Why Craft Breweries Are Buying Farms

In six months time Massachusetts craft beer darlings Tree House Brewing and Trillium Brewing have both purchased farms in Connecticut. The overarching reaction has been:

In six months time Massachusetts craft beer darlings Tree House Brewing and Trillium Brewing have both purchased farms in Connecticut. The overarching reaction has been:

You don’t even make enough beer, why buy a farm?

They’ll never be able to grow enough hops or barley to meet their annual needs and all of the New England breweries started on farms are trying to move off of them. So why are they going backward to buy one now?

The Beer Trifecta

Outlined pretty clearly by Tree House, their farm completes the “Tree House Triangle” vision that they have had for the business. What does that mean exactly though?

The three biggest trends in the craft beer scene right now are juicy haze, barrel aging, and souring. Monson is officially a barrel aging facility, Charlon is churning out hazy IPAs, and the farm rounds out that trifecta providing a location to focus on souring.

To build a souring program that is consistent at scale doesn’t require a standalone location, but it sure helps to focus on the process. The processes for overseeing and producing each of these classes of beers is different, so the separation helps maintain each branch’s focus. It also minimizes cross contamination issues when it comes to things like the wild bacteria used in souring. The Wicked Weed Funkatorium and Brewdog Overworks would be non-farm examples of this type of separation.

Trillium is doing the same thing here, though they didn’t call it out as explicitly in their announcement. Their Fort Point location was small and didn’t had enough room for a barreling program, so they opened Canton. Now they have a farm in Connecticut where they can focus on cranking out their wild beers like the Fated Farmer Series.

Growth

While craft beer sales continue to grow every year, that growth has slowed and the overall beer category is down. At a macro industry level, the only way to continue at a significant growth rate is to get people who don’t drink craft beer to drink craft beer. Easier said than done.

So how does a brewery sell beer to people who don’t drink beer? At a micro level, finding niche markets that are easier to convert. People who want to drink craft beer, but aren’t for one reason or another.

Most breweries, presently excluding Tree House and Trillium, have a cider or two available for the “drag alongs” to drink (people who get dragged along to breweries by their friends, significant others, etc.). Really, this is just pandering though. Sure some of the options are probably good, but the beer drinker has twelve options and the non-beer drinker has two (maybe).

Tree House alluded to pressing cider in the future, but there are no limits to the fermented beverages that they could produce. The malternative beverage space has spiked in recent years with brands like White Claw, Truly, and Twisted Tea. With their plans for an expansive orchard fermenting juices like pear, peach, and raspberry are all options on the table.

Community

The word “community” gets thrown around a lot on the craft beer industry as a way to fight the big guys. That what you’re spending on beer is staying roughly within your community compared to AB InBev, SAB Miller, etc. Trillium has gone through the wringer lately as to how community-oriented they really are, but hopefully, their future actions will help clear their priorities up.

Owning and operating an independent farm has become more challenging over the years. While programs have been put in place to connect the urban populations with their local farmers, there is still a not insignificant cost differential compared to mass market produce. To combat this, adding value to the products farms grow is crucial to stand out from the grocery super centers. Regardless of what the value-added product is, it provides subsidization to the rest of the farm operations, allowing them to sell closer to cost by generating enough revenue from their value-added products.

As orchards make cider with their imperfect apples, these breweries can produce beer with their imperfect fruits and vegetables. Right now, they’re likely buying produce from suppliers that is higher grade than they need, so this change would reduce food waste and reduce their supply costs. Their value-added product would be these fermented drinks, allowing them to sell the other farm produce at a more affordable rate.

Trillium summarized it well offering up the ideal of:

“fresh produce from the farm for dinner on the roof deck in Fort Point while drinking Congress Street IPA packaged that morning in Canton.”

For those who haven’t been to the Trillium Fort Point restaurant, there is a fairly large pavilion in front that would be just about perfect for a small produce market for the community. There has been explosive growth in the Seaport as far as housing goes, but there are virtually no grocery stores within walking distance.


Brewing started on farms, and both were important to their local community. Through the industrialization of beer and farming, a lot of that history and community connection has been lost. A farm probably won’t cut down on the lines at Tree House or Trillium, but there is a lot to gain for both sides in seeing these projects through.


Originally published at Dan DeSimone.