New brewery, school proposed

MIDDLEBURY — A Salisbury couple is seeking permission to transform the former Dundon Plumbing & Heating headquarters at 610 Route 7 south into a small brewery and trade school for aspiring beer producers.
Steve Parkes and Christine McKeever-Parkes are advancing the project, which would provide a base of operations for the American Brewers Guild (ABG) Brewing School. Steve Parkes — former brewmaster for Otter Creek/Wolavers Organic Beers — has been leading the ABG’s school since the late-1990s.
The school’s six-month curriculum is primarily delivered through distance learning, with educational DVDs and on-line coursework requiring a commitment of at least 12 hours per week by each student. The course also requires hands-on work in the beer-making process, calling for students to perform unpaid apprenticeships with breweries and to gather for a culminating week to put their skills to the test.
Parkes was able to bring the students to test their skills and knowledge at Otter Creek Brewing’s facilities on Exchange Street in Middlebury when he became brewmaster at the company in 2003.
“I was able to run the school and the brewery at the same time,” Parkes said during a June 24 phone interview from Sacramento, where he was graduating his most recent ABG class.
“But it became too busy to do both jobs.”
Parkes left Otter Creek Brewing in 2008 to focus full time on the ABG Brewing School, which currently serves 50 students per year. The explosion in popularity of micro-brews has made the ABG a hot commodity. Parkes said the ABG’s on-line courses are booked into 2013.
Around 700 new breweries are in the planning stages in the United States right now, according to Parkes, who has a combined total of 29 years in the brewing industry in the U.S. and Great Britain.
“There are several breweries around the nation with entire staffs trained by us,” said Parkes, whose staff includes several prominent brewmasters from throughout the East Coast, including Paul Sayler of American Flatbread and Zero Gravity Brewing in Burlington, Vermont; Robb Todd, of Allagash Brewery in Portland Maine; Nick Funnel of Great American Restaurants in Northern Virginia; and Garret Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery.
While the ABG school has been able to offer its students hands-on training at various breweries, Parke believes it is time for the enterprise to lay down some roots. And he believes the former Dundon building would fit the bill quite nicely. He noted, in particular, a garage space at the west side of the building that has sloping floors and is already equipped with a central trench drain hooked up to the municipal sewer system.
“This represents an ideal space for a small brewing system,” Parkes wrote in his project narrative that will be considered by the Middlebury Development Review Board. The applicants are seeking a change in use for the property from retail to light industry/commercial school.
Parkes said the on-site brewery would not be a large-scale beer producer. He anticipates installing four fermentation vessels allowing for production of 1,000 gallons of beer in two 500-gallon batches.
While Parkes said the space would allow the ABG to expand its course offerings, he does not anticipate students to be on-site more than a combined total of 34 days per year, with up to 20 students per session.
With that in mind, he believes the property’s 19 parking spaces should suffice.
Beer made at the ABG location will be sold to the public and distributed via wholesalers to local, state and out-of-state customers under the “Freestyle Brewing Company” label, according to the project narrative.
“I have no dream of being as large as Otter Creek (Brewing),” Parkes stressed.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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