Talking beer with Fox Farm's brew master
'Tis a consummation — consumption? — devoutly to be wished!
We're talking about the idea of opening one's own craft brewery.
It's an increasingly popular and thirst-quenching bit of entrepreneurialism across our region, and Salem-based Fox Farm Brewery is the latest to open its taps. Owned by the husband/wife team of Laura Adams and brew master Zack Adams and managed by Zack's brother Dave Adams, Fox Farm Brewery is headquartered in Salem on an old dairy farm the couple purchased four years ago. It's the culmination of a long-time dream that probably first seemed an actually realistic concept in 2012. That's when Zack Adams, using a home-brew kit he got for Christmas from his in-laws, made a batch of beer called Magnificent Seven IPA. The beer was selected from over 1,000 entries as one of three national winners in the 2012 Samuel Adams Longshot American Homebrew Contest.
After a long process in purchasing and renovating the farm and its dairy barn, installing brewing equipment and going through protracted legal processes that involved licensing and zoning issues — and, of course, as Adams refined his art as a brewer — Fox Farm Brewery last weekend officially opened the doors. In addition to a tap room where visitors can sample glasses and pints and purchase growlers to go, Fox Farm has begun distributing its five current beers — the Burst IPA, the Gather Keller Pilsner, the Hearth Bound porter, and two varieties of Roam American Pale Ales — to various bars and restaurants in the region.
Shortly before the opening, Zack Adams, who graduated from East Lyme High School and worked as an online marketer for a floral company before turning "pro," answered questions about Fox Farm Brewery, his passion for beer — and the joys/dangers of having an apparently bottomless supply of beer close to your own bedroom.
Q. When we spoke after the 2012 Sam Adams Longshot competition, you mentioned that making your own beer in a professional, "this is my job" context was a genuinely tempting idea but, at the same time, you were cautious because it involved a lot of variables. Now, you're doing it. How is the reality different from the dream?
A. At that point in time, a lot of folks were nudging me in that direction, but I wasn't there yet. Laura and I were living in apartment in Chester and starting our lives together and starting a family. I wasn't at all comfortable professionally in what I was doing, and I wanted to brew beer, but this is something where a lot of pieces had to fall into place.
Q. Obviously, Fox Farm had a lot to do with the whole process. You and Laura had your eyes on the property. It's pretty ideal, but it was a lot of work, right?
A. Oh, yeah. We purchased it and moved in during the summer of '13, but there were still huge unknowns in terms of everything from licensing with the town to the foundation of the buildings and so much more. Slowly, we got more comfortable and settled in and started working on it. For a while, I might be brewing at night, but during the day might be Daddy Duty, so it took a few more years to get comfortable with the logistics of how it would all work when everything did come together.
Q. Back to Sam Adams for a moment. They made 500 barrels of your Magnificent Seven IPA. Do they own the recipe, and would they allow you to brew Magnificent Seven? And, if so — after all this time and experience — would you even want Magnificent Seven to be a Fox Farm brew?
A. Magnificent Seven was a one-time royalty, and I don't even know what that means to us as brewers going forward or whether that means it was one-time-only at their brew house. That beer was great at that moment in time, but shortly after that, I started using a different yeast and different water chemistry that cut down on a lot of the bitterness. I was proud of that beer but, at end of day, I have no desire to replicate it in this brew house.
Q. After you won the contest, did you think about entering again?
A. Actually, I tried again the following year with a pale ale and came very close. That was when I knew it wasn't like lightning striking twice because it's a tough competition and to get that response helped my confidence. I had believed and hoped the beer was good, and professional people were confirming it.
Q. Do you like to drink beer as much now as you probably did back in the just-outta-college days when you segued from cheap lagers to really tasty beer? Or has beer as a day-to-day business focus changed the way you enjoy beer? Can you just have a cold one after mowing the lawn and not think of chemistry or hops but just as refreshment?
A. I absolutely still love drinking beer, though I've started to branch out and enjoy other adult beverages. I love wine, and I like to explore whisky. But beer is a passion, and I can definitely enjoy other people's beer and not be critical. The only time I'm super critical is with my own beer. I can find the flaws in my beer. I'm happy if other people like my beer, but it's sorta hard to get comfortable. Yesterday, we brewed a German pilsner, and I was on cloud nine at how it came out. So that's good.
Q. You live on-site at your own brewery. On the one hand, that sounds pretty great. At the same time, I interviewed a vintner once who lived at her own winery. She said the biggest problem — one that doesn't go away but that she's not sure she'd want to go away — is simply to be on-site with the wine 24/7. Do you find yourself creeping out to the barn at all hours? Did you miss Santa or trick or treat because you were doing the mad scientist thing out in the barn, conceptualizing a new porter?
A. That's exactly my experience. It's kind of a new gift to be here for it all, but it's also a curse because fermentation is always going on, and this factory is always running. Equipment runs constantly, and we've had issues as we've gotten everything installed and running. It can keep you up at night. Truth is, it's actually a luxury that maybe doesn't sound like it. If something comes up, I can just walk down to the barn even if it's a blizzard. At the same time, it's good to enjoy the simple moments and the comfort of routine and doing something I love.
Q. A lot of help through this whole process has come from family and friends. An image comes to mind of the college loans process. How many free Fox Farm T-shirts and merch and pony kegs do you figure you'll have to give out to pay off your debts to these folks?
A. (Laughs.) Oh, we've seen plenty of beer and T-shirts go out the door, but it's a fair price to pay for the tremendous support we've gotten. Even strangers have pitched in. People who are passionate about beer want to be around it. There's been a huge pool of folks that want to help out any way they can. It's meant a lot.
Q. Speaking of friends, you're just down the road from 2 Brothers Pizza in Salem, which has an amazing selction of craft beers. When you won the Adams competition, 2 Brothers owners Nick and Alex Alevras put your beer on tap. Are they still supportive?
A. Nick and Alex were pushing me even before Sam Adams to start my own brewery. They could not have been more helpful or supportive, from sitting with us at in-town zoning meetings to already have Fox Farm brews on tap. A question I get a lot is, "How do 2 Brothers feel about what you're doing?" Well, they've been wonderful. We don't feel like we're competitors because we're all in the business of elevating the beer community. It's a great feeling.
If you go
What: Fox Farm Brewery Tasting Room
Where: 62 Music Vale Road, Salem
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat. and Sun.
How much: $3 half pour, $5 full pour; $8 one-liter growler, $15 two-liter growler
For more information: foxfarmbeer.com