Greensboro brewer has big dreams

by Joseph Gresser
copyright the Chronicle, May 19, 2010
GREENSBORO — Shaun Hill says he feels a sense of responsibility, both to the ancestors who first farmed his family’s plot of land in the 1780s, and to the god of beer.  He hopes to live up to both his family and his muse by producing fine beers.  In the process, he also hopes to make a living for himself and to make beer lovers happy.
“If I can honor the muse, certainly the general public will approve,” Mr. Hill said.
Although he is only in his early thirties, Mr. Hill has already backed his ambition up with accolades worthy of a much older person.
At this year’s biennial World Beer Cup in Chicago, judges tasted 3,330 beers from 642 breweries made in 90 styles.  They recognized Mr. Hill with two gold awards and one silver.
He received one gold award for a barley wine style ale and one for an American style imperial stout.  An American style sour ale that Mr. Hill crafted won a silver award in its class.
Mr. Hill created all three beers during the two years he spent working as brew master at a microbrewery in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In his small garage, a collection of kettles, fermenters, and casks makes up the production facilities of Hill Farmstead Brewery.  Near the front of the single room, a small area is set aside as the retail space, where on weekday and Saturday afternoons, Mr. Hill sells growlers of his beer, T-shirts, and beer glasses with the brewery’s logo.
That logo, like the farm, has some serious history behind it.  Mr. Hill said he took the wine glass that forms part of the design from a tavern sign that Lewis Hill had in his house.  The sign and tavern belonged to Aaron Hill, the brewer’s great-great-great-great-great-grandfather in the 1840s.
In recent conversations, Mr. Hill said that his brewery is the realization of a decade-old dream.  He said his first experience making beer was while he was a student at Hazen Union High School in Hardwick.  He said he did a demonstration of brewing for a science project.
While in college, he studied philosophy and pursued his interest in the brewer’s art.  The self-trained beermaker found work after graduation as brew master for the Shed in Stowe.  After two years there, he spent a year overseeing the brewing at Trout River in Lyndonville.
Those experiences provided him with the connections to find work at Nørrebro Bryghus, a microbrewery and restaurant where he created his prize-winning brews.
The awards raised the expectations of serious beer lovers, Mr. Hill said.  But he’s probably the most unforgiving consumer of his own product.  He said that in his early days as a homebrewer the idea that he had produced beer was a thrill to him and the friends he shared it with.  Nowadays he can’t allow himself to listen to people who praise a product that fails to live up to his standards.
To add to his self-generated pressure, Mr. Hill has chosen to name his brews after his forebears.  His India Pale Ale (IPA) is named Edward in honor of his grandfather, who farmed the land where the brewery stands, as did his father, Abner, for whom an Imperial IPA is named.
That ale has an 8.2 percent alcohol content and measures 170 International Bitterness Units (IBU), an indication of the quantity of hops used in brewing.  While one might suppose this would indicate an undrinkably bitter beer, the reality is very different.
That’s because Mr. Hill aims to produce beers with a harmonious balance of flavors, in which none overpower the others.
“I want to produce beers that are more like wines, only without the tannins,” he said.  Despite the high alcohol content of his Abner ale, Mr. Hill said he prefers to craft beers that are less alcoholic.
“I personally don’t like to get drunk,” he said.  He said he prefers beer to act as a “social lubricant,” stimulating evenings of conversation between friends.
Right now, Hill Farmstead Brewery can produce up to 400 gallons of beer a week, he said.  Although that may seem like a sizeable amount of beer, it’s not enough to satisfy the demand, Mr. Hill said.  So far, every drop he can produce is spoken for, he said.
 He said that people who want to try his beer can occasionally find it at Parker Pie in West Glover, Claire’s Restaurant in Hardwick, the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier or American Flatbread
in Burlington.  Otherwise, people will have to make a pilgrimage to the source out on the Hill Road in Greensboro.
The curious will have an extra incentive to visit the brewery on Saturday, May 29, for Mr. Hill’s grand opening celebration.  Although he isn’t giving away free beer, he will have his creations on tap, as well as food catered by Parker Pie.
In addition, drummer P.J. Davidian and keyboard player Parker Shper will be on hand with two of their friends to provide music for the occasion.
Now that his brewery is up and running with help from his family, Mr. Hill said he hopes to move into the black soon.  “I think I can start paying myself a salary by September,” he said.
He said his future plans do not call for his brewery to conquer the world.  He hopes one day to expand his capacity to four times its present size in a new brewery he’d like to build on the site where his family’s barn once stood.
Mr. Hill said he plans to adhere to a business model that he considers truly sustainable.  He has another ambition, too.
“My goal is to make the best beer in the world,” he said.
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