Six Pack

On the Frontlines of Vermont’s Craft Beer Craze

The purveyors of Winooski’s Beverage Warehouse talk regional beers and strategies for managing special releases

Jason Dennis of Beverage Warehouse
Jason Dennis. Photo courtesy of Beverage Warehouse.

Jason Dennis has always had a soft spot for Vermont. When he was working at a package store in western Massachusetts, he kept a tent and camping supplies stashed in his trunk so he could head north to Waterbury on Wednesday nights and spend his day off on Thursdays making the rounds of the local breweries and bottle shops. He watched jobs in the Green Mountain State come and go, but when the Wine & Beer Manager position at the Beverage Warehouse, known to locals as the Bevie, in Winooski opened up, he immediately applied.

“I was hired at my interview,” he says.

Jen Swiatek, the Bevie’s owner, says she knew that with Dennis her customers would be treated like guests. And, she says, “we have so many ideas that explode when we bounce them off each other. He is my retail “soulmate.’”

In operation since 1977, the Bevie offers the largest selection of craft beer, wine, and liquor in the state. Over the years the number of cars with out-of-state plates filling the Bevie’s parking lot has steadily risen. Approximately 1.2 million tourists came to the state in 2016, according to the Vermont Brewers Association, and many found their way to that parking lot.

The Bevie is also one of the biggest drop points for two of the state’s “holy grail” breweries: The Alchemist and Lawson’s Finest Liquids. Someone traveling to Vermont for beer will most likely join a 100-plus-person line at the Bevie to pick up specially released cans from these highly sought-after brewers at certain designated times.

Typically, the Bevie manages three releases of The Alchemist’s Heady Topper and two of Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine and Super Session #2 each week (plus a limited number of Lawson’s bottles, when available). Saturday mornings offer a good chance of snagging beer from both producers.

“We try to guarantee that if a customer is here by the drop time, they will get at least a 4-pack,” Swiatek says. “We have come up with algorithms based on the line count—yes, we made charts—to ensure a proper distribution.”

Sometimes this involves releasing a whole case to the first two to 10 people in line and then splitting the rest of the stock into one or more packs (or a limited number of cans) per person, depending on how many people are waiting. This strategy also helps get people through the line quickly and seamlessly. It takes the staff about 25 minutes to process orders for a 100-person line—and they typically sell out the entire release.

“I think the biggest mistake a retailer can make is not understanding and admiring the effort the customers sometimes put into getting a ‘trophy’ beer,” Swiatek says. “It’s not just a beer hunt; it’s an experience, and retailers should strive to be welcoming and playful.” Look on the Bevie’s Facebook page and you’ll find videos of folks playing guitar while they wait. Some bring tables and play cards. Last year, during the Vermont Brewers Festival, a masseuse gave free chair massages to those standing in line. A couple who met standing in line are now engaged.

While the demand for beer from The Alchemist and Lawson’s Finest Liquids probably won’t wane anytime soon, Dennis says he’s seen some substantial changes in the local beer scene in the nearly three years he’s been at the Bevie. “It’s been really neat to see where the industry has gone,” he says, “and how many local Vermont [brewers] are making new things.

“When I started, we had one shelf for all of the Vermont craft beers, excluding the statewide brewers like Long Trail. And there wasn’t a cooler dedicated to Vermont beer,” Dennis says. Now the Bevie boasts four Vermont beer sections, including a dedicated beer cooler. “That cooler used to be all national brands, but Vermont is what’s selling, and now it’s just packed to the gills.”

Here, Dennis shares six Vermont beers that all craft beer lovers should know about.

Hermit Thrush Brewery Gin Barrel Saison ($8.29/16oz, available in Vermont and Massachusetts)

Located in Brattleboro, Hermit Thrush Brewery opened its doors in 2014. “Hermit Thrush does only canned sour beers. This one is delicious and full flavored, with splendid complexity. The beers are aged in barrels from different local distilleries, which adds an extra layer of intricate flavor for you to mull over with your senses.”

Von Trapp Brewing Helles Lager ($8.99/6pk, available in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey)

Von Trapp Brewing is operated out of the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe and is run by the youngest von Trapp, Johannes. As a nod to his Austrian heritage, he brews only lagers. “This is one of the Vermont beers that I drink the most,” Dennis says. “It’s refreshing and crisp, with a little bite from the European hops.”

Queen City Brewery Munich Dunkel ($5.99/22oz, available only in Vermont)

Paul Hale and his partners opened Queen City Brewery in the south end of Burlington in 2012. “Paul specializes in European styles,” says Dennis. “When you get European-style beers from Europe, think about how far they’re traveling to get to you. When you get to try these traditional styles made locally, you get to taste the difference in addition to having much less environmental impact. Their dunkel is smooth and easy drinking. It’s a great beer for barbecues, with its roastier flavors.”

Lost Nation Brewing The Wind ($13.69/750ml, available in Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York)

This Morrisville brewery has quickly become a local favorite since its inception in 2013. While the Bevie sells Lost Nation’s Mosaic and Gose the most often, the Wind is the bottle to grab. “The pendulum is swinging away from double IPAs to more sours, at least among local drinkers,” Dennis says. “This is a nice refreshing gose with Citra hops and grapefruit.”

Frost Beer Works Lush Double IPA ($6.89/22oz, available only in Vermont)

Owner Garin Frost opened Frost Beer Works in Hinesburg in 2015. While Frost brews just about every style, everyone clamors for its IPAs. “Lush is the double IPA that the staff is drinking more of than any other double IPA,” Dennis says. “It’s probably the juiciest, fluffiest double IPA in the store right now. [Frost is] really focused on keeping things uber fresh. They often bring beer over right after they bottle it, so we [commonly] have their beers on the shelf [when they] are only a day or two old.”

Stone Corral XX Chocolate Maple Porter ($8.99/22oz, available only in Vermont)

This Richmond-based brewery operated out of a horse farm before it opened its doors to a thirsty local crowd in 2015. The brewery focuses on British, Belgian, and English styles. “The rich combination of roasty malts, cacao nibs, and real maple syrup makes this a beer you can buy now and enjoy whenever you want,” Dennis says. “So many Vermont beers really ought to be consumed as fresh as possible, but this is a beer you don’t have to worry about drinking right away, so you can keep a couple spare bottles in your cellar to enjoy at your leisure.”

Carolyn Malcoun is a food editor, recipe developer, and craft beer nerd. She came to Vermont to attend the New England Culinary School and fell in love with the state. She lives outside Burlington, where she’s a wannabe homesteader, hiker, and cyclist and aspires to pass the Beer Judge Certification Program.

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