MIDDLEBURY — For Vermont microbrew enthusiasts, the shuttering of The Shed Restaurant and Brewery in Stowe on Oct. 17 w as a sad occasion.
But Monday brought brighter news: Otter Creek Brewery in Middlebury agreed to purchase the brewing arm of the 46-year-old Stowe fixture from owners Ken and Kathleen Strong, and announced plans to transfer the brewing equipment down to the Middlebury location and begin brewing The Shed’s signature Mountain Ale.
“Word got out that Ken and Kathleen were losing their lease,” said Brian Walsh, president of Otter Creek Brewery. “We have the capacity at Otter Creek, and once we started talking it seemed natural.”
Walsh said The Shed beer will be brewed using the exact same recipes people have come to know and love over the years. The brand, he said, has built up an especially large following at après-ski establishments throughout the state, garnering fans both in Vermont and across the Northeast.
“Ken has done a phenomenal job developing this brand,” said Walsh.
Over the years, The Shed beer has also had a small distribution. Since Ken Strong started the brewing arm of the business 15 years ago, the only way to purchase any of the brews has been to find it on tap at a variety of Vermont bars and restaurants or to buy it in a growler (a reusable half-gallon jug) on location in Stowe.
And though visitors to Stowe will no longer find The Shed restaurant offering up pints and tastings, Walsh is making sure there won’t be any gap in distribution of The Shed beer in any of its other markets within the state. He expects to brew the first batch at Otter Creek’s Exchange Street facility within 10 days of the Oct. 31 announcement.
“It’s about continuity,” said Walsh. “We want the product not to go out of stock in any of the markets it’s currently in.”
Soon, visitors to Otter Creek Brewery’s restaurant and tasting room will also find The Shed on tap and available for tasting there. Once the brand is established in Middlebury, Walsh said the company will likely look to expand production, and it will likely be looking to bottle the beers.
This is a new opportunity for the brewery, said Ken Strong, who at 72 said he was ready to pass along part of the operation. In the past 15 years he has grown the brand’s distribution and reputation, but he said Otter Creek’s ample capacity and range of distribution was one of the things that made the offer appealing.
That’s not to say the past few months have been smooth sailing, as the Strongs unexpectedly lost their lease and scrambled to find a new location.
“It’s upsetting, to a degree,” said Ken. “But nothing’s forever; 46 years is a pretty long run.”
He said the couple is still searching for a new Stowe location in order to reopen a restaurant on a smaller scale. Meanwhile, Otter Creek employees were busy Tuesday preparing to transfer the equipment from Stowe to Middlebury, and Walsh said he was working out logistics with Baker Distributing, which will continue to distribute The Shed beer.
“We’re very happy that Ken and Kathleen Strong have given us permission to be stewards of their brand, and to continue a Vermont tradition,” Walsh said. “After 46 years of this iconic brand, it would be sad to see it fall by the wayside.”
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.