By Jonathan Cook
Turley Publications Reporter
STURBRIDGE – News about Pioneer Brewing leaving Hyland Orchard & Brewery for a location on Main Street has garnered plenty of attention. But it has left many people wondering, what will happen to the orchard up on the hill?
Rest assured, proprietor Chris Damon said, not much will change.
“My family is committed to keeping it going,” he said. And that means, apples, animals, music and a brewery with a bar.
Only one question remains. Who will run the brewery?
Damon said he has had many offers from investors who love the place and don’t want to see anything happen to it. He has also talked with a brewer from New Hampshire who would like to come in and operate the brewery. But Damon says he is inclined to keep the operation close to his family once again.
While he credits Tim Daley and Todd Sullivan of Pioneer Brewing with “crossing some hurdles we weren’t able to cross” when they took over the brewing process in 2004 and made it a success, having another entity on the inside can be disjointed.
For example, Pioneer eliminated the Hyland line of ales and began making only Pioneer.
Also, Damon said two liquor licenses became necessary, creating a divide between the bar and the pavilion.
Once Pioneer has vacated, which Damon expects will occur in March 2010, he wants to reunify the license and bring back Hyland’s staple brews – Amber and Pale.
Furthermore, even when Pioneer takes a whole set of brewing equipment with them, Hyland has a second set ready to be plumbed in. Damon estimates it’ll take one month to begin brewing on site.
Until then the plan is to contract brew the Hyland recipes with another brewery, plus feature a variety of guest taps in the bar. Other than beer, also available is wine, bottled water, fruit juice, and soda.
The Hyland in the orchard
Something about the winding climb from Brookfield on Rice Corner Road and the straight uphill ascent made from Sturbridge on Arnold Road must have struck home for Jim Hyland more than 60 years ago.
It’s not hard to imagine why he sold three properties to buy 144 acres under the wide-open sky.
In 1945, he came to a hobby orchard that had been grown over for years and in his mind’s eye he saw thriving apple trees.
“He was rewarded with 30 years of clearing stones,” his daughter Sally Damon said. Yet, Hyland Orchard was born.
Sally, who is also Chris’s mother, grew up in the house and moved back in 1976 to raise Chris, Don, and Melissa. But somewhere along the way, the orchard and woodland acreage was sold to a developer. For more than 10 years the orchard remained untended, until Chris’s father Eugene Damon came in to finance the purchase of the bulk of the original land, build a brewery, establish a variety of farm animal populations, and plant new apple trees.
Then Chris, like his grandfather, began clearing overgrown land and saving what old trees he could while patiently pruning for five years before the fruit would grow. The work paid off this year in a bumper crop of apples. “The best I’ve ever seen,” Chris said.
All varieties but Courtland are outdoing themselves for size, ripeness and abundance, he said. The orchard sells overflowing bags or empty ones for those who like to pick their own.
For one thing, Damon, explained, the trees are hitting the prime of their productive years.
For another, equipment problems that normally crop up didn’t happen this year due to careful winter maintenance. Plus, there was lucky weather including a lack of the normal hail storm that will knock buds from the trees.
In October, Hyland is going full gear. This weekend is the Oktoberfest celebration with live music on Saturday and Sunday.
For Damon, keeping the place essentially unchanged means more than full time hours for part time pay, which is why he also runs a landscaping company.
October is the grand finale, but, beginning in early August, peaches and a couple of apple varieties ripen. That’s when weekend concerts begin under the pavilion. The orchard hosts weddings and charity events as well.