Tucked away in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont sits a brewery many consider the mecca of craft beer. Shaun Hill, the Founder and Head Brewer at Hill Farmstead, has been on top of the beer world ever since he opened his doors to the brewery more than five years ago. Since then, beer lovers from around the country have made the pilgrimage down the dirt roads of Greensboro Bend, Vermont to get a hold of his beers.
With the recent expansion of the brewery, adding a tap house for on-site consumption, and a desire to travel more, Shaun has been busier than ever, so we were lucky when he agreed to spend a few minutes with us to talk about Pete’s Wicked Ale, decreasing production and Civil Disobedience.
Paste: Your first home-brew was for a science project when you were 15 and you were the head of a homebrew club in college. Was there a beer or brewery that inspired you to get into brewing?
Shaun Hill: I started the homebrew club my senior year in college. There were several influences in those early days. When I was 15 ,things such as Pete’s Wicked Ale, Boston Beer’s Cream Stout, Magic Hat #9…I still remember the first time that I saw a bottle of #9.
Paste: Have any of those recipes/ideas from your home-brewing period made it into the tanks at HF?
SH: Nothing from the early period – age 15 to 21 – was ever worthy of recreation! However, some of the beers that I created later on during my homebrew and early professional career (2003 to 2006) have morphed into the existing beers.
Paste: This year you added the new tap room to the brewery. What was the event or moment that made you realize that you had to add the taproom and increase production? Are you planning to make any more additions to the brewery?
SH: The tap room is really more of a growler filling station. We had to decide between continuing to fill growlers or to make the shift to packaging beer. For now, the decision was to make the customer onsite experience as enjoyable as possible by shortening the lines for growler fills and to allow onsite consumption of some of the beers. The new tap room will also allow us to release beers for onsite consumption only… But there are no more additions as far as I know!
Paste: Lately, there has been a consistent flow of kegs out of state to places like NYC and Philly. Do you have any plans for a larger distribution?
SH: Absolutely no plans for increased distribution. In fact, we are now beginning to plateau and even decrease our production.
Paste: I’ve heard that you have been speaking with Dom Pérignon chef de cave Richard Geoffroy. How has he influenced your barreling/cellar process?
SH: Interesting—where did you hear this? I met him on a trip through France and a visit to Moët. It is always refreshing to meet someone that is a kindred soul, curious and driven to refinement. There has been no influence on barreling (they don’t barrel age or use wood) and much of our conversations at this time have been in relation to bottle conditioning. We are among a very small minority of American brewers that utilize bottle conditioning and have extended aging times of more than a year of bottle conditioning prior to release…
Paste: For the Civil Disobedience series, each beer is a blend. Is there a process you follow to decide which beers to blend?
SH: The process is quite simple, really. Generally, we do not set out to brew a beer for the Civil Disobedience series, but rather find ourselves blending orphan barrels of beers that possess the qualities of unique expression, but are not as singular in their focus as Ann, Art, and Flora…
Paste How do you know you will achieve what you are looking for? Are there cases where you have to dump blends?
SH: We blend on a very small scale, of course, first, before just dumping barrels into each other.
Paste: There are several beers like Mimosa and Juicy that have only been brewed once. Which of the beers that you have only brewed once would you re-brew and why?
SH: There is actually a new iteration of Juicy that will be released quite soon. Mimosa was a magical happenstance beer, something akin to it will be released again, surely, but it won’t be Mimosa. Perhaps I made the mistake of not “vintage” dating some of these earlier beers, so that they might be referenced in relation to their seasonal/yearly/happen-stance driven creation.
Paste: You have brewed a lot of incredible beers over the years. If you had to pick one beer that has been your favorite beer to brew/drink what would it be?
SH: Difficult question! My favorite beer to drink (that we make) is Art.
Paste: If you could do a collaboration with any brewery in the world, who would it be with, what would you be brewing and why?
SH: I’m reaching the end of the collaborative process… feeling that I’ve brewed with most of the folks with whom I had wished to work.
What is your favorite non-Hill Farmstead beer to drink right now?
Sierra Nevada Celebration. I’m also liking the hoppy beers that are being produced by Fat Heads
Paste: I’ve seen photos of Apple Brandy barrels, Coolships, and rumors of a beer called Clover. What can you tell us about your plans for 2016?
SH: Believe it or not, I have not finalized what this plan is! I’d like to travel more, brew less, and connect with my creative self in a new way. I am working on different production models—rearranging our brewery and our process—and planning to focus on our onsite experience. Clover will be released. Juicy will be released…
Paste: If you could change one (or multiple) things about the craft beer world as it is today, what would it be?
SH: The illusion that “we are all in this together,” or that brewers are somehow obligated to openly share information with each other and with home brewers and aspiring future brewers—as if the common theme is that we are all bonding together to take down the establishment and to create as many breweries as possible. I’m no longer sure what it means to be “in this,” or what “the industry” is.
I also wish that people would stop using the word saison as a catch-all for any beer that does not fit within a conventional and defined category. A no boil, 100% wheat beer fermented with lactobacillus and double dry hopped is now called… a saison.