Saltbox Kitchen Brewery Taps Into Farm-Grown Ingredients
When Ralph Fiegel joined fellow Barbara Lynch Gruppo expatriate Ben Elliot at Saltbox Farm a few years ago, the veteran fine dining chefs started home-brewing together as an extension of their culinary creativity. Elliot had left No. 9 Park in 2009, and was rehabilitating the family farm in West Concord his grandfather had established in the 1940s. Fiegel, who spent nine years with the venerable restaurant group, left his post as the company’s back-of-house manager in 2012 and became Elliot farm manager.
“We create all this stuff from what we grow,” Fiegel says. “If you’re homesteading, you would make your own cider, your own wine, something like that. It just became fun, and when we were thinking about looking for a storefront for our catering [operation] and a space for a restaurant, we decided to put in a small brewery into the plans.”
The resulting space is a half-barrel system behind glass windows, looking out into Saltbox Kitchen, the café about three miles away from the 10-acre farm that opened last summer. Now, all the state and local permits are in place for it to start serving its own house brews. The beers begin flowing Friday, July 8, at a Bavarian-inspired festival that doubles as Saltbox Kitchen’s one-year anniversary party.
Fiegel, who’s both Saltbox Farm’s director of operations and Saltbox Kitchen’s head brewer, is perfecting a few recipes for the two-night celebration, including Saltbox Prophecy, a fruity farmhouse ale with prominent Citra and Jarrylo hop characteristics. It’s named after one of several horses buried on the Concord land.
“Ben’s grandfather had horses on the farm, and his mother used to ride them. There are eight or nine tombstones, so that’s a great way to name a beer,” Fiegel says. He hopes to have a Belgian wit, an IPA, and a pale ale to round out the rest of the café’s four draft lines for launch weekend, enabling four-ounce flights and options for 32-ounce glass growler fills.
Chef Aran Goldstein (Clink) is working on a Bavarian-style beer hall menu for next weekend, with house pretzels and charcuterie specials, like Polish smoked kielbasa with house sauerkraut, a capicola sandwich with kohlrabi slaw, and pickled Cape Cod sardines with rye bread and horseradish.
For his inaugural brews, Fiegel sourced hops from other vendors, but he is tending to 75 hop vines, currently trellising up a dozen, 25-foot telephone poles on Saltbox Farm. He planted them in 2013, and has harvested some to begin experimenting. He hopes to begin brewing with them in earnest this fall. Fiegel established nine different varieties, including Nugget, Cascade, Chinook, Sterling, Centennial, and Tettnang.
“A couple of these are pretty basic for classic recipes, like an Irish dry stout, or the Belgian wit,” Fiegel says. “We have a bunch of grapes on the property, and I’ve been trying to experiment with that, and different herbs, too. The base recipes we have, and are stylistic of what we want to do for the food we’re doing, are right where we want to be: Dry, crisp, and refreshing to go with whatever’s farm fresh.”
Fiegel is excited to get his brews into guests’ pints, because it’s been quite a learning process for the CIA-trained chef.
“Homebrewing is a hobby, but it’s also [like] the passion of cooking. Going from experimenting with dishes, it’s a little more scientific with brewing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to harvest my own yeast, who knows?” he says. “Everything is in its infancy. We have to so much to say.”