DETOUR: Greensboro, Vermont – Trekking to ‘The World’s Best Brewery’, Hill Farmstead
"DETOURS" is a travel series by The Hop Review. Being a weary traveler almost always calls for a reward in the form of a pint at the end of the day. Here, we document those beer breaks–as we travel the U.S. and beyond–with quips, photographs and Q&As.
403 Hill ROAd, Greensboro Bend, VERMONT 05842
Last winter, on the final day of a trip to Burlington, Vermont, we found ourselves faced with a decision. Just a few days prior, we’d reached out to Shaun Hill of the namesake brewery, requesting the chance to sit down for a beer. And while Shaun happened to be out of town, he was kind enough to accommodate our us, if we were able to make the drive east to the brewery for an early morning visit with brewery manager–and friend of 15 years–Phil Young. We promptly accepted the invitation. But once that morning came, the weekend’s rumblings of an approaching blizzard had come to fruition, and we had to decide whether tackling an already four hour round trip excursion, before our afternoon flight, without 4-wheel drive, was a good idea…
We chose to set out toward rural Greensboro.
Headstrong into the blinding snowfall, over rolling hills, past covered bridges and quiet farmsteads, we found ourselves on fresher powder and less traveled road with every turn. After what can only be described as a ‘harrowing ordeal’, we arrived to 403 Hill Road–marked by a simple wooden hang sign at the edge of the road and a small sign tacked above the entrance of the cedar-covered structure that read “Hill Farmstead.” We’d made it. And never before had I felt I’d earned a beer as much as I did that morning. Upon pulling into the small lot, we were greeted by a man clearing snow from the walkway, our host: Phil Young. He promptly welcomed us inside for a tour.
For those less familiar with Hill Farmstead–their accolades, beer-nerd-trading-fandom, endless lines, and sheer location add to the brewery’s lore. That, and of course, their incredibly nuanced, and often simple, beers. Since they began brewing in 2011, all Hill Farmstead has done is win the title “Best Brewery in the World” from Ratebeer the past four years (the previous three times, they finished No. 2, No. 6 and ‘Best New Brewery’, respectively).
The brewery is the culmination of years of travel inspiration by founder, Shaun, and the revival of the Hill family’s imbibing past (his great-great-great grandfather owned a tavern near the property in the early 1800’s). Shaun Hill still lives in the house adjacent to the brewery, in fact. It’s very much the product of a personal endeavor, and its painstaking attention to detail–it’s extreme consideration–is evident with every touchpoint. To further pay homage, an entire series of beers get their names from Hill family ancestors.
Phil points out to us that for the first couple years, the brewery was a two-man operation. But these days, they’ll even “pull people down from the office” on busy retail days, to satiate the crowds. But the same reality applies to every guest: Once a beer has run out, it’s out. Their system has grown from a small 5-hectoliter pilot system (now used to brew small-batch series like their Leaves of Grass) to a 30-hectoliter system in total (or roughly 25.5 barrels), after expanding the structure from a two-room building in 2015. And the whole place is impeccably clean. It’s pristine; so much so, that it’s almost hard to envision it as an actual working brewery.
After a stroll through the production facility, Phil leads us into the taproom, in a cozy corner of the building, separate from the retail outpost, overlooking the rolling hills and vast tree-line. “You can't see it today, but we're on top the hill. The views are amazing–in the summer and whatnot. I think people feel like they earn it when they enter here, after their journey. You guys do today–more than ever–you earned it to get here!,” says Phil. We waste no time and get to what we really trekked there for… After a few suggestions, we land on a pour of Earl–a coffee oatmeal stout–and one of the APAs, Edward. Immediately, they hype justifies itself, if it hadn’t already. As with all of the beers, these two were perfectly true-to-style and simple, in the most impressive way. The ability to pull so much flavor from so little is alone worth noting.
Phil shares stories of the time Shaun brought him a growler from the first batch of Edward, when he still ran the nearby liquor store. And of the summers where the lines of cars would span all the way back to the main road, and the logistical issues of where to physically park vehicles. “Once I think the locals stopped pushing back about the traffic though, they realized it was just great to have such a success story here. The area has consistently one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. We’re proud of what we’ve built. Shaun’s been incredible to work for.”
After a bit, Phil reminds us that he should get to work and officially start his brew day. By then, the snow had continued to layer on; we decide to head back toward Burlington. And we dedicated what little remaining space existed in our luggage to some Legitimacy [IPA], some Dorothy [saison] and some Flora [pear saison].
The drive back is much more relaxed. Our only regret is that we didn’t find room for any more 6-packs or 350ml bottles. And we immediately began chatter of what it must look like out here in this quiet corner of rural Vermont…in warmer weather.
What We Drank:
Earl [7.2%] – One of only a few dark ales available on the menu, this coffee oatmeal stout is sublime. It was so incredibly balanced, it was shocking even. Pillowy soft and easy drinking with a robust toasty finish. I still think about this beer…
Edward [5.2%] – A beautifully executed American pale ale, brewed with ‘a plethora of hops.’ It’s bright, crisp, melony and all around pleasant.
Words by The Hop Review’s Jack Muldowney. Photography by Matt Tanaka of Stout Collective, for The Hop Review.
Thanks to the Phil Young and Hill Farmstead Brewery for being so accommodating, last minute, and hosting us before starting the work day in rural Vermont.