Since opening in May 2017 in Salem, Connecticut, Fox Farm Brewery has known where it wants to place its bets: not on trends, but on what the team loves to make and drink.
They started out mainly brewing lagers, mixed-fermentation farmhouse ales, and hop-forward ales, and cofounder Zack Adams says little has changed since then. In a region often associated with hazy IPAs, Fox Farm has carved out a niche as a destination for traditional European styles.
“Just about all brewers making traditional European styles … would probably say the same thing,” Adams says. “They make them because they love them and want to drink them. We put a lot of faith—perhaps too much—in the fact that if we enjoy those classic styles, and peers we really trust also enjoy them, the average consumer will come around.” And come around they did. While Adams says that many IPA-loving craft drinkers “might not be there yet,” he says that more people seem to care than just five years ago—a sign that they were right to trust their instincts.
If you visit the brewery’s pastoral farmhouse location on a weekend, you’ll find it hopping with local families alongside dedicated beer fans, some of whom have traveled far for an altbier or smoked doppelbock. Canned beers such as Gather, a German-style pilsner, show up in gushing Instagram posts from regions far outside where Fox Farm distributes in New England, demonstrating the brewery’s reputation among those who appreciate more traditional styles in an age of #ISO hazies and barrel-aged pastry stouts.
Fox Farm manager Dave Adams—Zack’s brother—says the team doesn’t intentionally chase that cachet. All energy is devoted to brewing and to the customers in front of them at any given time, “cherishing them for giving us the opportunity to serve them our beer.”
Becoming a brewery recognized far outside of Connecticut wasn’t a goal of Fox Farm cofounders Zack and Laura Adams. Yet they’ve gotten there by emphasizing quality, avoiding shortcuts, valuing their customers’ experience, and eschewing fickle trends. In Zack’s view, that embrace of the classics—and the beers they love to drink—is what appeals to their customers.
“They can spot trend-chasing and marketing gimmicks a mile away,” he says. “Not that all new innovations in beer lack substance, but those styles rooted in Old World cultures, with deep traditions and long histories, are inherently authentic. If a brewer respects those beers and tells their stories properly, it resonates with people, and they appreciate it. There [are] a lot of drinkers [who] want to explore and learn about the world of beer outside of the lens of what’s currently popular.”
Em Sauter—the cartoonist, educator, and author behind Pints and Panels—also works at Fox Farm’s taproom part-time. She says that before Zack brewed a rauchbier, he took a trip to Bamberg to taste them at the source. That dedication also has extended to installing two horizontal lagering tanks and adding a Lukr side-pull tap, Sauter says, when the brewery “got serious about Czech styles.”
That dedication to lagers and classic styles also coincides with growing demand, says Matt Osgood, a New England–based journalist who’s written about Fox Farm for other publications. “It doesn’t hurt that Fox Farm does traditional styles well—which is due to their commitment to doing the styles with historical accuracy—but I think, as the segment matures, consumers are becoming more focused on drinkability and sessionability.”
Part of the Family
Fox Farm is a family business, but it’s also the home of the cofounders and their three children.
“That manifests itself in the product,” Osgood says. “There’s craftsmanship and intent—not just in the beer, but in the whole endeavor, from the details in the woodwork to how guests are treated when they walk through the door.”
In 2011, Laura was teaching high school, and Zack’s homebrewing setup had outgrown their apartment in Chester, Connecticut. They heard about a property for sale on Music Vale Road; Laura knew it from growing up in Salem, and the couple wondered whether its barn could be converted into something. They bought the land and built a home on it, moving in before their son was born in 2013.
Meanwhile, Zack’s homebrewing habit was turning into something bigger.
The farm, Laura says, “was a major catalyst for our decision to start a brewery. Without the barn and the vision for turning that space into a tasting room and brewery, I’m not sure the hobby would have turned into a business. Fox Farm could not really exist elsewhere.”
Zack says it took them a few years to get comfortable with the idea of starting a brewery. It also felt risky, Laura says, to start a business at the same time they were starting their family. They had a structural engineer asses the barn to be sure about what they were getting into. They took the time to build it out with intention and care, and that pace gave them time to crystallize their vision. Knowing that this would be both their business and their “forever home,” Zack and Laura say they wanted to never rush a decision or cut a corner.
