Breakout Brewer: Foam in Vermont focuses on local ingredients and a quality drinking experience

From afar, Foam Brewers in Burlington, Vermont ticks the boxes required for a young, hype-generating brewery — labeled 16-ounce cans, a destination bar in New England, massive buzz around its rare off-the-beaten-track beer. of the state drops, and an Instagram following of over 72,000 people. Yet Foam Brewers has an old soul that belies its five-year history.

Its philosophy recalls the early motivations of the craft beer movement: stylistic experimentation, support for local farmers and artists, pursuit of quality, and a commitment to running a small business the right way. Its founders accept the idea of ​​Foam’s popularity, as long as that popularity is tied to the quality of the beer.

“It’s great to be liked,” says Jonathan Farmer, Creative Director of Foam. “At the same time, we have always tried to stay true to the principles on which we started Foam. Everyone moves with the times, but we try to make sure we’re not pulled in one direction just because it’s there. [trends] are going. We really try to stay true to who we are, and when that matches what everyone loves right now, that’s great.

This wisdom reflects the brewery’s long-term view on the industry. Foam opened in 2016, but its founders have decades of experience in the Vermont brewing industry; Brewmaster Todd Haire spent 15 years at Magic Hat and Switchback. Foam is the culmination of the five partners’ desire to build the creative and locally rooted brewery that they or they wanted to work for.

“We never promoted anything; we just delivered,” says Haire. “If it’s word of mouth, then that’s cool.”

And yes, the word has travelled. Bryan Ferguson, co-founder and president of independent New England beer distributor Craft Collective, says his Instagram posts get flooded on the rare occasions he has Foam beer for sale. This popularity is not superficial, however: as Foam intended, it is the result of hard work and good beer.

“My feeling is that everything they do, big or small, is pretty carefully considered,” Ferguson says. “I think it shows in the quality of their beer and the quality of their [taproom] live. I remember a first visit there where a colleague of mine commented on how nice the soap in the bathroom was.

Set priorities

Foam strives to be built on three main pillars: supporting the local Vermont economy, caring for staff and business associates, and making great beer. The brewery’s fame allowed it to spend money on all three.

Foam doesn’t make much of its local supply chain, but about 50% of its base malts come from New England maltsters and growers: NEK Grains and Nitty Gritty Grains from Vermont and Valley Malt from Massachusetts. Due to some current constraints on these providers, this percentage is lower than it used to be; a few years ago, 75% of Foam’s base malts came from New England suppliers. It also has a relationship with Champlain Valley Hops of Vermont, which granulates a specific blend for use in certain foam IPAs and double IPAs.

“It comes at a price,” Haire says. “Buying local is expensive. But at the end of the day, that money that people spend on our beer visiting us from out of state stays in our state. It is important for us to maintain the cycle of the economy.

It’s a similar story with the limited out-of-state beer deliveries and direct-to-consumer shipping that Foam has launched during the pandemic. She had never intended to distribute beyond Burlington, where she self-distributes, but the COVID hit to the consumer room during Vermont’s already sluggish winter months meant the brewery needed to find other ways to sell beer and keep staff employed.

Through limited distribution and direct-to-consumer sales, Farmer says, “we can really do some of the things that allow us to be a more stable and sustainable business for our team.” Foam increased employee pay and benefits, hired more people in leadership positions to distribute responsibilities, sent its entire production team to the 2021 Craft Brewers conference in Denver, and hired a third-party organization for training sessions. strong focus on sexual harassment, safety, equity and inclusion.

Distribution has also given the brewery some extra money to spend on technical upgrades, including buying a centrifuge and overhauling its draft system to reduce losses and improve beer quality. . According to Farmer, the fact that Foam has enough cachet to sell its beer out of state means it can spend money on its priorities: farmers, staff and beer quality. They harness the hype, and then they reinvest it.

New Beer and Beyond

Strong sales help diversify Foam’s dining room draft slate beyond best-selling IPAs and double IPAs. In its early years, Foam didn’t have enough tanks to devote to lagers, which take longer to ferment, or styles of beer that wouldn’t sell as quickly on tap. Now the brewery is adding tanks so it can dedicate space to lagers, hefeweizens, and other non-IPA styles year-round.

“At first it was like, ‘How can we put a lager in a tank when it’s selling five times faster than the IPA, and we’re running out of tank space?'” Says Farmer. “We would only have a beer or two on tap at the brewery on a busy summer holiday weekend.”

Diversifying its offerings continues to be a goal for Foam. Haire has spent much of his time at House of Fermentology, a blendery in Charlotte, Vermont, which he co-owns with longtime homebrewer, author, and fellow beekeeper Bill Mares. The assembly is focused on wild beers and mixed fermentation. (House of Fermentology beers also appear on tap at Foam and Deep City, the Foam restaurant adjacent to the dining hall.)

Meanwhile, Foam is quietly tending to 1,000 Marquette vines, part of a former vineyard the brewery bought two years ago. Haire hopes to use the juice from these grapes to make natural wine influenced by its mixed-fermentation beers. They bottled the first release in this vein, a Marquette sparkling wine, in late 2021.

After five years of trying to grow Foam, making sure there was enough beer to serve at the bar and guiding a small business through a pandemic, Haire says he’s just looking forward to getting back to what he did. has always motivated him: to make cold drinks.

“To Foam, beer is the sun, and we have so many planets that revolve around it,” Haire says. He contrasts the varied projects he is involved in at Foam – from beekeeping to winemaking – with the production of rote brewing he has done in previous jobs.

“You have to get out of this daily routine, otherwise it’s hard to get inspiration,” he says. “Dreaming is still a big part of creative outlets.”

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forward movement

Foam hopes 2022 will be a year of renewed creativity and inward focus after two years of dodging pandemic-related curveballs. In addition to beekeeping and winemaking, Haire is looking forward to more time playing in the brewery.

Fellow Haire and Foam brewers Bob Grim and Josh Bayer are clearly a band that doesn’t shy away from tinkering: in February, Foam released a salty IPA called Smirk of the Dolphin, a collaboration with local band The High Breaks , who had released an album — a “surf rock opera” — of the same name. (It tells the story of a man who falls in love with a dolphin.) Brewed with passion fruit and a goose-like salt level, the beer was well received – and it was a chance for Foam to try something new again.

Lately, the brewing team has enjoyed the natural carbonation produced by spinning, applying the technique to double IPAs to produce a smoother mouthfeel. Haire and the team also tried using a spunding valve to suppress strong esters in a Bavarian hefeweizen yeast, with the idea that it might be a fun strain to ferment an IPA with. (For more on spunding, see “Gearhead: The Force Behind the Fizz”, beerandbrewing.com.)

“We like to see what we can get out of beer,” says Haire. “It comes down to experimentation but trying to take what you have in your head and put it in a glass.”

Lee J. Murillo