Farm hosts Readington Brewery and Hop Farm
READINGTON — The average craft brewery in New Jersey seems to be situated in an industrial park, Braun Kiess noted when talking about the very different idea he and his business partner, Dan Aron, had when they conceived Readington Brewery and Hop Farm.
Although neither are farmers, both men grew up in Long Valley in the “come-pick- your-pumpkin” era so when they started thinking about starting a brewery they also considered growing the ingredients.
The owners of Pleasant Run Structures, a business with a division that sells gazebos and other outside furniture and a division that sells kids’ structures such as swing sets, were thinking of moving their Readington store to a property of their own.
They bought 25 acres that Kiess saw for sale nearby but then started talking about how it was too large for just a place to demonstrate outdoor activities.
So, they put together their property and their idea and started a hop farm.
“Farming is not easy,” Kiess said. He discovered Japanese beetles and various fungi like to feed on hops.
They consulted Megan Muehlbauer at the Hunterdon County Agricultural Extension office and got help with soil testing and other aspects of growing.
They initially thought it would be nice to grow an organic crop but found that impractical, Kiess said. They intend to plant vegetables and will probably grow them organically, he added.
The Extension office also helped them set up an irrigation system when they first planted three years ago.
Hops have a rhizome in the ground that goes dormant in winter and takes about four years to produce in any significant amount, he noted. Meanwhile, the partners also planted wheat and barley on their way to growing all the ingredients for their beer, which is really a pretty simple recipe. Eventually, they would like to develop a facility that allows them to do their own malting as well.
They will plant strawberries and pumpkins and intend to eventually plant peach trees, Kiess noted.
Busy running their other business, with stores in Flemington and Parsippany, they hired Jacob Kim who owns an 80-acre farm nearby with cattle, pigs and goats. Kim used to manage a cidery and orchard in Asbury. Muehlbauer suggested him when Kiess and Aron said they would like to hire someone with experience.
Although they have made beer since the late 1990s, Kiess and Aron are amateurs. They hired Warren Wilson whose lease on his Homebrew University in Hacksttstown was up. Wilson and Aron were friends. The brewmaster has been brewing and training brewers for more than 20 years. He is now experimenting with varieties of beers in preparation for an opening this spring or summer.
Kiess said they are shooting for May 1, but realize how complicated it can be to open a business.
The 3,700-square-foot brewing facility and tasting room will be as far from an industrial park look as possible. Kiess says the style will be “farm chic” with lots of wood and a cathedral ceiling.
The beer will be primary traditional in style, he said, “we love a classic beer done well.”
“A quality beer” is what they want to produce, Kiess said quality beers tend to be German, Czech or Belgian. Wilson will experiment the flavors and brewing styles, though. The partners eventually would like to offer farm tours, but the first year serving beer on a porch overlooking the hops should please the customers.
“We want to have a local business that attracts the local trade,” Kiess said.