by Bethany M. Dunbar
Vermont Beer; History of a Brewing Revolution; by Kurt Staudter and Adam Krakowski, published by the History Press, Charleston, South Carolina, 2014, paperback, 190 pages, $19.99.
Since 1991, Vermont has had more breweries per capita than any state in the nation. But for 100 years, until the Vermont Pub and Brewery and Catamount Brewing Company went into business in 1989, the state had no legal breweries.
The state’s earlier past was quite spirited, with an estimated 125 to 200 active distilleries in 1810.
Beer drinkers, historians, and anyone interested in a good yarn will be glad to pick up a copy of Vermont Beer; History of a Brewing Revolution. Authors Kurt Staudter and Adam Krakowski have combined the basic facts of Vermont’s beer making past with some fascinating tales from along the way.
Mr. Staudter is the executive director of the Vermont Brewers Association, and a columnist for the Yankee Brew News. Mr. Krakowski has a bachelor’s degree in art history and a master’s degree in historic preservation. He has worked in museums and on a history of hops for the Vermont Historical Society.
The book includes small profiles of the brewers who are making it all happen these days, including 28 breweries that have started up in the state since 2010.
In the way you sometimes hear a bartender describe a microbrew as “drinkable” these days, this book is readable.
While there was a dry period in legal terms for 100 years, it seems clear from this narrative that beer drinking was happening in Vermont.
The book quotes Scott Wheeler of Derby, whose book Rumrunners & Revenuers, Prohibition in Vermont, puts it this way: “It would be more truthful to say that the state was ‘damp,’ as the law was loosely enforced and often disregarded.”
The Northeast Kingdom has its share of famous figures in the history of beer in Vermont. Trout River Brewing in Lyndonville, Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, Kingdom Brewing in Newport and a forthcoming Barton River Brewery appear in these pages. Orleans County is mentioned for its hops production. In 1850 Vermont grew 8.2 percent of the hops in the U.S., and Orleans County was the second highest producer at 77,605 pounds a year.
Timothy Hinman of Derby, the man for whom the Hinman Road is named, operated a dry goods store and tavern, and he listed flips among the beverages served.
As described in the book, with a quote from another book called Early American Beverages, “A flip is a ‘kind of liquor made by putting a spoonful of brown sugar into about five or six jills of malt beer, which is then warmed by putting a hot iron into it, called a logger-head; afterwards, half a pint of rum or brandy is added, and the mixture well stirred with a spoon. Then a little nutmeg is grated on the top, which makes the flip for use.'”
Elsewhere the book describes a frugal farmer brewing beer with the pods left over after shelling peas.
From the early years, beer has generated some interesting court cases. The 1853 case of Robinson Powers is a good example. In a chapter written by Joshua O’Hara of the Vermont Office of Defender General, we learn that Mr. Powers was tossed in jail for drunkenness, a common practice. The person would be jailed overnight or until “capable of testifying properly in a court of justice.”
The point was to get the person to confess about where they got the liquor they had become intoxicated on, and Mr. Powers declined to say. He then challenged his detention to the Vermont Supreme Court, on the grounds that he should not have to incriminate himself and that he should be able to have a jury trial before being put in jail.
“Essentially, Powers argued that he’d been arrested without a warrant, jailed without a trial and forced to give testimony against himself, all in violation of the Vermont and U.S. Constitutions,” the book says.
The Supreme Court ruled against Mr. Powers, saying that his initial jailing was not punishment.
Chief Justice Isaac Redfield wrote that the law had long allowed warrantless arrests “where delay would be perilous. Necessity is the first law of government as well as of nature, and it is not to be abrogated by implication.”
Mr. O’Hara writes that the case “marked the beginning of a very interesting period of Vermont constitutional law, one that has implications for cases argued today, particularly in the search-and-seizure setting.”
In May of 1876 there was a case in court called, “The State of Vermont v. One Keg Of Lager Beer.” The question at the heart of the case was whether or not people would get intoxicated on this beverage, which was considered low alcohol compared to other drinks. Several defense witnesses were doctors, one of whom testified that the lager contained 4.6 percent alcohol. Dr. E.A. Pond told the judge and jury that “lager beer was a powerful diuretic and, taken in large amounts, was cathartic, quite nutritious and nonintoxicating. His closing remarks were that ‘a man may drink 15 to 20 glasses, and aside from feeling a little sleep or stupid, feel no effects from it; it is carried away before the system has time to absorb alcohol enough to intoxicate.'”
The keg of lager beer was found not guilty.
Much of the book is devoted to the more recent history of beer, which never would be what it is today without a couple of key players, especially the people at Vermont Pub and Brewery and Catamount. People who studied economics in the 1970s learned about how all the small breweries were being bought up by the huge ones and “industry analysts were predicting that there would just be a handful of megabreweries that all produced the same golden lagers that had become synonymous with American beer.”
Meanwhile, back at the home farm, home brewers were coming up with recipes that were closer to European beer.
“Then these brewers went to their state lawmakers to get changes in the local laws to permit beer to be made where it was consumed. This is the story of how Vermont has gone from home brewers on a quest for the perfect pint to a premier destination for beer tourism.”
Mr. Staudter and Mr. Krakowski say in their book that the project led them in directions they did not always expect, and they realized there is always more than could be written. History is always changing and a lot is happening right now.
“It looks like by the end of 2014, Vermont will have over forty operating breweries from half-barrel nanos to some of the largest craft breweries in the country. Will all these breweries last? Probably not, but as long as Vermonters continue to home brew there will always be that brewer who dreams of going pro. And here in Vermont, there will always be that friend or neighbor who will encourage you to make the jump. Cheers!”
I recommend reading this book while sampling one of the Vermont microbrews you have been meaning to try. It will be a rewarding and pleasant way to spend some time.
contact Bethany M. Dunbar at [email protected]