Spotlight On: ‘Hill Farmstead’

I am a geek of many things. Comics. Movies. TV Shows. And beer! That’s right! Beer! I have made my own (it sucked!), I have gone to many brew fests, some of which are annual and I have yet to miss, I have sent local beer from my neck of the woods across the country in order to receive local beer from someone else’s neck of the woods, I have also stood in line for hours on end waiting for breweries to open their doors to buy a bottle of beer that will probably sell out that same day.

The best beers (or at least the most consistently awesome lineup of brews out there) I have ever consumed definitely came from Hill Farmstead, an outlier in the micro-brew market.  However, in many ways Hill Farmstead is starting to get traction all over the country. Thanks to internet message boards and the network of beer traders online, this very small brewery in upstate Vermont is on everyone’s mind. The beer as far as trading, is as good as gold and Shaun Hill, the founder, can barely keep up with demand.

I wanted to give a shout out to this awesome brewery, but instead I am going to write this little story about the first time I visited Hill Farmstead because I think it’s funny, and I don’t think the general public knows what some people go through for good beer.

Hill Farmstead

What the Hill Farmstead looks like now

My roommate and I were driving from Massachusetts to Waterbury, VT late one night to visit a brewpub (a pub that brews its own beer) called The Alchemist, a pub unfortunately destroyed in a hurricane. The next morning they were selling bottles of their famous double IPA, Heady Topper, for the first time. It was our first beer release, and we heard people were lining up really early in the morning. So, my roommate and I decided we would drive up, hang at the bar, sleep in my car, and get in line early. Coincidentally, it also happened to be on the first snow of the season. We ended up being the first in line. On our way out, they said if we wanted more, to hop at the back of the line and take our chances. At this point, the line was way down the street and unfortunately, we had other places to be.

My roommate and I also wanted to check out this new place called Hill Farmstead that everyone was talking about on a beer forum. We were driving for awhile down the highway, my friend using GPS on his smartphone. He pointed out a turn that ended up being a dirt road covered in snow on a steep hill.  Furthermore, I was driving up the hill in a Camry.  That’s right a Camry.  As we traversed up and down the hilly and winding roads, I eventually let my friend know that I no longer had control of the car. We were basically just sliding down the road. I kept praying that a local used to these roads wouldn’t crash into me. It eventually looked like we were in the middle of nowhere and the few houses scattered about were miles apart. Usually, with these kind of breweries, you would expect some centralized hipster community waiting to hate it as soon as too many squares show up.

The Fear and Trembling series

The Fear and Trembling series

We finally found the place: a big farmhouse where the brewer lived and a small garage containing his upstart system. We almost drove right by it since it had the teeniest tiniest sign possible.  (Thankfully since then that garage is now a big barn with a large banner on it making the brewery easier to find). I pulled into what I hoped was a parking lot. At this point, everything was covered in snow. There was another car packing up a bunch of beer in their trunk. They had a Canadian license plate. That is when I realized just how goddamn far north we were. The garage was overflowing with fermenters, boilers, and kegs, and some guy was there buying up all the inventory (or so it seemed). We were there to buy two sets of his Fear and Trembling trio, three variations of a smoked Baltic Porter fermented in different barrels (named after Søren Kierkegaard’s work).

The ride is 3-hours one way, not counting stops for food, bathroom breaks, and gas. Just going there is a daily activity so I have very rarely returned, although my roommate goes all time, which I appreciate because he usually shares. What is one of the most interesting aspects of the brewery is their fight against expansion.   They’ve settled at their current (though higher than my first trip) output, a supply definitely not meeting demand given that much of the beer sells out before everyone in line gets some.