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Vermont is suddenly awash in world-class beers

The Associated Press
Modified: April 19, 2013 at 3:16 pm •  Published: April 19, 2013

GREENSBORO, Vt. — Everyone expects Vermonters to wow the world with their maple syrup and cheeses. But lately the buzz has been about the brews.

Not that the craft beer movement is anything new to this tiny New England state, which sports the highest number of brewers per capita — roughly 25,030 people per brewery. But lately the attention those brewers have garnered is different. It's not a hey-they-have-great-beers-in-Vermont. It's a hey-they-have-the-best-beer-in-the-world.

No, really. Hill Farmstead Brewery recently was rated the world's best brewer on the popular international consumer review website,

And that has triggered a rush of beer enthusiasm — and enthusiasts — that has bordered on fanaticism. Since Hill Farmstead opened three years ago, beer tourists have been coming from around the world to visit the micro-brewery on a farm off a dirt road in Greensboro to buy growlers and bottles of brewer Shaun Hill's creations.

"It's like a cult following," said Ben King, who with his wife Sarah flew up from North Carolina to sample Vermont's beers. They even rented a car so they could stock it, then make the 13-hour drive home.

"As you can see it's definitely growing and I'm part of that crowd," said King, who was among the first in line at Hill Farmstead on a recent Saturday. "The beer's so good."

What's so good about it is the attention to detail and the flavor, said Joe Tucker, executive director of RateBeer, which in February named Hill Farmstead the world's best brewer — out of a pool of 13,000 — based on reviews of flavor, aroma, mouth feel and appearance.

"We're sort of at a point where people have progressed beyond just prizing big strong beer and so what they're looking for now is a more nuanced flavor," he said.

And flavor is something that Hill Farmstead does well, he said. "They've got a barrel aging program and they're getting a lot of interesting flavors out of the barrels. They've used wine barrels before," he said. They've also used zest and rind from citrus fruits.

Hill is modest about how the beer is made — it's hops, water, yeast — and agrees that it's very good, but not the world's best.

"We definitely put a lot of attention to detail. The process is very refined. It's not like a fortunate mistake or something. It's not like we don't know what we're doing and, 'Ah, we found gold out in the hills.' I've devoted my life to trying to make the best beer," said the 33-year-old.

Just as the artisanal cheese movement created its own culture in Vermont during the past 20 or so years, the craft beer industry has begun to do the same.

"A lot of that plays out to how and why you're starting to now see these little pockets of small breweries that are not trying to take over the world. They're simply trying to make world-class craft beers in the type and fashion that they want to enjoy them and there's many like-minded beer lovers out there that that's resonating with," said Julia Herz, a spokeswoman for the Brewers Association, a national nonprofit trade association.

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