Otter Creek seeks permit for brew pub

MIDDLEBURY — Otter Creek Brewing is seeking the town of Middlebury’s approval to establish a 90-seat, pub-style restaurant and visitors’ center within its brewery at 85 Exchange St.
Brewery officials stressed the new service will have limited hours, a limited menu and should not eat into — but rather, enhance — the economic fortunes of restaurants and shops in downtown Middlebury.
“We know we are good at making beer; we are not looking to show we are culinary experts,” said Otter Creek Brewery brewmaster Mike Gerhart.
Otter Creek Brewing’s parent company, Long Trail Brewing, already operates a successful pub and visitors’ center at its Bridgewater Corners headquarters. Long Trail purchased Otter Creek Brewing last December from Morgan Wolaver, and has been making new investments in the 19-year-old company founded in 1991 by Lawrence Miller. Wolaver had purchased Otter Creek Brewing from Miller back in 2002.
Gerhart called the proposed pub-style restaurant and visitors’ center “a natural progression in our industry.”
He explained breweries are increasingly becoming destination points for consumers who want to get a first-hand glimpse of where their favorite beers and ales are made. Without a town-sanctioned pub-restaurant, Otter Creek Brewing is limited to offering its visitors a tray of six, two-ounce samples of its beer.
“There is just a tasting room,” Gerhart said. “People try their little sample and leave.”
With a pub in place, visitors would be able to order — and consume on-site — pint-sized portions of beer within the very plant in which it is being made.
“There is a reason to sit a little longer, and watch the beer being made,” Gerhart said.
Plans call for customers to watch the beer making process through windows that would be part of the new visitors’ center. The brewery’s retail staff would offer commentary on what visitors are seeing and how the process culminates in the beer the company is manufacturing.
The Middlebury Development Review Board is scheduled to review the Otter Creek Brewing application at its Oct. 25 meeting. The application does not call for any new square footage to be added to the brewery. Rather, around 1,260 square feet of existing retail, sampling and tour gathering space would be converted into the pub-restaurant and retail center, which would be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to the application.
“We are basically doing lunch,” Gerhart said. “We are not looking to offer bands and night life.”
Gerhart anticipates a “soup- and salad-type” menu, with the potential for sandwiches and burgers at a later date. He said the intent is for the pub-restaurant to serve as another hook to gain exposure for Otter Creek Brewing’s products.
“It is purely a marketing experience here,” said Gerhart, who believes a the larger numbers of visitors will go from the brewery to downtown Middlebury to shop at local stores and order more substantial meals from local restaurants.
If the permitting process goes smoothly, Gerhart anticipates the new pub-restaurant and visitors’ center could be open for business this winter.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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