Last weekend I found myself headed to Brattleboro, Vermont for a day trip, so I took advantage of this opportunity to check out Hermit Thrush Brewery. Although the brewery has only been open a year (and I was honestly unfamiliar with them before planning the visit), I could not have been happier with my experience. Hermit Thrush is doing a ton of things right and it is with great joy that I am able to provide a recap of my visit below.
I’ll start with the ambiance. The brewery was located in a commercial storefront near the center of town. Inside was spacious and a lot larger than it appeared from the street. Most of this space was devoted to well-organized brewing and storage areas with the drinking action taking place around a cozy bar area and a few tables on the right side of the floor. The decor had a rustic New England feel, with lots of wood beams and barrels. The bar further incorporated this aesthetic with an old-fashioned glass cleaning system in place; scrubber brushes to soak sink to rinsing basin. A pair of record players behind the bar seemed to perfectly complete the experience. Everything about the place just felt happy.
The staff also did their part to make you feel welcomed. They were eager to talk about their craft and were extremely knowledgeable and happy to go into any topic at all, be it the barrel aging process, cleaning glassware, or the joys of pairing up sour ales and food. You could tell they genuinely enjoyed what they were doing and loved being there. Co-founder Christophe Gagne was even at the corner of the bar hand labeling cans and chatting. Very cool experience and very nice people.
And then there was the beer. They had 11 pouring that day, ranging from good to absolutely fantastic. Their specialty and main area of interest was creating Belgian inspired sour ales, something they certainly seem to have a calling for, and they offered an excellent variety. The sampling options were broken up into three convenient flights of deliciousness. The first flight covered what seems to be their main lineup of offerings.
Going from left to right, I started with Brattlebeer which was a 5.2% Sour Apple Ale that smelled a lot like a glass of fresh apple cider. There was a huge apple taste right from that start with a little bit of a sourness towards the end. Based on the smell you would think this beer would end up being really sweet, but the finish was actually more on the dry side, which I certainly appreciated. They set the bar high right off the bat with this one. Beer number two was Brooks Brown, a 3.8% brown ale. The taste of this one had roasty, peppery, and slightly nutty character. Nothing wrong with this one, but as I’ve mentioned before, this isn’t really my type of beer. Moving on, I came to Tardy Harvest, a 6.6% amber ale brewed with pumpkins. This is another one I wish I had around for my pumpkin beer tasting and rivaled those I had a Cambridge Brewing Company last month. It had nice sweetness to it, with a subtle pumpkin taste mixed with just a hint of fall spices mixed in. Closing out the first flight was Sauer Marzen, their take on a German favorite. Checking in at 5.8%, this is another beer I wish I had around for the fall season. A little bit sour upfront, it had a sweet malty body that was really quite wonderful. With one flight down, things were looking pretty good.
The second flight introduced me to some of their more experimental beers. Like the first flight, it started out on a high note with their Winter Rye. This was another amber style ale with a nice sweet malty presences upfront that transitioned to a somewhat spicy rye finish. It was also a seasonally appropriate 6.4%. I don’t always go for rye beers, but I was a huge fan of this. The next beer up was a 6.8% Sour IPA called Green Street SIPA that was also quite amazing. It had lots tangy/sour citrus fruits upfront. The bitterness was more on the finish and more malt-balanced than your typical Vermont IPA, but make no mistake, this beer was nothing short of amazing. Beer number three was a Black Session IPA called Deep Woods. Despite being only 3.4%, this was an intensely piney experience, kind of like licking a pine tree in the middle of the woods on a cold winter day. I think it was perhaps a bit too one dimensionally piney for my tastes. Rounding out this flight was a 7.9% fruit barrel aged old sour ale called Tall, Dark, and Handsome. The taste of this beer was amazing! Cherries and dark fruits started things off, and there is a moderate funky tartness and sweet malt presence that really takes this beer to the next level. I was officially impressed at this point by what was turning out to be an exceptional tasting experience.
When the third flight came around, I knew I was in for something special. The last three beers were all special or limited offerings that the brewers took particular pride in creating. At this point, I was game for anything they were pouring. First up was Stickney Kriek, a 5.8% sour cherry ale barrel aged for 10 months. This was maybe even better than the previous cherry influenced beer. Sour tart cherries up front and just a little bit of hot, sweet finish. Next up was Supah Funk #3, a sour Saison. It was a very light and clean tasting Saison, listed at 5.9%. It balanced a moderate yeasty funk with a sour tang quite well but for me it lacked the shine of some of the previous beers. Part of that opinion is my feelings on Saisons, and the other part is just a testament to how spoiled I’d been up to this point in the afternoon. And lastly, Jolly Abbot came in for the big finish. Lurking at the end of the tasting was this 13% sour barrel aged Barleywine just waiting to say hello. It had the great caramel malty sweetness of a Barleywine, the tangy sourness of a wild ale, and an excellent hot bourbon-like finish at the end to keep you warm on a cold day. Fantastic, simply fantastic.
I was hard pressed to pick a favorite beer from each flight, nevermind a favorite overall. I was thoroughly impressed by the range and sophistication of the beers being offered here. Add in the charm of the taproom and friendliness of the staff, and this place is a no doubt winner. I went in not really knowing what to expect and left ecstatic that I was able to visit. What a great time. Considering this place is only a year old, I imagine great things in their future. Mark this one on your map of New England breweries for sure!