Press Clips: Hill Farmstead Caps Growth; Greg Koch Offers Marketing Tips

Maybe it’s the scarcity. Maybe it’s the water quality. Whatever “it” is, one thing’s certain — there is an undeniable mystique to many of Vermont’s 32 craft breweries.

One of the more mysterious figures on the Vermont craft beer scene is Shaun Hill, owner of the highly regarded Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, Vt.. A recent New York Times piece profiled Hill and his thriving brewery business — one that he plans to double next year.

But unlike other craft brewery owners, many of whom are also adding capacity to keep up with growing demand, Hill said he plans cap production at 150,000 gallons, or about 4,800 barrels. Hill Farmstead is capable of producing about 2,000 barrels of beer annually in its current footprint.

“I didn’t start this brewery so I could keep growing and move it away from here; that wasn’t the point,” he told the Times. “It wouldn’t be fun anymore. It wouldn’t have purpose or meaning.”

Hill is strident in his belief that beer should be consumed fresh. He likens the product to other perishable items ‘like lettuce or broccoli,’ he told the Times.

So, to ensure freshness, Hill Farmstead product doesn’t travel far. The beer is currently only available at the brewery and a handful of bars and restaurants in Vermont. On rare occasions, the brewery will ship about a dozen kegs to distributors in New York and Pennsylvania, the article notes.

The scarcity factor drives many thirsty visitors to Hill’s brewery each year, but they aren’t just stopping in Greensboro. About an hour southwest of Hill Farmstead, in Waterbury, Vt., is the equally-praised Alchemist Cannery, known for its popular Heady Topper double IPA.

The fanfare surrounding Heady Topper reached a fever pitch last November when the brewery, which had been selling about 70 percent of its beer out of a small retail space at the brewery, was forced to shut down its retail operation after a neighbor complained about increasing traffic.

But unlike Shaun Hill, Alchemist owners Jen and John Kimmich aren’t planning to slowdown production any time soon. In fact, the brewery announced on its blog yesterday that it has begun a search for a secondary brewing location. The new facility would produce beer for on-premise sales and would also feature a large tasting room and retail shop.

While Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist have thrived on word-of-mouth marketing, Stone Brewing Co. took a slightly different approach when it launched in 1996. A recent Inc. Magazine article details some of the techniques company founder Greg Koch has deployed over the last 18 years. It notes that Stone has grown into a $100 million enterprise — without advertising.

Koch said the brewery benefitted from embracing its status as an outcast, embodied in part its tagline for Arrogant Bastard Ale: “This is an aggressive beer. You probably won’t like it.”

“We enjoy poking fun at sheeplike consumerism and taste,” he told Inc. “I’m picking a fight with the idea that beer is nothing more than the industrialized stuff of the TV commercials.”

But don’t expect to hear from Koch after Valentine’s Day. The bearded brewer is about to embark on a four-month sabbatical, according to U-T San Diego.

“I am going off the communications grid,” Koch told the website.

After Stone sold 212,000 barrels in 2013, Koch told the website that he needs to “recharge his creative batteries.” Travel plans include spending time in New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania and undetermined parts of Southeast Asia.

Meanwhile, Washington D.C.-based Bluejacket brewery has parted ways with its head brewer, Megan Parisi, the Washington Post reports. Owen Miller, who served as an assistant at Hill Farmstead as well as an apprentice at “several breweries in Europe,” will join the Bluejacket brewing team.

Lastly, a new crop of craft beverage entrepreneurs is beginning to take shape. Forbes recently named four young beer and cider makers to its annual 30 Under 30 list. Meg Gill (28), the co-founder of Los Angeles-based Golden Road Brewing as well as Downeast Cider founders Matt Brockman (27), Tyler Mosher (25) and Ross Brockman (25) were selected in the Food & Wine category.

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