That patient, deliberate approach also applies to the beers they wanted to brew and to the experience they wanted Fox Farm to offer visitors. “We wanted to create a special sense of place for people to come together and enjoy our beer,” Laura says. “I think we have maintained that core part of our identity as a family-run business.”
“The vibe is chill and relaxed,” Sauter says. “It’s a great place to spend an hour with friends or family.” She says it never feels too crowded or rushed, partly due to an online reservation system through which guests request tables for 90 minutes. (Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are recommended because they often hit capacity, especially on Saturdays.) There’s also an on-premise consumption limit of three 12-ounce pours. Those policies and the somewhat remote location help winnow out folks who don’t really want to be there.
“Salem isn’t the easiest town to get to, and that has never been lost on us,” Dave Adams says. The goal is to exceed the expectations of those who make the trek. That means a clean and tranquil environment, “where the focus is squarely on the quality of the beer in the glass, providing the time and space to talk to customers if they like,” Dave says.
There are no board games, TVs, live bands, or food trucks—even if the team enjoys those things elsewhere, they don’t want anything to distract from the focus on beer, service, and conversation.
That conversation matters, especially with such a variety of beers and the goal to help people fall in love with styles they may not have had before. Taking the time to create a real discovery experience for patrons is a big part of what fuels Fox Farm’s success with traditional beers.
“Beyond discovering styles, we love [having] people discover ingredients and flavors,” Dave says. That might include mixed-culture beers made with local ingredients—such as Satu, a spontaneously fermented beer inspired by Finnish sahti, or Våronna, a Norwegian-style farmhouse ale co-fermented by Fox Farm’s own mixed culture and Voss kveik, brewed with local spruce tips and bog myrtle, and aged in gin barrels.
Customer Connection, To Go
Providing that visitor experience became unachievable for a while during the pandemic. There was no hasty reopening at Fox Farm; the brewery’s cut-no-corners philosophy extended to making their operations as safe as possible. Yet the brewery’s appeal never lost its momentum.
Like many others, the Adamses opted to sell only beer to-go in March 2020. Unlike many others, they kept that policy in place through May of the following year. They also started selling beer through their website. Despite the uncertainty, they kept prioritizing that visitor experience—even for those who were just picking up beers. “Everyone was scared and stressed, so we did our best to make people’s days when they came by,” Dave says. “Curbside pick-up could be a diminished, transactional experience, but we tried to revel in it, and make it as fun as possible.”
Despite the loss of the taproom experience, demand didn’t wane. Fox Farm produced about 2,500 barrels in 2021, and Zack says he expects about the same this year. The brewery always had strong to-go sales, Dave says; their distribution footprint is modest, so when people want Fox Farm beer, they often need to come to the brewery to get it. For the most part, the people coming in to buy to-go beer were the same mix of locals and farther-flung fans that the team was used to seeing.
The Ties that Bind
Fox Farm has four production employees, plus five full-time and three part-time staff front of house. An extension of being a family-run business, Dave says the group has a “horizontal structure.” All team members contribute ideas and efforts on both production and hospitality fronts.
Sauter also mentions the all-hands-on-deck atmosphere. “Fox Farm is full of good people,” she says, “and you can tell when visiting that we love our jobs.”
The taproom is in full swing these days, open Thursdays through Sundays. The online pre-order system remains in place, but on-premise shopping is fine, too. Guests can expect 10 to 12 beers on tap; typically, these will be three to five lagers, a couple of hop-forward options, a stout or porter, and three or four beers from the farmhouse program. From the bottle, guests can try Music Vale Compositions, the brewery’s 100 percent spontaneously fermented ales.
Going forward, the formula remains the same: Keep valuing customers and brewing what the team loves to drink.
“If a trend has merit and inspires us to brew something totally new, that’d be wonderful,” Zack says. “I can’t say that’s happened yet, but we hope we’re open-minded. If anything, a growing appreciation for traditional beer has affirmed the path we’re on and afforded us the opportunity to dive deeper into classic styles, without stressing [whether] our customers would give them a chance.”