The Northeast Kingdom town of Greensboro is home to a number of unique and successful ventures – from Circus Smirkus to the cheese cellars at Jasper Hill. And now it’s home to what a popular beer rating website has named the single best brewer in the world: Hill Farmstead Brewery. Despite being located far off the beaten path, crowds are flocking to Greensboro to get a taste of what Hill Farmstead has to offer.
If you follow a series of small brown signs – bearing the shape of a chalice – up a succession of meandering dirt roads, you will eventually come to the hillside farm that has (appropriately enough) been in the Hill Family for more than two centuries.
You can feel the presence of dairy farmers from generations gone by in this place. It’s as if their names are inscribed on the walls: Edward, Ephraim, George, Everett…
Okay, maybe not so much inscribed on the walls as written on the dry-erase board behind the bar. They aren’t just the names of brew master Shaun Hill’s relatives; they’re also the names of his beers.
“The beers that we have on tap now are all named after ancestors,” Hill explained. “My family was one of the original pioneering families in Greensboro, and the Hills are still alive – so to speak – in Greensboro.”
Hill and his brewery are currently sitting squarely on top of RateBeer.com’s annual list of the world’s best brewers. And if you want to take a bottle of his beer home, this is the only place you can get it.
The RateBeer buzz has forced Hill Farmstead to accommodate crowds of craft brew aficionados. It’s not uncommon to wait in line for a couple of hours on a Saturday to get a growler filled. But Hill says it’s still possible to have a quiet countryside experience at his brewery.
“If they come out on a Wednesday they’ll see us brewing and talk to us and maybe it will be relaxed and there won’t be many people…and, they’ll have a peaceful experience,” said Hill.
If you’re just looking for a draft, you may be able to find Hill Farmstead beers at a bar near you… if they haven’t sold out. Don Horrigan is bar manager of Positive Pie, in Hardwick. He says his bar goes through kegs of Hill Farmstead quicker than any other beer.
“Typically we have Edward on as our Hill Farmstead base,” said Horrigan. “It’s probably one out of every three beers on my 20 tap line, I’ve got to say. Every order… They love the hops, they love the citrus. Yeah. It’s a good beer.”
In addition to the Hill Farmstead brand, Hill also produces beers under Grassroots Brewery. That’s the label on his latest brew: Brother Soigne´.
“So this is a Saison, which is a classic Belgian-style farmhouse ale,” Hill explained. “High fermentation temperature, very, very dry. Should be effervescent and refreshing and dry without any real residual sugar. Nice acidity. Extremely quaffable, thirst quenching and refreshing. So this one’s brewed with some lime and some blood orange and a little bit of sea salt, and then fermented with our multiple strains of Saison yeast, and then aged briefly in these oak barrels and then packaged… Oh, and there’s a little bit of hibiscus in the mash as well on this beer as well, so there’s a kind of pinkish-orangeish hue.”
Indeed, Brother Soigne´ both looks and tastes like a world-class beer. It’s not hard to see why serious beer lovers make the pilgrimage to Greensboro. And Greensboro is the only place Shaun Hill plans to be. On the same land his ancestors farmed, and where his grandfather’s dairy barn burned down the year before he was born.
“My brother and I grew up sort of playing on the remnants of that barn foundation,” said Hill. “And once I started to brew beer, and went to college… my sense of place was further heightened, I guess. I always knew it was really special and amazing here, I guess, but the further I went away from home the more I realized how great it is.”
Hill’s original business plan relied on selling kegs of beer to restaurants and bars. And he says they now struggle to keep up with demand. But retail sales were not a big part of the original plan.
“I never thought that people would drive out here and buy beer, you know? Like when I was writing my business plan I thought that I would sell one growler a week. I thought that was a safe bet, that one person a week would come out and buy beer,” said Hill.
Now, on a good week, Hill Farmstead sells an entire batch of beer out of house. That’s 18-hundred liters of beer sold from an out-of-the-way farmstead, on a dirt road in Greensboro.