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The Country’s First Beer Concierge Talks Brew and Business

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The Country’s First Beer Concierge Talks Brew and Business

Hotel Vermont is Burlington’s only independent, locally sourced hotel. As such, it seeks to honor its heritage by engaging in innovative partnerships while representing Vermont’s culture and values in the best possible way. In addition to being a state where outdoorsmen and women flock, Vermont is also known for its artisanal food and drink scene, and more specifically, its status as a world class beer destination.

Vermont’s beer scene offers small, though thoughtful, production with limited distribution—and many of Vermont’s most sought after breweries are found within the northern part of the state. Therefore, it’s no surprise that it’s home to one of the few known beer concierges in the U.S., Hotel Vermont’s own Matt Canning.

In May 2014, Hotel Vermont officially recognized beer tourism with its Beer Concierge program. A year after the opening of Hotel Vermont, employees found themselves answering the same questions over and over again: ‘Where can I buy The Alchemist Heady Topper?’ and ‘What restaurants pour Hill Farmstead on draft?’ As someone who grew up in Vermont and also worked in the beer and hospitality industry in Boulder, Colorado and Northern California, Canning quickly became the go-to resource for guests.

What’s a Beer Concierge?

“I offer concierge-type services on where and when to find Vermont’s best beer, host educational sessions, and tastings, and offer year-round overnight packages that are highlighted by our Hotel Vermont Beer Tour,” said Canning. “As the years go on and I continue to drink beer as a profession, it looks less and less likely that I’ll ever start as quarterback for the New England Patriots, so, yeah, Hotel Vermont’s Beer Concierge is my dream job.”

“When people come to Vermont, they are surprised at how deeply rooted beer is in our culture. Craft beer enthusiasts aren’t isolated to bearded beer bellies … You can’t avoid good local beer in Vermont, ask a bartender what’s local on draft and she’ll point to the whole lineup,” he continued.

As Hotel Vermont’s official Beer Concierge, Canning knows where to find the hidden stashes of Heady Topper—a beer he described as ‘one of the most iconic craft beers of our generation,’ which is only brewed in in Waterbury, Vermont and distributed within a 25-mile radius. He also can point you towards the most exclusive places to imbibe on rare brews. Those looking for a full experience can join a Hotel Vermont Craft Brew Tour.

Led by Canning, this full-day tour gives guests access to samples and allows them to take home some of the most sought-after beers from stops that include Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Blackback Pub, a small batch beer from the Prohibition Pig Brewery and introduces visitors to award-winning farmhouse ales only found in retail at the Hill Farmstead Brewery—the most decorated and most rural brewery around.

Entering its third summer, The Beer Tour package is the most comprehensive beer experience currently offered at Hotel Vermont. The tour leaves from the hotel lobby and stops at Hill Farmstead, Lost Nation Brewery and ends with a pub exploration at the food and beer epicenter of Waterbury, Vermont. Waterbury is home to an excellent selection of craft beer bars, brewpubs, the Alchemist Brewery and the Waterbury Craft Beer Cellar.

“The intent has always been to access Vermont’s best and most remote breweries while committing to a multi-day experience,” said Canning. “We aim to provide a highly curated experience that is far from a booze cruise, the day focuses on travel and education as much as it focuses on drinking beer.”

Travelocity, along with the expertise of the Brewers Association, created the first Beer Tourism Index last year. Of the 1,003 people surveyed, over three-quarters said they would like to go on a trip where they visited craft breweries and sampled local beer. Within the top areas to visit was Burlington, VT.

“Just last year, beer tourism took over as the second largest tourism driver in the state to skiing,” said Canning. “I think as beer regions develop and evolve, as will the hospitality climate in those regions. In our case, we built this program off relationships and commitment to our community; it wasn’t manufactured based on trends.”

“We consider northern Vermont to be a world-class beer destination. If you look at a developed cultural beverage like wine, a deep framework between the hospitality industry and wine regions exist,” continues Canning. “We see recognizing beer tourism as a no-brainer. At Hotel Vermont we strive to ‘help our guests explore like a local’ and us locals love to drink beer.”

Identifying the Biggest Brew Trends of the Moment

According to Canning, it’s the hazy, “juice bomb” IPAs.

“Spearheaded by The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead in the mid-2000’s, this style was originally known as the Vermont Style IPA, which denotes a hazy unfiltered ale featuring late additions hops, focusing on tropical juicy flavors. The style has been reclassified as the New England Style IPA due to the mastery of such breweries like Trillium and Treehouse,” says Canning.

“The haze craze has struck the East Coast significantly, some of the Midwest and even the malt forward and traditionally crisp West Coast IPA producers. One of England’s most progressive and popular breweries, Cloudwater from Manchester, specializes in ‘Vermont Style IPAs.’ One of my favorite trends is the neo-pilsner—breweries dry hopping the traditional German style. Two of my favorites are Zero Gravity’s Kellerbier and Switchback’s Citra Pils.”

“The Beer Concierge program has been very successful in solidifying our identity as the premier hotel for those traveling on beer tourism or those in the beer industry,” said Canning. In addition to the Hotel Vermont Beer Tour Package, the hotel offers other beer-focused offerings which include Bike and Brew Tours through Burlington’s waterfront and South End (Foam Brewers, Switchback Brewing, Queen City Brewing, Zero Gravity and Citizen Cider).

The tours run multiple times a day each weekend in the summer, and include private beer tastings for small groups or corporate functions as well as beer-related festivals at Hotel Vermont.

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