Stoneman Brewery is the first beer-selling Consumer Supported Agriculture operation in the country
There is no cell service. Don’t trust Google Maps since street signs were just placed this year. When you get to Colrain, be sure to turn from Adamsville Road to Stetson Brothers Road.
Continue past the cascading willow tree branches fluttering with verdantly green leaves until you find a long stretch of driveway beside the oldest house in Colrain, built in the 1780s. Be mindful of chickens and pigs roaming the grass on the 74-acre farm. Go past the house to the 360 square-foot ramshackle wooden shed leaning behind it, filled with brewing equipment.
There is where you’ll find Justin Korby, long brown beard hanging from his chin and oval wire frame glasses sitting atop his nose, running what he refers to as a lemonade stand on the side of the road. But instead of lemonade, he is selling homemade beer at a stand in his backyard for his business, Stoneman Brewery.
“There’s nobody out here. Western Mass is definitely like a different state,” he said. “It kind of adds to the allure.”
Korby said he first began his business in 2012 after home brewing in his backyard: “I basically never stopped.” As a solo operation, he managed everything from brewing 60 gallons at a time, to selectively choosing the best hops from the Colrain farming community.
“You’re basically ordering beer samples from me in this woodshed that I built,” he said.
Stoneman Brewery is the first beer CSA, or Consumer Supported Agriculture operation in the country. In their model, customers pay in November or December for a year’s worth of Korby’s homemade beer, and can pick it up the first weekend of every month, when his stand is open.
Ten years later, Korby still only uses locally sourced ingredients, and is running the business almost all by himself. The difference is that now he has some help from the devoted beer community Stoneman has created.
Larry Sampson, one of the brewery’s neighbors, began helping Korby with designing the bottle labels in the Adobe Creative Cloud originally in exchange for free beer. After moving west from Waltham about 10 years ago, Korby was one of the first friends that Sampson made in the area; they met through the beer CSA. Now both dads with businesses, they hang out at birthday parties and share homesteading successes and failures outside of talking about beer.
Sampson said Korby comes up with the name of his next brews based on anecdotes, and Sampson tries his best to make it come to life digitally. Sampson said he enjoys the freedoms Korby gives him to create his designs, especially compared to working with larger companies.
“There’s not a lot of steps between designing something and it actually happening,” he said. “With him I get to be very creative.”
The ZZZ IPA, for example, was imagined with a specific story attached to its name. Korby first thought of it when his daughter Maggie wasn’t sleeping through the night for a grueling three-and-a-half years.
“I was paying homage to sleep deprivation and being a new parent,” he said.
One of Sampson’s favorite bottles to design was the Ghost Hog Imperial Brown Ale. The label is a dark teal color with the silhouette of a groundhog holding a pitchfork emblazoned on the front. Korby named the brew after his struggle with getting rid of groundhogs on his farm, as a tribute to the “groundhogs who are no longer with us.”
Nancy Turkle lives directly next door to Stoneman Brewery, and has known Korby since he was an actual stoneman, building a stone wall on his property. She has supported Korby since the brewery’s inception. Turkle admires Korby’s devotion to the craft and his commitment to supporting local agriculture.
“He has so much integrity, and he really doesn’t cut the corners,” she said.
As far as Turkle is concerned, Korby isn’t just the owner of a neighboring brewery. They sometimes have potlucks together and spend time at one another’s homes.
Like countless small businesses, Korby said Stoneman Brewery suffered as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic abruptly put a halt on plans to expand the business, leaving him with around $100,000 in debt.
In the time since, Korby revitalized the brewery, while Turkle and others have donated money to help keep things running. Korby said he currently has around 50 CSA members and hopes to increase to around 100 to make the business more economically viable. As a part of his efforts, Korby is working with Kyra Kristof, a member of the CSA and a local artisan. Their collaboration project, Forest Kitchen, aims to represent different parts of their region through the specialized use of native plants.
“I have so much appreciation for Justin’s creativity,” she said. “In getting to collaborate with him, the thing that is so clear (is that) he has so much knowledge, deep knowledge and skill in his craft, and a lot of curiosity.”
Kristoff said no matter what region she turns to, Korby is able to create a delicious beer.
“When he forms a commitment to something, he just makes it possible, and that’s been really extraordinary,” she said.
Korby said he currently has no plans to expand his business as he recovers financially, but wants to keep brewing new beers and eventually broaden the brewery.
For now, customers will continue to drive down the tree-lined rural streets of Colrain and pass under the willow tree’s embrace to enter a hidden world of local beer.
“It’s a real experience to come out and just to pick up the CSA,” Turkle said. “It’s a beautiful area.