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Stoneman Brewery’s new taproom in Charlemont delayed; owner seeks financial backers

  • Justin Korby of Stoneman Brewery stands outside the sugarhouse at the Warfield House Inn in Charlemont where he is hoping to open a brewery and taproom. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Justin Korby of Stoneman Brewery in what is set to become a tasting room at the sugarhouse at the Warfield House Inn in Charlemont where he is hoping to open a brewery and taproom. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Justin Korby of Stoneman Brewery brewed this IPA in hopes of opening at brewery and taproom at the Warfield House Inn in Charlemont. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Justin Korby of Stoneman Brewery in the sugarhouse at the Warfield House Inn in Charlemont, where he is hoping to open a brewery and taproom. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/26/2020 12:54:07 PM

CHARLEMONT — This spring would have been the start of a new chapter for Stoneman Brewery.

Since starting in 2012, Stoneman Brewery has been run almost entirely out of the home of Justin Korby, the owner and only employee of the company.

This April, Korby had expected to move to a new location with a new business model, involving a taproom and brewery at the Warfield House Inn in Charlemont and a seasonal beer garden on the Deerfield River. Along with traditional financial backers, the project is also supported by small investments through an ongoing online investment campaign.

But now, the coronavirus pandemic has effectively shut down many businesses, or at least forced them to scale down, and the opening of Stoneman’s new location has been delayed indefinitely.

“We’re kind of at a halt,” Korby said. “Are we going to be able to have big events this summer? This fall?”

A local brew

When he started in 2012, Korby had envisioned his business as a “nano-brewery,” where he would brew and sell small amounts of packaged beer, made with exceptionally high amounts of locally sourced ingredients, all out of a shed behind his house in Colrain. The idea, at first, was that customers would make appointments to pick up beer directly from Korby’s house.

The business model wasn’t perfect. Korby mentioned that working at home can be difficult, and that customers often had problems finding the house. In the last eight years, Korby also experimented with moving his brewing process to larger contract-brewing facilities, and with widening his distribution to include other parts of Massachusetts.

The remote location of Korby’s house in Colrain made for a unique customer experience, but it was never quite the “Stoneman experience” that he wanted. Selling beer through package stores, which Stoneman also does, can work well enough, but it doesn’t create a customer experience either, Korby said.

So, an offer a year ago from the Warfield House Inn in Charlemont to take over an old, unused sugarhouse building on the property seemed like the culmination of the last eight years of work.

The sugarhouse will be gutted and rebuilt as a brewery and taproom. In the warmer seasons, when the property is routinely used for weddings, Korby will close the taproom and instead set up a beer garden on the Deerfield River, in a custom-designed trailer that folds out into a bar.

The opening was set for the end of April. As his way of announcing the news, Korby released a beer called the Warfield Dream IPA. On the back of the can is a motto: “Victory is surviving long enough to tell one’s tale.”

“This is almost more pertinent now,” Korby observed.

Investing in the underdog

Earlier this month, news that the coronavirus was spreading in the United States led Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to impose strict rules on restaurants, bars and public gatherings. Other states now have similar rules.

As with many small businesses, Stoneman’s plans for the spring are on hold, mostly. Korby does still expect to move to the Warfield property, but it will largely depend on whenever the government and local communities ease social distancing rules.

It will also depend on the state of his financial backers, Korby said. Many of them are in the hospitality business, which has been affected as hard as any by social restrictions and a fearful market.

“I don’t even know if I want to call them,” he said. “They’re decimated right now.”

Korby is also using a crowdsourcing-style investment system called Mainvest, which allows investments of as little as $100. Mainvest is a platform for investments, not donations, so over time investors are paid back their original contribution, plus 20 to 25 percent depending on the amount contributed. (Stoneman’s campaign can be found at bit.ly/2WPoD7P.)

Mainvest is designed to give communities a stronger voice in what kinds of businesses can open, said Kaylin Kulza, a business success associate at Mainvest; and because customers have a small financial stake in the company, they are motivated to patronize and promote the business.

Korby called it “underdogs investing in the underdog.”

Korby’s Mainvest campaign has a deadline of April 1 to raise $40,000. But he mentioned it might be extended, due to the pandemic.

In the long term, Korby expects to reduce his retail sales and rely increasingly on direct-to-customer sales from his new location in Charlemont.

In the short term, he expects to double down on his farm at home in Colrain.

“As long as I’m open to the public and selling beer somewhere, I’ll be able to keep my business alive,” he said. “If we could just pause for two months on financial responsibilities...”

Reach Max Marcus at
mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.


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