Otter Creek Brewing by: Sean Creevey
Tucked away in the most brewery-dense state, there lies a precious gem unlike any other. In the town of Middlebury, Vermont, Otter Creek Brewing Company reigns supreme. Vermont has the highest number of craft breweries per capita in the country, so you could say the locals have some experience with craft brews. This craft-brew-educated audience requires the local breweries to maintain a high level of quality and ingenuity if they want to stay alive. With twenty years of brewing experience, Otter Creek Brewing has proven itself time and time again. Not only is Otter Creek created out of Middlebury, but there are two other brands coming out from under the same roof. Otter Creek is brewed right alongside Wolaver’s Organic and The Shed brands, all with their own unique history, style and practice. Just in case it wasn’t impressive enough to have three starkly different lines of brews coming out of one building, the whole operation is run by one man. To the beer drinkers of Vermont, this man, Mike Gerhart, is more than your typical brewmaster: he’s a rock star. Mike manages to give all his brands the care and attention that is needed in order to produce quality craft brews. The seemingly impossible task of having organic and non-organic side by side in the same building is masterfully tackled and executed with organization, dedication and grace. By the sagely practices and knowledge that Mike gives to Otter Creek there is more than a brewery under his control; Otter Creek Brewing Company is a trifecta of brewing ingenuity and craftsmanship, mimicked by many, mastered by Mike.
The beauty of Otter Creek is their ability to grow and still feel like the brewery you knew and loved all those years ago. Their consistency with staying true to their local roots in the face of expansion allows for us Pennsylvanians to reap the delicious benefits. Otter Creek began brewing their Copper Ale in 1991, limited only to a local audience. Then, only four years later, in 1995, they had outgrown their operation and moved down the road to their current location. It’s here that they really started to come into their own. Since their relocation they have been consistently upgrading and expanding, moving out of the Vermont scene and now distributing to fifteen states. Even now, as I write this, the expansion continues with brand new fermentation tanks being added to the facility to up their capacity by approximately 10,000 barrels. What’s more is that they are also acquiring a new, custom-made, filler that will make the brewery state-of-the-art and allow more of their tasty beverages to reach our thirsty mouths. However, with all this technological advancement and increase in production, Otter Creek hasn’t lost touch with their roots. They’ve stayed true to being a local brewery, maintaining a high level of environmental and social awareness, never losing sight of the community that made them who they are today.
Wolaver’s is the organic line coming out from under the Otter Creek roof. What really makes Wolaver’s special is that it’s all organic, and I mean completely organic. Wolaver’s was the first USDA certified all organic brewery and was all organic before it became a trend. Somewhere along the way “organic” became synonymous with less flavor, or otherwise generally lacking something that their non-organic counterparts had. The reality of Wolaver’s is the complete opposite of this idea; the organic pieces to the beer puzzle actually lend a hand to having some of the best and purest brews around. Wolaver’s came to be at Otter Creek because of the quality of the production that was coming out of Otter Creek at the time. Now you might ask yourself how can part of a brewery be organic and another not? Well it just so happens that Otter Creek is so meticulously organized that everything is clearly marked and separated, that it doesn’t hinder the operation of any of the brands under their roof.
The Shed, long a staple of locals and hard-core skiers, has not always been with Otter Creek either. The Shed was a restaurant and brewpub on the access road to the largest mountain in the state. The elusive Mountain Ale and IPA were sought after and only able to be drunk outside of the pub in growler form, and it was through this that the popularity of Shed grew. Eventually the original owner wanted to retire, but he didn’t want to just abandon Shed to the highest bidder, he wanted someone who would treat it with the same amount of care and the right philosophy. Oh, and of course, he wanted it to stay local—that’s where Otter Creek comes in; they purchased the brand, the building, the recipes and hired their brewer. They remained in tap form until last year when they started filling bottles and putting them in six-packs. Now they ship their delicious nectar to New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
Each of the Otter Creek, Wolaver and Shed brands has something unique to offer to quench those thirsty pallets; some time-tested, some testing the waters and some looking to be tested by you!
Otter Creek’s Copper Ale is a local classic, being the first beer brewed by Otter Creek back in 1991. Copper Ale is an altbier (German brown ale) that nails the ratio of body and drinkability. A pure copper color with plenty of caramel malt notes is perfectly balanced with a slight hop taste. A classic, time-tested brew that’s perfect during a Pens’ game when you’re looking for a flavorful beer you can throw back with your buddies. It has a 5% ABV.
Wolaver’s Wildflower Wheat is a whimsical whirlwind of wheat and wildflower honey. Wolaver’s newest addition, it is an unfiltered American pale wheat ale with locally produced wildflower honey and of course, it’s all organic. It pours a hazy orange color with a crisp white head. The sweet wheat and malt flavors are balanced by the presence of tangy lemon and a fair amount of carbonation. This is the perfect brew for the slow transition out of the grey Pittsburgh winter, a gentle reminder of the sun to come! It has a 4.25% ABV.
Shed’s Mountain Ale is a trendsetter, having a kick with a smooth taste. With a solid 7% ABV this unfiltered English strong ale has pronounced caramel and toffee notes with just the right amount of hop finish to keep you coming back for more. But be careful, you might just forget the power of this strong ale and have to climb a mountain to leave your bed the morning after.
A look into the future…
Shed has a new brew coming out in 2014 that’s wholly wrapped in mystery. Shed hasn’t had a new brew in years, so you can rest assured they’ve put more than a lot of time and effort into it. Now that Shed ships to Pennsylvania, keep your eyes peeled for a tasty new six-pack option in your future!
Otter Creek has a couple of new brews coming out soon. At the time of this writing, there will be a “summer lager” being shipped out in a couple of weeks. This is not your standard lager; it’s “aggressively” hopped, landing somewhere between an IPA and your common lager. It promises to be a head turner, best served whilst in the sun, preferably with a nice juicy burger.
The other beer Otter Creek has in store won’t even be mentioned for a couple more weeks at the time of this writing. This new brew has everyone excited and will assuredly cause a big stir in the craft beer community. The new brew is a collaboration with another Vermont brewery that hasn’t been officially announced yet. This is exciting news with all the amazing brew craft breweries in Vermont with which to collaborate. Stay tuned to their Facebook for announcement news, and expect an early summer release.
If you would like to know more about Otter Creek and the eye-catching, mouthwatering things they do and will continue to do check out their Facebook page. Their website wasn’t up to par for representing who they are as a brewery; thus they’re currently working on it to make it what you’ve come to expect. The website plans to be up and operational by July, just in time for their summer brews news.
These quality craft brewed beers are proudly distributed throughout western Pennsylvania by Vecenie Distributing Company.