Hill Farmstead’s expansion is open to the public

Shaun Hill takes a break to enjoy a beer while looking around at his new space.  The retail part of the business is in this space for now.  Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

Shaun Hill takes a break to enjoy a beer while looking around at his new space. The retail part of the business is in this space for now. Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle January 8, 2014

by Bethany M. Dunbar

GREENSBORO — Hill Farmstead Brewery’s expanded space is open to the public for retail sales.

The expansion is not completed, but the space allows customers to wait inside for tastes of beer, to buy bottled beer, and to buy or fill up growlers, which are big, reusable beer bottles.  Waiting lines will probably be just as long as before because the new space has the same number of taps as before, six.

An ell off the new space is so far just a foundation, but eventually it will hold a new brewery with a mezzanine area and windows so people can see production.  Once the expansion is finished, which is expected to be in October, retail space will exist in the end of the ell.  It will include a rest room for the public.

“The plan is to serve bread and cheese,” Mr. Hill said.

Meanwhile, a portable toilet is available outside. Continue reading

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In Greensboro: Hill Farmstead Brewery expansion wins approval

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Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro.  Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro. Photos by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 1-23-2013

GREENSBORO — Hill Farmstead Brewery was approved for a planning and zoning conditional use permit after a hearing on Wednesday, January 16.

The application is to add some room for storage, to bring equipment and supplies that are currently outside or stored in Hardwick under a roof at the brewery, and to open a separate retail area.  Currently there is a small bar and retail area in part of the brewery — essentially a garage.

The hearing was run by Zoning Board Chairman Jane Woodruff, who asked brewery owner Shaun Hill to present some background and outline his plans.

Inside the brewery is a small retail area where people can buy small tastes of beer, fill up growlers, and buy glasses and T-shirts and some bottled varieties.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Inside the brewery is a small retail area where people can buy small tastes of beer, fill up growlers, and buy glasses and T-shirts and some bottled varieties. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Mr. Hill plans to add on to the existing brewery in two phases, probably over two years.

Hill Farmstead Brewery has been in business for three years and has attracted attention from beer lovers all around the country and internationally.  It is rated as one of the top five microbreweries in the world by a website called Rate Beer.

The room was packed with people at Wednesday’s hearing, almost all of whom had come to support the application.

One set of neighbors said they did not like the traffic on the back road where the brewery is situated, and wish the business did not include selling beer directly to the public.

Mary McGrath said she and her husband worked with Mr. Hill and some of the other neighbors to put conservation easements on their land and create a wildlife corridor between the Barr Hill Nature Preserve and Long Pond.  She said the brewery with retail traffic seems out of character.

“We now feel somewhat ambushed by Shaun’s proposal,” she said.  She said she likes and respects Mr. Hill, but doesn’t like the plan.

“This is not a farming nor a forest enterprise,” she said.

Clive Gray asked how many acres of the property had been conserved.  Mr. Hill said 95 acres out of 99 acres were conserved, but he kept five acres out because he had always planned to build a brewery.  He said the Vermont Land Trust has approved his expansion plan.

He told the members of the zoning board and planning commission he wanted to start a brewery as a way to make a life and a business for himself in the town where he grew up.  He is the eighth generation of Hills to live on his farm.

“I had a sense of place.  I knew I wanted to spend my life in Greensboro,” he said.  He added that the retail side of the business is critical to be able to make a living and employ people.  He employs three people, and expects to add one more.

Phil Young deals with cold beer apparatus as the kegs were stored outside.  In the background is Dan Surarez. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Phil Young deals with cold beer apparatus as the kegs were stored outside. In the background is Dan Surarez. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

“Right now all of our glass and all of our kegs are kept outside in the snow and in the rain,” he said.

He said a better retail space, storage, and packing area will make the whole process more efficient.  He and his staff currently make about 60,000 gallons of beer a year, and 100,000 gallons a year would be a comfortable number.  His plans are not to grow a lot more than that.

