Every year from May through October, the Brattleboro Farmers’ Market offers visitors a snapshot of southern Vermont’s bounty. The stalls of local growers, brimming with heirloom tomatoes, bins of arugula, and bunches of carrots caked with dirt, share space with potters and cheesemakers. The scene is thoroughly New England.
Drive past a covered bridge a short ways into downtown Brattleboro and you’ll find a brewery operating in that same spirit. Since late 2014, Hermit Thrush Brewery has been working with local farmers to add hops, pumpkins, cherries, and other Vermont ingredients to its beers. The brewery’s yeast is sourced locally. Brewing equipment is heated by wood pellets.
“We’ve never burned a dinosaur to make our beer,” says Chrisopher Gagné, the company’s brewmaster.
Hermit Thrush is the product of Gagné and Avery Schwenk, who decided from the beginning they were only going to brew sours. What that means in Hermit Thrush’s case is a dizzying variety ranging from Party Guy, a 3 percent ABV kettle-soured session beer, to Stickney Kriek, brewed with local cherries and aged an average of 10 months in red wine barrels. Made from a bready base beer, the finished product is very dry and very sour.
“The outside pits of the cherries have a lovely tannin that sort of mimics the red wine barrel,” says Gagné. “It’s the full taste of the cherry, not just the juice. And of course you get the wild yeast from the peel.”
Vermont food and drink is nothing if not seasonal, and Hermit Thrush stays true to that philosophy.
“Once a year we kind of quit everything else that we do, and for two or three weeks all we do is hoppy sours,” says Gagné.
One of them, 4* Centennial, is made with hops from Four Star Farms in Northfield, Mass., added to the beer hours after being picked.
“We don’t lose anything in the shipping or drying process,” says Gagné. “Even one day makes a huge difference.”
The brewer notes that terroir plays an influence on the centennial hops from Four Star, which are fruitier and less piney than those grown on the West Coast.
This fall, Hermit Thrush will treat drinkers to two pumpkin beers. One, called Fallow Harvest, is made with heirloom pumpkins from last year’s harvest (Gagné’s neighbor grows them) and aged in oak barrels. The other, Tardy Harvest, highlights fresh pumpkin. “We don’t use spices,” says Gagné. “It allows you to actually taste the pumpkins rather than pumpkin’s culturally associated flavor.” Hermit Thrush (29 High St., Brattleboro, Vt.) is open for growler fills, can sales, and tastings seven days a week.