Shaun Hill is the Walter White of beer. The guy has the training, the skill and the general knowledge and know-how to craft beers that will knock your socks off. And that’s exactly what he’s doing at Hill Farmstead. Want to try ‘em? First you have to figure out how the hell to get there.
Approximately 10 minutes from Hill Farmstead, you’ll assume your GPS is broken. Our unit suggested we turn down an unpaved road covered in snow with zero tire tracks on it. It hadn’t snowed in two days. These twists and turns and bumpy roads are worth it, however, when you eventually emerge at Hill Farmstead and, well, not a whole lot else.
We meet Shaun in his house, the house he grew up in, which is adjacent to the retail shop and brewing area. The sense of family and community you feel in Vermont is never more evident than it is at Hill Farmstead:
“Every decision I made was for the best of my family,” Shaun says. “My mom and dad both help out at the brewery. My dad was a logger for a very long time, and one of the goals of the brewery was to get him out of that.”
In fact, as we speak to Shaun on the little enclosed patio in his house, his brother is outside helping with the current construction going on and his mother calls him to chat. Another perfect example of this, the names of most of Hill Farmstead’s beers. Outside of the ones tagged with a name derived from a philosophical work, the beers are named after Shaun’s ancestors. Slapped on the side of each bottle is a short story about who the person is, each ending with, “. . . this is the ale I dreamed to have shared with _______ .” Hell, even the logo Hill Farmstead uses is from a sign that Shaun’s great, great, great grandfather had hung in his tavern just up the road in the early 1800’s.
You look around the old house, the fields and the brewing barn and feel like you’re over one of your friend’s houses, only your friend happens to brew world class beer in his yard.
Long before Rate Beer named Hill Farmstead the best brewery in the world, Shaun worked at The Shed and Trout River – two other Vermont breweries – before going off to brew in Copenhagen and learn there.
“When I left for Denmark, the only sort of beer bar in the state was American Flatbread. If it wasn’t for Three Penny Taproom and The Farmhouse Tap & Grill, I’m not sure the beer scene in Vermont would have changed so rapidly.”
When he returned home, he spent a great length of time developing his business plan for Hill Farmstead. It was a challenge, and a daunting one he says, to realize that if it was going to work, he was going to have to do almost everything himself with the help of his brother. If you show up on a bottle release day these days, you’ll see just how much it did work. Lines form long before the retail shop opens with folks traveling from all over to snag a couple of bottles.
“I remember talking to John [Kimmich of The Alchemist] a long time ago about how our bottle releases were going and he was talking about doing Heady Topper in a bottle at the time. Then Sean Lawson [Lawson's Finest Liquids] started talking about upgrading his brewhouse and it was around then that a lot more traffic started coming in. It’s crazy to think about how far it’s come in three-and-a-half years”
Shaun likes to look back and talk about what it was like brewing in Vermont back in the day. In fact, a lot of brewers who have been in the state for sometime do. The insane rise in popularity is not lost on these guys.
“It’s come so far that you could easily say Northern Vermont is one of the top three beer destinations on the east coast. There’s no other place where you can get Lawson’s, Hill Farmstead, and The Alchemist, but then also get The Bruery, Cigar City and others from outside Vermont too.”
So, what about his beer? Is it worth making the trek for? In two words: Hell yes. Listen, taste is subjective, and we won’t sit here and say Hill Farmstead will be the best beer everyone will ever try, however, in our opinion, the brewery exceeds the piles of hype. We didn’t try a beer that was, at the least, exceptional. Each was soft and elegant. Where as some great beers are a Mack truck of flavor pile driving your tongue, Shaun’s brews are a symphony. Is it the well water? Probably somewhat. Is it Shaun’s skill? Yeah, that too, obviously. Is it something else you can’t quite figure out? It really is. All we can say, take the trip to Vermont, sample some of the amazing beers throughout the state, and don’t hop on a plane home without navigating the dirt paths to Hill Farmstead. Cheers!