The State of American Craft Beer – Vermont


With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only made sense for us to create a series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.

We’ve been on this journey for over two-and-a-half years now and have managed to alphabetically drink our way to the 45th state on our list, The Green Mountain State, Vermont. The origin of Vermont’s nickname is a bit contentious, it just depends on who you ask. According to the Vermont French-Canadian Genealogical Society, the first utterance of the name Vermont came from Thomas Young, an Englishman providing an archaic French translation of “Green Mountains,” while speaking in Philadelphia in April of 1777. Conversely, the earliest written mention of the French translation was a description of local militia men as “Green Mountain Boys” by Ethan Allen in 1772. Others claim Reverend Hugh Peters having christened the state as “Verd Mont” in 1763, although this account appears to be the toughest to corroborate. Who knows for sure…

Vermont ranks 49th in total population (roughly 625 thousand residents), ranks 30th in population density, and houses 50 craft breweries as of 2016 (an increase of 28 since 2011) who are represented by the Vermont Brewers Association. The state ranks 30th in total breweries (including D.C.) and 1ST in breweries per capita as of 2016, according to the Brewers Association.


History

While most know Vermont for it’s robust recent history as a cradle of specialty craft breweries in the Northeast, it is far from what the foundations of the state’s brewing history looked like. As early as 1798, the state passed a law which restricted the sale of “strong beer, ale, and cider.” While the law was struck down in 1814, the following century would only provide accounts of +/- 2 breweries in operation until prohibition.

The Burlington Brewery, founded in the town of the same name in the early-1800’s, was by 1840 producing “12,800 gallons of beer.” Though later that year it was demolished by an arson’s fire set downtown, rebuilt within a year, then would eventually be out of business again in 1880’s.

While prohibitionist vigor flourished in Vermont throughout the 19th century, the growing of hops in the state exploded around 1840, with annual yields around 48 thousand pounds, increasing to a peak of over 600 thousand pounds annually in 1860. By 1910, hop production in the state was nearly non-existent.

A law was passed in 1844 allowing citizens a “local option” or means by which to vote on the approval of brewing licenses in their area, then in 1853 the state legislature passed the Vermont Prevention of Traffic in Intoxicating Liquors for the Purpose of Drinking law. IRS records show that in 1877 there were “2 breweries, 1 liquor store and 433 saloons in operation” within the state. Post-prohibition, in 1935, two alcoholics from Vermont named Bill Wilson and Bob Smith started Alcoholics Anonymous, sharing with the world their twelve step program.

The first brewery to re-open the market in Vermont was Catamount Brewery in 1987. The state’s first brewery to medal at GABF, it unfortunately folded in 2000 and is now inhabited by the Boston stalwart, Harpoon Brewing. The oldest current brewery and first brewpub to open in the state was Burlington’s first in over 94 years, the Vermont Pub and Brewery in 1988. The work of founder Greg Noonan – an accomplished brewer, author and national judge for the Beer Judge Certification Program, he worked tirelessly with legislator Bill Mares to pass a law allowing the on-site sale of manufactured beer. The largest brewery in the state, producing over 150,000 barrels annually is Magic Hat Brewing. Opening in 1994 and known for their #9 Not Quite Pale Ale, they’ve been owned by North American Breweries (who are owned by Florida Farm & Ice) since 2010.

Overall, Vermont’s brewers have captured 22 medals at the Great American Beer Festival.

6 Vermont Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out

The Alchemist Brewery (Waterbury, Stowe)Founded as a 60 seat, Waterbury brew pub in 2003, they’ve since grown to a national prominence that cannot be understated. Just as Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale propagated homebrewers’ yeast in the 80’s and 90’s, Alchemist’s Heady Topper, an unfiltered 8% DIPA, became the kick-starter that launched the NE Hazy IPA movement in the twenty-teens. They currently brew 180 barrels a week or roughly 10,000 bbls per year of Heady, yet it’s only distributed within 25 miles of their Waterbury brewery and never leaves cold storage. While owners Jen and John Kimmich, alumni of Noonan’s Vermont Pub and Brewery, make many a great beer including Focal Banger IPA and Crusher DIPA, it’s Heady Topper that will always be the their cornerstone.

Backacre Beermakers (Weston) – On the map since 2013, Backacre is a first for this series, as they’re the only brewery we’ve encountered that makes just one brand. Bottled only a few times a year, their Sour Golden Ale (currently 7.2%) is available only in 750ml bottles, at just a handful of locations, and only in Vermont. By no means a traditional brewery, they work with local brewers to produce the wort, then mature it for over a year in their barrels, thus making them more a blendery than a brewery. While they don’t have a brewery or retail space, the sole result of their output is worth getting your hands on, if you can find it…

Fiddlehead Brewing (Shelburne) – Located on the southern suburban edge of the state’s largest city Burlington, Fiddlehead has been making their mark as a brewer of stellar IPAs since 2011. Founded by brew master and owner Matt Cohen (known in the industry as Matty O), they’ve been producing around 7,500 bbls annually and just moved into a larger space capable of increasing their production to 50,000. Known for their flagship Fiddlehead IPA, Mastermind DIPA and Second Fiddle DIPA, they’re worth seeking out, which should be easier to do in the coming years.

Hill Farmstead Brewery / Grassroots Brewing (Greensboro Bend) – This supreme purveyor of countless farmhouse ales, various IPAs and other unique creations is the culmination of 220 years of family heritage. Shaun Hill’s labor of love has been in operation since 2010, and was formerly a dairy farm inherited from his grandfather. The brewery has in that short time created over 230 varieties, including their output as Grassroots Brewing. Not only that, they’ve three times in the past 4 years been named the #1 brewery in the world by RateBeer. Hill has plans to cap their annual production at 150,000 gallons annually (under 5,000 bbls), making them yet another Vermont brewer whose liquid nectar is in high demand and short supply

Lawson’s Finest Liquids (Warren) – Starting in 2008 as a 1bbl nano-brewery, Sean and Karen Lawson have now grown into a 7bbl brewery, not to mention a contract setup with Two Roads Brewing in Connecticut. This summer they’re finalizing plans to secure a 7,500 sq ft facility (up from 280 sq ft) in Waitsfield, with the hopes of opening in 2018. The alliance with Two Roads has enabled them to create a footprint in the NE and a demand for their flagship Sip of Sunshine IPA and Super Session variants. Aside from those two beers, if you’re one of the lucky few able to sample their delicious maple imperial stouts and ales, you’re doing it right.

Zero Gravity Craft Brewery (Burlington) – Found literally at the epicenter of Vermont’s craft beer culture, within a block of Vermont Pub & Brewery, Zero Gravity has set itself apart in a burgeoning Burlington scene. Open since 2004 in their original American Flatbread Burlington Hearth location and since opening their Pine Street Brewery and Tasting Room in 2015, they’re growing at a phenomenal rate. Their new location houses their barrel program and a 30 barrel system, enabling them to keep their 20 taps flowing and continue on their torrid pace of over 200 brands produced. And be sure to check out their popular Conehead IPA and excellent variety of German and English styles.

Check out the Vermont Brewers Association’s excellent interactive brewery map.

About Warren Wills

Warren is the former Assistant Editor & Portland Correspondent for American Craft Beer. Creator of "The State of American Craft Beer" series, he now maintains his own site at craftbeerscribe.com.
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