“I’m not interested in running 30 or 40 or 50 employees.  It’s not within the scope of what I’m trying to do,” he said.  “I live where all of this is going on.”

He said the brewery is right beside his house and sometimes people wander into the house looking for a bathroom.

He added that there are a couple of reasons the traffic might ease up.  One is that there are lots of new breweries opening, all around the country and locally.  He is also hoping to get a change in Vermont law that would allow him to mail beer directly to customers.  Currently wine makers can mail wine, but beer makers cannot mail beer to out-of-state customers.

“We’re not purposely trying to bring people to us,” he said.  He said he doesn’t advertise and the retail side of the business is only open from noon to 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays.  The brewery is also starting to sell limited numbers of tickets to three special events each year to keep numbers under control.

He wondered how people would feel if Rocking Rock in Greensboro became known as an important geological formation and people started driving into town to see it by the droves.  If that happened, would local people be upset with the town government, upset with the rock, or would they develop a special appreciation for it themselves?

Most in the room supported the project and said the brewery has helped the town.

“Right now I’m in my slow period,” said Rob Hurst of the Willey’s Store.  He said this time of year he suffers when he loses one regular customer, which happened recently when someone had to go into a nursing home.

He said it’s clear that Hill Farmstead Brewery and the Jasper Hill Farm and cheese making business are drawing new business to Greensboro.  People come to town to try to find those two places, he said.

“They’re always stopping and asking for directions,” Mr. Hurst said.

To try to help people — and to draw some of their business — he has put a map up beside his gas tank showing people how to find Hill Farmstead and Jasper Hill.  He hopes that the tourists will fill up.

Rod Kerr, a neighbor of Mr. Hill’s who has a second home he rents out to tourists, said people who want to go to the brewery have been giving him lots of business.  Some were renting the place that night.

“The amount of money that trickles out of that brewery is unbelievable,” he said.  “We have no problems with it.  It’s tremendous.  Let’s put Greensboro on the map instead of trying to hide it.”

Mateo Kehler, one of the owners of Jasper Hill Farm, said Shaun Hill is to be congratulated.  He said he doesn’t know of many people who start from scratch that makes a mark on the wider world the way his has done.

He said these kinds of businesses are creating excitement among a new generation of business people in Greensboro.  It will encourage younger people to move here instead of leaving, he said.

“At the end of the day, you can take the pulse of the community in the school yard, and I think we’re doing okay,” Mr. Kehler said.

At right is Bob Montgomery, getting ready to pull down the overhead door.  At left is Phil Young.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

At right is Bob Montgomery, getting ready to pull down the overhead door. At left is Phil Young. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Jackie Tolman, another neighbor, said she has children and animals, and Mr. Hill always lets her know if there is an event coming up.  He has spoken to her often about the traffic situation to ask if it’s bothering her.

“Shaun is a most conscientious neighbor and an excellent communicator,” she said.  “I have complete faith that his vision is what he says it is.”

Mr. Hill was asked by the planning commission and zoning board members if he had done any traffic studies.

It has doubled very year, he said.  “We could never make enough beer to satisfy demand.”  He said 95 percent of the beer is sold within 60 miles of the brewery.

Asked about landscaping plans, Mr. Hill said he is working with the Elmore Roots nursery and intends to plant apple trees and fruit plants, including some of what might have been Lewis Hill’s original cultivars, to use in the beer making process.

Asked about energy plans, Mr. Hill said he currently has a permit to spread some of the waste from the beermaking process on the fields.  Some day, he said, he would like to work with Peter Gebbie, who has a methane digester.  He is also interested in adding wind or solar power at some point.

At this point the brewery has 16 parking spaces and the plans are for 36, so cars won’t have to park on the side of the road.

The permit was approved with conditions.  No signs will be larger than six feet square or lit internally, and they will comply with all setback requirements.  If the present sign by the side of the road is moved, it should comply with setback requirements and be moved back to 50 feet from the center of the road.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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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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