Story and Photos By Brianna Stachowski
After a wet spring afternoon working compost into the awakened but still chilly hillside soil and removing as many of the never-ending rocks as my sanity will allow, is there really anything more satisfying than a cold beer? Better yet, a beer brewed locally with native ingredients?
To a certain extent, I really don’t have much of a choice in the matter. As I take off my damp work gloves and take in the spring sun, my gaze comes directly into focus with the Stoneman Brewery. Yes, I can proudly say that I share family-owned land with Justin Korby, husband of Katie, my sister-in-law, and owner/ brewmaster of Stoneman Brewery. Marriage is a blessed union, especially when one-of-a-kind beer is involved.
It’s not uncommon for me to wake up in the morning to the sounds of the brewery running at full steam.
Perhaps it's the sound of Pioneer Valley grain grinding, meaning he’s just began his brewing process, or the opening and shutting of the shipping container to store the freshly bottled beer, ready for conditioning. But one thing I’ve learned is that if the music is audible from beyond the walls of the brewery, it means “Do Not Disturb.” The whole scene reminds me of something out of a science fiction movie, where deep in the cellar you hear the sounds of scientists doing who-knows-what and you know better than to interrupt, even if you are extremely curious. But in his above-ground, brightly lit laboratory, Justin is often brewing up something I will be happy to taste-test before delivery to his happy, thirsty CSA members.
Stoneman beer is unique due to what one might call “the perfect storm of place.” The brewery resides on Stetson Brothers Road in Colrain, alongside our small organic farm. One day Justin and Katie hope to “grow beer” by cultivating as many of Stoneman’s ingredients as they can. Until then, Justin is able to find local hops and grains throughout Western Massachusetts in his effort to remain 100% local, even down to the local well water he uses.
Stoneman introduced the first-ever beer CSA in Western Massachusetts. The CSA concept was more familiar to me as a farm share, when I’d pay for a share of a farm’s production at the beginning of the season, with weekly seasonal pickups. Stoneman’s beer CSA members meet up once a month to pick up their share of beer. I’ve worked and participated in Stoneman’s CSA pickups, held on our property in Colrain, where members and nonmembers, family and friends gather to try the newest seasonal beer the mad scientist has concocted.
The brews Stoneman provides are seasonal; whatever types of grains and hops are available determine the types of beers Justin can create. His brewing scheduled evolves seasonally, as the progression of beer ought to. Summer means lighter, more refreshing beers and winter calls for darker, more filling beers. When members pick up their monthly shares they get to taste test beers, sometimes upwards of 20 different brews and then fill their baskets according to their own taste buds. I’ve wondered what the guy at the corner store would say if I opened every beer to taste it before I bought it.
So, my end-of-day question becomes not, “What’s better than a beer after garden chores?” so much as, “Which one of the many varieties is going to help me forget my irritated arms and aching back?” Such ponderings are not as easy as one might think when you have a personally picked selection waiting in your fridge or, in my case, a storage container full of Stoneman beer.