It’s no secret that I drink a lot—maybe too much—Vermont craft beer. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know some of Vermont’s best brewers well. Truth be told, they fascinate me. It takes a certain type of person to dedicate themselves to mastering the art of craft beer in such an evolving—and exploding—market in Vermont. Their passion is unparalleled. They throw the best parties. They’re modest and collaborative. And they happen to be some of the happiest, most genuine people I’ve met. I feel lucky to live in a place where the craft beer industry thrives, largely due to the talented brewers who are putting out some of best hoppy suds, sour brews and barrel-aged beers in the world (no bias here at all… it’s the truth.)
I’m always curious to know more about the men behind the brews (c’mon female brewers in Vermont!), so I asked them a series of questions about living in Vermont, how they got their start in the industry, their personal go-to brews, who they’d like to collaborate with in Vermont, and what’s in store for their breweries in the near future. Read on for five questions with Vermont’s best brewers.
Shaun Hill, Hill Farmstead Brewery, Greensboro Bend, Vermont
Why Vermont? I was born and raised in Vermont, and my ancestors settled here in the 1780s. I suppose the place chose me, more than I chose the place…
How did you get your start in the Vermont craft beer scene? My first job was washing kegs and cleaning fermenters at the Shed Brewery in Stowe in 2002/2003. I became the head brewer there in 2005.
What is your go-to beer? Edward.
What is the future of craft beer in Vermont? I have no idea, but I would imagine it would include more breweries around Burlington, perhaps a new brewery or two in Waterbury, hopefully Montpelier (?), and an explosion in rural breweries focused on “wild” beers.
What Vermont brewery is doing something really special, and what is it? Casita Cervecaria. This is the project launched by one of my staff members. It deserves a look.
(+1) What beer bars in Vermont do you frequent? Just one: Parker Pie in Glover. It’s the closest to my house and always has two to four of our beers on tap at any given time.
Mike Gerhart, Otter Creek Brewing, Middlebury, Vermont
Why Vermont? There are countless reason why Vermont. Since 1996, my professional beer career has taken me from Vermont to Germany, New York City, Virginia, Colorado, Scotland and Delaware. I’ve traveled quite a bit in life as well, and I’ve still not yet found a place that I feel as at home and comfortable as I do in Vermont. Now all we need to do is get a few new laws in place, and I see no reason to ever leave…
How did you get your start in the Vermont craft beer scene? I was brewing homebrew in the dorm kitchen at Johnson State College in my freshman year when I found out that a small brewery was going to open close by. I sat on their doorstep until they agreed to give me a job, and I’ve been smelling like hops ever since.
What is your go-to beer? My classic go-to craft beer that has stood the test of time is by far Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
What Vermont brewery is doing something really special, and what is it? Otter Creek is actually doing something very special these days. Our business model differs greatly from a lot of the other Vermont brewers in that we need to make fully flavored, intense beer experiences, and then we distribute these beers in 14 states. We are not selling the majority of our beer directly from our brewery. Being able to use our stronger margins for more expensive recipes allows us to strive to compete with these other Vermont breweries, while maintaining the mantra that nobody should ever have to wait in line for them. We want great beer for everyone, at anytime, in as many retail locations as possible.
What brewery outside of Vermont impresses you the most? The more you know about these companies, the more you realize how our basic goal is to be breweries, but then under the surface, this industry seems to have key efforts going in very different directions in parallel. The breweries I respect most outside of Vermont are the ones that are making fucking rad beers while at the same time taking care of the environment, charities, their employees and their communities.
(+1) What beer bars in Vermont do you frequent? I don’t get out to bars that much these days with everything going on in my life at work and at home. When they do take my ankle bracelet off, I try to stop at the Mad Taco, The Waybury Inn, Parker Pie and Zero Gravity, to name just a few.
(+2) What brewer in Vermont would you like most to collaborate with? Sean Lawson and I have just started to scratch the surface on working together. We have a great dynamic when working on projects and feed energy off each other that breeds a vibe that takes on a life of its own. It’s a pretty amazing process, and our projects have been some of my best working experiences over the past few years. There are plenty of other Vermont brewers that I am very proud to call some of my closest friends. When the time is right, we’ll for sure work together.
Matt “Matty O” Cohen, Fiddlehead Brewing, Shelburne, Vermont
Why Vermont? Vermont has become synonymous with quality. There is such a strong preference by consumers for locally made products. I can’t think of a better place to start and run a local business.
How did you get your start in the Vermont craft beer scene? I entered the Vermont beer scene about 20 years ago when I landed my first commercial brewing job at the Shed in Stowe, Vermont. I soon left to begin working at Magic Hat where I was employed as the head brewer for longer then a decade. In 2010, I began working on Fiddlehead.
What is the future of craft beer in Vermont? Times are great right now, but as Jerry Garcia said, “When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door.” The success of breweries has encouraged many people to blindly jump into an industry they know very little about. Bad beer has the ability to wreak havoc on what many of us have worked so hard building. Time will tell…
What brewer in Vermont would you like most to collaborate with? I’m not a fan of the collaboration.
