Brewer wins magazine's can label contest

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BENNINGTON — Up until now, the awards have always been for what's inside the cans.

Local brewer Will Gardner is proud of his work on the outside of the cans, too, and that led him to enter Brew Your Own Magazine's 2020 label contest. Recently, Gardner learned he had taken home the bronze for his Ascension IPA label, becoming the only American home brewery to place in the top four.

The 25th annual competition received hundreds of submissions from over a dozen countries, making it the largest homebrew label contest in the world. While Gardner had never participated in a contest that judged the outside of his cans instead of the inside, he decided to take a chance.

"I have been designing labels for a while now and my skills have increased over the past few years. I entered a few labels on a whim and was pleasantly surprised to learn that I took bronze," Gardner said.

Gardner was not notified about his win, but serendipitously came across his design while reading the digital 2020 issue of the Brew Your Own Magazine. For Gardner, his winning Ascension label holds deep meaning to him because it represents personal and professional growth.

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"I really love the way it came out. It was inspired by attempting to ascend to a new level of brewing both creatively and with specific ingredients (malt and yeast selection)," he said. "I have been tweaking a New England IPA recipe for some time and was able to take it to the next level. I have always loved space as well so the marriage of idea, ingredients, and design really came together to produce an award-winning label."

Gardner has been brewing beer for nearly a decade, and served as the head brewer at Madison's for five years. He took home first- and second-place awards at the 2018 Great International Beer Competition as well as two silver medals at the Beer Wars 2018 competition.

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He began brewing as a late teen when his father bought a "Mr. Beer" homebrew kit. Later in life, his wife bought them a cherry stout kit, which revived his love for brewing and inspired him to submit a baked stout recipe at a homebrew competition in Bennington. His brew won the people's choice award and would later become his Downtown IPA.

Gardner has also organized homebrew festivals including the Summer HomeBrew Festival, Winter Home Brew Festival, and the newly created Fall HomeBrew Festival for the brewing community.

"I knew there were all these great beers being produced locally," Gardner said. "I started the homebrew festivals as a way to allow local brewers to pour their creations to the masses and get tremendous feedback on them."

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While Gardner hopes that they will be able to hold their Fall HomeBrew Festival on Oct. 17, he is adamant about the first priority being safety for the town. The festival will have mandatory temperature scans, use single recyclable cups, and will design a traffic pattern to reduce close contact.

"Homebrewers will be placed on the outside of the event site so each brewer will be spaced out 20 feet from each other. We're taking every safety precaution we can think of," said Gardner.

While his passion for beer and brewing is undeniable, he is also an avid chef and entrepreneur with a desire to experiment.

"I sort of have a feeling or an idea and I translate that into a style of beer. I think of unique ingredients to capture that idea. I love to cook and take a lot of inspiration from the cooking side, how flavors play together. There's a lot of trials and tribulations," said Gardner.

The brewer hopes to expand his current home brewery Passion Brewing Company into a commercial five-barrel system sometime in the future. He is also considering selling baked goods using excess barley from beer and local ingredients.


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