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The Shed

July, 2000

By Bobby Bush

We headed east from Burlington, Vermont on I-89, which more or less dissects this diminutive state in half. About 40 miles outside of town, we detoured north on state highway 100, past the over-filled parking lot of Ben & Jerry’s headquarters and on toward Stowe. Though the ski slopes were months from opening, tourist traffic was brisk. Just up Mountain Road a mile or so is where we found The Shed Restaurant & Brewery.

The Saturday lunch crowd was just starting to recognize their need for nourishment, ushering through the door in a steady stream as we detoured to the bar. The room was large and semi-dark, gratefully separated from the noise of diners. We noted the seven barrel brew kettle and mash tun in a closet-size room in the front window and settled down at the bar. Taster tray ordered from a perky lass, the next matter of business was lunch.

The Shed opened as a restaurant in 1965 in the 135-year-old Foster Cider Mill building. Following a devastating fire, the restaurant was rebuilt in 1994 in similar design, with one exception. Owners Ken and Kathleen Strong added a brewery. Head brewer Howie Faircloth obviously makes the Strongs proud. Unrecognized and unannounced to us, Ken Strong sat near us at the bar and watched as we worked our way through the beer line-up.

West Branch Golden was a thin Canadian ale (we were less than 50 miles from Quebec) with spritzy mouthfeel. The seasonal Honey Wheat fared better in light, sweet and dry finish fashion. Shed Amber Ale presented a fruity aroma. Its sweet malty taste, reminiscent of grapes, left a residual sweet aftertaste. Medium bodied and potent at 6.0% abv, National IPA held its bitterness until the end of its drink/swallow trail. The Shed’s most popular brew is one of its strongest. The English Strong ale style Mountain Ale, a butt-kicker at 7.0% abv, was complex in maltiness and dry as it left the tongue: an intriguing beer. Though its recipe incorporates four different hops, Smuggler’s Stout was heavy with coffee and roasted malt flavors. Balance was optimized.

The lunch menu consisted mainly of sandwiches, albeit delicious ones. Crispy onion flower and open-face roast turkey sandwich nearly gone, we’d surmised, by now, that our barstool neighbor was indeed proprietor Strong. As we departed his historic establishment, the friendly owner slipped us a growler of Mountain Ale, demonstrating hospitality in the Vermont style he calls “Roadhousemanship.”

Wish we could have stayed longer, but other brewpubs were calling. So back to the interstate, east we drove. We missed our exit to highway 4 south and, before we knew it, had crossed the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. Didn’t even see a “Welcome to New Hampshire” sign. This state, an upside-down mirror image of Vermont, hosts a handful of brewpubs, but few along its western state line. I’d planned to visit only one NH brewpub, but hadn’t planned on finding it while turning around to head back into Vermont. But why turn our backs on a gift? There is was, just off our exit, so we stopped.

Seven Barrel Brewery was founded in West Lebanon, NH in 1992 by Greg and Nancy Noonan, four years after they opened Vermont’s first brewpub, called interestingly enough The Vermont Pub & Brewery, in Burlington. Though the layout is different, with perhaps a bit more laid-back atmosphere, Seven Barrel is similar in many ways to its older sibling, especially in its beer. Brewer Paul White keeps the eight back-bar serving tanks filled with interesting brew.

Honoring our nearby northern neighbor, Ice Rock “Canadian” was a light, tangy blonde ale, the brewpub’s only wimpy beer. Deep copper hued, Red 7 was hoppy with a quick dry finish. Champion Reserve IPA, introduced by a floral hop aroma, was brightly hopped all over, while seasonal Arctic Lion Bock was a slightly acrid Helles lager. Hannover Bier was a crisp lager with a touch of honey-like sweetness. Buttery-bodied, but not diacetyl, Wheat was a tangy, citrusy American-style wheat ale. New Dublin Brown opened with hints of chocolate and caramel before turning hoppy a la an American Brown. R.I.P. Stout had the proper roasted and coffee profile but was slightly astringent, probably from excessive use of black patent malt. The R.I.P. stands for Russian Imperial Porter. Confusing. The cask version was nicer. It’s clinging roasted/chocolate character was smooth and appealing like a dark chocolate milkshake.

Back in Vermont we found our original destination in Plymouth on south Highway 4. Unfortunately, Salt Ash Inn, a cozy bed and breakfast, had discontinued brewing just a few weeks prior. We did learn that Plymouth is the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president, so the trip was sorta educational. Mom will be proud.

(Next installment: Long Trail)

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

© Bobby Bush

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