Heady ambitions
Hermit Thrush Brewery co-owner Avery Schwenk keeps watch during the brewery’s one-year anniversary party on Nov. 21 in Brattleboro.

Heady ambitions

Hermit Thrush Brewery celebrates one year — with an expansion ahead of schedule

BRATTLEBORO — Christophe Gagné and Avery Schwenk, whose brewery, Hermit Thrush Brewery, turned one year old last month, are the poster children for doing what you love.

Big smiles and a loyal following of beer lovers must also come with doing work they love, because Gagné and Schwenk have lots of both.

They celebrated at their High Street tasting room and brewery with an open house Nov. 21, complete with 600 guests, beer, food, and tours of their 1,300-square-foot expansion.

The new floor space brings the brewery to 3,500 square feet, which will double Hermit Thrush's production capacity.

Listed on a chalkboard near the tasting bar are the brewery's current 22 Belgian-inspired ales.

Hermit Thrush has created more than 30 beers since it opened, including some seasonal recipes, Gagné said. The brewery is starting to shift some of what it produces, although its standbys like the sour IPAs will remain, he assured the beer's fans.

Over the past year, Gagné and Schwenk have brewed 700 barrels of beer.

“We didn't know we could do that much,” said Gagné, Hermit Thrush's president and brewmaster.

Schwenk tackles everything from marketing to distribution, Gagné said.

When asked Schwenk's title, Gagné answered, “Vice-president, and - I don't know - Swiss Army Knife; he does so much.”

A fast expansion

Gagné and Schwenk knew the brewery would eventually expand into the farthest reaches of what used to be the Blue Moose Bistro (which relocated to lower Main Street) by next summer.

The move, however, is happening sooner than expected.

“We needed to make more beer now rather than later,”Gagné said.

Gagné and Schwenk have also hired three employees, two full-time and one part-time.

Much of Hermit Thrush's business has grown faster than Gagné and Schwenk's self-imposed benchmarks - a nice problem to have.

While Gagné and Schwenk have applied for funding to expand the business, the business is doing well enough to pay its own bills.

Right now, the new space acts as storage for cans, hops, and grains for the brewery. Eventually, Gagné said, they will move the beer barrels they use to age some of their beers like Jolly Abbott, a sour Belgian barley wine, and Stickney Kriek, a sour cherry ale, into the new space.

Gagné noted that Hermit Thrush will continue its commitment to “green brewing.” Brewers can't wait for the industry to drive the transition to green energy, he said.

As far as he knows, the brewery is the only one in the world powered by wood pellets. He said the wood pellet power has replaced the need for “hundreds of gallons” of heating oil.

Schwenk and Gagné chose to sell their beers in cans rather than glass because metal cans have a longer recycling life.

The friends met as students at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. They moved to Brattleboro over a year ago to launch their business.

In Hermit Thrush's early days, Gagné and Schwenk used a CSB (Community Supported Brewery) model - think Community Supported Agriculture - to help build a following of beer lovers.

Over the past year, the CSB has had between 40 and 50 members, and the option remains popular, Schwenk said.

Hermit Thrush doesn't rely on the CSB any more, but the program will continue, Gagné said, “because the locals like it and we want to continue providing fresh, affordable beer to our support base.”

The CSB has helped Hermit Thrush build relationships in the community, Gagné and Schwenk said.

It's nice to see people weekly, Schwenk said. Some people like to refill their growler - a jug to carry fresh beer from the brewery to home --with the same type of beer every week. Some like to mix it up.

Keeping up with Vermont

Schwenk says the community's support has kept the smiles on their faces over this past year.

Gagné added that the Vermont brewing community has also welcomed them.

Beer people are kind, Schwenk said, adding that it's nice to travel the state and see Hermit Thrush on tap at other establishments.

Although Hermit Thrush isn't ready for a national distributor, it distributes in Vermont with Craft Beer Guild Distributing of Vermont.

“We're still trying to keep up with the Vermont market,” Schwenk said.