(+1) What’s next for Fiddlehead? We are currently working on a 10,000 square foot, new facility.
Brian Eckert, Four Quarters Brewing, Winooski, Vermont
How did you get your start in the Vermont craft beer scene? Aside from various Vermont beers crossing my path throughout the years, and some up-close-and-personal tours through the Green Mountain Masher’s homebrew club, I brewed a small batch with Vermont Pub & Brewery and Fiddlehead back in 2011. That only made the desire to do this even stronger.
What is your go-to beer? Overall I’d have to say Saison Dupont… but it also depends on the season and availability. I love a variety of beers and get sick of any of them if I have them too much.
What is the future of craft beer in Vermont? Even though I’m on the inside of this topic, I am no authority on forecasting where things are headed. We’re in an interesting period of time for craft beer where there are huge waves of interest in certain styles that dictate what you brew. This is a volume-based business and that will dictate the fate and direction of many breweries.
What Vermont brewery is doing something really special? What brewery outside of Vermont impresses you the most? At the moment, I am most appreciative for Queen City. They’re brewing perfect examples of traditional styles, and every one of them is extremely enjoyable. Out of Vermont, it depends on what we’re talking about… Budweiser impresses me on some levels as far as production levels and consistency… Tree House and Trillium impress me on their growth… Canterbury Aleworks impresses me on their “slow beer” motivation.
Eager to experience Four Quarters? They’re doubling capacity right now and have plans to double that next year, as well as distribute more, offer a wider variety of beers, make food available, host live music weekly and host a “Full Moon Feast beer dinner every month.
Nathan Jonhson, Prohibition Pig, Waterbury, Vermont
How did you get your start in the Vermont craft beer scene? I first met Chad (the owner of ProPig) through American Flatbread, and as I kept homebrewing, at some point, I realized I wanted to turn pro. Chad wanted to expand the restaurant to a brewpub, so it was a pretty natural fit.
What is your go-to beer? It changes on a weekly basis, but this week it’s definitely “Little Fluffy Clouds,” a Simcoe, Amarillo, and Nelson hopped pale ale.
What Vermont brewery is doing something really special, and what is it? Zero Gravity. I’m really digging their brewpub line-up which ranges from well-crafted and extremely enjoyable english bitters, to brett-fermented pale ales, along with Green State Lager cans for crushing outside.
What brewery outside of Vermont impresses you the most?
Sierra Nevada. Its incredibly difficult to maintain beer quality at their size and availability as well as keeping true to their corporate values of employee appreciation and environmental concerns.
What brewer in Vermont would you like most to collaborate with? Mike at Frost and Brian at Four Quarters.
JP Williams, von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, Vermont
What is the future of craft beer in Vermont? Only time will tell if this rapid growth of brewery openings can sustain and be successful in our state. We have led the nation for many years (now Oregon) in breweries per capita, so as long as we strive for the highest quality beer, we should be doing alright in the long run.
What Vermont brewery is doing something really special? Otter Creek is on fire. Mike Gerhart and team have been cranking out some great hoppy beers as of late. Great coverage as well. I see him and his dog in the VW everywhere. It cracks me up.
What brewery outside of Vermont impresses you the most? Two Roads rocks. Great Rolec brewhouse; they make some killer beer, and the company just gets it.
What brewer in Vermont would you like most to collaborate with? Destiny and Paul over at Zero Gravity would be cool. We make a lot of the same beers, and we have both recently gone through an expansion.
Matt Nadeau, Rock Art Brewery, Morrisville, Vermont
How did you get your start in the Vermont craft beer scene? I’ve always loved beer with flavor. At family dinners out, I would order the obscure beer on the menu, always searching for flavor. I began home brewing, and it was fascinating. My wife had bought the book, The Joy of Home Brewing, and I could not put it down. Within months, I was cultivating yeast from test tubes, propagating it up and brewing for months with a single culture. It was amazing to “brew the beer I drink,” and I finally got what I was always searching for flavor.
I love to cook, I am great with machines, and I like a bit of science; these all are part of daily life in a brewery, so it was natural, I started a small brewery in my basement in 1997. The only “home brewery” in the United Sates. The government had to grant a variance, so we could run the brewery out of our home. I brewed there alone for four years, worked a literal back-breaking schedule. The fourth year, I brewed all I possibly could from that location. 25,000 gallons that year, all hand carried up out of the basement. Then we leased a space in Morrisville for 10 years, and built our current new brewery five years ago. Boy does the time fly.
What Vermont brewery is doing something really special, and what is it? Rock Art is working with Salvation Farms, supporting what they do with a beer release in cans, sporting our two logos. Theresa and the crew at Salvation Farms works to gather unwanted produce in local farms and redistribute it to folks who can use the vegetables. It’s quite an honorable commitment she has made.
