Meet The Brewer: A Trip To Otter Creek Brewing Company
A few weeks ago, we traveled to beautiful Middlebury, Vermont where we made our way to Otter Creek Brewing Company. Not only did we get a private tour of their incredible brewery, we also got the chance to sit and chat with one of the coolest Brewmaster’s around, Mike Gerhart. We were thrilled that the crew at Otter Creek could take time out of their busy day to give us a behind the scenes tour of their amazing facility. We were warmly welcomed by Social Media Marketing Manager Ben Bonaccio and he gave us a brief overview of Otter Creek, it’s team and it’s awesome beer. After we chatted with him, he handed us our safety glasses and told us that Mike would be waiting for us in the brewery to give us the tour.
When you meet Mike, it’s like you’ve known him all your life. He has a very kind and laid-back demeanor, and immediately made us feel welcome. You can tell he has an extreme passion for beer and all that comes with brewing it. Mike came to Otter Creek in January of 2007. Since then, the Otter Creek team has grown and Mike now oversees the production and is also responsible for re-charging the Otter Creek and Wolaver’s Organic brands.
The tour began with Mike introducing us to a few of Otter Creek’s other key players, including Head Brewer and Production Manager Ryan Mckeon and Brewer Jim Lomax. We shook hands, exchanged a few words, then they were off to do that important stuff they do…brew the beer! Mike gave us the full rundown from start to finish, including how the beer is brewed, how it’s stored, bottled, packaged and sold. All in all, it was extremely exciting to see first hand how an operation of this size runs. You can really feel the positive energy on the brewing floor. It could have been the Grateful Dead playing in the background that made the vibe so relaxed, but every employee– whether they were brewing, bottling, or manning on the packaging line– they all had smiles on their faces. You could tell there was a great level of respect and love for the job. They run a tight ship, and you can tell. They work hard and produce some of the best beer in Vermont!
After the tour came to an end, we got the chance to sit in their Pub and Restaurant where we chatted with Mike for a little Q&A session. Want to know more about what we talked about? Read more here…
Q: Mike, what’s your favorite beer to brew?
A: As a Brewer, I prefer to brew the lower alcohol session beers, as they tend to be harder to brew. I like the challenge of making low alcohol beers and sticking to the specific style of this type of brew.
Q: You mentioned you use chocolate malts to brew some of your beers. Is there actually chocolate in the malt?
A: No, the way it’s roasted gives the malt a very mild cocoa, almost cacao flavor, but there is no chocolate in the malt.
Q: Do you ever brew cask conditioned ales?
A: We do! Every Friday, that’s our Firkin Friday brewing rotation. All we basically ask the brewer, is not to take any safe bets. We try to push the envelope and brew really interesting, unique casks. We’ve been brewing cask conditioned brews for quite awhile now, and it took some time for the hype to catch on, because people associate cask beers with tasting “warm” or “flat”, but realistically, cask ales are served at room temperature and are less carbonated than normal drafts. Now, our customers have really come to enjoy them and often show up for our Firkin Friday events all the time now!
Q: Do you ever experience with brewing sour beers?
A: A little. We don’t really have room in our large tanks to experiment with sour brews. We did however, do a collaboration with Zero Gravity Brewery in Burlington, were we made a sour beer called the Berliner Weisse, which is a German sour beer, that we brewed for the Vermont Brewers Festival last year. Sour beers are something that as we evolve, we would definitely be into brewing, but at the moment, we are sticking to what we do best. Perhaps in the future we’ll try one.
Q: Do you ever experiment with barrel-aged brews?
A: Sometimes, at the moment, we offer an aged Russian Imperial Stout, which is a highly coveted beer here. When we can find the time to brew them we try to fit it in, but it’s not something that gets brewed all the time. Finding the time is the hardest part, but we’re always open to adding that into the mix.
Q: What do you do with your spent grain and yeast?
A: We actually give it to a local farm. All the spent grain and yeast and anything that liquefies on the floor, we segregated it, then it’s pumped out right to the source. They can use it to feed their animals or use it as fertilizer. It’s always something that we’ve always done and we’re glad to be helping out our local farmers.
Q: What’s in store for the future at Otter Creek?
A: I’ve been here eight years, and I don’t see myself going anywhere. I love my job. We’ve got a solid team, we’re passionate and we love what we do. We’re going to continue to give our customers the highest quality and tastiest beers we can brew and continue to push ourselves stylistically and experimentally to produce new and exciting beers for you to enjoy!
We want to thank Brewmaster Mike, Social Media Manager Ben and the entire Otter Creek crew for letting us indulge in a true craft brewing experience in Vermont! Keep up the good work!