A head brewer. A deputy fire chief. An acute care nurse practitioner. A director of farming. No, these aren’t the occupations of the characters in a wacky new CBS sitcom. These are some of the many hats worn by Heather and Sam Wilson, owners of Hop Culture Farms and Brewing Co. in Colchester. Just to be extra sure they’re never bored, the couple also has three children.
The Wilsons bought the property in late 2016. “We wanted some kind of agritourism destination,” says Sam, the fireman/farmer. “I knew that farming was gonna be a big focus of what we did, but it keeps expanding.” Hop Culture operated as strictly a hop farm until the brewery opened in April 2019. “We spent the first couple years establishing the agriculture and the infrastructure of the hops and getting the soil right,” says Heather, the nurse/brewer.
Not yet comfortable with selling hops for the purpose of brewing beer, the first harvest provided a small yield that went to Treefort Naturals, a soap company in town. The second harvest went to home brewers, and by Year 3 the hops were ready for local craft breweries. The Wilsons, self-taught in both farming and brewing, credit Brewery Legitimus in New Hartford and Alvarium Beer Co. in New Britain as being instrumental in helping them get off the ground and on their feet.
Heather and Sam were both experienced home brewers, “but when you make this into a business you can’t really do it half-assed,” Heather says. “Somebody has to be the expert at each. I ended up becoming the brewer and Sam is the director of farming. But I always like to joke and say that my beer was just always way better than his.”
“It is true, though,” Sam says. “My science, not so strong.”
No matter who does what, the Wilsons feel fortunate to be part of the industry. “We’re biased, but I just think that Connecticut has the best craft beer scene in New England,” Sam says. “I know everybody’s all up on Vermont, but we have a lot of good beer here. The competition is stiff.”
In addition to selling their hops to other breweries, Heather also uses ingredients from other local farms in her beer. She says true farm-to-table beer is their niche in the market. So, is Hop Culture a farm or a brewery? “One ceases to exist without the other,” Sam says. “Would this place be as cool if it wasn’t attached to a 45-acre farm with hops growing and everything else? Would this farm be as cool if it didn’t have delicious beer being [served] inside an early-1900s redone farmhouse?”
I take home crowlers of TFW (pale ale), Token Old Dude (NEIPA) and Hop of Shame (DIPA). And while I’ve never tasted any of Sam’s brews, I’m inclined to think the right person is in charge of making the beer at Hop Culture. Heather says she’s always messing around with new recipes and new styles. As I head out the door I overhear someone say her new marshmallow pecan stout, Pity Invite, may be her best one yet.
As for being a female brewer in a male-dominated industry, Heather is as confident in her role as she is in her beer. “It’s a boys club for sure,” Heather says. “But I can hang.”
Hop Culture Farms and Brewing Co.
144 Cato Corner Road, Colchester
Hours: Thu.-Fri. 5-9 p.m., Sat. noon-8 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m.