ARTWORK: COURTESY OF FROM THE GROUND BREWERY
Sometimes, innovation thrives when left unhindered by limitations, and sometimes, it is exactly those limits that spark new ideas. Jakob Cirell, founder and brewer at From the Ground Brewery, is a firm believer in the latter. “Creativity can really thrive when you set certain parameters,” he says.
Cirell is standing in front of a field of barley at Migliorelli Farm in Red Hook, barley that, in part, will be used to make his beer right here on the farm. The vast expanses of grain don’t immediately bring to mind constraints, but the tiny cellar room Cirell uses for brewing on the farm might. Still it’s not the brewery’s tiny size that sparked Cirell’s creativity. It’s a commitment to the economic sustainability that comes from creating a truly local product based on symbiotic relationships with other local businesses. “The money exchange stays within a three- to four-mile radius,” says Ken Migliorelli.
Ken Migliorelli is the third-generation New York State grower who has provided both the brewing space and the barley for the brewery. Migliorelli rotates cover crops through his fields to replenish and support healthy soil for his vegetables, which supply farmers’ markets throughout the Hudson Valley. However, these cover crops don’t sell for a premium, so he decided to try something new. “I started growing wheat and I thought it was going to be really easy,” says Migliorelli.
“One hundred years ago, this was a major [grain] growing center, right where we’re standing. I understand why it moved,” he adds wryly. Despite the growing difficulties he faced from disease, pests and inclement weather, Migliorelli persisted, realizing that distilleries and breweries in the area were looking for local grains. He began growing rye and barley, experimenting with different varieties to find those best suited for the Hudson Valley. However, once the barley is harvested, it needs to be malted, something Migliorelli was not equipped to do, and then there are the all-important hops, which aren’t grown on the farm. “I took a one-day class on growing hops four or fi ve years ago,” the farmer says, “and what I learned was that I don’t want to grow hops.”
Luckily, the Germantown Beer Farm, like From the Ground Brewery, opened its doors in 2015. Previously, Migliorelli had to drive his barley to Massachusetts or northern New York State to have it malted; now, there was a malting operation just a few miles away.
Malting is the process of soaking and then drying the grains to get them to just begin to germinate, adding flavor; Germantown Beer Farm has set aside a small building for the process. A raw piece of barley tastes something like sawdust, while malted barley has the toasted, slightly sweet flavor of Grape-Nuts. In a field down a small path, Liberty and Cascade hops, just beginning to bud, tower above the ground, capable of growing 20 feet in one season. (However, it will take roughly seven years for them to reach their full output potential, one reason they remain unpopular with many farmers.)
Cirell’s recent batch of pale ale included 96 percent Migliorelli grains and 20 percent local hops, and he hopes to continue increasing those percentages. But the cycle doesn’t end there; after the beer is brewed, the slightly fermented grain mash is carted over to Sawkill Farm, where it’s fed to the pigs. “It’s a treat for the pigs and a treat for us because we get to see Jake,” says Kallie Weinkle, one of the farm’s owners. “It’s a nice social event in the life of a busy farmer.” In turn, those happy pigs will be sold to local restaurants, where they’ll become sausages and chops best washed down by a cold beer.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the brewery is currently expanding its operations and will be expanding its distribution throughout the Hudson Valley as well as in New York City. They currently are brewing three varieties of beer, American Pale Ale, Farmhouse Red Ale and Bar & Chain Stout, with other experimental and creative endeavors on the near horizon. —Cara Parks
FROM THE GROUND BREWERY