Article By: Fred Bouchard
Brandon Mayes waves his hand towards the burbling, rock-strewn brook that is the Ottaquechee River in August. “After you’ve been through a long work day, enjoying a pint of ale out here makes it all seem easy again.” We’re on the brewpub’s dining porch at Long Trail Brewing Company in Bridgewater, Vermont, and the young brewer/chemist is talking about water.
“At peak production,” says Mayes, “we use about 2O,OOO gallons a day, every drop supplied by our artesian well. The well-head is a wishing well for guests on this porch, right behind you.” We turn around, and there it is, half-filled with coins and a few bottle-caps.
Water’s a hot topic at Long Trail, as the brewery positions itself on the cutting edge of ecological friendliness and environmental consciousness. “We’ve whittled our ratio of water/beer down to an amazing 2.3 gallons > 1 gallon of brew,” continues Mayes. “That’s better than double the national average, and we’re proud of it.”
Since November 1989, Long Trail has been one of the signature microbreweries in the Vermont renaissance. Founded by Andy Pherson, now retired, Long Trail opened two miles up the road, still on Route 4, in the 185O-vintage Mill Building. The present facility, built in 1995, has, since 2OO6, installed four 18O-gallon fermenters, barely visible among the dozen others from the instructive and colorful visitor’s walkway. While the brewery’s footprint has remained constant for 1O years at 28,OOO feet, production has gone up over 2O%.
“We’re steadily growing,” comments Justin Pill, marketing director, “and we plan to keep it that way . . .” Long Trail bought Otter Creek Brewery (4O miles away in Middleboro) last January, with the full intention of maintaining its staff and brewing profile. Long Trail is also testing the waters in new markets: upstate New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland, and DC. That’s verging deep into Yuengling territory.
ECOBREW NEWS Long Trail’s Ecobrew philosophy – especially in the area of water conservation – won the brewery the coveted Vermont Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in 2OO9. (yankee magazine named them Reader’s Choice for 2O1O.) Mayes gives a brief recap: “Our heat recovery systems recapture kettle heat and uses exchangers that collect hot water for brewing the next batch.”
“Volatile Organic Scrubbers keep this place from smelling like a brewery!” he laughed. “The malt and hop aromas are scrubbed (with very light chlorine bath and filters) and are released as clean steam. We’re trying to reuse our clean affluent, by running it through a reverse osmosis system to water our garden. An in-house heat recovery system reduces our energy costs [saving 11OO gallons of propane a month] and recycles the steam into water. We’re working toward a complete recycling system; we reuse everything – kitchen oils, compost, glass.”
Later in his office, Comptroller Tom O’Grady explains how new bottles arrive at the brewery. “The trailer comes with air pillows around the pallets; we deflate those and put them back on the truck – recycled. We cut the shrink-wrap around the pallets and put it in a compactor – recycled. We cut off the green plastic straps and put them in a shredder – recycled. Bottles go into production. Pallets go back to the factory.” Very neat!
“Ecobrew helps maximize our environmental initiative and colors everything we do,” continues Mayes. “Whereas most breweries have to dump their brew-water and are taxed by their municipalities by volume, we have our own unique water reclamation system. We discharge directly into leach fields, and have very little ‘total suspended solids’. We also do nitrogen removal. We donate our spent grains to three dairy farms as cow fodder; Billy Gault delivers it in a big truck.
“We’re only the third brewery in America to be OSHA certified; the others are in Alaska and Colorado, I think. Everybody wears safety glasses here!”
SELECTION PROCESS Mayes warms up with some personal history. “I was a biologist, then moved on to fisheries biology at Dartmouth College, but I love to brew beer, and this job’s is a great fit.” Mayes works in the lab doing chemical analysis, occasionally brewing – he’s proud of his coffee stout, a Long Trail ‘Brewmaster’ brew.
“We don’t actually have a brewmaster,” explains Mayes, “but Matt Quinlan is our production manager. Brews evolve through the production system with quality control, quality assurance and strict maintenance. For product development, we have a small pilot system in which we make one 5-gallon batch after another until we get it right.
“Marketing and sales come up with niches to be filled, and we figure out the parameters by consensus. Alcohol? Bitterness? Hops? We set goals and try to hit the targets. If it needs aroma, we’ll increase the dry hops or aroma hops at the end of the boil. Then we set up tasting panels; we have an idea over time [which workers have] the good palates around here. Based on collective opinion, we’ll go back to the drawing board and tweak it one way or another, change one parameter at a time. Typically that’ll go 5 to 7 batches, then we’ll scale up directly to 6O-gallon batches.
“Our Pale Ale, first released in February, was developed that way. We were looking for an ale with good hop character, but not overly bitter. We wanted to brew it so people who didn’t think they liked beer would enjoy it – lots of cascade hops aroma, a reasonable 5% alcohol, with 35 IBUs [international bitter units] for middle-of-the-road bitterness. It’s one of my ‘go-to’ brews!”
