plot your course. Zack was kind enough to speak with me recently and now you can get as excited as I am for Fox Farm.
First craft beer: “Sierra Nevada Pale Ale”
Some favorite CT breweries: “Kent Falls and Beer’d at the moment, but I’m really excited about what Counter Weight and Lasting Brass have going on.”
Favorite beer styles: “American pale ale and lambic.”
Current binge-watch binges: “Curb Your Enthusiasm and Stranger Things.”
CTMQ: Exciting times down there, eh?
Zack Adams, owner and brewer at Fox Farm Brewery: Yes! We just kegged our first batch. We had our draft system installed today too, so now we can enjoy our beer while we finish up the build (laughs).
That’s great, but more importantly, I’ve heard you’ve got game. What do you bring to the basketball court?
(Laughs) Aside from postgame beers? I’d like to think I play a small forward’s game. I picture myself as a slasher but that first step isn’t there like it once was.
Word. There’s space for a half-court behind the brewhouse. Any chance of you making that happen so this old man can take you on?
We could. My 3-year-old son would like it too. We have what was a little secondary barn that used to be covered in a bunch of brush and stuff, but we cleared it off and have a little slab there. Maybe we’ll put a hoop there.
I assume you honed your ball skills on the mean streets of…
Oh. Nevermind. After East Lyme and Babson College in Boston, you started homebrewing. And traveling. Is that where things began to gel for you?
Yes. After I graduated in 2009 I started getting into the world of better beer. Being in Boston – which also included a year abroad studying in London – I did start to get a taste of craft beer during college. My in-laws bought me my first homebrew kit as a graduation gift and I just really took to it. Around that same time, I visited my (now) wife’s family in Norway and also traveled around Ireland a bit and all these experiences sort of formed me as a brewer and a drinker.
Flash-forward to three years later in 2012; you felt you were ready to enter the Samuel Adams LongShot Competition? How did that happen?
I was never really into homebrew competitions. I’d probably only entered less than five by 2012. There were basically only two national homebrew competitions I knew of that carried weight. And by that I mean that they are judged by fantastic judges. One was the National Homebrewers Competition put on by the Homebrewers Association and the other was the Sam Adams LongShot Competition. You get great feedback from both. If you make pretty good beer, they offer really, really cool opportunities.
I was living in an apartment in Chester and partnered with my (now) brother-in-law to buy an all-grain system and put it in his basement. We brewed an IPA for my wedding reception and thought it tasted great, so we decided to enter it into the LongShot competition.
After making it to the Final Four, they flew us to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, put us up in a hotel, gave us passes to all the sessions… it was just a wonderful experience. And if you win, Sam Adams has your beer that they’ve brewed and they pour it at the Festival and then distribute it nationally the next spring.
Let’s dispense with your humility and tell those who don’t know it yet, how did you fare?
Surprisingly, I won! That was definitely sort of the defining moment for me as a homebrewer to start thinking seriously about making the jump to professional brewing. It was a huge motivator.
Due to the LongShot rules, I couldn’t enter the following year, but I did again in 2014 with a pale ale. That beer made it to the final 9 of judging. That’s the round where the expert judges, including Jim Koch, weigh in. So that was my final kick in the pants.
Is the huge framed picture of your face from the LongShot label hanging in your living room or above your bed?
(Laughs.) I’m happy that the final label removed some weird mustache stubble that was on an earlier version that I saw. Some friends got a poster of it signed by Jim Koch but it’s rolled up somewhere in the basement. I can’t bring myself to display it anywhere.
Anything cool that will be on display in the taproom?
Yes. Our 2016 Brewery Bocce Tournament Championship Trophy. Totally putting it out there to rub in some faces.
[CTMQ: I was speaking with annual Bocce Tournament mainstay Matt Westfall of Counter Weight Brewing and brought this up. He didn’t mince words. This pisses him off and he’s counting down the days until the next chance to steal the trophy back later this year.]
Okay, so now you’re married and you move to Salem to a house with an old barn on the property. Were you thinking “brewery” at the time?
Was your wife?
(Pauses) Yeah. (Pauses again, probably making sure Laura was out of earshot.) It was a dream for both of us for sure. But we weren’t sure it would work. The barn had 7-foot ceilings that wouldn’t work. We didn’t know how receptive the town would be to a brewery. But we wanted to put the barn to use somehow and I don’t collect antique cars and we’re not farmers, but at the time we bought it, I was getting serious about brewing beer. It took until the spring of 2015 to start to really pursue it.
My first step was to pay a structural engineer just to come out and assess the building. We came out of that okay, so we started to pursue the zoning application.
One thing that fascinates me about your location is your neighbor. Can we mention her here?
Sure. I don’t think she’s up here much anymore, but yeah, Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson, owns the property next to ours. She’s a legend and I respect her so much.
We just had Jackie Robinson Day on April 15th. Have you met her?
We’ve tried. We reached out to all of our neighbors about our plans, but after working up the courage to speak with her, she’s never been home when we’ve walked up her driveway.
[CTMQ Notes – for those unaware, Mrs. Robinson was a tireless civil rights champion in her own right. More here. Please don’t try to hassle her though. That would make you a terrible person.]
While we’re at it, Fox Farm is located on Music Vale Road and Zack has named a series of beers “The Music Vale Series. I’ve had the pleasure of sampling a few a year ago. They were fantastic and you can read about them here. So you should know what Music Vale is: In the mid-19th century, Orramel Whittlesey founded a music conservatory in Salem, Connecticut. The conservatory served as a boarding school attended primarily by young women who came from all over the country. First known as Mr. Whittlesey’s School, then the Salem Normal Academy of Music, and finally the Music Vale Seminary and Normal Academy of Music, the school is often credited with being the first music conservatory in the United States. More here.]
