Finding Fortune Amidst a Pandemic: Lucy & Howe Brewing Company Fires Up Ahead of ScheduleSep 30, 2021 01:56PM ● By Pam Hunt
For some, the COVID-19 pandemic put dreams on hold. For Jesse Cronin, owner and brewer at Lucy and Howe Brewing Company in Jericho, it fast-tracked his plans for opening his own brewery.
When life came to a screeching halt in March 2020, Jesse found himself home with his two young children while his wife, the superintendent of the Montpelier Roxbury School District, tended to her district’s plans for handling the rest of the unusual school year. He continued working remotely for a while but found that balancing that with teaching his children—as well as a couple of nieces and neighbors—an unsustainable mix.
The Plan Gets a Head Start
An avid homebrewer for more than a dozen years and a former head brewer at Magic Hat Brewery, he had planned to start his own brewery one day. “I was planning on soft-launching over this past winter,” he says, “and gearing into larger—larger in quotes—production this summer.” The pandemic gave him the time and opportunity to speed things up: “I thought I might as well take the time that I’m not spending teaching the kids to fire up this brewery a little bit ahead of schedule. I was very fortunate, compared to a lot of people.”
Having spent time at a commercial brewery taught Jesse some important lessons about making good beer. “I knew the mechanics of brewing going into Magic Hat,” he says, “but one of the things that was a big learning moment for me was all of the different things that can influence whether you can achieve consistency from batch to batch.” Now, working for himself, he combines this knowledge with an interest in creating some types of beers that might not be possible in a larger-scale operation.
Small Batch Goodness
Working in an old summer kitchen off the side of his house, Jesse creates his lineup using a barrel-and-a-half brew system (which holds around 45 gallons), tanks that hold close to 90 gallons, and two fermenters. “I really can do only one batch per week,” he says. Deciding what to brew next opens up unlimited opportunities for him. He does make several beers over and over. “I haven’t sent anything to the graveyard yet!” he says. “Everything is sort of a possibility. It’s a combination of what is popular—selling is important. But it also touches on a relationship with customers. If they have an appreciation or fondness for something, I want to make sure that I can continue to supply it.”
He also finds inspiration at local markets and producers, whether he receives some locally produced honey he can incorporate into his project, or he sees a nice basket of fresh strawberries, as happened recently. “Next week is a strawberry sour—Strawberries in a Cage, which I did last year—with strawberry and rhubarb. It’s a light sour, not really punchy.”
Open to the Possibilities
He credits his local customers with assisting in his success. “The people in Jericho have been great,” he says. “They’ve been very accommodating because I put out some styles that are not everyday beers, like Touch of Wisdom, a golden strong. There’s a maple lager, and I’ve got two sours and a cherry and pomegranate bière maison right now. The people around here are awesome—they’ll try anything.”
He also points to the proliferation of breweries and beer lovers that make Vermont a supportive place to open a small brewery. “We’ve got an abundance of riches,” he says. In addition to the state’s larger beer makers, he sees a space for the little guys. Likening the Green Mountain State to an older European model, he says, “When you’re in Belgium, every town—and in larger towns, every neighborhood—has its own brewery, and it works. There’s enough demand, and there’s enough supply, so it works out fine.”
Jesse is currently selling his beer from the brewery. Check the website for hours and how to order online. Thanks to distribution by Vermont Beer Shepherd, Lucy & Howe brews are available in several locations, including the Jericho Market, Jericho Center Store, and the Stowe Public House & Bottle Shop. Until the last market on October 7, you can find Lucy & Howe beers at the Jericho Farmers Market.