Vermont craft beer soars in popularity, local flavors sought

KILLINGTON — Where can you find the “IPA Highway,” the most breweries per capita and 100 people camped out waiting for the newest batch of Lawson’s Finest Liquids?

That’s right, Vermont! “Some of the best beers in the world are being produced right here in Vermont,” said Nate Freund, co-owner of Sushi Yoshi, “and we are excited to be part of it.”

Sushi Yoshi recently opened a craft beer garden at its Killington restaurant with 20 taps featuring about 14 local beers on a rotational basis. The selection is unique in the region, Freund said, “Craft beer is on tap everywhere up north… doing this in Chittenden County would be almost akin to assimilation, but in Killington its different.”

The beer garden has been well received. “We sold a lot of beer during the Spartan Races,” he said, “about four to five times what we had done in previous years,” he added. How many is “a lot”? During the four days surrounding the Spartan event, Sushi Yoshi poured over 5,000 beers.

Folks who rarely come out from neighboring towns have ventured into Sushi Yoshi recently, too, Freund said, “Visitors like to eat local foods when they come to Vermont and local craft beer is part of that experience. But it’s good for locals too, they like supporting locals and they like to try the pilot batches,” he said. “It’s something new, it’s a reason to come out and they trust us… it feels good when the locals are impressed.”

Freund selects batches that are experimental, pilot runs or one-offs from local brewers. Some of the batches will be repeated and bottled for public consumption, but many will not. “Some runs are as small as a few kegs total,” Freund explains. This is advantageous for those seeking to expand options and create avant garde flavors. Long Trail Brewery in Bridgewater has even built the Farmhouse where they are able to test batches as small as seven kegs.

The variety, however, is a challenge for the Sushi Yoshi staff, Freund admits. “But everyone is excited,” he said despite the extra work. “We’ve spent the past few Mondays [their day off] touring breweries and sampling local batches to learn about the variations… beer is not as complicated as wine, but there’s still a lot to learn.”

According to the Brewers Association, there are 41 operating breweries and brewpubs across the state’s 13 counties. “There is no shortage,” said Freund, of the beers to taste, but “the demand outpaces the supply,” some brewers run out completely and it can take weeks to get the next batch, he said. It takes about 30 days to brew a lager, compared to a week for an ale, so the lag time can be different depending on beer type, he explained.

Asked when he first took note of the craft beer movement in Vermont, Freund said, “it first hit me when we brought in Heady Topper to Stowe. The delivery truck would pull up and the beer would never hit the cooler! It was an eye-opener!”

The beers on tap at Sushi Yoshi in Killington are listed on a chalkboard wall above a row of 20 golden taps. Among those offered are Long Trail’s Honey Ginger IPA, which was first crafted with honey collected from the roof of The Seaport Hotel in Boston. About 350 pounds of honey was harvested from 11 rooftop hives and was delivered to the Vermont brewery for production of the beer.

On the other end of the spectrum, Foley Brothers, a small brewery in Brandon, brews its beer in a barn.

Queen City Brewery in Burlington, is one of the newest brewery in the state but it shouldn’t be overlooked. “Some of the best brews are coming out of this small operation,” Freund says. “At least one of the founders is a chemist. They really do their research in old-world, European, traditional brewing techniques but have taken a modern twist.”

These and other unique brews can be sampled at the craft beer garden at Sushi Yoshi in Killington.

By Polly Lynn

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