802 BWS is a beverage, wine and spirits store located on North Avenue in Burlington. Formerly the Merola’s Market, the 802 BWS store relocated less than a mile down the road in the Ethan Allen Shopping Center. They are located between Aaron’s and Snap Fitness. The 802 BWS store is also a Vermont State Liquor outlet, carrying over 1200 wines, a wide variety of spirits, an impressive craft beer selection as well as a 12 tap growler station. Their growler station typically has eight or nine Vermont craft brews on at all times and they fill 32oz. & 64oz. growlers. They also offer “featured tastings” a few times a month, where a representative from a specific sponsor comes in and offers free samples of their products. Need a keg filled? They can do that too!

The 802 BWS store carries some of our top Vermont brands such as Otter Creek, Switchback, Wolaver’s, Woodchuck Cider, Boyden Valley and Magic Hat. We thought we’d take the opportunity to highlight the unique Vermont store, and interview their Growler Supervisor Cian McGuire. Our first encounter with Cian was on Twitter. We often noticed That802BeerGuyretweeting and favoriting our posts. We were thrilled to know that we had such a dedicated fan following us, and sharing his passion for craft beer and the industry. From this, we thought it would be fun to meet Cian and ask him a few questions about himself, his job, how he got into the craft beer scene and also because he seemed like an interesting guy.

We met with Cian earlier this week and decided that the taproom at Switchback Brewery would be the perfect place to meet and enjoy a few pints while we chatted. It was a dreary Monday afternoon, so sitting indoors and sipping on delicious craft beer was the perfect setting for a casual interview. We sampled a few beers, then ordered our beverage of choice and got down to business. Here is our Q & A of that conversation:

Baker: When did you end up in Vermont?

Cian: The tail-end of 2010. It’ll be five years in December.

Baker: Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself?

Cian: I’m a 33 year old artist/sculptor/photographer/musician/jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none who’s worked a long and varied selection of jobs in my 17 years in the workforce mostly concentrating in sales and customer service. I have at various times slung cheesesteaks, wings, and deli meats; worked retail in a department store, a Deck the Walls, a Verizon Wireless, and an American Eagle; QC’d at a rolled metals producer; worked for a direct mailer; oversaw the weekend produce section of a local, organic foods market; and currently am Growler Supervisor at 802 BWS, bartending at La Boca Pizzeria, and as of (hopefully) this weekend working sales with Four Quarters Brewing. It’s been a long and varied employment history during which I’ve been grateful to learn the ins-and-outs of an endless series of disciplines.

Baker: You mentioned you got into the craft beer industry by accident. Can you expand on that?

Cian: My love for a good beer was something that blossomed during my explorations of the burgeoning mid-aughts craft beer scene. Growing up in Philadelphia my first exposure to brews were Yuengling and Guinness – that quickly branched out to the likes of Magic Hat, Victory, Stoudt’s, and Lionshead, along with a heavy compliment of great, established European breweries like Franziskaner and Weihenstephaner. I came to learn to appreciate an enormous variety of beers; even today, a brew has to work very hard for me to not find some aspect of it that I can enjoy. However, it had never been a deliberate cultivation of a palate or experience to further my professional goals. So, in that manner, I have come to call this career trajectory “accidental”.

Baker: How long have you worked at 802 BWS?

Cian: I have worked at 802 BWS since March of last year when the 10,000 square foot beer, liquor, and wine superstore was still the slightly smaller Merola’s Market.

Baker: Were you involved with setting up the growler program at 802 bws?

Cian: I wasn’t involved in the initial formulation of the growler program – the owner of 802 BWS, Jason Beaudoin, originally had the idea. I have, however, been instrumental in overseeing the day-to-day maintenance and week-to-week cultivation of product, and I proudly believe a big driver of our early success has been my establishing a rapport with our customer base.

Baker: How often do you hold tasting events at 802 BWS?

Cian: A few times a month – we’re looking at expanding the tasting program this summer for our anticipated larger customer base.

Baker: What are some upcoming tastings that are happening?

Cian: We are featuring a Smugglers Notch tasting this Saturday, May 23rd at 4pm. We also have Two Roads Brewing Company from Stratford, CT, scheduled for Friday, June 5th.

Baker: How have you seen the craft beer industry change over the years?

Cian: Oh man, I could discuss this particular question for hours, but I’ll keep it short and say that the evolution of the sophistication of both product and consumer has been the biggest driver for change. One could – even as recently as a few years ago – make a decent, if not overly profitable, living making mediocre beer that those inclined to enjoy would see favorably and continually return to. I think at this state of maturation of this still-nascent industry that such a thing is not really possible anymore – which is of the biggest benefit to those devotees of craft, both new and old.

