Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Beer Pilgrimage: Hill Farmstead

I reconnected with an old friend from college, Shaun Hill, who has since become the bees knees of craft beer.  

His brewery, Hill Farmstead, was voted best brewery in the world according to in 2017, and has been voted #1 5 out of the last 6 years.

Normally I scoff at rankings as such, and was ready to be disappointed.  Instead, I can tell you without hesitation, that Hill Farmstead is the real deal, head and shoulders above other top-notch brewers that are doing unfiltered "hazy" beers.  He said that a customer came in and asked, "Do you have any New England IPAs?"   Which is hilarious because Shaun started what became that trend.  He was literally five years ahead of the rest of the pack.  And even though other brewers brew hazy now, they are not doing it with the intentionality and attention to detail necessary to craft at similar quality to Hill Farmstead.

In fact, the next morning after my visit, I woke up at 4am, completely humbled, realizing that nothing I will ever do in life, in bread, in art, will likely ever come close to the excellence Shaun has achieved in beermaking.

I have written previously about the perfectly realized chef in his philosophical domain in reference to Francis Malmann.  Shaun Hill is the first person I could say I met in the flesh who satisfies that criteria.  He is making beer perfectly in tune with his person and his philosophy, and the result is sublime.

In the hour and a half we spent together, it was clear that Shaun's nose is only part of the equation.  He is detail oriented on a level we normal folks cannot comprehend.  He is tirelessly seeking moments of transcendence in beer, and I was extremely proud to see him getting the recognition he deserved.  People spotted him in the taproom and came up just to say how certain beers really impressed them and congratulated him on the expansions to the brewery that he's made in recent years.

We spoke also about the future, and it's clear that Shaun is tied to the family land there, having purchased adjacent properties with hope of conserving the land and protecting its wildlife, trees, and watershed.  He seemed interested in the idea of responsible development in his little neck of Greensboro, VT, where perhaps people might find not only a dirt road leading up to a world class brewery, but an entire community of people sharing in the land and its beauty.

Some highlights:

"We brew 50 wine barrels worth of Anna, and I sample each one at the end of two years aging, and the one that makes my hair stand up on end becomes an Ann."  We tasted that beer - it's nuance and complexity was amazing.

Tasting a young unaged beer that would become this year's Leaves of Grass.



A young Vera Mae for which the yeast had not even been dropped.  It's interesting that Shaun crowd-sources folks to pick the 60kg or so of dandelion needed for this beer.

Two pilsners, one aged, and one unaged.  These might have been some of the finest pilsners I've ever tasted.  I asked Shaun if he felt like he could compete with the pilsners of Germany and Western Europe - he said emphatically "yes".

Shaun showing us the barrel-aging program

Shaun and Ari


Beer Menu

Pilsner off the fermenter

A Hill Farmstead logo miche Alex Ruch from the Bakery produced especially for the occasion
The taproom

Retail to-go sales

Edward at The Bench in Stowe.  Literally a perfect pour

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