In 1640 the estimated population of the Connecticut Colony was 2,000 people. By the turn of the 18th century — even with the terrors of King Philip’s War from 1675-1678 —it’s population rose to around 24,000. Early Connecticut’s growth was always tied to its two chief bodies of water. The Long Island Sound — to bring trade and commerce to its shores, and the Connecticut River — to not only transport goods through the heart of the colony, but also as an optimal spot, in an otherwise rocky landscape, to cultivate agriculture.
While Connecticut today is more closely associated with the Long Island sound — the Gold Coast and connections to New York City in the west, and the tranquility of seaside towns from New Haven to Stonington in the east — this New England colony’s survival was equally reliant on the Connecticut River. For the other thing Connecticut is known for — large swaths of lightly populated land — was opened up for both farming and trade from the Connecticut River. Indeed, these early settlements, built on the fertile soil and inviting climate of the Connecticut River, formed the backbone of Connecticut’s agriculture. Almost 400 years later some of that fertile land, so close to the honeypot of rich soil that other parts of the state lack, is an operating farm once again. After a thirty year hiatus Fox Farm is back under operation, except this time their harvest doesn’t need to nourish it’s neighbors bellies, but their appetite for top-drawer, egalitarian craft beer.
Fox Farm Brewery has been an unabashed hit from the first day it opened. When visiting, it doesn’t take a tweed-jacketed intellectual to figure out that at least a portion of it’s success comes from the stunning grounds the brewery lies on. Fox Farm maybe didn’t make it in agriculture, but it’s sure as shit a breathtaking land to build a brewery on. It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s really not — Fox Farm is arguably the most picturesque brewery in Connecticut and among the prettiest in the whole of New England. As you take a hard left off a country road, a huge gray silo with a white top greets you. To it’s right stands a massive two-story barn, alternately painted red and white, with a light gray roof. There are three outdoor tables, with a huge lawn to picnic, relax, and sprawl out on. In the distance, sits a cornhole set for those of us with crippling Adult ADHD. The inside of the brewery is the epitome of pastoral— light natural wood forms the bar, the tap signs, and the majority of the tap room’s decor. The bottom floor is the tap room itself, with just a single table to sit down at, and some shelving on the walls to lay your beer down and post-up. In general the bottom floor of the tap room — especially during the warmer months — is for ordering beer, filling growlers, and moving on. The top floor of the barn, which looks down on the tap room, has the majority of the seating and is packed during the winter.
So clearly I’m a fan of the aesthetics of Fox Farm, but of course all this praise is moot if the beer sucks. And while some larger craft breweries drop similar funds to Fox Farm in terms of their capital investment on property, they don’t always execute in the beer-making category the way Fox Farm does. Their vision as a beer-maker was clear from the start — to first create a throng of New England IPA’s & APA’s that would satiate the undeniable appetite for that style of beer, but also to create a a fleet of beers that was hugely accessible to a wide demographic of people.
In Fox Farm’s Roam, we see this vision first-hand. Roam is an American Pale Ale, which clocks in at around 5.7% ABV, with a majestic composition. The beer is a cloudy yellow, with tinges of orange, and an voluminosity that is erotic if you’re into that kind of thing. I am and the weight of the beer is damn sexy. Fox Farm rotates it’s hops on Roam — Citra & Mosaic, Nelson Sauvin, Galaxy, Simcoe, Amarillo, Rakau, and Azacca are all renditions that have been brewed — so Roam is really a series within itself. Yet this beer definitely speaks to what Fox Farm is all about. The presentation, mouthfeel, burst of citrus and tropical fruit, it’s alcohol percentage, and a unique resiny — almost oily finish that lingers — is attractive to almost everybody who enjoys beer. Quite frankly, Roam can be both a gateway beer to those who’ve never really gotten into the craft scene, but also a trusty staple — a platform for a day of drinking — to the biggest hop-head too. And while I won’t go into them too much — I’d say Burst and Alta represent a similar appeal to Roam. Burst is a bit more tropical — stronger grapefruit, mango, and pineapple, while Alta procures a slightly more citrusy taste — lemon, orange, and grapefruit, with ABVs of 7% and 6.8% respectively. All three beers have elements that the connoisseur and layman can appreciate and this is what makes Fox Farm tick.
It’s not all about New England IPAs for Fox Farm though as the beer I most personally get excited about is their burgeoning Farmhouse series. Currently they have New Again — a dry hopped Belgian Saison and Husk — an oak aged Grisette. The New Again has all the elements of a great farmhouse beer without any single component overwhelming the rest. It pours straw yellow and combines funk, tart, fresh hops, and a dry Chardonnay-like finish. Their Husk is a take on a Grisette — a relative of the Farmhouse or Saison style. Where Farmhouse’s tend to have a distinctive hop bite at the end, the Grisette’s tend to profile more sour and dry, with usually a lower ABV too. Their Husk checks off these boxes. Sour lemons, white grapes, and the undertow of oak dominate this beer. At 5.2% it has a considerable flavor profile for a lower alcohol percentage. Ashlawn Farm Coffee Stout, while not a Farmhouse, is also a favorite. Made with freshly roasted beans from the awesome Old Saybrook Coffee Shop, it’s a roasty treat that’s especially nice in the cooler months of the year.
It needs to be said though, that Fox Farm is changing. With their capital investment on infrastructure, the quality of their beer, and the accessible types of beer they produce, it’s clear they’ve always intended on becoming more than just a local brewer. Fox Farm is canning their beer now— not unusual for even small brewers — but has a growing list of establishments putting their kegs on tap. What is unusual for a small brewer is that Fox Farm is sending their beer across state lines to outfits in Massachusetts — a signal of intent in my opinion. Lastly, look at their tap room policy. When they first opened they had no policy on the number of beers one could consume at the brewery. Now it’s a maximum of either two full pours or four half pours. With a grounds like Fox Farm has, it’s almost counterintuitive from a revenue standpoint to limit beer sales at a place where consumers are dying to hang out. For me, this absolutely tells the story of a brewery finding huge amounts of critical and financial success and focusing both their brand and their strategic plan towards loftier goals. And for the record this isn’t bad! It’s great for Fox Farm and good for the consumer too. I had their Cabin — a helles smoked lager that was tasty and different. They are also moving toward higher alcohol beers with their Double Burst and Daylily at over 8% — something that hasn’t been their profile to date — and hopefully further developments in their Farmhouse series too. Bottomline is that their growth is allowing greater creativity in their beer and a wider array of offerings to the consumer. This is great, even if you can’t consume much of that beer on the premises anymore. But get used to catching Fox Farm beer across Connecticut and even New England more frequently — the path they are traveling on is steaming towards that future.
Strengths: Premier Connecticut Brewery / Hazy New England IPAs & APAs / Incredible Grounds / Rustic Interior Charm / Farmhouse Series / Ashlawn Farm Coffee on Tap for Non-Drinkers / Accessible Beer
Weaknesses: Limited On Premises Drinking / Limited Big Beer Offerings
Tips: Wonderful spot to start a sunny day of drinking with. Begin with Fox Farm, lounge outside at their beautiful brewery, buy some cans to-go, & then either head to Steady Habit & Chester or Stubborn Beauty & Middletown to continue the day.
FEAST: No Food. Picnics welcome.
FROTH: There’s a lot of great beer here. It’s a top class brewery. Roam / Daylily / New Again / Ashlawn Farm Coffee Stout for your four half pours.
FEAST: 0/10 – FROTH: 10/10 – BREWERY: 10/10