The Little Garage Brewery That Could! Contract brewer Liambru Tasty puts a small space to good use.Jun 16, 2021 12:10PM ● By Pam Hunt
When Josh and Amy Ridlon handed over their first delivery of Liambru Tasty Van Wicked New England IPA to Brewfest Beverage Co. in Ludlow in January 2019, it was the culmination of years of work. Like many commercial breweries in Vermont and across the country, the Ridlons got their start as home brewers. “We really splurged and bought a nice basement system,” Amy says. Their passion for the process grew, and after a couple of years, the couple realized that they wanted to turn their hobby into a real business. Raising a family and working full time—Josh as a carpenter and Amy as a nurse—meant their time was short, but they made it work.
For the first year, they did everything themselves—brewing, canning, marketing, distributing. “Our first year was nothing but a lesson in what not to do,” Amy says. “It was just us canning in the garage until the wee hours, one can at a time on a tiny little canning system. It was exhausting . . . and fun!”
“The first year,” Amy continues, “I was the delivery girl. I got every account and made every delivery myself, so I got to know everybody.” Though they now rely on Baker Distributing to get their beers out into the world, Amy recalls those early times with fondness. “We love our distributor, but like everyone who starts out as an independent business in Vermont, we had lofty ideas of just staying small and local, but then business grows—which is a good thing.”
Currently, the couple is contract brewing, which enables them to focus on the aspects of the business they do best—creating recipes and their labels.
The couple’s choice of name for their brewery stands out—there’s no mention of Vermont, the Green Mountains, or a twist on brewing terminology, like many other Vermont breweries. “It started as a joke,” Amy explains. “It’s a spin on our oldest son’s nickname. His real name is Liam.” The brewery gets the occasional email or Facebook message from fans whose only tie to the Proctor-based brewery is the name: “My son’s name is Liam, and I have to get a T-shirt from you!”
Liambru Tasty’s lineup features several IPAs—Van Wicked, Not Nice Barb, Sinister Surfer, Thug Duck, and Kill Puss—of varying ABVs and hop mixes; Arctic Al, a coffee porter; and Incredible Lawrence, a strawberry kettle sour. Their method of selecting which type of beer to create is simple. “It may sound selfish,” Amy says, “but we really just choose what we would want to drink.” The kettle sour, for example, was inspired by a blueberry sour from a brewery in Maine that the couple tried and loved. “It’s nice to have something like a porter in the winter and then something crisp and refreshing in the summer,” she explains. One of the things she loves about their beer is its lighter body and more moderate hoppiness than some other local IPAs. “I don’t like beer to be so strong—we’re not in a contest about how we can add more and more hops to a beer. We want it to be smooth and easy to drink.”
According to Amy, Josh is the “mastermind for all things creative” at Liambru Tasty. After coming up with a concept for a new label’s design, he works with a group of artist friends to bring the idea to life. Josh also writes the mini sagas that appear on the cans, telling the story of that beer’s character, whether it be Not Nice Barb, the Sinister Surfer, or their newest offering, Kill Puss. They are also working to have all aspects of their marketing materials made in Vermont, from tap handles and keg collars to coasters, where the stories of their unusual and fascinating characters continue.
Amy says, “What I think is really fun, if you pay attention, there are characters that are related, and there’s a storyline behind the whole thing. For instance, Van Wicked, Barb, and Thug Duck are generations of the same story.”
Life After Pandemic
Like for many businesses, Amy admits that the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into their business’s growth. “We’ve had a couple of plans that didn’t work out. After the chaos of this past year, we’ve found that we’re pretty happy right where we’re at for the time being. When the time is right for something more, it will happen. For now, just seeing our beer popping up in so many great established Vermont bars and restaurants that are recovering from the hardships of covid is pretty wonderful, and we’re grateful for all of them.”
In the meantime, they’re planning to get back to doing tastings at local stores and events, such as Stewart Maple’s Tap to Table event in October. Amy enjoys doing the free tastings. “A lot of people want to try our beers, but craft beer is not inexpensive. If you can have a free taste before committing to a four-pack, you’ll end up leaving the store feeling good about your purchase,” she says.