Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, Vt., recently was selected as the No. 2 beer in the world by Ratebeer.com – a drop from No. 1, which it won in 2013. (Alesmith in San Diego is rated No. 1 this year, so you don’t have to look that up.)
I had been hearing praise for Shaun Hill’s beer for years but had never tasted any. I rectified that earlier this month. Nancy and I were visiting college friends Alan and Bev Shevis in Barre, Vt., and they asked what we would like to do. The Shevises approved of the brewery visit because Bev’s mother had sent her an article about the brewery from the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.
The trip was an adventure, and I did several things wrong. But the beer was great.
I had missed on the Hill Farmstead website that they will fill growlers (reusable glass beer containers filled from taps) from other breweries. Maine law prohibits brewers from filling growlers other than their own. I have a dozen or so growlers in our garage, and I should have taken some. The growlers have to be dark glass and clean for Hill Farmstead to refill them.
The brewery website hillfarmstead.com says the brewery is open from noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, but the doors were open and some people were drinking beer when we arrived at 11:55 a.m. on a Saturday.
I had thought the brewery might not be crowded, since Vermont had received more than a foot of snow the Thursday before our trip. Some of the roads to the brewery were covered with packed snow. That would keep away the out-of-staters, I thought. But no, the parking lot was full of cars from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut – as well as some locals.
Rope tied onto empty kegs created a serpentine line to the serving counter, and I estimated there were about 75 people ahead of us. Nancy wondered if the local fire department had set an occupancy limit for the building, but I figured that if Florida newspapers were running stories, the local fire chief knew what was going on at Hill Farmstead.
The people in line were friendly and chatty. One couple in front of us were from Burlington, Vt., and Littleton, N.H., and it was a date. Three people in their 20s bought the maximum three growlers a piece, and said coming to the brewery had been a lifelong dream. Considering their age and the age of the brewery, I think that was an exaggeration.
There were six beers available on tap and three available in bottles, either collaborations or from other brewers. People buying only bottles can jump the line.
After about 40 minutes, a server took our order for samples, four 2-ounce tastes for $5. Beer at last, although it was beer standing in line.
The six beers on tap were Edward American Pale Ale at 5.2 percent alcohol by volume; Susan IPA at 6.2 percent ABV; Grassroots Legitimacy IPA at 6.7 ABV; Citra single-hopped pale at 5.3 ABV; Abner Imperial Pale Ale at 8.3 ABV and Society and Solitude #6 Double IPA at 8.2 ABV.
All six were very good, and all six showed a similar profile: flavorful and complex, citrusy but without overpowering bitterness.
The website shows Hill Farmstead had brewed stouts, porters, browns, saisons and more, but those weren’t available when we visited.
All four of us liked Society and Solitude best. It had a wonderful fruity and spicy aroma, a little sweetness and no bitterness, a smooth mouthfeel and a complex flavor.
Edward was flavorful, full of citrus, especially grapefruit, and a bit of pine. It was a bit too complex to be called easy-drinking, but would be a great beer with most food.
Susan is described as an IPA, but it didn’t have the bitterness I expect from that style. It actually is quite similar to Edward, but with just a bit more of everything.
Grassroots is a subsidiary of Hill Farmstead, often brewed in collaboration with someone, but the website does not list the collaborator on this one. It also has a lot of citrus, but more biscuit malt flavor than the others and finishes very dry.
The Citra is a good example of the single-hopped pale, with the citrusy Hill Farmstead profile, typical of the citra hops.
Abner was the biggest beer we tasted, with the same citrusy flavor, but fell a bit behind the Society and Solitude in elegance.
By the time we bought our beer, we had been there an hour and a half, standing on concrete floors all the time.
Hill Farmstead is a great brewery. It is expanding, so it will be able to make 150,000 gallons of beer a year, compared to the 60,000 gallons it can make now.
I hope the expansion also increased the number of taps, so the wait will be a lot shorter. And that it will mean some of the beer is shipped to Maine bars.
At this time, the brewery does ship to businesses in Vermont (some restaurants, some bars). Check the website carefully if you’re traveling to Vermont.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: