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May 30, 2020 08:50AM ● By Gabriella Varela

For some, brewing is considered an art form. The brewers at Black Flannel Brewing Company have worked hard to master the science so they can turn their craft into an art.


Black Flannel Company’s founder and brewer Chris Kesler came to Vermont for college in 1983 and stayed launching his company Earthlogic, a website and marketing company in the late 90s. In 2014, he bought a church building in Essex Junction and renovated it to be a base of operations for Earthlogic and a coworking space for local professionals. In February of 2015, on his 50th birthday, he brewed his first batch of beer in the church basement.


“It was like lightning striking,” said Kesler of that moment. He entered his first competition in January 2017 coming in 2nd in the statewide Vermont Homebrew Challenge “Make the Cut” competition with an early version of a New England IPA called Disco Montage.


From there, it was a quick climb to the top. By the middle of 2018, Kesler had earned a certificate from the UVM’s Business of Craft Beer program, hosted a Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Study Group, earned a BJCP Certified Beer Judge designation, started hosting a Cicerone® Certification study group, and hosted the Greg Noonan Memorial Homebrew Competition at the church.  His homebrew club, the Green Mountain Mashers, affectionately dubbed his office, “The Church of Beer”.


In January 2019, the Cicerone program sent a proctor to administer the Cicerone certification test to 10 participants from Kesler’s study group. Among hundreds of Level 1 Cicerone Certified Beer Servers in the state, only 11 could call themselves Certified Cicerone at the time. That day, 6 out of 10 of Kesler’s study group members walked away as Certified Cicerones crushing a national average of 1 out of 3 to pass. Of that group to pass were Kesler and study group members Aaron Ritchie and Justin Rito who, once again, now join Kesler as part of the Black Flannel Brewing Company team. In addition to Dan Sartwell, one of the first 5 Certified Cicerones in Vermont.  Sartwell, former Brewmaster at 14th Star, is now the Head of Brewing Operations at Black Flannel. 


For Kesler, creative collaboration is in the name of the game. The Black Flannel logo; a raven

perched on an anvil is a thrilling throwback. A Gothic tribute to skillful labor, hard work,

wisdom and renewal signifying builders of a team, craftsmen of their trade. Black Flannel Brewing Company is an homage to their commitment and a celebration of exceptional craft.


“The brewing community is really incredible in Vermont both at the home and pro-brewing level. We have some of the best beers and brewers in the world here.” Said Kesler.


In 2018, Kesler won the Vermont Homebrewer of the Year award having scored the most medal points of any other Vermont homebrewer at the Greg Noonan Memorial Homebrew competition.  A feat which he duplicated again in 2019, this time as a tie between he and fellow brewer Justin Rito, who is now one of the 4 brewers and 2 distillers of the Black Flannel team.


“I get that a lot of people want to go out on their own and start a brewery where they are the sole brewer responsible for every aspect of the brewery. But when I became involved in the Green Mountain Mashers and my brewing knowledge grew exponentially, I realized the power of collaboration,” said Kesler. “I'm not married or possessive of recipes I’ve developed. Like Disco Montage, when Justin, Dan, and Aaron reviewed the recipe they had thoughts on minor improvements. Once we brewed test batches, I was amazed with the results and I think our guests will be too.”


As lockdown and restrictions begin to relax, breweries that had to postpone their openings are

finally able to debut and Black Flannel Brewing Company waits like a racehorse for the horn at the gates. Soon Black Flannel, Kesler’s recapitulation of countless hours of training and brewing among its team members and 3 years of planning and hiring, will open. The 15 barrel brewery will have 4 Certified Cicerones on staff; a full-service restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating; a barrel and sour room that doubles as an event room; and a third space with distillery manufacturing and a tasting room, making Black Flannel the only brewery in the state functioning as both a brewery and distillery.  The brewers and distillers have been busy collaborating on recipes.  Distillers include Spirit Master Dave Mosher and Head Distiller Travis Johnson.


“We are trying to offer a deeper level of understanding and tasting for guests and staff,” said

Kesler, describing mouthwatering blends of uber-traditional styles like Dunkel, Helles, Czech Lagers; funked-up kettle sours and indulgent riffs on imperial stouts made with cold brew coffee, chocolate, sweet cherries, and other adjuncts.  “Think German chocolate cake stout.”


“We want to brew beers that are deeply rooted in tradition but not shackled by it,” said Kesler.


Black Flannel plans to have up to 10 beers on tap at opening and already have collaborations with 14th star, Zero Gravity and Frost Beer Works, some of which (if still available) may be released at their opening.


Black Flannel plans to have a unique barrel ecosystem in the barrel program. The life of a barrel will start by aging spirits, then to aging beers, finally to be used for aging other interesting ingredients like maple syrup or coffee beans from their friends and new neighbors Uncommon Coffee (formerly Uncommon Grounds).


As for food, Executive Chef Trenton Endres formerly of the Breslin in New York City, NY and Vermont’s own Hen of the Wood, is focusing on local and traditional cuisine inspired by German and British style pub food with big picture thinking like the Quebec-inspired nose-to-tail movement. There will be approachable menu items like Bavarian Pretzels with a 4 pack of Dunkel (they like to call this the “Bavarian Happy Meal”), thrice cooked fries with pub-made cheese and sauces like beer-infused mustard.


“The menu will have tried and true standards for regulars but also for the foodies that want to try something new, “ comments Kesler, describing the duck prosciutto infused with local ramps that were recently handpicked by staff.


Like a modern-day Barbara Kruger of beverages, Kesler is an artist championing making

really great food and beer commonplace despite a worldwide pandemic.


“We just want to celebrate exceptional craft be it beer, spirits or food. We’ve been busy going through putting together a rigorous training manual for everyone's safety. We are manufacturing hand sanitizer that will be available to staff and guests. Staff will wear face masks, we will work hard to minimize touches in all transactions,” explains Kesler. 


Of their 6,300 sq ft of outdoor space, they have set up over 80 socially-distanced seats. What will eventually hold 150 seats inside is now just under 100 seats spaced apart.


“Enjoying a great food and beverage experience in a safe environment is part of the experience,” emphasized Kesler. Black Flannel’s Front of House Manager, Brendan Day along with Director of Operations Karen Bisbee and Head of Accounting, Deb Kesler have been busy putting together a rigorous employee training manual for service. 


There will be to-go options including food, canned beer, spirits, and cocktails. There is talk of live music. Black Flannel recently teamed up with business partner Peter Edelmann of Essex Cinemas to organize food and beverage offerings for Edelmann’s installation of an inflatable 40-foot, drive-in movie screen in the parking lot of the Essex Experience just outside the brewery & distillery.  Because curbside.  Because summer.


“I hope people will be excited to have us be a part of their community.  We strive to bring an elevated experience to all our guests.  A rising tide raises all ships.”, said Kesler.


More information for Black Flannel can be found on their website, Facebook and Instagram.  Questions on beer? Check out their beer blog which will eventually feature close to 140 different traditional, historic, and emerging beer styles to find a beer style that’s right for you with suggested food pairings and beer cocktail recipes. They are also currently hiring. Black Flannel encourages career growth and will pay for and offer incentives for any Cicerone® testing employees wish to engage in.

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