Tom Bedell

‘Open with caution’

Ray McNeill did things a little differently, in brewing as in life

I would happily make a sandwich, with mayo, on the floor of most breweries these days. They're as clean, if not cleaner, than hospitals, for the simple reason that a lack of sanitation is the quickest way to produce bad beer. Bad in terms of flavor, and badly behaved, too - beers that gush out of bottles like a garden hose run amok.

Ray McNeill did things a little differently, in brewing as in life. For a while, he had a production brewery out on Route 5 in Brattleboro that I visited a time or two, and I was always struck by its resemblance to an overworked and understaffed auto repair shop run by a guy who, as a kid, never cleaned his room. Random parts seemed to have been tossed about, randomly.

We all have our methods.

On one visit, Ray gave me a case of Professor Brewhead's Old-Fashioned Brown Ale that he said he had over-primed. “I don't know, maybe I did it twice. But open with caution,” he said. The beers were festooned with Ray's typically lighthearted and haphazardly placed labels. I stashed the case in the garage, but realized a few days later that two of the bottles had blown up.

Read More

Think globally, drink locally

One can travel to Alabama, Michigan, and Canada for different purposes, but these trips are also all about the beer

With three trips in rapid succession in June, I feel on the verge of a “What I Drank for My Summer Vacation” essay. Not that any of the trips can really be categorized as vacations. I traveled down to the Gulf Coast of Alabama early in the month for...

Read More

Fluid situations

Brattleboro Brewers Festival, set for May; a new brewery and a new taproom will come to Keene

Like the essential product, the business of brewing is a fluid situation. Brews and breweries come and go as ownerships move around like chess pieces, but for the imbibing public, it's usually what's in the glass that counts. And at festivals, there are plenty of chances to fill glasses...

Read More


Two breweries are the newest in the state — for now

Leo Foy and his wife, Kelly, from Berlin, Vermont, drove out to Missouri last July. “We took about a week, made a little trip out it,” said Foy. The impetus was to pick up four beer-serving tanks, haul them back to Vermont, and set them up in time for the Dec. 15 opening of the Dog River Brewery on Route 302 in Barre. That made Dog River Vermont's newest brewery, though it held the title for less than a month.

Read More

Come the revolution, there’s gonna be better beer

Other than beer itself, the best gifts for any fan of the suds may be those other grand consumables, books. And with impeccable timing, publishers have provided. Any self-satisfied beer geek will quickly warm up to Bill McKibben's Radio Free Vermont (Blue Rider Press, $22). On page 3 of the longtime environmental activist and writer's first novel, a beer truck is hijacked in a remote part of the state and 4,800 bottles of Coors Light emptied onto the ground. Even...

Read More

Penciling in some beer on the calendar

Thursday, Sept. 28 was National Drink Beer Day. Or so I was informed via a cornucopia of social media messages. It was also National Poetry Day, which suggested that by late evening we could have probably, with impunity, added a National Verbosity Day. In case one overdid on National Drink Beer Day, whoever comes up with these things deemed Friday, Sept. 29 National Coffee Day, which is some kind of perfection. Several national coffee-and-doughnut chains gave away free coffee that...

Read More

Getting a handle on tap handles

Steam was coming out of his ears the first time I saw Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead Brewery fame. It was toward the close of the first Brattleboro Brewers Festival in 2010, his first year of operation. Hill was in angry pursuit and capture of two wobbly festival-goers who had purloined tap handles from the Hill Farmstead booth for what they thought would be nifty souvenirs. Hill left the perpetrators with a tongue-lashing that surely helped them remember the day,

Read More

Local brewers take center stage as beer festival season begins

The Brattleboro Brewers Festival will open the spigots on the beer festival season this Saturday at the VABEC fields off Old Guilford Road, beginning at noon and running until 4 p.m. And on the following Saturday, May 21, in Pownal at the Green Mountain Race Track, the Green Mountain Brewfest will debut, also from noon to 4 p.m. The Brattleboro Festival will include 27 producers of beer, five of hard cider, and one hard seltzer maker, Truly Spiked & Sparkling.

Read More