Business is brewing on Middlebury’s Exchange Street

MIDDLEBURY — Two popular beverage companies in Middlebury’s industrial park are rolling out new ventures aimed at delivering their respective products to a growing number of fans.
Otter Creek Brewing (OCB) is pursuing a 7,195-square-foot brew-house addition for its headquarters at 793 Exchange St. that would allow the company to more than double its annual production of 65,000 barrels of beer.
And practically next door at 1197 Exchange St., Vermont Coffee Co. (VCC) recently opened a new café that is providing visitors an on-site taste of the company’s coffee, along with basic breakfast and lunch items and free wi-fi.
The proposed addition at OCB is just the latest example of the company’s steady growth since its founding in 1991.
Most recently, in 2010, OCB completed an expansion project that provided for six new fermenters that added 30,000 barrels to its production capacity, along with a state-of-the-art filling machine that has helped the company meet the growing demand for its current eight varieties of beers.
Daniel Fulham, president and CEO of Otter Creek Brewing, said the brew-house addition is the first in a three-phase master plan of upgrades envisioned at OCB’s Exchange Street headquarters into 2017 and beyond.
Phase II will involve expansion of the company’s retail, restaurant and pub areas. The restaurant and pub have become an increasingly popular place for locals and visitors to grab a beer and various food selections, including sandwiches and lunch specials. That project is likely to be initiated next year, Fulham said during a phone interview on Thursday.
Phase III, to be launched in 2017 at the earliest, calls for growing the company’s warehousing and packaging hall.
For now, OCB officials are focused on the beer-house project, which has already received a favorable review from Middlebury’s Development Review Board. Once completed, the project will allow OCB to ramp up annual beer production to as many as 200,000 barrels.
“We’re hoping to begin construction by late July,” Fulham said, a timetable that would allow for the new space to be buttoned up before the snow flies this winter and completed by next March.
“Our need for expansion is driven by the growth we are experiencing in our brands during the past few years,” he added.
Fulham praised Bread Loaf Corp. in designing an addition that features copious amounts of glass that will give passersby on Exchange Street a sense of the beer making process inside.
Meanwhile, at VCC, coffee devotees are now getting an on-site taste of the company’s products in a new café that has been getting a nice following during the few weeks it has opened.
Lily Hinrichsen, head of marketing for VCC, noted that company founder and CEO Paul Ralston has had a long desire to once again operate a café, something he experienced in Bristol around 35 years ago.
“It’s a life dream for me,” Ralston stated through a press release announcing the opening of the café. “I love coffee culture, and a good coffee house is the ultimate expression of my coffee philosophy.”
Ralston added the connection between coffee and community has always been important to him.
“The slogan of our company is ‘Coffee Roasted for Friends,’” he said, “and a café is where a community is formed and friends are made.”
So it seemed only natural that when VCC was performing some recent interior renovations at its Exchange Street space that it would carve out an area for a café.
“We were already knocking walls down and we figured, ‘Why not put the café right here?’” Hinrichsen recalled.
The café’s offerings include fresh-roasted brew and espresso drinks, “simple breakfast and lunch,” “grab ’n go items,” the sale of coffee by the pound, and wi-fi. The new venture is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Hinrichsen explained the café’s main purpose is to provide a comfortable setting in which to showcase VCC’s wares and related food. She was pleased to report the café is being frequented by people from far and near. She noted there are approximately 67 businesses on Exchange Street whose employees have been looking for a spot to fill the coffee/snacks void since the closing of Greg’s Meat Market and the temporary closing (for expansion and renovations) of the Maplefields on North Pleasant Street. Vermont Coffee workers distributed flyers to folks near those two closed locations informing them about the new café a week before its opening.
The café has also given folks a window into a company that they had previously driven past and knew little about, Hinrichsen said. The Café features seating for 25 at a series of 10-foot-by-3-foot community tables made from wood harvested from Ralston’s land in Randolph. The benches were made by VCC’s master roaster, Dave Bedard.
“We know how people have their (coffee) routine,” Hinrichsen said. “We’re hoping we can win some people over and be (part of the routine) for them.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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