If foreign investment represents a path to grow for some Vermont breweries, for others the model of growth is purely local. Lawson’s Finest Liquids has remained “limited in availability by design,” brewing out of a small barn in Warren and distributing until recently only throughout the Mad River Valley and limited locations in Montpelier. Before it started showing up on shelves at the Hunger Mountain Co-Op and Beverage Warehouse in Winooski, I definitely made a pilgrimage or two to the Warren Store on Friday afternoons to grab a few bottles. Lawson’s has succeeded for a host of reasons; the beer is great, it’s local, it’s rare. But as it grows they’re going to need help. You can only do so much on your own, brewing, bottling, delivering before you simply don’t have enough time for anything else.
One of the development tools in the box for those not interested in going after gobs of foreign money are local food hubs. The Vermont Food Venture Center and Mad River Food Hub both recently came on line and represent an option for brewers who need space for processing and storage. Seven Days’ Alice Leavitt reports in a conversation with Mad River Food Hub director Robin Morris, that Lawson’s is currently utilizing the facility for cold storage and potentially for distribution down the road. This addresses two major issues for small brewers, the need for space and access to customers. With recent flare ups in the debate over the role of distributors in the three tiered system, in Vermont its easy to the push and pull over control of distribution shifting towards producers. Most likely that will manifest itself in additional state or federal grants for new or existing food hubs that look to have a role in distribution.
Storage and distribution represent the most tangible benefits to brewers from local food hubs, but one area I believe will emerge in the coming years will be processing of ingredients. Access to certain hops and malts is becoming more difficult and issues around quality will only increase as an issue as demand for hops grows. This has brewers contemplating how to adjust their recipes and beer lines in order to continue producing a consistent array of offerings. Food hubs represent an area of opportunity as a means to process and store new ingredients, such as Harpoon’s using spruce tips in their 100 barrel series. These can be gathered, processed and stored locally giving brewers an ingredient option they might not normally look for.
Looking further into the future, food hubs could also play a critical role in the resurrection of Vermont hops. With brewers excited about the prospects but suspect about the quality of local hops, the food hub is a natural place to address this issue. Classes and workshops, space and equipment will all have an impact on improving the quality of local hops and improving confidence among brewers about the products they are purchasing. My guess is its only a matter of time before we see this connection develop. In the meantime we’ll distract ourselves with exceptional beers like this Lawson’s Double Sunshine IPA. The beer poured a bright orange, amber color with an unfiltered look. It has the bright citrusy nose you’d expect from a double IPA. While sometimes the descriptive notes on a bottle arelittle more than just flowery praise, in this case they are pretty spot on. The Double Sunshine does have juicy tropical flavors, sort of the sweetness of pineapple or papaya.