Lawson’s Finest Liquids Makes an ImpactDec 30, 2020 03:08AM ● By Bart Beeson
To say that the owners of Lawson's Finest Liquids have been busy in the last two years would be vast understatement. In 2018, Sean and Karen Lawson opened their new brewery, taproom, and retail store in Waitsfield, Vermont. The move allowed them to grow from a seven-barrel brewery to a 30-barrel brewery, while also providing for a dedicated space for people to come enjoy their beer. Sean relates that with their new home, they hoped to “find a place for our fans to gather to enjoy Lawson’s Finest at the source.” In addition, the couple have been extremely active with a wide variety of social impact programs. And they did all of this while continuing to brew some of Vermont’s best known and most sought-after beers.
Welcoming to All
The two had put a lot of thought into what they wanted in the new taproom. Primarily, says Sean, they wanted to finally have a home for Lawson’s Finest, because the business had operated out of a small brewery next to their house for the previous 10 years. They also wanted to make sure that the taproom, with its spacious timber-frame building and inviting outdoor beer garden, was welcoming to all. Says Karen, “On one side we have long Octoberfest style tables to allow for bigger parties or groups that end up chatting to their neighbors, and then on the other side of the taproom is what we designed as more of a family space, where we have free arcade games, checkers, coloring books, board games and the fireplace.”
An Employer of Choice
Sean and Karen saw the taproom as an opportunity to provide economic vitality to the Mad River Valley in several ways. First, they wanted to be an employer of choice and provide living wage jobs with generous benefits, ultimately creating over 50 full-time and part-time jobs. Karen says, “We wanted to show how committed we are to wanting our employees to stay, and to see Lawson’s Finest as a place they want to stay for a long time and not just a job. And it’s really awesome how many of our staff have stayed with us for the two years.” In addition, they saw the taproom as an opportunity to create community vitality by drawing visitors to Waitsfield throughout the year, encouraging tourism in the valley during slower times of the year where small businesses tend to struggle.
Along with opening the new taproom, they have been working on a spate of social impact programs, and it’s clear they are just as proud of this work as they are of their beer. Instead of leaving tips at the taproom, guests are encouraged to leave donations, 100 percent of which go to selected nonprofit organizations through their Sunshine Fund. They were quickly overwhelmed by the guests’ contributions. Says Karen, “The donations were so incredibly high, higher than we ever would have thought they would have been, we shifted from picking one beneficiary every 30 days to one every 15 days.” She adds that since the opening they’ve been able to provide over $500,000 worth of donations to 45 different organizations, focusing on organizations that work in the Mad River Valley and central Vermont, that provide food and economic security, or that promote sustainable recreation in the Green Mountains.
In yet another initiative, they created Good Brews for a Cause as a way to brew beer and support worthwhile causes. For example, they brewed a Black is Beautiful stout as part of a nationwide collection of brewers, in support of racial justice and police reform, and they released their Kingdom Trails IPA, which raised funds to help conserve several hundred acres for the Kingdom Trails mountain biking network.
As if those efforts weren’t enough, they have the Green is Grand Initiative, which Sean says is “our way at Lawson’s Finest of running our business to ensure that we have a healthy earth that we’re leaving for future generations.” One aspect of this was building their own state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility for the new brewery, as there was no local municipal plant. They also covered the brewery in solar panels, and plan to add more, so that eventually they will produce 60 percent of their annual electrical consumption through solar energy.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple adjusted some of their charitable activities. In April, they released a beer to benefit the Vermont Brewers Association and later released another beer to benefit Frontline Foods, a Burlington organization that helped restaurants provide meals to healthcare workers during the pandemic. After shutting down their taproom in March, they resumed service in their beer garden in May and opened a drive-through set up for customers to be able to pick up beer and merchandise through contactless delivery. For the upcoming winter months, they plan to continue with the drive-through model, and are expanding the sandwich and grilled cheese options on their menu, and offering more soups and adding chili and mac and cheese.
But Really, It’s All About the Beer
With all their different initiatives, it would be almost easy to forget that Lawson’s Finest is first and foremost a brewery, and Sean’s face lights up when he talks about their upcoming brewing projects. They have collaborated with the WhistlePig, Saxtons River, and Mad River distilleries to produce some barrel-aged beers, including a brown ale aged in whiskey barrels, and a maple imperial stout aged in sherry casks. They also have their first-time releases in cans of fan-favorite Steve’s Backyard Red Ale, as well as Big Hoppy, a 7.5% ABV black IPA. And they’re also continuing to produce house beers for their local ski resorts, Sugarbush and Mad River Glen, canning the two beers this year to make for easier to-go options. While fans may not be able to enjoy their beers in the taproom this winter, they can rest assured they’ll still be able to pick up their favorite beer there. Says Sean, “It’s important for us to co-create experiences and memories with our customers and to provide a space not just for our fans, but for our community.”