From farm to drinking glass: Here’s to new places to socialize
Despite the challenges surrounding COVID restrictions, local spirit producers, including some that recently opened their doors, have found creative ways to serve their versions of the farm to table concept.
Cherry Brook Farm & Vineyard
The property at 604 Cherry Brook Road in North Canton stretches as far as the eye can see. It seems impossible to capture the natural beauty of it in a single glance. People who live in the area, or travel that route between Simsbury and Barkhamsted, have been distracted by the scenery for years.
Steve Kinosh was one of those admirers.
“I bought it because it is a beautiful piece that I would see for years as I rode my bike [motorcycle] by with my wife and thought I would love to have something like this. In 2008, I was going back home to Bristol and saw a for-sale sign. I watched it for two years,” he said.
He bought it in a bank sale in 2010, when he had retired from his sales position at Pratt & Whitney. He was tired of flying around the world as a customer service representative. The property encompasses 60 acres of cleared land with the main residence and several outbuildings plus a pond and stretches all the way to the top of the nearest mountain that looks like the backdrop to a Hallmark movie.
“In 2004 the owner John Wilson split the 100 acres below and created this with the top. I sold three houses to come here. I planted grapes in 2016. That was not planned,” he said.
Cherry Brook Farm & Vineyard also grows hay and sells eggs from its own chickens. But the vineyard was the biggest venture.
“I wanted to try something else. I have five years of expenses. Now I am finally getting some revenue,” said Kinosh.
He bought 200 grapevines from the AA Vineyard in the Erie region of New York because the climate was a match, and he connected with the agricultural program at UConn. Kinosh had his soil tested there and was told what he needed to add to it.
“I had a lot of help from the associate professors with what grapes to start. We are in the northern region here, so we are up higher. The cold will kill grapes. It takes three years minimum [to produce enough fruit to harvest for wine.] Ours is in the fourth year,” he said.
His relationship with UConn has continued, as agriculture students continue to come to the farm to check on the vines for insects and fungus for research for their papers. They alert him if they find any problems in the fields. They also take soil samples for tests.
Kinosh educated himself on growing and making wine by talking with many people in the business and on the internet, as well as by trial and error. His middle daughter Samantha Brutcher is very much involved as she develops her own palate for wine. She has two sisters, Natalie and Nicole, who also help with the business when needed.
Kinosh traveled the world when he worked for Pratt and always took his clients to dinner. So drinking fine wine has been an acquired taste, although he still considers himself mostly a beer-drinking man.
He has not had to hire workers because his wife, three daughters, grandchildren and close friends all show up to work as the need arises. Mrs. Kinosh helps in the picking and pruning and labeling of bottles, as well as organizing the working parties. It’s also her job to watch the grandchildren.
“We have picking parties and pruning parties. A dozen people or so can do it all in two hours. COVID made everything hard this year: state permits and doing the work. We had help from State Representative Leslee Hill,” he said.
Brutcher, who lives in Bristol with her two daughters: Stevie, her father’s biggest helper, and Everly, explained that eventually they plan to serve food in the wine-tasting barn, with a charcuterie and other options. Her wedding was held there for 200 guests in 2017 and accommodated everyone comfortably.
“This started as a hobby for my father, but now it is a passion project for the family. It’s an opportunity and an excuse to get together. Everything always ends as a party,” said Brutcher.
As she is the only wine drinker by choice in the family, she is excited to have a finished product to taste.
“Some vineyards have only 30 percent of grapes from the state and are considered Connecticut wine, but we are 100 percent state grown,” she said.
One of her favorites is Marquette, “a red wine that is a little bit different, acidic and earthy,” according to Brutcher. La Crescent, also a red, is a little sweet, she pointed out. Frontenac is a “smooth, rich and velvety” white wine, and Cayuga, which is already sold out, is “acidic, tart, tangy, and great with seafood.”
The vineyard does not keep regular hours, as it only has a limited number of bottles remaining. Kinosh suggested checking the website at cherrybrookfarmandvineyard.squarespace.com for hours and availability of specific wines.
“A lot of people know the place. They will get a kick out of giving this wine as a gift because of the name on the bottle,” he said.
Hopmeadow Brewing Company
The Hopmeadow Brewing Company on 205 Old Farms Road in Avon just opened for business on June 20, and already the brewery is crowded indoors and outside from Friday through Sunday. Owner Brian Hickey has worked as a corporate chef in the area for 25 years, including a five-year stint in Kennebunkport, Maine. He had worked his way up to creating his own recipes.
