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Upper Pass Brewery. A Nano Operation that is Hip 2 the Hops

May 09, 2019 05:25PM ● By John Gales

Upper Pass Brewery

Photos by Ansel Dickey/Woodstock VT

A Nano Operation that is Hip to the Hops

Upper Pass Brewery, in Tunbridge, Vermont, began as an extremely small operation—owners Chris Perry, Andy Puchalik, and Ivan Tomek started with just a single barrel for brewing. Like most smaller Vermont brewery owners, Andy and Chris began the operation by brewing small batches for themselves, and were joined by Ivan shortly afterwards. In 2015, they released their first beer at the Tunbridge World’s Fair, and since then have worked to establish themselves as an important facet of Vermont’s beer scene.

Upper Pass has expanded in the last four years from that initial single-barrel operation—but only slightly. Now with the capacity for five-barrel brewing, the operation has substantially grown, but at this size, Upper Pass can still be considered a “nano brewery”—a smaller brewing option with a limited production capacity, independent ownership, and operation by a tight-knit crew. Production on this scale gives Upper Pass flexibility and creativity in their brews—which Andy says has been key to their success. With notable, tasty brews like Moove On Up Milk Stout, Little Farmhouse Saison, and Hip to the Hops IPA, it’s clear why Upper Pass has become so popular.

With a smaller production size than even traditional microbreweries, Andy explained that their marketing strategy has been crucial. “Our strategy has centered on brewing high-quality smaller batches while contract-brewing larger batches for in-state distribution to get our name out there and build brand recognition.” Label artwork and a robust, active social media presence are two additional key components of the strategy. “We hired a great artist/designer to spearhead our can art and logo, which has given our brewery a real sense of character,” Andy notes. “Above all, we’re striving to tell our story and have authentic and engaging interactions with our customers. We’re constantly talking to our customers and paying attention to their feedback—both positive and negative.” Upper Pass also distributes their product themselves, which Andy says has been an unexpected benefit. “This has allowed us to build strong, lasting relationships with those who sell our beer. We use our own distro company, so we can focus on our product and look towards additional possibilities for the future.”

Upper Pass’s growth strategy hasn’t been exclusive to their methods of production and distribution. In October, they opened a tasting room and coffee shop, First Branch Coffee, in South Royalton in order to “have an actual physical presence, which helps attract new and repeat customers,” Andy explains. When asked what the future would look like, Andy had several exciting ideas. For now, Upper Pass serves food two days a week at First Branch, but Andy says he’s eager to change that. “We want to open up a full lunch menu to encourage our customers to visit the tasting room. We have a few ideas for special events, where we can engage with our customer base many who have become friends and steady supporters.” The most recent of these events was “Hip 2 The Hops,” a beer and music event at Magic Mountain in southern Vermont. “There’s more coming,” Andy said, “with special beer releases, a tap takeover with our earliest supporters, and more. Stay tuned!”

Upper Pass


First Branch Coffee

228 Chelsea Street

Royalton, Vermont

(802) 281-8453