WESTPORT ISLAND — Kyle DePietro squatted in front of the gleaming stainless fermentor and filled a jar with a pale ale, a true “saison” style ale, like Belgian farmers used to start in the fall to serve to their field workers the next summer. Everything in the week-old beer he was pouring was Maine-sourced and organically grown. As the farmer turned brewer, he should know.

“These are our hops,” DePietro said. “Cascade.”

Just outside the door of Sasanoa Brewing, built from the ground up almost entirely by DePietro, were crates of red potatoes, rosy Cipollini onions and fresh-dug ginger root, the late harvest all packed up and ready for Saturday’s farmers market in Bath. He and Angie Trombley have been farming commercially in Maine for nearly 15 years, way down at the southern tip of Westport Island near Wiscasset. But this month, the couple is setting into uncharted territory.

As of September, they became the first Maine brewery certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. Everything in the fermentors was an experiment, a week away from being ready to be bottled, but years in the making. DePietro was a professional brewer long before he became a farmer and now he’s marrying those two skills at the end of a dirt road within view of the Sasanoa River the brewery is named for.

DePietro and Angie Trombley at Tarbox Farm. Eventually they hope to have a tasting room, self-guided farm tours and cross-country skiing.

Welcome to what may be the next trend in Maine’s red-hot craft beer market, beer made on local farms, with ingredients fresh from the earth.

Maine doesn’t lack for farmhouse-ale style beers. Or breweries that use Maine-grown ingredients. That’s been a trend for several years now. Or “farmy” sounding breweries; drive just a few miles into Maine and you can stop at Woodland Farmers Brewery for a lager (although be forewarned, you’ll be having it at the Kittery Outlets, land of parking lots, not pastures).

There are brewers who keep pigs, like Gneiss in Limerick or Oxbow’s farmhouse brewery in Newcastle, and brewers who flavor their beer with raspberries from their property (Oxbow again). At Funky Bow Brewery in Lyman, growing microgreens is still a part of the business, although the success of the brewery has long since eclipsed farmer Paul Lorrain’s Sunset Organics greens.

But now Sasanoa, as well as two other new breweries, Turning Page Farm in Monson and The Pour Farm in Union, are planning on dual farm and brewery operations.

The potential exists for a new niche in a growing field of Maine craft brewers, said Sean Sullivan, the executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild.

DePietro’s Cascade hops.

“I think we have a real opportunity there,” Sullivan said. As he sees it, the same youthful demographic making inroads in Maine agriculture is attracted to craft brewing. It could be a powerful combination. “Consumers are looking for experiences. They want to see the product being made. They want that five senses experience and that connection to a place. It is great to go visit a brewery in a barn in a small town in Maine, right? If you could augment that with goats in the side yard and someone in the back making cider doughnuts, that is a day out, right?”

Tim Bueschen and his wife, Joy, plan to create that kind of a scene at Turning Page Farm, their new property in Monson. They are successful escapees from corporate America, fulfilling different but compatible dreams. She wanted to raise goats, he wanted to make beer. The land they bought hadn’t been farmed in many decades. The couple signed up for MOFGA’s Farm Beginnings course. He got licensed for the brewery and has already built a tasting room, while she’s selling cheese from the farm and at a few other locations. The farm side of the equation is a little behind the beer. “As far as people eating here, we still have some way to go,” Tim Bueschen said.

In Union, another future farmer Bill Stinson has his nano-brewery, The Pour Farm, up and running and serving customers. He’s a retired software engineer who envisions growing a new business from something “that came out of the ground.” He’s doing it in layers, he said, with actual farming, including some hops, added to the mix probably next year. But he’s aware that hops aren’t an easy crop in Northern New England, especially not grown organically. (According to Sullivan, the percentage of Maine-grown hops used in Maine beer is still quite small, about one percent.)

“Right now the farm is just a concept,” Stinson said. Year three will include greening projects around his 10-acre property, maybe even something involving hydropower. But he’s been selling beer since June. So far he hasn’t brewed anything that is entirely local (although he gets about half his barley and malt from Maine), but he hopes to eventually. Maybe something smoky, with hot peppers he grows on his new farm.

A DAY ON THE FARM

When it comes to the farm, DePietro and Trombley are already there. DePietro is happy if he never has to leave Westport Island. Trombley is the saleswoman. She handles the cut flower side of their farm business (which is called Tarbox Farm, after the 18th-century farm they lease). They run the greenhouses together and in years past, have raised pigs. They plan to bring pigs back after they get their feet on the ground with the brewery. Once they do that, they can envision a tasting room and a culture around it.