You have the property, the vision, the skills, and the future brewery. How did you come to work with Austin Design?
[CTMQ Notes: Austin Design is the architectural firm in Massachusetts that has carved out a little brewery niche by designing the beautiful new spaces for The Alchemist, The Northampton Brewery, and Tree House’s future space in Charlton.]
I had heard about them after they did the Alchemist facility in Stowe and I’ve been a frequent visitor of Northampton Brewery – which I think is just a beautiful space. So I knew they knew breweries and just reached out. They speak the language. One of the guys there is from Mystic and really knows the area and another runs a small farm so he has a passion for the same things I do. They understood immediately what I wanted to do; it was just an immediate fit.
Speaking of impressive firms, how did you end up with Dan Cassaro at The Young Jerks?
It’s interesting. With Austin and with Dan I’ve learned something – it doesn’t cost anything to just reach out and ask, y’know? Just to find out what they think, what they charge, and how they work. I saw some work Dan did for Carhartt and I loved it and then saw some other work he’d done for a bunch of classic American brands. We have our barn. It defines us. I didn’t think we needed to play into farming, per se, but I wanted branding that was classic Americana.
And Dan does that very well, as shown by his list of clients. So what the heck, I just reached out to him in New York, we talked and he was just great to work with. He really wanted to do a beer brand and I guess I was lucky to be his first. Right after us, he had a run of cans with a Miller. I don’t display my LongShot label anywhere, but I’ll have Dan’s Miller cans in the brewery. So yeah, Miller High Life and Fox Farm are his two beer brands. (Laughs)
I wanted to get a brand identity really early; so as we went through our zoning process at the very beginning, I wanted to have something that gave us a voice. And Dan did a great job with that.
What are your thoughts on the current Connecticut legislation regarding farm breweries that unanimously passed the state house?
I’m very energized and enthused to see interest and effort put towards the farm brewery bill. I think it’s a good first step but there’s more work to be done for sure. It’s definitely better than what was proposed last year and I hope ultimately it helps brewers and farmers.
How much of a “farm brewery” vs. “farmhouse brewery” vs. “brewery on a former farm” are you?
We’re not a true farm brewery. We are more of a farmhouse brewery. We do aspire to do more in the way of agriculture and reviving the landscape around the barn.
As of today, we have about a dozen cherry trees in the ground, 40 plants each of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. We planted some some initial hops along the silo just for fun and we have more fruit trees coming in soon. Also, we’re planning some other interesting ingredients like heather, sweetgale (aka bog-myrtle) that is a traditional plant used in gruit styles and some other stuff we look forward to playing around with down the road.
But we in no way want to overstate our efforts in the way of farming. I don’t think we fit the bill of what a true farm brewery is.
And your customers will be able to watch the growth of your plantings from a nice little patio. I am intrigued by the chairs and tables you have out there…
Yeah! That’s just one of those random little happenstances. Back in college, I knew a guy from Munich who became one of my good friends. He couldn’t abide by the Keystone and Natural Lights we were drinking and sort of set us straight.
His favorite beer was Augustiner and we found a place in Boston that sold it. It’s kind of stuck with me ever since and is still one of my favorite beers.
[CTMQ: One of Fox Farm’s first beers will be a pilsner that uses Augustiner Lager yeast; a nod to Zack’s college friend who first set him on the path of good beer.]
One day last year, my wife was up at the Brimfield Flea Market in Massachusetts and happened upon a full set of Augustiner-branded patio furniture. She sent me a picture and we jumped on it. It’s the real stuff, too – 12 chairs and 4 tables from Munich, Germany. I just think it’s a really cool connection to my beer beginnings.
Cool. And what about that beautiful oak tree out there? Is it healthy? I sort of see it as part of your identity already…
… As long as we can keep the gypsy moths away this year. They picked it clean last year. I credit my wife for saving it. We had to sacrifice a good amount of parking for that tree, but she was insistent and I can’t say I disagree with her.
As we wrap up, can you tell me a bit about your barreling and a bit about the first beers you’ll be rolling out and any distribution plans?
Sure, we just unloaded our first batch of barrels – 8 59-gallon sauvignon blanc barrels from Napa.
Our first beer is a pale ale with Citra and Mosaic and then a version of that with some Nelson as well. Right behind that we’ll have a robust porter, then a pilsner and an IPA.
Unfortunately the spontaneous fermentation beers will take some time as we couldn’t get it going this winter and now it’s too warm. But we’ll have some farmhouse styles in 4-6 months and hopefully it’ll coincide with our identity coming together.
We intend to self-distribute for the foreseeable future. Starting off in eastern Connecticut. We’ll see how it goes.
And a few final silly questions… Best FOXon Park flavor?
Better pilot: FireFOX or Airwolf?
Baddest Badass member of FOX Force 5?
Mia, of course. [Uma Thurman]
What does the FOX say?
Ring-ding-ding-ding-ding-dingding da ding ding.
We’re honored and excited to have Fox Farm debuting at Beers for Brittany this Sunday. As you know, CT Hops for Hope will be back at it this September with our larger fest. You in?
Of course! We’re not even open yet and we’re starting to get asked to pour at a lot of events, but we have to pick and choose simply because of staffing and availability of our beer. But Hops for Hope is already on our calendar.
Fox Farm Brewery is as beautiful as their Instagram makes it out to be. There is a lot of space for patrons (two levels) and the craftsmanship is top notch. Zack is humble and appreciative of the help his friends and family have provided (and to the bank for the loan!) and is really just excited to debut at CT Hops for Hope’s Beers for Brittany event and for his opening in May.
Huge thank you to Zack for his time and for sending along a few of the pictures you see above. Keep a look out on Fox Farm’s social media for their opening day information!
Fox Farm Brewery is located at:
Check the website for hours.