Grow Your Own: NOFA Offers Organic Hop Growing Workshop

Making beer is awesome, but making beer with home-grown ingredients is even better. With so many breweries popping up in Connecticut, the task of gathering local resources to make beer can be daunting. Thankfully, it looks like farmers are getting more involved with helping brewers get the hops and barley that they need here in Connecticut. CT NOFA, which is the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, is a grassroots organization that advocates for organic food, farming, and land care across the state. Despite the name, NOFA does a lot of work throughout various Connecticut communities to educate all people, not just farmers. On December 11, they will be having a mixer at Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford. The event will include an organic hop growing workshop, led by John Suscovich of Camps Road Farm in Kent.

I started growing my own hops two years ago, and it has been incredibly fortuitous, not to mention much easier than I imagined. I plan to increase my plants next year, and would like to look into more organic gardening methods, so I’m especially looking forward for a chance to pick some brains (and drink some beer!). The mixer will also discuss NOFA’s new Technical Assistance program, which, for a farming and gardening n00b such as myself, sounds like a great thing.

Camps Road Farm grows all the hops for Kent Falls Brewing, which broke ground over the summer. Out of all the new breweries opening up in Connecticut, I think I am most excited for Kent Falls. In addition to using local hops, they will also use local malts, which is something I have not seen before. Kent Falls has also embraced sustainability practices, through solar hot water heating, reusing spent grain, and proper wastewater handling- all of which you can read about here.

All the details on the mixer are below. I am planning on attending, so be sure to join me if you’re interested. Click the flyer to register.

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New Haven Brewshop Gets ‘Lucky’ With Kickstarter

The downtown New Haven Luck and Levity Brewshop opened its doors a little over a year ago. Since then, the shop has been growing into a much-needed haven for lovers of all things fermented. Recently, the shop successfully completed a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds that would take the shop to the next level- a community workshop space for food and beermaking.

Crowd-sourcing is a fairly new resource for raising money, and for Luck and Levity, it was just the source they needed. They raised over $20,000 between September 25 and November 5, exceeding their goal.

To celebrate a new year and new things to come, the shop will be having a Gala on Friday, November 22nd. Anyone who donated $15 or more to the Kickstarter campaign is on the guest list, and for everyone else, admission is $30 for a night of celebration with beer from local CT beermakers Thimble Island Brewing Company, food from the Caseus Cheese Truck and Sweet Mary’s Cupcakes. There will also be Tarot readings, to answer the question of what beer you’re destined to brew next (the answer is actually all of them, but you should probably come by anyway). Check out more details in the flyer below, and see you on Friday evening at L&L on Court Street.

LOCALBREW: Maltose Express Brewshop

The Maltose Express brewshop in Monroe, CT is where I first got my supplies to brew, so I was pleased when I was able to speak with Mark and Tess Szamatulski, the owners, last week. Aside from running a successful brewshop for over 20 years, they have plans to open a brewery on the same premises as well. We chatted about their future plans, recent travels, and of course, favorite beers.

For those unfamiliar to the area, Maltose started off filling a need for brewers. Mark and Tess originally started the business in their home, ordering supplies and having customers picking them up.

Although some of the most popular clone kits sold are Guinness, Fat Tire Amber Ale, and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Mark and Tess both agree that the best-seller for them is the pumpkin ale kit that they make every year. They use a variety of pumpkin pie spices and vanilla. They recently created a “jacked up pumpkin” kit as well, which is a stronger version of their best-selling pumpkin ale. Mark brought me out a bag of the spices to take a whiff of, and it smells amazing. I definitely plan to make this one when it gets closer to the fall!

Mark and Tess recently traveled to England to do research on more beers for cloning. They mentioned that while many of the English beer styles are starting to branch out with other non-traditional hop and ingredient varieties as American breweries are doing, they remain different from the beers brewed here in that they are low ABV. Mark mentioned that many of the beers are 3.5% alcohol. Here in America, a 3.5% ABV beer usually means some sort of swill with little flavor. However, he said that the low ABV beers in England usually are very drinkable, with a lot of character to them.

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They luckily had a place to stay there that allowed them to clone while they were there, since it’s difficult to fly with liquid. Mark and Tess said that they cloned 12 or 13 beers while there. Cloning the beers requires a good deal of work. They first research some varieties of a style of beer by contacting the brewery, and then pouring the actual beer. They sort the beers by color and make note of the head to determine what grains would be involved. Next they look into the aroma to see what hops, malts, or spices that they can smell. Tasting is done next, to figure out what hops are in it, as well as if it’s been dry hopped or not. They then brew the beer and make more notes of how it turns out. Sometimes they need to brew more than once! Tess says that they once had a beer that had to be brewed 9 times to get it perfect. She also says that they are the only authors that brew the beers multiple times as well.

Mark and Tess have published two books; Clone Brews and Beer Captured. They are currently working on a third book, as well as revising Beer Captured. They said that their first book’s publisher wanted them to do beers from all over the world, which Mark said involved a lot of lagers originally. Now they have updated the book to be based more on style, rather than the beer’s location.

The books are a great way to try beers that are no longer made anymore, or ones that are brewed in a different location or differently.

One of the best things about Maltose is that you can sample homebrews while at the store. For those who haven’t brewed, it’s a great way to see the potential of what you can do. And for those who are brewing veterans, it’s a great way to get new ideas of what to make next. While I was at the shop last week, I sampled a scotch ale and a pale ale.

There will be even more tastings coming soon; Mark and Tess are planning to expand and Maltose will have its own brewery on premises. They plan on opening officially in November. They have already purchased the brewing equipment and are brewing test-batches to decide what will work best.

