Duo opening brewery in downtown Brandon

BRANDON — Looking around a collection of freshly unboxed tanks, fixtures and other equipment in the Conant Block building one day last month, Pete Brooks said the space was finally starting to look like a brewery. 
“It’s a nice change of pace,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for so long.”
The three massive barrels arrived last month from Oregon. The boxes were so big they had to remove one of the massive windows at the front of the building to accommodate the delivery.
“Some of it could’ve fit through the door, but we didn’t want to uncrate it all on the sidewalk,” he said. “This stuff’s heavy too.”
Brooks is one of a three-man team behind Red Clover Ales, a new micro-brewery opening in downtown Brandon this fall. Recently, the team took a break from their installation work to describe their plans for what they hope will be a thriving local business opening this month.
Brooks has been home-brewing beer for the past six years. After developing brews with his two brothers-in-law, Riker Wikoff and Andrew Gates, they are taking their passion from casual hobby to fulltime profession. The trio named their operation after the state flower of Vermont, the Red Clover, a symbol of the state’s farms and fields. While managing a goat dairy farm in West Pawlet, they often encountered the small flower as a pasture and hay crop favored for rotational grazing.
The group has set up a small three-barrel brewing system in the Leary Building on the Conant Block in downtown Brandon. The space was formerly occupied by Blue Moon and Pale Horse Tattoo (both have since relocated in town). The space gets ample natural sunlight and features painted silver on the ceiling, wooden floors and a back wall custom stenciled with their clover. In the summertime, the windows are open to the sounds of the Neshobe River, which runs directly under the building. The brewery will feature a bar with eight of their beers on tap and seating for 45 people.
In developing their brewing style, the team has brewed kegs of beer for friends’ parties and weddings.
“It’s been a good place to get feedback,” he said. “At most of the weddings we do, we know the people getting married, but we don’t know most of the people there and they don’t know us. It’s nice to hear people tell us the beer is good.”
The brewery plans to produce a variety of styles of beer ranging from stouts to pale ales. Brooks is a fan of hop-forward tasting beers, but not the higher alcohol content typical of the style.
“You shouldn’t have to wait for your palette to calm down before you take another sip,” he said. “We like to brew drinkable beers that are also really flavorful.”
The space will allow visitors to bring their own food from local restaurants to enjoy at the brewery. Both Riker Wikoff and Brooks described visions of food trucks parked in front.
“We want to get the space open, get people in and serve them a product that we get great feedback on,” Wikoff said.
Red Clover Ales is the recipient of two loans that will help get the brewery up and running. In April, company received approval for a $40,000 loan from the town’s Revolving Loan Fund Committee and an additional $95,000 loan from the Vermont Economic Development Authority.
“It feels good to be paying that money back to the town and then it can go into the gap fund for someone else to start a business,” Brooks said. “It’s a cool way for us to start our business and keep the money in the town.”
Red Clover Ales will sell their beers by the glass and four-packs of cans exclusively from their brewery. They will not be using a distributor and won’t have to compete with other brands for shelf space.
“Part of our business model is to do it all on the premises,” Brooks said. “The profit margins are better and we feel like with this location we’ll have enough people stopping by to have a beer or grab a four-pack.”
Ultimately, Riker Wikoff said the commitment is to the beer.
“I consider it a success if people are driving to drink our beer as well as if people in town are drinking our beer,” he said.
Brooks agreed: “Anytime someone comes through the door a second time it’s a success.”

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