We have done lots of these types of fundraisers over the years. For example, we did a Pete’s Greens Barn beer to help replace the burned barn, Journey’s End beer to help preserve land around favorite swimming hole in Johnson.
Beer wise, and non IPA inspired we are soon to bottle our delicious Gruit, a beer style that has no hops and is brewed with lavender, chamomile, rose hips and elderberries, quite delicious. With my love for cooking, I thought about the flavors of these herbs and how they would combine into a unique fascinating flavorful beer.
What brewery outside of Vermont impresses you the most? Paulaner Brewery. It was founded in the early 1600’s with such a rich history. If I have it correct, the monks that started the brewery would consume the dopple bock beer they brewed while fasting for sustenance; it had lots of rich nutrients, vitamins and minerals. That began the expression, “Liquid Bread” literally: grains, water yeast. Imagine a brewery that has been in existence like that now closing in on 400 years. I just love the history, and the beer is fantastic as well.
What brewer in Vermont would you like most to collaborate with? I’ve brewed with Nate from ProPig, also Brian from Stillwater Artisanal Ales and recently Wayne from Cigar City. It would be fun to brew with any Vermont brewer, really. If I had to choose, I’d say Brian at Four Quarters. The homebrew club he was in, Green Mountain Mashers, began visiting our brewery almost annually when I was in the basement. I remember Brian on those visits, and I could tell he had the same drive for brewing that I had. It would be cool to see what one of the oldest Vermont breweries and one of the newest would come up with…
What’s next for Rock Art? LIFE! and BEER! These are the good times for sure! I am so fortunate to be living at a time when such great beer is everywhere. I recall a festival asking breweries for “special beers, not your gas station beers”. We now have world class beers in our gas stations; I would not want to live anywhere else. As far as beer, I am excited for the Gruit named, “A River Runs Gruit.” We will surely continue our single release IPA draft series, a monthly release of new and exciting IPAs, and I am looking forward to the return of Black Currant Saison, a delicious summer beer, one of the most difficult beers to brew, but it is sure worth it.
Joseph Lemnah, Burlington Beer Company, Williston, Vermont
Why Vermont? I’m proud to be an actual born and raised Vermonter.
What is your go-to beer? My go-to beer right now is Light in the Window, our Rye IPA.
How did you get your start in the Vermont craft beer scene?
What brewery outside of Vermont impresses you the most? There are over 4,000 breweries right now in the United States. The level of talent and creativity is at an all-time high. I’m impressed daily by what I see breweries doing.
What brewer in Vermont would you like most to collaborate with? It would be fun to mash up the styles of BBCO and Hermit Thrush.
Will Gilson, Idletyme Brewing, Stowe, Vermont
Why Vermont? Being invited to the Vermont Brewers Festival as an out-of-state brewer was a special treat for me to get out of the cellar and get exposed to the brewing scene here. I remember one year, maybe 2010… A long-time brewing friend was there showing off his wares on the lakefront, serving five different IPA’s to a huge line. “Holy cow,” I thought… This guy’s got something special going on. So, with a great brewing scene and lots of skiing close by, my wife and I both found jobs, and we relocated here in the summer of 2012.
What is the future of craft beer in Vermont? We are experiencing a boom for sure. For such a small state, there is so much going on. Our state guild, the Vermont Brewers Association has made a big jump in maturity hiring a full-time executive director. She is putting all our ideas to task! We are even looking at a second Vermont Brewers Fest, by the brewers, for the brewers somewhere in the state. Brew tourism has become a multi-state and multi-national draw for reasons to visit Vermont. With so many great breweries so close, we have the intimate exposure to taste firsthand and to perfect or craft in our own ways and brew truly well-crafted beers.
What brewery outside of Vermont impresses you the most? The growth of the industry and fellow brewers building their prospective facilities as a whole is impressive. I’m very interested in process flow and I love places like Tributary Brewing in Kittery, Maine, that have great functional setups, fantastic beer and room for growth in the space they inhabit.
What is your go-to beer? As a pub brewer, I am blessed with the flexibility to brew very varied styles from golden Helles Lager, Bavarian Weizens, Fruit Beers to Double IPAs. I even make two that are eight percent: Idletyme, our flagship, and a second bolder DIPA Doubletyme. We have 10 different beers on tap, I usually find myself tasting those as my go to. When the recipes are all my own, how can I pick a favorite child?
What beer bars in Vermont do you frequent? With a young family, you won’t find me out much at local watering holes, but give me music or great Vermont beer on tap… those are my staples. Blackback Pub is the closest to home, Three Penny Tap Room when in Montpelier, The Bench in Stowe or Piecasso when I want a change of scenery from work. Farmhouse when in Burlington.
What Vermont brewers do you think are doing something really special, and where do you see the craft beer industry in Vermont headed? Get the conversation started, and share in the comments below.
*Many of the brewers’ photos are courtesy of their Vermont breweries.