A weekly blog about everything from farming food to cooking it
Last week my friends in Burlington invited me to the Vermont Brewers Festival. I didn’t know much about it and I had my doubts about the safety of an open yard full of kegs and beer-lovers, not to mention the $25 entry fee. But Ricky, who has been brewing beer for the past two years, assured me that it would be worth it. I’ve learned to trust him in all matters that concern beer, so I closed my eyes and clicked “submit payment” on the online ticketing site.
In attendance at the two-day festival were craft brewers from Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Massachussetts, Maine, Delaware, California and Quebec (and also Sam Adams). Shortly after the 6:00 admission time on Friday evening, the lines already stretched back from each booth, and the compound was full of people.
The people were male and female, young and old, from New England, Quebec and farther afield. There were some frat boys who looked like they hadn’t recovered from their last keg stand, some burly tattooed types who must have ridden in en masse on motorcycles, and some who could taste a beer and tell you what kind of yeast was in it and where the hops were grown. But most of all, there were normal people who were there to appreciate a good beer. I found myself among this crowd, clutching my 15 tasting tickets.
Fifteen tickets didn’t seem like a lot — there were 37 brewers at the festival and 188 different beers. As the evening drew towards night and the booths began to close, I could hear people muttering that they wished they had more tickets. But the three of us shared each sample, and I, for one, had to give away three tickets at the end.
I came away from the festival impressed by the sheer number of craft breweries in Vermont. Eighteen breweries from the state were represented, a large percentage considering that there are only nineteen breweries in Vermont. And it turns out that having 19 breweries gives us the title for largest number of breweries per capita of any state. (See statistics here).
The Vermont Brewers Association is active in promoting their breweries not only as sources of beer, but also as destinations. They publish a “beer passport” listing eighteen breweries, and they offer free stuff to those who have gotten stamps at four or more.
The bar at Bobcat Café
But it’s not just these kinds of promotions that make craft beer so popular. Talk to most craft brewers and you’ll find them enthusiastic about helping out homebrewers and passing on their own love of beer. And many breweries are a significant part of the local scene — most bars in the state have at least one regional craft beer on tap.
Mark Magiera is the brewmaster at the Bobcat Café in Bristol, which offers such local-oriented brews as Lincoln Lager (get it?), Ripton Red and App-Gap IPA. He worked in advertising for eight years before he quit his job and began to brew beer.
“The commercials I made lasted about as long as a batch of beer,” he said. “A couple of months and then you never see it again. So it’s similar, but I think this is a lot more rewarding.”
Five years ago Magiera moved to Vermont to brew beer. At first he brewed for Otter Creek Brewery, but just over a year ago he moved to the Bobcat Café, where he singlehandedly creates all of the house beers. But for him, brewing beer is an experience to be shared — both the making and the drinking.
So he is more than willing to help people who are learning to homebrew, from giving out his own recipes to sitting down with them to taste and discuss their beer.
“I don’t look at the beers I make as a big secret,” he said. “I’m making beer, and I’m making it no different than anyone else has made it for the last two, three, 400 years.”