Quality assurance on the brews takes up a lot of time, claims Mayes. “We check CO2 measurements and check biology samples to make sure everything’s clean enough. We follow QA from brew-house through packaging, every single batch. Our equipment’s become more sophisticated; we have our own GTMS [gas chromatograph] – it’s a super sniffer! It measures all the volatiles that escape into the headspace. Since most of your beer experience is olfactory, the GTMS detects and measures esters and hop aromas. A UV and visible spectrometer measures IBUs. Our hops mainly come from the three big: Hop Union, Seiner and Segal Ranch.”
Like many men of the mash, Mayes tracks his year by the brewer’s almanac. “Two summers ago,” he enumerates, “we introduced the Belgian Light and now it’s our regular summer seasonal. Blackberry Wheat goes year-round, but has extra summer season popularity. For fall we bring back our Harvest Ale, a fairly mild brown ale. We add very little maple syrup (too much in the boil gives it a winey character) from the maples of an employee. Hibernator comes out in winter; it’s like a strong Scotch ale, not overly hopped (28 IBUs), about 6%, and definitely malt, on the sweeter side. Double Bag and The IPA are growing double digits.”
BARRELS UP Modest growth is Long Trail’s conservative philosophy and gradual experimentations reflect that mindset. “We dipped our toe in the barrel-age arena at last summer’s Vermont Brewfest,” claims Mayes, “when we made a Belgian White that we fermented normally, but in an old bourbon barrel. Then we added unfermented wort to the barrel, six pounds of blackberries and champagne yeast, and let that go for a while. After a few months, the natural bacteria that live in the barrel started souring the beer a little, so it got very interesting. Everybody seemed to like it; it disappeared fast! That intriguing sourness made it somehow more refreshing than the 7.8% alcohol would lead you to believe.”
“The Brewmaster Series come out four times a year – with plain white labels in 22 ounce ‘bombers’. Coffee Stout, Double IPA, Imperial Porter, and Winter White – a double version of Belgian White,” says Mayes, proudly adding, “The first two started in my kitchen as house recipes, and had a life!”
GETTING THE WORD OUT O’Grady talks about Long Trail’s pursuit of sponsorship. “We like working with the local community. Long Trail of Vermont is an institution; we’ve contributed heavily to their Second Century Campaign.” Of course, skiing is the big thing. “Each major ski resort holds its own brew festival to precede the season,” explains O’Grady. “There’s Mount Snow in September, Killington in October and Attitash in November. We have partnerships with Ski Vermont.” Other sports get in their licks, too: Queechee Balloon Festival (Father’s Day weekend); Killington Stage Race (3-day cycling event, Memorial Day, 25O riders;) Boston/Cambridge’s fall classic Head of the Charles Regatta (mid-October).
And beer festivals have sprung up all over. “We have a presence at The Big E (Springfield, MA), the largest county fair in New England. We make the rounds to brewfests in Worcester, the Boston Beer Festival, Rhode Island’s Great International Beer Festival, Vermont Brewer’s Festival.” The label counts on branding through advertising and signage, like custom-made snowboards, sandwich boards for restaurants, bar signs (“no neon, we’re ecological!”).
“We feed information and articles to local newspapers depending on events. We contact the trade publications when we’re coming out with something new: yankee brew news, ale street news and beer advocate. And to local radio stations when we’re sponsoring events.”
To the public, Long Trail has a handsome, funky brewpub with a large deck and river views, a good kitchen, friendly
staff, a surprisingly informative self-guided brewery tour, a fun collection of beer bottles and cans, a push-pin map of North America (punch in!), and a large gift store with a wide range of branded items. The brewery maintains an unusually lively website with virtual brewery tour, on-line contests, events calendar, ecobrew pointers, and even whiff-o’-brew. Facebook? Why, natcherly.
O’Grady further discusses Long Trail’s pursuit of limited expansion. “Slow but steady, yes. We’re all about controlled growth. We’re in nine states at present: we want to go where the drinkers are, but not everywhere at once. People seem to understand the brand when they come to Vermont. That’s how we reached Pennsylvania; so many skiers came up here. We don’t want to put our beer in some area that doesn’t know us; we have to respect the limits of shelf life. Texans may call us and holler, ‘We need your beer, here! Now!’ But we have to tell them: ‘Say, try your own local craft beers.’ ”
IMPERIAL PORTER, BREWMASTER SERIES
Nearly black IPA made with Amarillo Hops, dense brown-black, chocolatey hue, bitter cocoa edginess, long finish. 8.3
DOUBLE IPA, SEASONAL BREW
Silky texture, fine head, soft orange amber, lengthy finish, delicious aftertaste. 8.8
BELGIAN WHITE, SUMMER BREW
Pale yellow, floral nose, orange peel (bitter and sweet) and fresh-ground coriander seed add to the complexity Finishes clean.
Very limited supply outside brewery: frustratingly difficult to find in bottles, even at local package stores. 8.6
HARVEST ALE, FALL SEASONAL BREW
Medium brown ale, good color, light middle flavor. 7.8
Long Trail Ale, Pale Ale, Double Bag, IPA, and Blackberry Wheat.
winter Hibernator; spring/summer Belgian White (coriander seeds, floral); and
fall Harvest [brown] Ale.
december-march Coffee Stout (made with Vermont coffee company); summer Double IPA;
fall Porter; and winter Centennial Red.