Home Beer Meet the winner: Hill Farmstead Brewery

Meet the winner: Hill Farmstead Brewery

Top Brewers in the World 1st place: Hill Farmstead Brewery

Photo by Bob M. Montgomery

Photo by Bob M. Montgomery

Hill Farmstead Brewery 
Greensboro, Vermont

Shaun Hill, the owner and brewer of Hill Farmstead, can’t shake Greensboro, Vermont. In fact, he can’t shake the very farm his family has owned for generations. He still lives in the house he grew up in, on the farm that now houses one of America’s most revered breweries.

His grandfather was a dairy farmer whose barn burned down the year before Shaun was born. The grandfather considered the cost of rebuilding the barn and his increasing age, and left farming altogether.

“I always thought about rebuilding that barn,” Hill says. “Or doing something here. Something, anything.”

A high school science fair project on fermentation led him to homebrewing, then to found a homebrew club in college, then to work at Vermont breweries from 2002-2008, then to travel to Copenhagen, then to return to the farm—it always comes back to the farm—and release the first batch of Hill Farmstead beer in March 2010.

The following six years were marked by constant change, adding equipment, and navigating skyrocketing demand for Hill Farmstead’s bottle-sales-only-at-the-brewery releases. The surprise of striking liquid gold left Hill little time to process the success until recently.

“For the first time really, I’m getting close to being able to catch my breath and reflect upon everything,” he says. “This is not where I ever imagined I would be, managing 10 people, brewing eight times a week. Sometimes I think about wanting to just go open my own brewery in the woods, but I guess I do have my own brewery in the woods? I don’t know, sometimes I miss working completely alone or having a quiet brewery.”

His brewery is never quiet, as scores of people make the trek to rural Greensboro, lining up in advance to pick up a bottle of Dorothy, a Brett-fermented saison, or perhaps Flora, a French oak wine barrel-aged wheat saison, or whatever farmhouse-inspired or single-hop offering the brewery has on draft or in bottles.

Change is still constant. Hill plans to travel more this year (including to France, to brew with Brasserie Thiriez in honor of its 20th anniversary, and to Copenhagen); to release some all-oak-fermented beers from Hill Farmstead’s five-hectoliter system; and to release more popular, small-batch beers for on-site tasting only.

And maybe to take a moment to breath and consider his contributions to American brewing, a subject he’ll address only reluctantly.

“I think many small, rural breweries and start-ups have found inspiration from us,” Hill says. “Also I think that we contributed a bit to the growth in popularity of quote-unquote saisons in America and also the hazy pale ale and IPA. Now I’m just trying to make our classics better. The things that keep me up at night are the same things as in the beginning: mouthfeel, yeast viability, the fear that I’ll wake up one day and have to dump every tank of beer in the brewery. ”

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Kate Bernot is DRAFT’s beer editor. Reach her at kate.bernot[at]draftmag.com.


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