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Pint-Sized PARADISE - Big Tree Is a Small Brewery Brewing Up Big Things

Jan 29, 2024 08:51PM ● By BENJAMIN STANGE
In the quaint town of Waterbury, Vermont, nestled within the heart of The Reservoir, a culinary haven renowned for its delectable offerings, lies a hidden gem that proves great things do indeed come in small packages—Big Tree Brewing . This unassuming nano brewery, an integral part of The Reservoir experience, has quietly been crafting exceptional brews that defy its modest scale. Much like the towering trees that fill Vermont’s landscape, Big Tree Brewing stands tall, offering patrons a sip of the extraordinary amid the scenic charm of Waterbury. Welcome to a pint-sized paradise where flavor knows no bounds and where big things are happening in the coziest corner of Vermont’s brewing scene.

As it enters its 15th year, The Reservoir is firmly ensconced in Waterbury as an institution, but 15 years ago, it was just an idea to bring the best of Vermont food and beer to Waterbury.

“The Reservoir started in 2009 with a focus on bringing some of the farm-to-table movement into the casual restaurant atmosphere. At the same time, the craft beer movement was really getting going. After I attended the Vermont Craft Beer Brewers Festival on the waterfront, I was surprised to find that there were almost no restaurants where you could try all the Vermont breweries in a single location. We opened with almost every brewery represented and had to add lines over the years as more breweries opened,” Mark Frier, co-owner of The Reservoir and its sister restaurant, The Bench in Stowe, VT, said.

While Big Tree Brewing was not part of the original plan, Mark said it was a natural progression for him, especially as a homebrewer and a fan of craft beer.

“The brewery wasn’t in the original plan. I was an avid home brewer and decided I wanted to give brewing on a more commercial system a try. The nano-brewing equipment was getting better and better, and the timing just seemed right,” Mark said. In addition, Mark had a very useful background for making the systems and processes necessary to make good beer, and make it consistently.

“I am an engineer by education, and I like the repeatability and planned chaos that is brewing. Trying small changes like dropping the wort temp before adding whirlpool hops, adjustments in water profile, or doing the first round of dry hopping during active fermentation have been fun to experiment with,” he said.


For that reason, it makes a lot of sense that Mark would choose nano brewing, as the very small scale allows for a lot of experimentation. And while many mistakes in nano brewing can have very limited consequences, Mark remembers one mistake that has had a lasting effect.

“One mistake we made was putting the brewery on the third floor of the building. Carrying grain bags up the stairs and then full kegs down is a challenge. We also have had issues with the floor leaking down onto the other floors; good times,” he said.

Despite the trials of having a brewery on the third floor, Big Tree has a history and reputation for making some excellent beers, and while the rotation of Big Tree beers continues to change over time, there are always a few that can always be found on tap at The Reservoir.

“Our flagship Big Tree beers have changed a bit over the years. Currently, they are Local Legend, a 6% IPA; Mellowstone, a 5% IPA; and Glampin, a 4.5% Pilsner. All our IPAs are designed to be flavorful up front, but don’t destroy your pallet and  finish nicely.”

While the small brewery size of Big Tree allows for a lot of experimentation and flexibility, it definitely comes with its limitations, which is why Big Tree often partners with larger breweries to ensure its beers are available in the marketplace for their fans.

“We were using the nano system to test recipes and increase my understanding of commercial brewing. We pursued a few locations for a brewpub in towns like Montpelier, Winooski, and Burlington. None came to fruition, but we wanted to get the beer into the market, so we looked into and ultimately settled on contract brewing in order to get it into package for retail,” Mark said. Because of that effort, Big Tree is now available in most specialty beer stores, some grocery stores, and some additional select retailers in the area, but Mark still hasn’t given up on opening a more dedicated brewery. Those plans just may take a little longer than he originally thought. However, he is still open to finding just the right location to fit in with The Reservoir and The Bench.


“We still have interest in our own large-scale brewery, but life is getting in the way a little. I had my first kid this year, and my focus on growth will probably be on pause for a bit. We would want the location to speak to the brand and focus on the outdoors and nature,” he said.

Of course, The Reservoir has a lot more to offer than just Big Tree’s beers, which is why it has become such an institution in Waterbury over the past 15 years. To begin with, its dedication to showcasing the best craft beer Vermont has to offer has never faltered. Its carefully curated craft beer list focuses on balance but regularly features some heavy hitters and often has a surprise for craft beer fans.

“My general manager manages the list. It is a lot to organize, and my manager has to make sure the beers are being poured fresh and the list is balanced. We were fortunate to build relationships with Hill Farmstead Brewery right when they started, and having world-class breweries like that available to us is amazing. The whole program is laid out on the computer and organized, so we know what is planned for each line well in advance. We just replaced all of our beer lines and cooling systems for the draft system as we enter our 15th year in business,” Mark told us.

While you may visit for just a beer or a cocktail, don’t miss trying The Reservoir’s food, which is varied, top- notch, and reasonably priced.


“We are really proud of what the food at our restaurant has grown into. Everything is made in- house or in our sister restaurant in Stowe [The Bench]. We really do try to bring food that is unique to our restaurant, balanced against other offerings in town, and at a price that the customer appreciates. Our bar manager and team design our cocktail menu,” Mark said.

If you get a chance to visit, be sure and ask about great beer pairings with your meal, as the staff knows just the right brew to complement your lunch or dinner.


“My favorite beer pairing right now is our brown ale, Big Tree 85 Bears, paired with our 85-layer lasagna. Yes, it has 85 layers! We were inspired by a 100-layer version we saw on Instagram. I am from Chicago, and in 1985, the Bears won the Super Bowl and that was a huge part of my childhood,” Mark told us.

Mark also let us know that if we want to know more about the ’85 Chicago Bears, the best way to find it is to watch the “Superbowl Shuffle” on YouTube. Feel free to do that in preparation for your visit. If you would like to try a pairing with something other than beer, Mark also has a great cocktail recommendation for you.

“My favorite pairing right now is our Sunset Road cocktail [Bar Hill Tomcat Gin, Campari, pineapple, and sage] with our hot honey smash burger [La Platte Farm beef, pepper jack, bacon, hot honey, and chipotle aioli],” he said. As The Reservoir proudly marks its 15th year in the heart of Waterbury, it’s clear that the establishment has become more than just a restaurant—it’s a cherished institution. From its modest beginnings to the present, where the nano brewery crafts exceptional beers like Local Legend and Mellowstone, Big Tree Brewing offers a delightful surprise in every sip.


1 South Main Street Waterbury, VT 

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