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8th Vermont Brewers' Festival

July, 2000

By Bobby Bush

For the past ten years I’ve spent July’s final weekend in Portland, Oregon on the banks of the Columbia River. Basking in the sun, my friends and I would celebrate, along with 80,000 other like-minded people, the wonders of craft-brewed beer at the Oregon Brewers’ Festival. But this year was intentionally different. The OBF, which just staged its 13th iteration, happened without my presence, though it is still my favorite beer event. And Portland will always be beer nirvana for every hop-hound and beer lover.

Quite honestly it was time for a change. So me and the missus (long story) headed north this time, anxious to try something new. Hard by Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont is nestled in the small state’s northwest corner. This youthful college town has a lot going for it with a nifty downtown shopping area and lots of bars and restaurants. And to make things even more hospitable, on the weekend of July 14-15, with July being celebrated nationally as American Beer Month, Burlington played host to the 8th Annual Vermont Brewers Festival. See www.tastebeer.together.

With the almost Great Lake and the Adirondack Mountains as backdrop, the curtain went up on the longest running outdoor beer festival in the east. A village of white tents, each housing two breweries, was scattered out over the lush green grass of Waterfront Park, a short walk from downtown. With a population of only about 600,000 people, a surprising number of breweries operate with the Green Mountain State. There are ten or so brewpubs and a handful of microbreweries in a state smaller than many California counties. A respectable eleven Vermont breweries presented their beer at VBF 2000, comprising half of the total count. Out-of-state breweries hailed from Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and neighboring New Hampshire. With local distribution, Newport, Oregon’s Rogue lucked up and was able to fill-in for a last minute Vermont drop-out. McAuslan Brewing and Unibroue drove south from nearby Quebec, Canada to serve their tasty imports.

Over 3900 people - a 20% increase over last year - attended one of three tasting sessions, tempting their palates with over 60 different ales and lagers. Some of the more memorable beers they sampled include Double Kross Brown Ale from micro Kross Brewing (Morrisville, VT); Blackberry Wheat from Long Trail (Bridgewater Corners, VT); hoppy Northampton Pale Ale from Northampton Brewery (Northampton, MA); Jud’s Falt Ale from Otter Creek (Middlebury, VT); Magic Hat (South Burlington, VT) with peppermint and lemongrass-infused YMP; Ridgerunner Barleywine from Rock Art Brewery (Johnson, VT); and Tunbridge Brewing (South Royalton, VT) with naturally carbonated Ox Pull Stout. Along with Rogue, regional breweries Redhook (Portsmouth, NH), Boston Beer, Harpoon (Boston) and F.X. Matt (Utica, NY) were well represented, though the latter chose to bring their malt beverage lemonades. The aforementioned Tunbridge, Vermont’s first woman-owned brewery, proudly poured their newest product. Brewed under contract for J. Lewis, Gay Pride Beer attracted a lot of attention and notoriety with its “The Beer To Come Out For” slogan.

The initial Vermont Brewers Festival was held at Sugarbush Ski Resort in 1993. Waterfront Park in Burlington became what hopefully will be the fest’s permanent home a few years ago. Now organized by Willie Docto and his hard-working Vermont Brewers Association assistants, the VBF has become a regional gala event. According to surveys, approximately 40% of the attendees drove more than 100 miles to attend. Live music, first aid tent, air-conditioned toilet trailers (fest organizers take note), a wide selection of food and a kids tent with bubble-making, balloons and a face painting clown made the beer fest fun for everyone. Remarkably, organizer Docto is not affiliated with a brewery. By day, he’s a facility manager. And on weekends, well this one anyway, he uses his organizational skills to run one of the best festivals we’ve attended. Though the scale is obviously smaller, the VBF compares favorably to OBF in all aspects.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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