Craft breweries are on the rise across the region, adding one more reason for tourists to visit Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and New Hampshire’s North Country.
A few of the local micro breweries on both sides of the river have cult followings, and have garnered national attention.
“For the better part of the last decade, Vermont has led the way in producing some of the best craft brews in the nation and world, and the Northeast Kingdom is starting to lead the state in some of the beers produced,” according to Darcie McCann, executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce.
McCann added, “We see this phenomenon only increasing, as people seek out tastier brews to enjoy.”
According to the Vermont Brewers Association, there are 29 craft breweries in Vermont, which produce 295,717 barrels a year and contribute more than $271 million annually to the state’s economy.
The newest micro brewery in the NEK is in West Burke, on Route 5, and is called Next Trick Brewery.
The business is open Thursdays-Sundays, and has a few bright red picnic tables outside.
Allan MacDonald, co-founder of Next Trick, said, “We opened our tasting room doors Memorial Weekend. We’re a 7-barrel micro-brewery, we do lagers and ales..”
“Response has been good, we’ll see how it goes!” said MacDonald in an interview this week. “It’s a case of seeing how it goes by the end of the year to see if we distribute locally.”
MacDonald said, “We do have some mountain bikers coming over. I’m a Montreal native. I’ve had a place at Bald Hill Pond in the Town of Westmore for years.”
“I’ve been brewing for over 20 years,” said MacDonald, who is a mechanical engineer by training. His wife, Liz Megerle, a chemist, chose the name for their brewery business, “As in, it’s our ‘next trick.’ ”
Some of the names of their brews include, Newark Spring Ale, Sugar House Road Ale, Manchester Brown Ale and Willoughby White.
In Danville, the Red Barn Brewing company, a ‘nano brewery,’ is doing so well it has to restrict its days of operation this summer.
The brewery is located at 2170 Oneida Road, located off the Peacham Road from Route 2, with signage guiding drivers.
Peter McAlenney is one of four owners, including his wife, Judi, and partners Erin and Jeremy McMullen, who own the property and barn where the brewery is located.
They opened the brewery last June, a little more than a year ago.
“The demand has exceeded what we can produce,” said Peter McAlenney. “We’ve had to close on Fridays, because we’ve been so short, we figured it’s better to close Fridays for the time being and be open on Saturdays.”
The brewery has food on site, thanks to the local food truck industry.
McAlenney said, “We just invite food trucks that are interested and they sell their stuff and we sell our stuff, it’s a nice relationship.”
One of the brewery’s flagship beers is its Evil Angel, a double IPA.
“It’s a little evil, because it’s a higher percentage, but it’s a little angel because it’s very approachable and flavorful,” said McAlenney. Other brews include , No Quarter, a reddish ale, sort of mellow and a nice malty body and Whiplash, a Bavarian wheat; it’s lighter in color and lower in alcohol.
Red Barn is planning an expansion to meet demand, said McAlenney.
“We’re a one-barrel brewery now and we’re looking to expand to a seven-barrel system, that’s the plan for the future, that scenario is probably eight months down the line,” said McAlenney. “In the short term, we’re pushing as hard as we can!”
On Aug. 19 Red Barn Brewing will be taking part in the Vermont Nano Brew Fest, at the Tunbridge Fairgrounds, one of 10 small brewers headed to that event along with Vermont food trucks.
“We hope next year this time we’ll be open more days of the week,” said McAlenney on Friday “We knew this was going to happen if we were successful. Beer takes time to brew, you just can’t rush it. We’ll get there!”
Saint J Brewery, located at 2002 Memorial Drive in St. Johnsbury, is tucked into a corner of the Green Mountain Mall, where it’s been cranking out local brews and serving them in a congenial, busy pub the past year-and-a-half, as well as offering growlers to go.
Begun by Scott Salmonsen, a longtime restauranteur who began making his own beer about a decade ago, the brewery has capacity to brew much more than it’s producing presently, and he is interested in helping some of the smaller local breweries to increase their Vermont brands, using his facility.
The brew room at Saint J Brewery is large, spotless and clearly has the muscle to produce more.
But Salmonsen said he’s happy with the business he’s grown to date, and their local distribution. He said he may look to grow their distribution a bit, but not by leaps, since he’s also interested in trying to have a life.
Salmonsen’s German Shepherd, Barley, is a fixture at the brewery.
Last weekend, like most of the local micro brewers, Salmonsen was off to the Stowe Brewers Festival in downtown Stowe, and like the rest of the brewers, was barely back from the huge brew fest event in Burlington a weekend earlier, the 25th anniversary of that festival, he said. “It’s the biggest and the oldest in New England,” he said of the Burlington event.
“We were really well received,” Salmonsen of how St. J’s beers went over to the Vermont Brewers Festival. “It was really rewarding and comforting to see people really enjoying our beer!”
Salmonsen is cooking up another beer-related business now, to offer a beer-making camp of sorts at the brewery combined with mountain biking and showing off the best the Northeast Kingdom has to offer.
The camp would offer lodging at a cabin he owns in Sheffield, and a personal guide. He’s also thinking the beer making experiential visit here would work for snowmobilers during the winter season. The name he’s thinking for the new venture is VT BrewKations, he said with a smile.
Among the brews Salmonsen had on tap on a recent afternoon were a Smokin’ J IPA, which has smoked wheat and “a little bit of jalapeno,” and an American Brown Ale with Chaga mushroom, known for its medicinal properties and only found in sub-zero climates (yes, it grows here!)”
Salmonsen said some tribes in Siberia who consume the chaga reportedly have zero incidence of cancer, but he’s not making any curative claims, just adding it to one of his beers for good measure.
Kingdom Brewing in Newport Center was started in 2011 by Brian and Jennifer Cook with the intent to brew authentic craft beers from a wide variety of locally produced ingredients.
Brian graduated from St. Johnsbury Academy in 1986, and grew up in McIndoe Falls.
Kingdom Brewing is open Thursdays-Saturdays at 353 Coburn Hill Road, Newport Center with eight taps of what the family calls “old favorites and experimental creations,” and the brewing company is family and pet friendly.
They have a food truck on premises when the brewery is open.
The couple opened the brewery in 2011, and Brian Cook said, “We finally found our groove about a year and a half ago … We were one of the more popular brewers at the Vermont Brewers Festival last weekend, we had very long lines.”
“At our brewery, we strive to have a sustainable eco-system,” said Brian Cook. “We have cows within 50 feet of the brewery, they are actually able to go out with their beer and go out and pet the cows,” he said.
They have two brown-eyed calves called Hershey and Kiss this summer, “And they have really good manners,” Brian Cook said on Friday; customers are invited to feed the cows while visiting the brewery.
A few of the beer names at Kingdom Brewing include Vampire Juice with blood orange, Captain Jack Scurvy Serum a spruce beer which has 100 percent of the daily requirement of Vitamin C and a 12 percent triple IPA called Asleep on The Lift.
In Greensboro, the Hill Farmstead Brewery’s specialty is farmhouse ales, hoppy American ales and barrel-aged varieties, according to the brewery’s website.
Hill Farmstead Brewery is owned by Shaun Hill, and is a small-batch brewery.
“Honoring his ancestors, Hill operates his business on land that used to be his grandfather’s dairy farm and names many brews after family members,” according to the Hill Farmstead Brewery webpage.
The brewery is open to the public Wednesdays through Saturdays, and features six draft lines plus limited release bottles.
There are two micro-breweries in the North Country region not far over the river from The Northeast Kingdom, one in Littleton that already has a strong following, Schilling Beer Company, and a newer one in Bethlehem, Rek-Lis Brewery, which is not quite a year on the scene and just bought a building on Main Street in which to expand.
Rek-Lis operates from Pinewood Avenue now, but by the fall will be in its new building in the center of Bethlehem at 2085 Main St.
Rek-Lis recently took part in its first festival, the New Hampshire Brew Festival in Concord, joining more than 30 other New Hampshire brewers for the event.
Rek-Lis also sells at the Bethlehem Farmer’s Market.
Ian Dowling started the brewery, and has since incorporated for the brewery’s new location, where he will be in business with his partner, Marlaina Renton, who he also refers to as “my lady love!”
The business was started last October in a 12 x 12 shed, said Dowling.
“We’re a very small brewery, but as soon as we release beer, it’s sold, we can’t make nearly enough beer. Response has been really good. We just came from our first brew festival, people absolutely loved it,” said Dowling.
They’ve made more than 100 different beers since opening, and love trying new beers, he said.
A few of the fun Rek-Lis beer names include Mt. Eustis Brown Ale, the Piehole Pleaser and Full Send; they also have a series of beers, including their Friends Series, inspired by and named for some of the couple’s friends.
Schilling Beer Company recently broke ground for their brewery expansion, said Jeff Cozzens, CEO.
The expansion will feature a tasting and retail shop overlooking the Ammonoosuc River.
“We couldn’t be more excited to take this major step, and owe a huge debt of gratitude to our guests, our staff and our Littleton community,” said Cozzens.
The expansion will see Schilling able to produce about five times their current output.
“Instead of basing our primary brewing operations in an 18th-century facility that tends to fight us tooth-and-nail on a daily basis, our team will brew in a purpose-built facility and on a brewhouse that will be one of the finest of its size in New England,” he said.
Brewing will still happen the brewpub, but on a smaller scale, said Cozzens, who said “ … there will also be a great variety of experimental beers that rotate through our tap wall, including wild ales, experimental lagers, one-off barrel-aged beers, etc., most of which will be totally unique to our brewpub.”
The expansion is expected to be complete by year’s end, he said, and the new facility should be open soon into the New Year.