The shop also recently started selling hop rhizomes, so that brewers can easily grow their own hops. Tess sent me home with a Zeus hop plant, so hopefully I’ll be using some of my fresh hops in an upcoming batch!

Maltose Express is open 6 days a week, with different events and classes happening all the time. Their beer-making classes happen on the regular, and they aren’t just for new brewers, although Mark and Tess both say that they help get many new folks into brewing. They are a great way to get ideas on new recipes and meet fellow brewers. I am actually planning on going to the next one to learn how to set up a kegging system! They also have classes for mead, cheese, and even bee-keeping!

They also have open houses a few times a year which bring in tons of local brewers and make for a great day. Check their website and facebook for details about upcoming events as well as new brewkits and supplies to pick up in the store!

Homebrewing In The Elm City: The Luck And Levity Brewshop

While homebrewing and craft beers are taking the world by storm lately and even giving more people jobs, there really aren’t that many local brewshops, at least in Connecticut. Maltose Express in Monroe has been many people’s go-to shop for a long time. While they are indeed awesome, it’s not exactly around the corner for everyone when you just need to run out and grab a bag of hops.

This is where the Luck and Levity Brewshop comes in. Located on Court Street in downtown New Haven, it’s a much-needed haven for homebrewers, beer fans, and generally fun people alike. I popped in to pick up some brewing supplies and chat with owner Scott Vignola last weekend to see how it came about.

A New England native, Vignola most recently worked in the Peace Corps in Morocco and moved to New Haven shortly upon returning. He told me that he originally wanted to start a brewery, but in doing some research, opening a brewing shop seemed to be a better idea. His research primarily talking with people and seeing what people were looking for. Vignola says, “Everyone had a friend or family member who made beer”. So what better than to create a place to help out the homebrewers, and give beer fans a place to congregate in an atmosphere of barley and camaraderie?

The thing I like best about Luck and Levity is that it’s more than a place to buy brewing supplies. It’s a place to hang out. Vignola tells me that he wanted to “create something to serve the needs of people and act as a nexus”. There are a lot of social components at work here- if you’re not a brewer, it’s a wonderful place to come and hang out. and who knows? Maybe being surrounded by all those grains and brewpots will make you want to start making your own. The store stocks kits from Brooklyn Brew Shop that make a super-small batch of all-grain brew in a growler, perfect if you’re not sure about investing in larger-scale brewing gear yet. Or if you want to try a small batch of something new. I was eyeing their Coffee and Donut Stout kit myself.

There are also plans at work to offer people a brewing space. Vignola says that it will be different than a class on how to  make beer. Continuing to follow the mantra of serving the needs of people, the brewing space would give people a chance to experiment and try making new beers that they are curious about but haven’t tried making at home yet. Using specific hops, or trying a unique style of beer are just a few examples of what these brewing workshops will entail.

Every Thursday evening is an open lounge from 6-8 PM where anyone can come, enjoy some beer, and chat about all things brew-related. There also plans for other upcoming events, such as a holiday party to celebrate the winter solstice, which will also be involved in a local charity. If the two-day grand opening celebration is any indication, the upcoming events at Luck and Levity will definitely be a great party. The folks there snapped a picture of me grinding my grains during the grand opening!


A simple statement from Vignola- “Beer is cool.” He goes on that there is a “long history of appreciating fermented products”. Craft breweries are growing, and in turn people want to make their own beer. Going back in history, Vignola says “every town had their own brewery”. Every town may not have their own brewery anymore, but I think every town should have a place like Luck and Levity for beer-lovers to congregate outside of a bar.

Homebrew Chronicles: Courage Director’s Bitter Clone

In addition to being a lover of music and consuming beer, I have also started homebrewing this year. It has been incredibly rewarding so far, so I am hoping my next batch comes out good as well.

My brother and I brew in our kitchen under the name Quenk Brewing Company. Right now we have only worked with extract kits, but eventually would like to move on to partial-mash and ultimately all-grain brewing.

After our previous batch, a maple brown ale, we decided to go for something not quite as sweet. A pale ale, or something similar. After a quick (well, maybe like an hour) stop at our local brewing supply shop, Maltose Express, we came home with supplies to make a clone of Courage Director’s Bitter. I’ve actually never even heard of this beer, so unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to try it. However, it seems to be exactly what we were looking for- low ABV but a lot of flavor, not much sweetness.

We used mostly British Crystal malt, as well as black malt. For hops, we used German Hallertau Hersbrucker, Styrian Golding, and Irish Moss. I think it’s really amazing firstly, how many different kinds of hop varietals there are, but more importantly, the way they all come together when mixed and combined. For example, I’ve used Irish Moss in sweeter beers, but here with the Hersbrucker and Golding, I am expecting to have a more bitter result.

Now the most important part- the records. I like listening to vinyl while brewing because it breaks up the process a bit. Depending on what you’re listening to, it’s a fun (but not necessarily accurate) way to notice how much time has elapsed. Especially during those long boils when you’re flipping records over in between.

Steve Miller Band- Book Of Dreams

Billy Joel- The Stranger

Rush- Signals

Traffic- John Barleycorn Must Die

I tend to shoot for the classics- in case the brewday turns stressful, you want that familiar record playing in the background to get you back in the right mindset. I’ll turn to the new music when I’m tasting the beer- it’s experimentation with new things across the board. But for stirring 5 boiling gallons of wort, give me the familar records that in some cases have been worn out from playing them too much.

We should be ready to move into the secondary fermenter shortly. And I’ll also be trying my hand at dry hopping for the first time!