Excitement, suds brewing at new Middlebury beer school

MIDDLEBURY — For two decades, Salisbury residents Steve Parkes and Christine McKeever-Parkes had dreamed of owning and operating their own small brewery.
That dream is now becoming reality.
Workers on Tuesday were finishing installation of 10 gleaming stainless steel tanks and related conduits that will soon be producing 450-gallon batches of what will be the couple’s signature “Sunshine and Hoppiness” beer at Drop-In Brewing Company at 610 Route 7 South, former home of Dundon Plumbing & Heating.
And when Parkes isn’t making beer, he’ll be teaching others how to make it, as lead teacher of the American Brewers Guild (ABG) Brewing School, an enterprise he and his wife have been operating for the past 15 years.
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. But the school also requires students to put their skills to the test through apprenticeships and a week-long, culminating session here in Middlebury. That local session had been held at such Vermont breweries as Otter Creek Brewing in Middlebury (where Parkes once served as brewmaster) and most recently at the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor.
But Steve and Christine wanted their own place to brew and teach, and the former Dundon building offered the perfect layout for a brewery, classroom, lab and tasting facilities. The former Dundon warehouse, with its sloping floor, central drainage system and access to municipal water, offered ideal conditions for the brewery. The main building was an empty shell ready for a new tenant.
“If I were to design a building from the ground up to be a classroom brewery, it would have been very close to this,” Parkes said.
The facility will allow students to learn all phases of beer making, including quality assurance and marketing.
With craft beer comprising only 5 percent of the overall market, Parkes believes there is still plenty of room for more growth in the industry, and the applications for ABG reflect that sentiment. Most classes are booked two years out.
“Who knows where it will eventually go?” said Parkes, a highly decorated brewmaster with 30 years’ experience in the industry. “Craft beer would have to double to reach what imports are at. When you think of the trend of localization, of people getting in touch with more things made locally… the idea of craft beer becoming 10 percent of the market is not unfathomable, and we are only halfway there.”
The Parkes’ own beer label will be joining the market, perhaps as soon as next month. The year-round flagship brand will be Sunshine and Hoppiness, and from there, Parkes said, “we will do whatever takes our fancy.”
The new brewery features a tasting room at which visitors can consume small samples of the beer and purchase it in four-pint growlers. Parkes anticipates making several varieties per year that will be motivated by brewmaster inspiration rather than the season. The new equipment will be able to turn out 450 gallons of beer twice each week.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Parkes replied, when asked how much beer he would like the facility to produce annually. Some of the beer will be exported regionally and perhaps nationally in keg containers. Bottling or canning does not appear to be in the cards for the near future, given the expense of such an endeavor.
The couple noted the school and brewery will add some punch to the local economy. Parkes expects 25 students for the weeklong local sessions, of which there will be a handful throughout the year. He has calculated that those students — hailing from throughout the world — will conservatively spend a combined total of around $25,000 to $30,000 on local lodging, meals and other items.
Folks who stop in at the brewery for a growler will also be able to pick up a great sandwich or dinner. The Grapevine Grille has set up shop in the building. The Grapevine had been located a quarter mile further south down Route 7, and co-owners Nancy Geoghegan and Charlene Potter jumped at the opportunity to move into what they said was better space closer to town.
“We felt it was the perfect match and they felt it was the perfect match,” Geoghegan said. “It was serendipity. We are forever grateful to them for what they gave us.”
It was a collaboration that made sense for Christine and Steve.
“We have been huge fans of their food,” Christine said, adding the two business could work together to pair food and compatible brews.
The addition of a new brewery adds to a growing network of beer- and spirit-manufacturing concerns in Middlebury. The town already is home to Vermont Hard Cider, Otter Creek/Wolaver’s and a new whiskey distillery in Middlebury’s industrial park. Parkes sees the potential for a symbiotic relationship between all the players.
“There has been a spirit of cooperation as opposed to competition,” Parkes said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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