Baker: You mentioned to us that you are interested in making a film about Vermont Pub & Brewery’s legendary owner Greg Noonan. Can you tell us more about that?

Cian: Mr. Noonan has done so much for the furtherance of this industry and altered my own personal trajectory in this field that I feel compelled to try to give something back. Every person who interacted with Greg has a plethora of stories to tell about him, his personality, and his generosity of spirit. This coupled with the significance of his actions in the craft scene cements his legacy. I wish to celebrate that.

Baker: What is the one thing you like most about working in the craft beer industry?

Cian: Getting to share my love and experience with a diverse crowd of consumers. Their experiences further color my knowledge base and their receptiveness to me and my suggestions is gratifying and rewarding in a manner I’ve not experienced elsewhere in my life.

We want to thank Cian for taking the time to meet with us to talk shop about the 802 bws, himself and the craft beer industry. We look forward to possibly partnering with 802 BWS in the future, so stay tuned!

Have you had the chance to visit 802 BWS? Share your experiences with us!

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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.

otter-creek-3When 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…

otter-creek-2Q: 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.

otter-creek-1Q: 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!

A few weeks ago, we traveled to the beautiful Boyden Valley Winery & Farm located in a restored 1875 carriage barn in Cambridge, Vermont. We got to tour their amazing facility, and also learn more about Boyden Valley Winery and all the delicious wines and ciders they produce on premise. It was a crisp, cold winter day when we arrived. When we entered their doors, we immediately felt welcomed and were greeted by a warm smile from Bridget Jones, the Wine Room Manager and Events Coordinator, who introduced herself and gave us some useful information on the four generation family farm, where they craft wines that feature only the finest locally grown fruit from the earthy soils of the Lamoille River Valley. Bridget also informed us that Boyden Valley was the first craft distillery company in the U.S. to specialize in cream liqueurs. In addition to their wines and liqueurs, they make two hard cider varietals as well as few ice cider varietals.

boyden-4After learning all about the history of Boyden Valley Winery and Farm, we got the chance to meet Wine and Cider Maker Tom Lambert, who was very eager to let us tour the Winery & Cidery production facility. He brought us into where all the magic happens and we got to see first hand where the wine is processed, produced, distilled and then bottled. He very thoroughly explained how the grapes get pressed, or crushed, fermented in stainless steel tanks, filtered, then aged in French oak barrels. The red wine goes into the vat, with yeast, some nutrients, as well as other elements to help enhance the wine. It takes anywhere from three days to a month for the wine to ferment, depending on the type of wine their making. The higher sugar content wines typically take a lot longer to ferment, because they have more sugar to convert to alcohol. The yeast then eats the sugar, then alcohol is created. From there, they begin the aging process. White and red wines differ in their processes of aging. For example, white wines made this winter will be processed in late September, and bottled in early Spring. At the end of the tour, Tom took us to where they bottle and label their products and how that process works.

boyden-1After Tom explained in great detail the process of making their wines, he led us to the tasting room, where Bridget was also present to share the details on other products they produce, including dessert specialty wines, ice ciders, hard ciders (one which is aged in double bourbon barrels) and also cream liqueurs.They talked about a process called cold soaking, which increases color extraction and flavor components, that help the liquids ferment in open-top maple tanks. They will also ferment cranberries and black currants in the next couple weeks and add these ingredients to new wines or liqueurs. Lastly, Tom mentioned that he has currently been spending his time pruning the vines at the vineyard until Spring arrives. He mentions that “pruning the vines is the single most important process in the vineyard because it determines your next year’s crop. You’re creating a balance between vegetative growth and fruit growth so that you have optimal fruit quality to help ripen the fruit to its fullest”.

We got to chat a bit more in depth with Bridget, and she filled us in on all the exciting and upcoming fun events they have planned. This weekend, which happens to be Valentine’s Day, the winery is involved with the Vermont Grape and Wine Council’s Wine & Chocolate Weekend taking place this Saturday and Sunday, February 14th & 15th, where they are participating with a local chocolate maker, and offering free chocolate boyden-3fondue paired with a local wine tasting. There will also be offering horse-drawn sleigh rides along the vineyard for added fun. They also have an annual Maple Sugar Festival coming up, on March 28th & 29th where you can enjoy sugar on snow as well as demonstrations on how to make homemade VT maple syrup, which the family farm has been producing since 1914 using their wood-fired evaporator. In addition to the tastings at the winery, there also offer free tours. They have an event loft that can be rented out for special events as well.

We encourage you to take a trip to the Boyden Valley Winery & Farm and experience a tour, tasting or event for yourself and enjoy a true Vermont winery experience. Have you ever tried any Boyden Valley products? Which ones are your favorite? Share your comments with us on Facebook!

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