Scotch Hill Brewery - History and community inspire a Vermont small-batch breweryJun 02, 2022 02:11PM ● By NIKKI DAVIDSON
In the small town of Fair Haven, Vermont, there’s plenty of compelling history. The town’s founder was notorious for getting into a brawl on the congressional floor. A local girl became a silent film star and got involved with the mob before meeting an untimely demise. Their legendary stories are part of a new brewery housed inside one of the town’s restored historic buildings.
Jon and Rachel Meigs opened Scotch Hill Brewing Co. last fall inside the Calvi Building. The space was best known as a former grocery and old-fashioned ice cream parlor, and it’s now been given a makeover to become a new kind of gathering space for the community.
A FRESH START IN BREWING
The Meigses met while working in healthcare and never expected to open a brewery together. Jon didn’t get hooked on brewing until after learning about the process from someone he worked with at his old job in a radiology department.
“Over time, I just continued to become more interested in it and found it enjoyable,” he says. “I didn’t really think at the time that it was going to take me anywhere, but the idea to start my own brewery just kind of grew," says Jon.
Meanwhile, Rachel has a passion for the preservation of historic buildings. When they came across the brewery’s current location, they decided to take a chance and purchased the building in 2018.
“It was kind of the perfect recipe,” says Rachel. “The building itself has great bones, so we restored the inside and made it the home for the brewery.”
Breathing new life into a building that had been vacant for a few years came with some challenges, and the pandemic further complicated matters. In the fall of 2021, the pair decided it was time to start their new life outside of healthcare.
“It was a matter of sink or swim here, and we decided that we weren’t going to let a pandemic get in our way,” says Rachel. “We’ve been doing just fine, and it’s been great, actually.”
SCOTCH HILL BREWERY’S STYLE
Jon works with his assistant brewer, David Coker, to create a rotating tap of six beers. He considers their brewing style traditional but driven by giving customers what they want.
“We’re not really what we consider mainstream, but we’re not really extremists either in creating really wild beers,” says Jon. “We want to have a place where our beers are good, and they’re varied and appeal to as many people as possible.”
While the tap list is constantly changing, Scotch Hill Brewery does have two flagship recipes. The Spitting Lyon Scotch Ale is named after Matthew Lyon, Fair Haven’s founder and a 1700s Congressman who started a brawl on the House floor when he spat on another politician.
Jon describes the beer as having a tobacco-like, leathery aroma with flavors of caramel and chocolate with a smooth finish.
The Black Betty Stout is a mild but crisp stout named after silent film actress and Fair Haven native Betty Benson, who led a wild, short, and tragic life. She died young after enduring the appalling conditions of the Los Angeles county jail for a short stint on charges of drug possession.
Jon says his dark batches have even inspired some of his customers’ beer preferences to evolve. “It’s been fun to kind of see a lot of people’s taste change,” he says. “I have a lot of customers who come in who are curious to see what we have brewing next, and it’s hardly ever the same. We try to mix it up and have a balance of light beers versus dark beers and middle of the road.”
EXPERIMENTING WITH FOOD AND COFFEE
The Meigs initially started their business focusing on beer but discovered that their customers were hungry for more. Although they partner with local food trucks on Fridays, they also have a food menu.
“It kind of sparked us to keep pushing in a direction that we’re not really sure where we’re headed per se, but we are growing organically, and we are enjoying it as we go along the way,” says Jon.
As the brewery evolves, the couple hopes to make early morning hours part of their business plan.
“One of our future goals here is to actually provide coffee in the morning,” says Rachel. “We felt that our taproom very much mimicked a coffee shop in many ways, and that’s a service in our area that we’d like to provide for people.”
A DIFFERENT KIND OF BREWERY
While Scotch Hill Brewing has its fair share of regular customers, it also attracts visitors who travel from out-of- state areas like New York, eager to visit as many Vermont breweries as possible.
In a crowded field of competitors, the Meigses believe their brewery stands out for its beer and the historical experience people have when stepping through the doors.
“The building itself is unique,” says Rachel. “There are a lot of craft breweries in Vermont, but none that look like ours. The bar inside is original, and it’s been there since the beginning of the building. We just really wanted to pay tribute not only to the history of the town but the history of the building.”