Meet Sam. Head Brewer, Owner of Hogback Mountain Brewery in Bristol
Aug 11, 2020 04:26PM
By Virginia Dean
Best of Burlington
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From pharmacist to brewer? A step perhaps as wildly bold and ambitious as the names of the hyper local nano brews themselves produced at Hogback Mountain Brewery in Bristol, VT. Whether Park Filling Station, Life’s A Pitch, Get Out of Dodge!, Cherry Poppins or Honey, I Shrunk the Pils! , owners Jamie and Sam Sawyer were looking for a new adventure when the opportunity arose to purchase the brewery in 2018.
“The first time Jamie said the words, ‘Let’s open a brewery!’, I thought for sure he was crazy but the more we talked it through, the more we thought it just might be possible,” said Sam. “Our goal was to craft true Vermont beer using locally sourced ingredients. Once we finally decided to take the leap from homebrewer to professional, I enrolled in the American Brewers Guild Intensive Brewing Science and Engineering Brewery in Planning program and graduated in 2017.”
Several years before, the Sawyers met in pharmacy school where they attained their degrees and began their careers as pharmacists. In 2007, they moved from northern New York to Starksboro, VT where they began their family of four children. But, despite their devotion to their careers, they wondered if pharmacy was where they wanted to stay.
“Jamie had been homebrewing for a number of years when a hop yard went in just a couple of miles from our home,” Sam said. “As we watched it grow, and, knowing how important supporting small businesses and local agriculture is, we began to slowly put some pieces together about what this could mean for us.”
So, in 2019, the Sawyers purchased Hogback Mountain Brewery from then owner Kevin Hanson who had established the business in 2015. Shortly after the acquisition, the brewery was moved from Hanson’s carriage barn to its current location on Rocky Dale Road in Bristol.
“Although we have expanded and opened a taproom since then, the mission of local supporting local has never changed,” said Sam. “We continue to strive to source as many ingredients as locally as possible with the majority of our brews being crafted with 100 percent locally grown ingredients.”
The Sawyers have rebranded their products and now extend their brews to a wider audience statewide. The taproom has been a success in part due their ability to offer farm to table fare courtesy of Lucky Star Catering.
“We’ve been able to breathe new life into an existing property with so much potential,” Sam noted. “We’ve successfully navigated the bumps in the road as we figured out what worked and what didn’t.”
Not unlike most small businesses, the pandemic resulted in the brewery being closed down for a short period and relegated the Sawyers to adjust the way they do business. And, with Jamie also remaining in the pharmacy business as well as helping to operate Hogback, it has been especially hard for Sam.
“The main challenge for us has been school closing and the lack of childcare,” said Sam. “Being not only a head brewer and brewery owner but also a mother of four, there are just not enough hours in the day for all the work that needs to get done. Finding a balance between being a mother and business owner has been nearly impossible. But our children have been amazingly resilient in rising to the challenge of it all.”
The Sawyers have retained a number of original Hogback brews as well as added many new ones.
Honey, I Shrunk the Pils (Honey Pilsner), for example, is a twist on a class pilsner. The lager focuses on the light flavors born from Peterson’s Quality Melt with its hints of floral notes arising from honey harvested at Shangri-La Farm Apiary in Starksboro,VT. Get Out of Dodge (VT IPA) combines the delicate flower of VT grown and malted barley while highlighting Starksboro grown hops. A complex citrus and pine aroma and flavor combined with the perfect amount of bitterness. Drake, Smith & Co. (Brown Ale) is a little hop forward (Homestead Hops) for a brown ale with a commentary unsweetened chocolate edge (Peterson Quality Malt).
Reaching the other side of the pandemic seems very possible to the Sawyers who remain cautiously optimistic about the future of Hogback Mountain Brewery.
“We have an amazing outdoor space with a covered patio and lawn that overlooks the New Haven River,” said Sam. “This has allowed us to offer outdoor dining as well as continue to-go services. Our indoor space is limited, and we are not currently offering indoor seating. Although the winter is uncertain, we are confident that we will still be able to get locally sourced, true Vermont brews to our customers.
For further information, visit www.hogbackbrew,com or call 802.643.2304. Hours include Fridays and Saturdays from 3 to 8 p.m.