In 1996 Hickey brewed his first beer and began experimenting with flavors. Eight years ago he found a backer and began looking for the “perfect” location, a warehouse-type building
“It took two years to find the right spot, but it was important. This building has high ceilings, a concrete slab floor, city water and sewer and the possibility to expand. It had been an industrial building. The landlord will still do more renovations. He did some but we demolished the interior and power-washed it and added trench streams. Then we bought in professional electricians and plumbers,” he said.
The open and clean space with a ceiling that is two-levels high now holds several gleaming new round metal tanks, a bar with popcorn machine, a handful of high tops and a door that leads to a festive and rustic outdoor seating area, an Avon version of a beer garden. It is a part-time venture for Brian Hickey and his wife Chrystie Hickey, an artist who has decorated the walls with her work. Once a month she will invite other artists to display theirs.
“My main goal right now is to get my bills paid and turn this into a fulltime job. I got into brewing because it is part of the hospitality business. I had to learn the production cycle, but I am a production chef so this business works hand-in-hand with what I know. I have always written recipes and played around with different ingredients. I’m also friends with other breweries. They are really friendly and willing to talk,” said Brian Hickey.
He specifically mentions Alvarium Beer Company in New Britain, and Chris Sayer at Brewery Legitimus in New Hartford, which is across from the flying fishing area of the Farmington River and near Ski Sundown. Hickey also spent some time in Portland, Oregon, where his brother lives and there are 70 breweries to visit. His research there helped him with the design of his tap room.
“Our kids were reaching a certain age (son Gabriel is 22 and daughter Olivia is 15 and works as a cashier at the brewery now) and I was thinking about what they could do so we came up with this family business. I did not want to open a restaurant because it relies on staff, and good staff is hard to come by from New York to Boston. The hospitality field is stretched thin with so many restaurants and a high demand for staff. In the early 2000’s there were culinary schools everywhere but now it’s much different,” he said.
Hickey pointed out that he has a good staff for his brewery but for this kind of business it is much easier to train them. Currently his brewery is small with just five barrels and a two-vessel system, but it can be expanded.
“During COVID breweries fell somewhere between a bar and a restaurant. Some want to be a bar. I don’t want that. We manufacture beer. People come and taste it,” he said.
At some point Hickey imagines his product will be available in package stores as well. And he serves hot dogs, popcorn and snack mixes with his beer. Most weekends he brings in a food truck to operate in the parking lot.
“Food trucks are doing great now. It’s hard to schedule them. They park at every brewery and winery. People love the patio and the food trucks make it more of an event,” said Hickey.
He lives with his family in Simsbury. He noticed that the town’s seal features hops and that the name “hops” comes up in a lot of names of streets, so he guesses that it was an area where a lot of hops were being grown and harvested. He settled on recalling the early days of Simsbury in the name of his brewery.
“There is no information about that in the town hall because there had been a fire that destroyed old records. It’s romantic to think about meadows of hops,” said Hickey.
He brews 30 to 40 different beers and loves to experiment with new tastes.
The Beer Judge Certification Program, funded by home brewers, is an organization that provides guidelines for the different styles of beers, and he is involved with it.
“The most popular beer right now is New England IPA’s. The New England style are soft IPA’s, not bitter but with a lot of hop flavor. They are aromatic and floral. We had nine different beers on tap when we opened. As a home brewer I have an advantage because I like to play around with it. You need time and patience. There is no rushing it. It must take its time,” he said.
When he gets to the point of producing more than enough, then he will take his beer around to restaurants. He just bought special virus filters for his HVAC system, and he looks forward to the landlord finishing the outside work, which includes adding more parking.
Hickory Ledges Farm & Distillery
Hickory Ledges Farm & Distillery in Canton has been in Bill Olson’s family since 1797. It was known by local residents for growing vegetables, mums and fall ornamentals on its 60 acres for the last few years, as well as for its hard and sweet ciders. The owners were granted the state’s first permit to make and sell moonshine many years ago.
In 2013 Lynne and Bill Olson began distilling moonshine again, and the local response has been enthusiastic.
“We harvest the corn we grow and then it is dried. It’s like making beer but with corn. It is fermented in a still and then we extract the higher proof alcohol. We grow the fruits and vegetable as ingredients for the moonshine,” said Lynne Olson.
The final product is 80 proof, meaning 40 per cent alcohol, which is comparable to whiskey, vodka and gin. Some people enjoy drinking it straight out of the bottle, but the Olsens also flavor some of it and suggest mixed cocktails. For example, Pete’s Maple “80” can be mixed with sweet cider for a maple cider shot, or the cranberry flavored version is mixed with sweet tea and served on ice with a lemon garnish.
The tasting room at their distillery and farm at 183 Bahre Corner Road is open on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Drinks are served with crackers and cheese, and patrons are also encouraged to bring their own food.
“There are new people coming every week. People who come once bring new friends next time,” she said. VL