Long Trail Brewery: by: Stephanie Doan
Beer drinking fans of imported ales usually love the sophisticated tastes of English or German brews; however, long journeys overseas often leave the shipped ale stale. So Long Trail Brewery took on the challenge and created an American alternative that’s been around for nearly 25 years. It’s safe to say that the beers coming out of Long Trail runneth over with popularity. Brewmaster Brandon Mayes credits their success to the company being nuts for nature – even encouraging their drinkers to “Take a Hike,” just as originator Andy Pherson did when he began the brewery.
It was 1989 when Andy started his trek. Originally known in town as the Mountain Brewers, it was naming the beer that proved most challenging. One day, Andy drove past a wooden “Long Trail” hiking marker. The sign is a guide for many like-minded environment lovers. Just like that, it was those etched words, with hikers pictured on the sign, and of course the Green Mountains of Vermont that inspired him. The name spread like wildfire, quickly labeling the brewers as the “Long Trail Guys” who soon started Long Trail Brewery.
By November of that same year the first batch of Long Trail Ale was brewed and ready for tasters. It was a smashing hit! Andy locked into his first distribution agreement the following May with Farrell distributors, the oldest and biggest in the state. Long Trail Ale quickly became their best selling amber ale as well as a statewide favorite. Brandon said the “middle of the road amber ale” appeals to both craft experts and newbies alike.
The menu of great beers expanded without delay. In 1994, the operation outgrew its small headquarters. So the Long Trail Brewery hiked on down the road to its current location, putting its state-of-the-art brewery right across from the Ottauqueechee River. What started as a small craft brewery sitting in the basement of the old Bridgewater Woolen Mill is now one of the most popular breweries in all of Vermont, second only to powerhouse brewer Anheuser Busch.
Brandon said more expansion might be on the horizon, but far down the trail. The brewery’s footprint is maxed out. The company is already using and recycling as much water as possible. Although they are always looking to grow, he said it’s got to be responsible growth. Until then, the company will stick to growing its beer selection by putting out two new seasonals. This coming fall, they are adding a lower alcohol Pumpkin Ale and a higher alcohol Imperial Pumpkin Ale. The two beers extract the spice of pumpkin pie and crisp fall. Drinkers everywhere can taste “Autumn in Vermont” in good balance with the malt and hops of a fine craft beer.
Balance, said Brandon, is the key ingredient to the Long Trail Brewery. Keeping the hops, malt and alcohol at the right measurements as well as the ins and outs of material and waste from the brewery, is a juggling act.
Being tucked within the Green Mountains of Vermont, the brewery makes protecting their home a priority. Protection happens in many environmentally friendly ways. They protect by feeding spent grain to the nearby cattle, much cheaper than normal feed. There are eight tons of this spent mash offered each day. This helps the agriculture and the economy. Also they recycle expired production steam into hot water for thermal energy, saving 2,000 gallons of propane per month. They are also licensed by the state of Vermont to inject carefully purified wastewater back into the ground through the use of special technology.
Long Trail uses American-grown hops as well as other local raw materials as much as possible. In fact, Long Trail uses all natural ingredients. This goes along with their commitment to crafting fine American beers totally separate from any European ingredients. Most American hops are grown in Washington and Oregon. These hops add the spice of life to Long Trail brews, which contain a wide variety of tasty hops. These hops are flowers of the female hop plant and get thrown into the “Boiling Kettle” in hopes of extracting its bitter.
As the brewing process continues from heating to fermenting, many tests are done for quality control. Production measurements and microbiological testing occur frequently. This ensures Long Trail remains fresh along its entire journey as well as sip after sip. Because the ales are not pasteurized and contain no preservatives, the bottles are dated. This gives drinkers a clue as to when the ale may spoil: usually 120 days past the bottle date.
Want to try a sip at its freshest? Be one of the yearly 72,000 visitors setting foot in Long Trail’s Visitor Center. The center has a Tap Room that has become the favorite watering hole for both visitors and locals. It’s designed like an old beer hall, and even employees can’t escape the festivities. Brandon remembers his visit six years ago prior to working at Long Trail.
“It’s a really fun atmosphere,” he said, remembering the lasting impression.
Travelers who can’t trail to Vermont shouldn’t worry, though. Long Trail has traded its nine workers previously bottling at 50 bottles-per-minute for just three workers and new machinery filling at a speed of roughly 250 bottles-per-minute. So, there is no shortage of cases around!
Find Long Trail beers in 13 additional states, including Pennsylvania.
Some of the top beers include:
Long Trail Ale
This beer isn’t the top selling craft beer in Vermont for no reason. Long Trail’s first beer originates in 1989. The American beer takes its cues from the “Alt-biers” found in Dusseldorf, Germany, one of the oldest brewing styles. Even the name ‘Alt’ translates to ‘old ‘in German. The brewers describe the ale as inspiring “complex, yet clean, full flavor” because of the chilled temperatures and top fermenting yeasts. Brandon calls it a “session” beer, saying you can drink a few due to the low alcohol. There are three different hops as well as four malts thrown into every batch. Food pairings include smoked meats like sausage and also grilled salmon and aged gouda. Anything with a smoky flavor pairs well. Under its belt are numerous medals from both the Great American Beer Festival as well as the Great International Beer Festival.
