Beer is a social beverage. Yes, even the most outgoing of us may sometimes drink alone (cue the George Thorogood song), but I will take a leap and say that for most of us, our greatest occasions of enjoying beer have been when we are in the company of others. The beer may have been a huge part of that enjoyment, but not the only part. The who, when, where and why are also big factors. We don’t drink beer in a vacuum. Often, we’re with friends enjoying some activity. Consciously or not, we plan what beer to drink based on whom we’re with, where we’ll be and why we’re together. Many of my “fanciest” beers sit patiently in my cabinet or fridge for days, months or even years, waiting for the right friend and right occasion to be shared and enjoyed.
Recently, I found myself enjoying a beer in a shady spot overlooking the 5th hole at Neshobe Golf Club and the lush, green valley that surrounds it. Across the table from me was my host Dan Foley of Foley Brothers Brewing, whose family owns the Inn at Neshobe River on Stone Mill Dam Road in Brandon. The Inn shares the property with the Brewery, and also with the Neshobe River Winery, a small but productive trellised vineyard.
Dan Foley and his brother Patrick came to professional brewing after helping to establish the family winery their parents had launched on the grounds of the inn they had purchased a few years earlier. Dan Foley had been a homebrewer, which led to winemaking, which led him back to professional brewing.
Before coming back to Vermont, his study and work in winemaking had taken him to California and New Zealand. The two disciplines vary greatly, but share some common bases in sanitation, food-grade processing and packaging. For our tasting, we agreed to try a beer that was new to us, from an established brewery whose best-seller is one we’ve both enjoyed.
This week’s beer sampling: Switchback Extra Pale Ale (4.8% ABV, 47 IBU)
Brewery: Switchback Brewing Company, Burlington, Vt.
“Their original Switchback Ale was my go-to beer for years,” said Foley as he filled two tulip-shaped glasses from the 22-ounce bottle of Switchback Extra Pale Ale. Although the beer made its debut in 2014, neither he nor I had tried it yet. Light-to-medium golden in color, the Extra Pale Ale has the haze of an unfiltered beer, and a citrus aroma. “The cloudiness is what I’d expect from a Switchback ale,” said Foley. “I agree with the citrus being in the aroma, and I get a bit of earthiness in the background, too,” said Foley whose winemaking background puts an interesting spin on his perceptions of taste and how he regards a beer.
“Ten years ago, I could sit down with a glass of wine and think about it for a while,” he said. “I had the words to describe the flavors that I tasted, and the understanding of the process to know how those flavors were created. About four years ago, I got that way with beer, too.”
Founded in 2002, Switchback Brewing Company pursued slow, deliberate growth by putting almost 100 percent of its efforts into Switchback Ale, a creation of its founder Bill Cherry and what is considered by many as a world-class pale ale. With incredible focus on quality and their brewing process, Switchback was draft-only for its first ten years, and celebrated their ten-year anniversary by installing a bottling line.
Foley and I were both impressed that Switchback Extra Pale Ale utilizes whole-cone Vermont-grown hops from the hop-growing program of the University of Vermont Extension. UVM agricultural scientists have worked for years with Vermont farmers and brewers to study hops and find disease-resistant varieties that grow well here. That a brewery of Switchback’s size can produce a beer using only Vermont-grown hops is a very positive sign that the program is bearing fruit.
Overall, both Foley and I were impressed with Switchback Extra Pale Ale. In the late afternoon of a hot summer day, time, place, people and beer came together for a most enjoyable experience. “I think it’s a great beer for this day,” said Dan Foley. “It’s refreshing, light and smooth… a good pick for a summer day. It’s really awesome that they were able to utilize Vermont hops,” he added. “I will tell people about this one.”
Over several years, the Foley family has transformed a small inn into a destination. With beer tastings, wine tastings, bottle sales, growlers and other merchandise, visitors will find it a worthwhile stop. If that’s not enough, the sheer beauty of the place will win you over. Wine and beer are made and sometimes consumed in different universes, but those universes overlap in a beautiful spot in Brandon overlooking the fifth hole at Neshobe.