POWNAL -- The owners of Hoppy Valley Organics have already been approved for a second class liquor and beer license for a new venture.
Tentatively called, "Hoppy Valley's Taste of Vermont," the idea is to offer tastings of wine and beer local to Vermont and to educate consumers on what they're sampling -- and potentially buying.
After a successful first year spent growing several varieties of the organic hops that are sought after by Vermont brewers, the partners have decided to branch out and plan to get started by converting space within The Hillside House furniture shop in South Pownal.
Peter Hopkins, one of three active partners in the project (there are also two silent partners), addressed the Pownal Select Board on Thursday night to discuss their application for a liquor and beer license prior to the board's approval.
"We're going to start swinging hammers the first week in January, we're very excited about it," said Hopkins, on behalf of his partners John Neville and John Armstrong.
When asked about the potential effect on other local businesses which sell spirits, Hopkins said he wasn't qualified to say, but that the overlap -- if any -- would be very small.
"The idea is not to go into this competing, but rather trying to complement other businesses and retailers in the area," said Hopkins.
Optimistically predicting a March opening, Hopkins said the space will be remodeled to include a tasting area for those ages 21 and over, and a separate retail space.
The tastings will feature Vermont cheese and cured and smoked meats, as well as beer and wine, and by state regulation may be offered to as many as eight people at a time in two-ounce servings.
As part of their plan, the partners are looking to put approximately $30,000 worth of renovations into the location, and plan to apply for one of several economic development grants available through the Vermont State Buildings and General Services Department to cover half their expenses.
At Thursday's meeting, Hopkins asked the board to consider submitting the application on Hoppy Valley's behalf, as it must be received by the state from a municipality or nonprofit in order to be considered.
Board Chair Stephen Kauppi asked for copies of the grant application to be presented to each board member at their next regularly scheduled meeting for consideration.
John Armstrong is part-owner of the property where the hops are grown and of The Hillside House as well as Pownal View Barn. Reached by phone on Friday, he said the tastings and goods for sale would be marketed toward both locals and out-of-towners.
"With the brand recognition of Vermont products, which has increased over the last 20 years or so, people associate Vermont products with high quality and natural ingredients," said Armstrong. "Being right on the border of New York and Massachusetts -- there are a lot of people who want to take part in consuming products made in Vermont."
Estimating that 7,000 cars drive by the Route 7 location daily, Armstrong said, "Everybody likes to go for a ride, and if you've got a destination to go to, that's even better."
To allow daily tastings, rather than the normal Vermont-sanctioned limit of 48 tastings per year, the men plan to offer a food preparation and pairing course along with the samples.
"I don't see it as a way of getting around the law, but as a way to offer our customers the best experience by educating them on what they may like or may not like," said Hopkins.
After a year which he called "great," Hopkins said the partners were pleased with their first year of growing hops and with people's enthusiasm for the project, and also plan to sell hops in a retail capacity at Hillside House, marketed toward home brewers.
"We'll do classes that offer pairings around the holidays and other themed events," said Hopkins. "When it's October, the pumpkin beers come out so we'll round up all the pumpkin pairings as well."
Of the 700-square-foot space, Armstrong and Hopkins say they plan to sell all Vermont products if possible, or at the very least all products will be from New England.
"It's going to be reasonable and affordable," said Armstrong. "And who doesn't like to eat and drink?"
The price range will tentatively be $5 for a beer sampling and $7-$8 for wine samples, with visitors able to select from a variety of sample platters including cheese only, meats only, and other products including salsas and syrups.
"By spending a little bit of money to be an educated consumer and taking the opportunity to try what you're purchasing, you can find out what it is you really like and why everyone loves Vermont products," said Armstrong.
Pending board approval, Hoppy Valley's Taste of Vermont will be open Wednesdays through Sundays with extended summer hours.
The next regular meeting of the Pownal Select Board will be Thursday, Dec. 12, at 7 p.m.
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