August 1, 2016
Here we are! Brewing beer at Critz Farms!
While we have been underway since only last fall, the opening of Critz Farms Brewing and Cider Company has been a long time coming: we were ironing out countless details, working on recipes, gathering equipment, and fine-tuning operational protocols for nearly a year prior to opening. To say we are excited to be underway in earnest is an understatement!
As the head brewer at Critz, I face a number of challenges. Any business that survives the test of time for thirty years necessarily evolves a tried and true way of doing things. Agri-tourism is one notable face of Critz Farms: thousands of people visit the farm each year for apple and pumpkin picking, cider tasting, fall harvest festivals, live music, kid-friendly activities like cow train rides and corn mazes, and a whole lot more. But make no mistake, Critz is very much a working farm, producing a number of agricultural products: award-winning hard cider, sweet cider, maple syrup, Christmas trees, blueberries, apples, pumpkins, barley, hops, and more.
Squeezing a 2.5 barrel brewhouse and all the other trappings of a brewery into this working farm has been a challenge, albeit a fun one. Temperature-controlled fermentation space, storage (so much storage!) for all kinds of varied items – yeast and kegs that like to be cold, hops that like to be really cold, malt bags that like to be cool but not too cool, all kinds of hardware. Where does all this stuff go? And other challenges: where to carve out a sanitary yeast lab in the context of a working farm? Happy yeast make happy beer drinkers after all! So we are slowly working out answers and developing ways to share time and space efficiently and effectively here at the farm, to keep both you and our yeast happy.
Other things have been easy. The existing cidery at the farm has provided more than a leg up in opening a brewery, with things like tanks, inventory management, retail distribution accounts, and a working knowledge of how to run a farm-based beverage production system already in place. Kegs? Got a lot of those on hand. Brite tanks and pallet jacks? Check. Cleaning routines? Down pat. A beautiful tasting room and thousands of farm visitors to populate it? You bet! It’s not hard to find ways to productively use waste products like spent grain in the middle of an agricultural region (we send ours to a Cazenovia pig farmer). And as someone who loves to dive into the finer points of mash chemistry but isn’t too much of a handy man, I love being on a farm where more than one person can fix absolutely anything that breaks with tools and spare parts already on hand.
Even still, brewing and beer represent something of a unique culture. I am certainly biased as a brewer, but to me, successfully operating a brewery entails a level of complexity and sheer breadth of necessary expertise that is different from the already impressive accomplishments of what the farm has done so far. Collectively all of us at the farm have already been working hard to bring our passion for beer and brewing to the public. A lot has and will go on behind the scenes to bring you delicious ales and ciders, and we couldn’t be happier about it. We can’t wait for you to start enjoying the fruits (and hoppy ales!) of our labor. Cheers!