Vermont beer is from Vermont, isn’t it?

I was sitting at my kitchen table on a Saturday afternoon, making a grocery list when my phone buzzed twice. I had two text messages from Shaun Hill, owner of Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, VT.

One text was a screen-shot of an Instagram photo and the other was a link to a vermont.gov web page. This should be interesting, I thought, putting aside my list.

Screen Shot 2017-03-04 at 2.01.01 PM
Fieldwork Brewing “The Meadows – Vermont Farmhouse Ale” is brewed in California without any Vermont ingredients.

The Instagram post showed three beer cans, all the same but rotated to show all three panels of the label. The can depicts a bucolic farm field of waving barley in the foreground and an old brown barn in the background. On the front panel it reads, “Fieldwork Brewing Co. – The Meadows.” The style listed? “Vermont Farmhouse Ale.”

I sat back in my chair and thought this must be a new Vermont brewery opening soon. But that brewery name sounded familiar, so I Googled. Fieldwork Brewing is located in Berkley, California. Not exactly a Vermont-made farmhouse ale.

I spent the next two weeks researching and writing a column for the Burlington Free Press about this odd phenomenon of out-of-state brewers using the word “Vermont ” on beer labels. I contacted a slew of people from California to Poland, including lawmakers and world-famous brewers, to gather quotes and opinions. Some declined to comment, including Fieldwork Brewing (which makes sense, I suppose), while others were more than happy to chime in.

Imitation is said to be the most sincere form of flattery, but should brewers outside of the Green Mountain State be allowed to use the word “Vermont” when describing their products? Or should they be held to saying a beer is “Vermont-style,” such as a Vermont-style IPA.

For those of you who follow my writing, you’ll know where I stand on this issue.

I’ve advocated in this column since 2012 for the moniker “Vermont-style IPA” and called for its use by out-of-state brewers who were brewing beers in this style, much in the way that brewers say “Kölsch-style” or “Belgian-style” – paying homage to the style, but acknowledging that they aren’t brewing within the region of origin.

But not everyone acknowledges that Vermont-style IPA is a distinct style, so the use of the term could confuse consumers into thinking the beer was made in Vermont, according to Christopher J. Curtis, public protection division chief at the Vermont Attorney General’s Office.

After the story ran, Fieldwork Brewing sent out a tweet saying they believe there are better uses of time than knocking them for a one-off beer. This ignited a long back-and-forth between Shaun Hill and Fieldwork co-founder Alex Tweet. The other co-founder, Barry Braden, clarified from the official Fieldwork Twitter account that the ‘wasted time’ tweet was intended for State Representative Sam Young, and both Hill and Braden apologized for the misunderstanding. Tweet asked how many lashes he needed to take as penance and lamented the fact that this sort of arguing takes the fun out of brewing.

But then there’s also this one…

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 2.40.30 PM

Some have called this discussion “petty” and it’s clear where Fieldwork stands on the issue. But protecting the hard work of Vermonters is no petty endeavor. Beer is a big business and there is a lot of money to be made or lost. I’m glad that my adopted state’s lawmakers aggressively and pro-actively defend the Vermont brand, and I look forward to learning what will come out of the state’s investigation. When I learn more, I will post an update.

The full story ran on St. Patrick’s Day in the Burlington Free Press and you can find it here.

Examples of breweries using “Vermont” in beer titles come from around the globe:

  • Roc Brewing Co. (Rochester, New York) released an IPA called “The Full Vermonty,” which seems to playfully pay homage to origins of the Vermont-style IPA.
  • Black Hammer Brewing in San Francisco, California, released a beer in September called “Vermont Session IPA,” according to its Twitter account, @blackhammerbrew
  • Brighton Bier of Brighton, England, produces a beer advertised on its website called “Freshman – Vermont IPA,” but qualifies it in the description as “brewed in the ‘Vermont’ style.”
  • Poland-based Browar Pinta makes a beer simply called “Vermont IPA.” On its website, they acknowledge that this style of IPA was first brewed in Vermont and attribute this particular recipe to Ziemowit Fałat and Paweł Masłowski. It appears that this beer is only available in Poland.
  • In mid-2015 Manor Hill Brewing in Ellicott City, Maryland, released “Vermont DIPA.” In response to a tweet asking if they still brewed this beer, “Manor Hill Ben” (@Here4DaBeer) responded, “no plans in the near future. Our Hidden Hopyards are of the same concept, though.”
  • United Kingdom punk-brewers BrewDog recently made a collaboration with Cloudwater Brew Co., also located in the UK, called “BrewDog vs. Cloudwater.” They interchangeably describe the beer as “Vermont IPA” and “Vermont-style IPA.” In a post on BrewDog’s blog they said the goal was to dial “up the perfect Vermont IPA.”
  • Besides “The Meadows – Vermont Farmhouse Ale,” Fieldwork Brewing Co. brews IPAs such as “Pulp” and “Overripe,” which are brewed with “Vermont yeast,” according to its website. The brewery, however, labels these beers as “Northeast IPA.”
  • New Image Brewing, a brewpub in Arvada, Colorado, released a beer called “East Coast Transplant” and listed the style on the label as “Vermont DIPA.” On New Image’s website, the style is listed as “Vermont-style DIPA.” Thanks to @SnarkyElf and Liz Millikin for pointing out this example after the story ran.
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