Stepping up as one of the most popular brews, this beer rises in the summer of ’96. This wheat beer models after brews mixed with fresh fruit, like blackberries, in small “farm house” breweries throughout Belgium. This spontaneously fermented craft is called “lambic,” a mock European beer. Containing two malts as well as malted wheat, it’s the fruity taste that gives this beer the rightful description of thirst quenching. The aromas are so strong that the craft sits in a wheat glass bottle, ensuring extra room for the fluffy head. Food pairings for this bottle include bountiful, crisp salads and light appetizers. Tasters at the Atlantic City Beer Festival gave Blackberry Wheat their ‘People’s Choice Award.’
Despite being made in 2005, these IPAs brew rough like the waves they originally traveled. The taste of this India Pale Ale dates back to the days of the British Empire. It’s definitely a “hop forward” drink, said Brandon. IPAs first began as pale ales made stronger with extra hops in hopes of surviving the long voyage from Great Britain to colonies camping in India. The Long Trail IPA still holds more hops and remains unfiltered, which is a stark contrast to most of the IPA’s ultra-filtered descendents today. The hops are Nugget and Cascade with 2-row and Crystal malts. Long Trail’s IPA began as the first in their Brewmasters Limited Edition Series but stuck around. It’s bursting with both natural carbonation and flavor. Sip this beer cold alongside spicy and flavor-plenty dishes.
Illuminating dark amber in color, the Double Bag is even deeper in strength. So strong is the brew that it’s referred to as secret brew, or “Stickebier” in German. This specific beer originated in 1994. Labeled a malt beer, it was first only available at the Long Trail Tap Room in Vermont. Now, it’s bottled and brought home. The beers pack two hop varieties and four different malts. Not only does Malt Advocate Magazine consider this malt the ‘Domestic Beer of the Year’, it also swooped up a medal at the Great International Beer Festival. This drink pairs well in moderation with smoked and grilled meats, but be careful of the 7.2 percent alcohol content.
Long Trail mixes the coarse hop-filled taste of true India Pale Ales with enhanced flavors in crafting this double IPA. Many American breweries have tinkered with double IPAs in recent years. This one debuted only three years ago in 2009 and is one of Brewmaster Brandon’s favorites. This, as well as the Coffee Stout, is “most near and dear” to his heart. The two always find homes in his fridge. The Double IPA shows deeper gold in color than Long Trail’s usual IPA and also doubles the alcohol. Picture a strong malt that offers more refreshment in the flavor-fountain of citrus and pine – that’s the collaboration occurring in this two-hop, three-malt beverage. Drink with sharp cheeses, lamb and also beef brisket.
Survival Variety Pack
For those who want it all this pack is perfect! Long Trails creates these “survival” packs to keep the most adventurous tasters alive. There are packs for each season, such as a Summer Survival Pack containing Double Bag, Blackberry Wheat, Pollenator and of course the beer that began it all – the Long Trail Ale. The selected beers change for every season.
Full Line of Seasonals
Pollenator – Spring Seasonal – Features a medium amber body, balanced with a modest amount of Willamette hops. This spring ale is highly drinkable, flavorful and finishes clean and crisp.
Belgium White – Summer Seasonal – Our Belgian White Ale is modeled after the original Belgian Witbiers brewed in monasteries during the early 14th century. The soft notes of citrus and spice are topped with a light, fluffy head that finishes clean and crisp. This fresh and natural ale is our summer seasonal brew, perfect for lounging lake-side or celebrating trail’s end…ENJOY!
Harvest – Autumn Seasonal – In celebration of the autumn harvest we’ve brewed this brown ale with locally harvested Vermont ingredients… a truly unique Taste of Vermont. English Brown Ales are a more modern style from England that have been modeled after English Mild Ales. Mild Ales were names so due to their ‘mild’ hop flavor; in comparison to and English Pale Ale or English IPA.
Pumpkin Ale – Fall Seasonal – Long Trail is excited to launch Long Trail Pumpkin Ale, a slightly sweet seasonal treat artfully brewed with pumpkins, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. The perfect drink for a fall day, this exceptionally balanced beer has an aroma very reminiscent of pumpkin pie.
Hibernator – Winter Seasonal – This robust, malty brew will take the bite from a cold winter night. Style History: Scotland’s agricultural history helped create the country’s most popular beer style, Scottish Ale. Barley is one of Scotland’s most abundant crops, while hops have never flourished in the Scottish landscape. This abundance of barley and Scotland’s exclusion from England’s malt tax of the 1700’s gave brewers the opportunity to brew a hearty barley rich beer.