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City loan to help Vergennes brewer get its beers out to the masses

VERGENNES — The Vergennes City Council last week approved a $25,000 loan from a city fund to Barnumtown Distributors, a new entity that will partner with Bar Antidote and Hired Hand Brewery to help those businesses complete their expansion into the building they rent at the corner of Green and School streets.
Specifically, Barnumtown Distributors will meet Vermont’s legal requirement for producers of beer, wine or spirits to contract with a distributor to bring those products to third parties for sale.
And Barnumtown will stay in the family, according to Eliza Benton, the general manager of the two related restaurants and the brewery, which at this point produces and sells its beers and ales with a brewing and distributing agreement with Bristol’s Bobcat Café.
Now, she said, Chuck Huizenga, father of the restaurants’ chef, brewer and manager Ian Huizenga, is coming aboard as the distributorship’s principal owner.
When Hired Hand starts making beer in Vergennes, hopefully by midsummer when construction is complete and federal and state permits are in hand, Barnumtown can handle moving its products, probably to other area restaurants at first, Benton said.
“Now that we’re bringing some of the manufacturing in-house, it made sense for Chuck to start his own distribution company to work with us,” she said. “We’d love to distribute cans to stores, but mainly it’s going to be kegs to hopefully some local restaurants in and around Addison County.”
The loan to Barnumtown comes from the Maynard Building Revolving Loan Fund, which originated with a mid-1990s Community Development Block Grant. That $163,700 grant came in the form of a loan to a third party that helped pay for the renovation of a Main Street building into affordable housing.   AMONG THE BEERS that Ian Huizenga has created are the Hired Hand IPA, left, and the Hired Hand Pilsner.
Independent photo/Steve James
As that loan was repaid, the funds went to the city to create a revolving loan fund the city council could use to spark economic development in Vergennes. The council has loaned money to several city firms over the years, including downtown salon Shear Cuts.
Benton said the $25,000 itself, a five-year loan at 4 percent interest, is an important final piece of the puzzle as the two restaurants and the brewery take over a part of the building that until last summer was occupied by the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes.
“We already have the majority of the equipment we need to build out the brewery. But we needed some additional funding,” “It’s going to go mostly toward the final pieces,” Benton said, listing plumbing, coolers and final construction details.
Some of that work was necessary in order to license Chuck Huizenga as a distributor, she said: Vermont law requires distributors to have office space and at least one cooler.
“Finishing the space really goes hand-in-hand with Chuck being able to start his distribution company,” Benton said. “So while they are two separate businesses, they really rely on each other for success.”
The two restaurants and the brewery are occupying the entire building. The club’s former office space, closest to the upstairs Hired Hand Brewery, will be carved up into office space for the restaurants and Barnumtown in the rear, and a seating area toward the front, facing Green Street.
Benton said that space will be able to accommodate up to 30 patrons of the Hired Hand, or be rented out for private events, such as rehearsal dinners or other special occasions.
At times, she said, Hired Hand is doing so well the extra room, which should be ready in about a month, will be welcome.
“We realized after our Maple Madness event there was definitely a need for extra seating,” Benton said. “It’s a nice little option.”
To the left rear of the former youth club space will be coolers, and the brewing equipment will be in the front left, from the point of view of Green Street. Benton said the brewery will be installed to be seen by the public.
“Right in the front windows we put in some glass double doors so you’ll be able to see a lot of the equipment from the street, and from the overflow space you’ll be able to see into the brewery. It will be pretty cool,” she said.
Benton said the loan will play a key role in making all the plans become a reality, and that she and Ian and Chuck Huizenga appreciate city officials’ support.
“It was extremely important. We are excited to be able to brew in Vergennes. The whole goal was to be able to bring more people into Vergennes and have them stop in our community,” she said. “So the fact they recognized what we were trying to do and appreciated it was great.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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