BRATTLEBORO -- Since Ray McNeill closed his production brewery at the Book Press, the only beer that is being brewed in Brattleboro is being sold at McNeill’s Brewery and the Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery.
But a pair of newcomers to Brattleboro is hoping to change that. They’re converting the old Blue Moose Store & Bistro on High Street into a micro-brewery.
"This is a lovely community," said Christophe Gagne, president and brewmaster of Hermit Thrush Brewery. "I love Vermont and its politics and there aren’t any production breweries in Brattleboro."
Gagne, and Avery Schwenk, vice president and brewer, are hard at work converting the former retail space into a production facility where beers such as the Brattleboro Covered Bridge Brown and Pliny Park Wild IPA will be brewed up.
"But this won’t be a brew pub," said Gagne. "There are already two well-established brew pubs in Brattleboro, but the town doesn’t have brewery."
The plan, said Schwenk, is to produce the beer on High Street and package it into kegs for sale at restaurants and bars in and around Brattleboro. Customers will also have the opportunity to stop in the storefront, fill up a growler or have a taste of what’s being brewed.
"We’ll have a tasting room up front and we will be allowed to offer four two-ounce pours," said Schwenk.
Gagne said they will utilize the Belgian style of brewing, which includes combining malt and grain with hot water to develop the flavors and then skilling the sugary liquid off the top before combing it with hops and fruit.
"We are purchasing French oak barrels from the wine and liquor industry," said Gagne.
Hermit Thrush will have 48 barrels on site and hopes to produce 31,000 gallons annually.
During the July 15 Brattleboro Selectboard meeting, Hermit Thrush was granted a second-class liquor license, allowing them to sell beer on the premises but not conduct any pub activity. Gagne and Schwenk are still waiting on their state and federal licenses.
The pair also applied for a Small Business Assistance Program loan of $40,000 to help them refurbish the space at 29 High Street. The SBAP is a revolving loan fund that offers low-interest loans to business people in Brattleboro.
"Applying for the loan wasn’t a pushover," said Gagne. "They asked all the right questions."
Though Gagne and Schwenk had chosen Brattleboro for their brewery prior to learning about the SBAP, its existence made the possibility of having a brewery downtown more attractive. In addition, said Schwenk, the town’s new wastewater treatment plant makes it possible for a small business like theirs to set up shop just a stone’s throw from Main Street.
"At first, we looked at more rural locations, but brewing beer is harder when you have to deal with septic systems," he said.
Gagne said they hope to design the brewery to be as sustainable as possible, including purchasing solar power from Green Mountain Power and using wood pellet fired boilers to produce steam.
"To my knowledge, we’ll be the first brewery ever to use wood pellet boilers," said Schwenk.
Gagne said they are currently in negotiations with local farmers to supply the brewery with hops, but the first few batches will be made with hops from outside the immediate area. In addition, Hermit Thrush is negotiating with a local farm to supply it with apple cider as an ingredient for its Covered Bridge Brown.
Schwenk, who grew up in southeast Minnesota and comes to town from the Berkshires in Massachusetts, said Brattleboro’s artistic culture and its location as the first stop on the highway also informed their decision to set up shop here.
And Gagne, who grew up in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and most recently lived in Philadelphia, said he’s happy to be back in a small town again. He’s been brewing beer for about six years, but this is his first venture on his own. Most recently, Gagne and Schwenk brewed up a batch at the Whetstone, which will soon be on tap there.
The pair have initiated a Kickstarter campaign to help them pay for a pair of Vermont-made wood pellet steam boilers powered by local, sustainable biomass fuels. Donors to the campaign will be in line to receive a wooden barrel after it’s reached its useful lifetime, T-shirts or a beer glass. To make a contribution, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1695181176/hermit-thrush-brewery-takes-flight-get-beer-off-oi.