VERMONT’S PRODIGAL BREWER

David | Blog | March, 26 2010 | 1 Comment

Shaun Hill won’t make it to Chicago for the Craft Brewers Conference in April. He will most likely be up to his armpits in a mash tank, racing toward the May opening of Hill Farmstead Brewery, in Greensboro, Vt.

If have the slightest interest in artisan cheese, dateline Greensboro should ring a bell for you. Hill is a neighbor of Andy and Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm. The Hill Farmstead is just about a mile and a half from where the Kehlers milk cows, make and age their own cheese, and age dozens of cheeses from other Vermont artisans.

Funny stories about the names of both outfits.

Yes, a number of the beers that Hill plans to produce will be suggestive of the farmhouse ales of Belgium. But the brewery’s name has more to do with the fact that Hill brews on the farm his family has worked for some 220 years.

And how many cheese geeks have assumed that the name Jasper Hill has to do with local topography? I’m guilty. But Jasper Hill was actually one of Shaun Hill’s 20th-century cousins, who last breathed the air around Lake Caspian in 1977. Of course Jasper Hill Farm makes two cheeses named after local historical figures Constant Bliss and Moses Sleeper, so why should we be surprised.

HILLfarmBrewery

Shaun Hill's Brew House

The Kehlers got to know and Hill and his brother Darren shortly before their own farmstead cheese operation came to life around eight years ago. The friendship eventually led to the development of Jasper Hill’s Winnimere, a lovely cheese washed in a lambic-style beer brewed by Hill. This wonderful marriage was featured recently in an All About Beer cover story on beer and cheese. With Hill brewing commercially right next door, we’ll watch for more collaboration from these two.

Hill is a philosophy major, a self-taught brewer, and just 30 years old. But don’t let his youth fool you. Starting about six years ago, he worked with several Vermont brewers, including the late Greg Noonan. More recently he made a fifth visit to Europe and spent about 20 months brewing there, mostly in Denmark. He worked with Anders Kissmeyer at Nørrebro Bryghus, before launching his own Danish brewery, which he handed that off to an assistant before heading home. Now he’s the prodigal brewer of Greensboro, with licenses and legalities are in place, and he has just recently completed building the 7-barrel brew house is complete. Hill spent most of Thursday replacing a well pump, but he hopes to start brewing any day now.

In addition to farmhouse ales, Hill Farmstead will produce a range of hop forward, but balanced American ales and barrel-aged beers of all sorts. Hill has 24 barrels of all sorts, including some that have held wine, some that have held whiskey and others that have already been used to age beer. While the portfolio will be broad, Hill wants to be certain that each of his offerings can be described with his favorite beer adjective—elegance.

“In Europe I really learned to appreciate beers with softness and elegance,” he says.  “In the U.S. the consumer usually isn’t wowed unless something has really bold flavors, tons or hops, huge gravity. I’m going for total elegance, where all the parts are harmonious and all the elements are in the right place.”

Rest assured this won’t keep him from brewing some extremely hoppy beers. Hill has three IPAs planned that go right up the ladder of ABV points and IBUs. Each shares its name with a ghost of one of Hill’s ancestors.

barrelsPlans call for kegging about 70% of the beer and bottling the rest. Farmhouse ales will go into cork-finished 750s. Hill says the cork finishing is more than a nice touch, he believes it is part of the character profile for saisons. Taverns in nearby Montpelier and Burlington will get much of the volume, but there are plans for distribution in New York, Philly and Boston, too. The folks at Blind Tiger in Manhattan are already saving space in the cellar. Could Hill Farmstead beers move further from the farmstead? It’s possible, Hill says, but it’s not high on the agenda.

“It’s not about money, and I’m not out to win awards,” he says. “This is my way of coming home to the farm, and I have a sense of place that most people don’t have. I’m creating my own ghost. The biggest we would ever go is 2,000 to 3,000 barrels a year. I have no interest in growing larger and we don’t need to.”

While he won’t make the Craft Brewers Conference himself, Hill says his friend Kissmeyer will, and has plans to stop in Vermont afterward to help brew a batch of smoked Baltic porter. Hill is planning on a May 29 launch party that will include a live band, and a nice selection of beer and food that just might include a couple of cheeses from the neighbors.

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  1. [...] might remember the Cheese and Cheers post in March about Shaun Hill who has built a brewery on his family farm in Greensboro, Vt. Well, Hill [...]

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