DePietro was a professional brewer before he became a farmer and now wants to marry the two skills. He harvests ginger (above) to use in brewing some beer.

They’ve been establishing trails through the property, and Jeff Tarbox, the landowner, has another 200 acres in woodlot just to the south of the farm. Customers could go cross-country skiing along trails in winter, or take hikes with their family in the summer, then come into the tasting room, have some beer, charcuterie made by Trombley and DePietro, cheese from their friend Deb Hahn at Hahn’s End over in Phippsburg (she plans to make a cheese washed with their beer), and then leave with ingredients for dinner. “And maybe a bouquet for the table,” Trombley said.

The ingredients for the beer are all around them. DePietro is planning on a limited edition with the ginger root they’d grown this season, blended with the their dried lime basil. He’d had hopes for trying something with the wine grapes they’ve got going, but some hungry deer put an end to that plan. But he’s eying the chestnuts collected from a nearby tree, which he’ll turn into a flour and use in place of barley to malt the beer.

Even the yeast for some of their brews may come from the land around them. Inside Sasanoa a giant glass jug is home to a percolating concoction of yeast gathered from plant life around the property. “Bark from a cherry tree, some cranberries (a small cranberry bog sits just outside the door of the brewery), ragweed,” said DePietro.

Already the yeast in the jug is settling to the bottom, a slight sulfur smell escaping from the top.

“We’ll try this,” he added. “It may not be good. It may be great.”

“It’s a science project,” Trombley said.

Kyle DePietro pours his Belgian-style saison beer at Tarbox Farm.

BEER BACKGROUND

DePietro grew up in New York, where his father Mario was a chef and worked in many restaurants, including managing the Rockefeller Center restaurants. Kyle DePietro’s first job at a brewery was at the Times Square Brewery in Manhattan. He also worked at Brooklyn Brewery. He and Trombley met while both were living in upstate New York. She studied at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies (in addition to being a farmer – she’s a certified yoga teacher – and he was working at the Great Adirondack Brewing Company.

Then his parents bought the old Squire Tarbox Inn in Westport, and DePietro came to Maine to help them get the gardens going. Working all by hand and in raised beds, he quickly had enough of a crop to supply not just his father’s kitchen, but to start selling at farmers markets in Damariscotta and Bath. Trombley joined him and a couple of years later, and they started looking for land to buy or lease. (His parents recently sold the Squire Tarbox Inn, and it is now under new ownership.)

The old Tarbox Farm down a curving dirt road was available, and the couple worked out an agreement with the family who owns it. Jeff Tarbox is their landlord, in a 20-year lease, as well as an investor in Sasanoa. He’s also been mentor when it comes to dealing with bureaucracy and a fellow lover of beer. (Near the end of the interview, Tarbox arrived with a can of Foundation Zuurzing for the couple.)

All that time the couple had been growing vegetables, DePietro had never quite given up the ghost when it came to opening his own brewery. It wasn’t just a passion project, the couple say, but a practical choice. The vegetable business is good. They’ve got two hoop houses planted with greens they’ll sell all winter. They’ve got loyal market customers and solid wholesale connections, including with Rising Tide in Damariscotta and Treats in Wiscasset. But everything they produce has a short shelf life.

DePietro and and Angie Trombley have been farming commercially in Maine for nearly 15 years. As of September, theirs became the first Maine brewery certified organic by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

“We’re all growing lettuce,” DePietro said. “What is great about the beer is, it is this whole new world for us. A value-added product.”

If at the end of a farmers market, the lettuce doesn’t sell, Trombley has to get on the phone and find someone who wants it, whether it is one of their paying customers, like Salt Pine Social, or a group they donate to, such as Merrymeeting Gleaners.

“It’s a gamble,” DePietro said.

They’ve got three little boys, ages 3, 5, and 8, and they’d like more stability for their family. Unsold beer in a bottle, is something that can go home with them.

And that’s if they have any left at the end of the farmers market. Their regular customers have been hearing about the unfolding beer-making plan for a solid 18 months. They’re ready to taste. OK, those customers are more than ready. “They’re all asking,” Trombley said. “We are dying to get it ready for Thanksgiving.” After that, who knows?

“A lot of people say the beer market is saturated in Maine,” she said. “And that could really well be. But I feel like we are really trailblazing here as a true farm brewery.”

Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MaryPols

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