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'Nerdy' interests lead pharmacist duo to plan brewery in Bristol

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Posted on September 6, 2018 |
By Christopher Ross



TapRoom8902.jpg
JAMIE AND SAM Sawyer of Starksboro recently got town approval to open Hopothecary Brew Co. in the former Rockydale Pizza location in Bristol next spring. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

BRISTOL — Who better to take on the science of suds than a couple of pharmacists?

Sam and Jamie Sawyer, practitioners of the time-honored art of the apothecary, are combining their love of chemistry and beer to form a new venture: the Hopothecary Brew Co. Last month they purchased the Rockydale Pizza property, east of Bristol village, where they intend to open a taproom next spring.

If all goes well, the Starksboro entrepreneurs will get a great head start: They also intend to buy Hogback Mountain Brewery from Bristol beer wizard Kevin Hanson. (Fans of Hanson’s craft beers, worry not: The Sawyers have promised that select Hogback brews will live on in their own line.)

For Hopothecary, as for Hogback, it’s all about local ingredients.

“We want to expand on what Kevin has done,” Sam said. “We’re looking to fit into the hyper-local, farm-to-table, farm-to-glass movement.”

Their goal: a true Vermont beer.

“We want to use exclusively Vermont grains to make our beers and say that we’ve got a true Vermont beer,” Jamie told the Bristol Planning Commission in July.

Until recently, this would have been unimaginable. Two key beer ingredients, hops and malted grain, are not traditional Vermont products. In a recent Vermont Business Magazine article on Vermont beer, local malter Andrew Peterson estimated that 99 percent of the malted grain used in Vermont comes from out of state.

This is something Peterson is hoping to change with his operation, Peterson Quality Malt in Monkton, which has supplied Hogback Mountain — and will supply Hopothecary — with malted barley and other grains grown in Vermont.

And though the volume is currently nowhere near enough to supply the state’s brewers, hops are also making a comeback in Vermont. For that ingredient the Sawyers need only turn to their neighbors in Starksboro, Kathleen and Kelly Norris, who operate Homestead Hops Farm.

In an industry some analysts suggest has become oversaturated, a true, 100 percent Vermont beer may turn out to be the new microbrewery’s recipe for success.

“I like what the Sawyers are trying to do,” Hanson said. “We always strive to use as many local ingredients as possible, and they plan to continue that. It’s also a great testament to these local growers, I think. We actually have the opportunity to make not just a Vermont-only beer, but an Addison County beer.”

Hanson is also excited about the taproom, he said.

“I’ve been brewing in our barn for three years, but I don’t have anywhere to put a taproom. The Sawyers are taking it to the next level.”

As they do that, they may have Hanson on board professionally.

“Kevin has been really helpful to us throughout this entire process. We’re hoping to put him on our payroll,” Jamie said.

“It could be a good fit for me,” Hanson said. “I have a lot of experience to offer. Hogback was supposed to be a semi-retirement thing, but the market has grown and changed so radically that I’ve been working at a pretty intense level this year. I don’t want to stop brewing altogether, but part-time would be good.”

To Hanson’s expert assistance and Jamie’s 10 year’s experience with home brewing, the Sawyers last year added some formal training: Sam became a certified brewer after completing the six-month Brewing Science and Engineering intensive with the American Brewers Guild, which is located in Middlebury. She completed 23 weeks of highly structured home study, followed by 50 hours working onsite at the Drop-In Brewery.

“I really enjoyed it,” she said. “The nerdy part of me really liked the biochemistry aspect of it.”

STARTING UP

The Sawyers hope to balance their current employment with work at the brewery and taproom, then scale back their pharmacy hours as their business grows. Sam, 35, works part-time for Porter Medical Center; Jamie, 38, works full-time at the Marble Works Pharmacy in Bristol.

Hopothecary Brew Co. plans to produce roughly 150 gallons of beer per week with a five-barrel electric system. Some of the solids from the brewing operation will be hauled away and used as feed at local dairy farms, the Sawyers told the Bristol Planning Commission. The commission concluded that the site’s current infrastructure, including septic capacity, should be fine to accommodate the new business.

Their location, the Sawyers hope, will entice organizations like the Vermont Brewers Association to add Hopothecary Brew Co. to an existing “beer trail.” The VBA has created a “passport program” that acts as a guide for locals and tourists looking for “Beer Worth Finding.” The organization’s Middlebury and Beyond beer trail stretches from Foley Brothers Brewing in Brandon to the Bobcat Café and Brewery in downtown Bristol.

In addition to their own beer, brewed onsite, the Hopothecary Brew Co. taproom will serve a light, limited menu of typical pub fare, which is required by state law for venues serving alcohol in quantities greater than a few ounces.

“Our focus at first will definitely be on producing a high-quality beer, though,” Sam said.

“This will not be a bar,” Jamie assured the planning commission. “The last thing we want to do with our four children is run a bar. That’s not what we want to do at all.”

Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]

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