For Nancy Bunting, farming hasn’t always been a bowl of cherries.
But it has included harvesting thousands of pounds of the sour fruit for Allagash Brewing Company to use in its beer.
In honor of Bunting, the Portland brewer named its October 2014 limited edition copper-colored beer “Nancy.”
The sour red ale tastes like a medley of tart cherry, citrus and pie spice, according to Jeff Perkins, brewmaster at Allagash Brewing Company. Its aroma is described as a blend of cherries, bread crust and cinnamon.
Bunting says she’s blessed to work with Allagash and to be the namesake of a niche brew.
For more than two decades, Bunting and her husband Earl have experienced both blessings and challenges associated with farming.
They own Doles Orchard, situated atop a ridge in Limington where guests pick their own fruit — including cherries, raspberries, peaches, plums, pears, strawberries, elderberries, blueberries and 25 varieties of apples — as well as go on hayrides and enjoy homemade pies and preserves.
During off-seasons, Earl has worked in carpentry and Nancy has waitressed.
The Buntings’ relationship with Allagash began in 2010, when brewers at the Portland, Maine-based company inquired about purchasing their sour cherries to use making Coolship Cerise, a traditional, Belgian-inspired spontaneously fermented beer.
Since that time, the Buntings have supplied Rob Tod’s company with more than 6,000 pounds of cherries that they picked, packed and delivered in wooden apple boxes that they built.
Allagash brewers continued using the tart fruit in the Coolship Cerise releases. And they were so impressed with the quality of the cherries, they decided to build a beer around them.
“Their fruit inspired us to brew ‘Nancy,’” says Perkins. “Over the years, we’ve been honored to develop a relationship with Earl and Nancy and we have been so inspired by their approach to farming. Because the cherries were from them, it was appropriate to make reference to their farm.”
Bunting laughs recalling that Allagash initially proposed naming the distinctive brew after her husband.
“Then they found out there already was a beer named Earl,” she says light-heartedly. “I’m second fiddle to Earl.”
Allagash employees also were impressed with the rustic boxes in which the Buntings delivered the cherries and asked if they could manufacture crates to hold 24 bottles of beer. The couple has since sold nearly 6,000 of the stylish, practical containers to the company.
“Selling beer in wood crates is traditional in Belgium,” says Perkins. “We wanted to do something like that for our own beers sold at the brewery.”
Nancy says she enjoys the independence of being a farmer and developing niche markets — including homemade crates and boxes and slate coasters.
While building boxes two years ago, Nancy severed four fingers in a table saw accident. Emergency room care, surgery and follow-up visits took a financial toll, as the Buntings didn’t have health insurance. But they worked out a payment plan and Nancy devised ways to adapt and continue to work on the farm.
“I’m still amazed at how much I can accomplish relatively hassle-free,” she says, adding she has been humbled by the generosity and goodwill of family and friends.
She’s also been humbled by Allagash Brewing — which routinely gives back to the community by donating some of its profits to local organizations.
When Allagash officials asked her which group she’d like a portion of Nancy’s proceeds to be donated to, Bunting did some online research. Her daughter in California told her about AgrAbility — the nationwide U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded program established to assist farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers and farm family members impacted by a limiting health condition.
The Maine AgrAbility program is a nonprofit collaboration between University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Goodwill Industries of Northern New England and Alpha One. It assists farmers, fishermen and forest workers with challenges or limitations so they may continue to be productive and work safely — all of which Nancy could readily identify with.
And the Buntings already had a solid connection with UMaine Extension. For years, Nancy and her husband have sought expert advice from UMaine Extension educators about farming topics — from garden pests to egg production.
So Nancy asked Allagash officials to spread their generosity and good cheer to Maine AgrAbility.
Maine AgrAbility program coordinator Lani Carlson says since the project formed in 2010, it has provided technical information to 247 farmers and conducted on-site assessments and recommendations for 75 others whose agricultural businesses include dairies, Christmas tree farms, vegetable stands and hay sales.
Maine AgrAbility clientele, says Carlson, has included area farmers with chronic health impairments, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, as well as with aging-related issues, including arthritis and hearing loss.
To educate people about the program is a huge thing,” Nancy says. “I’m happy to be getting the word out about this great program and all the ways it can help people.”
To date, Allagash Brewing Company has gifted nearly $10,000 to the organization.
“We are greatly honored to receive this gift,” says Richard Brzozowski, director of the Maine AgrAbility program. “The money will help us in our mission to assist Maine farmers and growers who have chronic health issues or injuries to gain more control over their lives and to continue to farm successfully.”
Talk about a cherry on top.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777