Keane Aures, seen here in 2021, is the new owner of Whetstone Brewing Company. He recently purchased the Whetstone Brewing brand and its brewery on Frost Street in Brattleboro.
Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
Keane Aures, seen here in 2021, is the new owner of Whetstone Brewing Company. He recently purchased the Whetstone Brewing brand and its brewery on Frost Street in Brattleboro.

What’s next for beer in Brattleboro?

There were three breweries pre-pandemic, and now there are none — but only for the moment, as the Whetstone Beer brand plans to resume production under new ownership

BRATTLEBORO-When I wrote in the Dec. 10, 2014, edition of The Commons that "Brattleboro, Vermont, now has three operating breweries," it was with an excitement that bordered on effusive.

The then-recent opening of Hermit Thrush Brewery on High Street really put the town on an enviable map of craft beer brewing locations. Three breweries in a relatively small town? What could be better?

Now there are none.

Luckily, this is true only for the moment. The Whetstone Beer Company was sold last month and is in a transition period, but should be back in distribution soon.

But Hermit Thrush Brewery announced its impending closure in an Instagram post on March 27. The most cataclysmic closure possible occurred in December 2022, when a fire at McNeill's Brewery on Elliot Street took the life of owner and brewer Ray McNeill.

The closure of Hermit Thrush doesn't compare to the tragedy of McNeill. Still, the announcement of its shuttering produced an outpouring of tribute and regret on social media, from both fellow Vermont brewers and fans of the brewery's all-sour beers.

* * *

Christopher Gagné and partner Avery Schwenk opened the brewery on Nov. 22, 2014. I managed to be the first customer through the door, and it was clear from the start that something different was going on; all the beers were brewed with wild yeasts that imparted a distinctive sour note to the final product.

It became the brewery's slogan: "Yes, they're all sour."

Though Belgian by way of inspiration, the beers were hyperlocal. The yeast used to ferment them was harvested right in the wilds of Brattleboro.

"Of any breweries doing sours, we may be the only one that never bought yeast - ever," said Gagné in a recent conversation. "The yeast was one of the reasons [Avery and I] moved here to begin with - the best wild yeast we could find, and a great community open to welcoming new, weird ideas."

Not every palate could deal with Hermit Thrush's wild beers. My favorite critic remains the guy on Tripadvisor who, after a 2015 visit, wrote, "I'd rather drink my own urine."

But there were enough fans to help expand the brewery's distribution into nine states and Washington, D.C.

"We were crushing it," said Gagné.

Then came Covid, and the business line graph began moving in the other direction - for many craft breweries, not just Hermit Thrush.

"That's when everything began to change. We're not the exception in the industry; we're feeling it like anyone else, but perhaps moreso as a specialty product," Gagné said.

A beer like Rowdy Monk started life as a dark ale and then spent almost two years in red wine and scotch barrels, emerging as a mind-bending complexity of flavors at a leg-wobbling strength of 14.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), stronger than many wines. Like many of Hermit Thrush's beers, it was expensive to make and priced accordingly.

"We had a good 10 years," Gagné said. "I feel happy about the level of beer quality that we achieved. We were doing weird stuff and we were doing the best of the best weird stuff. And there's been a crazy outpouring of support - so many coming in and expressing their sorrow.

"I'm totally flattered and amazed at the response. You can't really expect anything like that, and we're just grateful. We are well-loved among people who like beer for wine-lovers."

A closing sale of existing inventory sent crowds to the High Street tap room location through April 7; mail orders will remain available through Monday, April 29.

As of April 12, of the 41 beers offered on the brewery website, 18 were already sold out.

* * *

The good news on the Brattleboro beer front is that the Whetstone Beer Company, which was sold a month ago, should emerge from a transition service agreement and begin distributing beer again soon. Its new owner, Keane Aures, said that will happen "shortly, in a couple of weeks, or maybe a month or so."

To be clear, Aures purchased only the Whetstone Beer brand and the production brewery on Frost Street. The original owners, David Hiler and Tim and Amy Brady, still own the Whetstone Station restaurant and brewery on Bridge Street, the River Garden Marketplace on Main Street, and the Kampfires Campground in Dummerston.

Aures, 44, owns a bit of property in Dummerston as well - the 375-acre Maple Valley Ski Area. He's owned it since 2018, and for close to seven years he has been trying to get all the legal ducks in a row to reopen the lodge as a brewery, distillery, and sometime performance venue.

A Vermont Supreme Court ruling late last year finally gave him the all-clear after a long bureaucratic slog. Aures can't completely hide his frustration and wouldn't hazard a timeline for the work ahead on the Maple Valley project.

"I stopped putting a date on it a long time ago," he said.

"We hope to start doing some work later this year," Aures said. "But the cost to construct anything has risen greatly since 2018. Our initial budget was essentially ruined, to put it nicely."

Of course, he may have been tired. I spoke to Aures the day after his wife gave birth to twins, which immediately doubled the number of the family's children.

Aures lives outside Boston, but practices construction law for a firm in Connecticut. He's been a frequent visitor to southern Vermont for years, and has family in the area.

"Yes, I was caught up in the craft beer movement but never really had a thought of opening a brewery," he said. "It was more that, as I continually drove by Maple Valley after it was closed as a ski area, I thought it would be a great spot for a brewery."

And so it yet may be. The purchase of Whetstone Beer is a result of reimagining the entire Maple Valley project.

"We saw the purchase of Whetstone as a big part of it, to help fund some of the Maple Valley work," Aures said. "So now we're focused on the transition, and immediately in front of us is making sure that we're making the best beer that we can and getting it back into distribution."

Connor Busch will remain the head brewer. Twelve former Whetstone brands will be trimmed to four core styles, and a new line will emerge, named after some Maple Valley equipment - North Chair Brewing. And once some whiskey and gin begin emerging from Maple Valley, look for South Chair Distilling.

And will skiing ever return to the hill?

"Never say never," says Aures.

He also said he was sad to hear about the closing of Hermit Thrush: "And I'm frankly surprised that someone didn't want to pick it up. It's such a great brand, making great beer. And there's all that equipment."

True enough. Besides the brewing facilities on High Street, Hermit Thrush had its extensive barrel operations in a building straddling the Bratteleboro-Dummerston town line on Route 5. But as it turns out, it's not just the Hermit Thrush equipment that is available.

"The brewery is up for sale," Gagné said. "All I can say is that during the crazy amount of business we've been doing for two weeks, some voices have come out of the woodwork, and we're discussing things with them. But it's premature to say anything that may or may not happen."

So Brattleboro might return to a two-brewery town? One can hope. And if two, why not three?

Never say never.

Tom Bedell ( has written extensively about beer and golf in countless articles (including in The Commons) and in several books.

This News column was submitted to The Commons.

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