For a farmhouse ale heavy on the “farm”, look no further than Concord’s Saltbox Kitchen Brewery. The newest addition to the Saltbox ecosystem launched in June 2016, but plans had been brewing since chefs Ben Elliott and Ralph Fiegel originally partnered on the project. Elliot undertook restoring his family’s farm, adding a restaurant, cooking school, and catering service and Fiegel signed on originally as farm manager. Now operations manager and head brewer, he explains the beginnings of the brewery as a way to keep busy in the winter months: “What do farms do? It was either making cider or beer, so we started homebrewing in 2012.” Fast-forward four years and the half-barrel system adjoins the café, showcasing sudsy pours sourced from the nearby farm.
The brewery fits snugly into the Saltbox portfolio, completing the farm-to-table (-to-glass) circle. It incorporates the farm harvest and contributes by-products to the restaurant. The cafe finds culinary uses for the spent grain, from flatbreads to granola, and the cooking school has explored ways to incorporate beer in the kitchen. Besides hops, produce like winter rye, raspberries, melon and cilantro berries have made their ways to the taps. “Like New England, it’s not all year-round, but it definitely showcases whatever the season is,” says Fiegel. In fact, of the four taps, one is dedicated to a rotating seasonal, like a dry Irish stout on nitro or a wintertime smoked rye ale, and another stays experimental to solicit feedback from imbibers.
Fiegel’s curiosity drives his brewing philosophy. Saltbox’s mainstay beers include the farmhouse ale and an IPA, which he continues to tinker with for inventive iterations. “What I gravitate towards is trying different hops varieties and trying to see how the IPA comes out in mid-palate or end-palate. The aspect of yeast is fascinating. We’re creating beer and then by the fifth generation it changes. It’s really intriguing to experiment with.” He and a collague undertook a beer blend for a staff pig roast with one brewing a crushable IPA and the other making a fruity Belgian witbier that they then combined. For the next go-round, they’ll switch roles, creating three brand-new brews.
Visitors to the Concord restaurant can (quite literally) see what’s brewing with counter service tastings. The barrel system is enclosed in a glass-walled room viewable from the café. The proximity makes the suds a natural match for the kitchen’s dishes, as well. As Fiegel says of the farmhouse ale, “It’s definitely a foodie beer, where you could have it with oysters or crudo or spicy food. I think it’s kind of my favorite because it covers a wide range of different things that I gravitate towards eating anyways.” Stop in for a bite and to sample the sudsy fruits (or grains or berries) of the Saltbox harvest.