Here’s news that will thrill beer lovers near and far! Sean and Karen Lawson, proprietors of the award-winning microbrewery Lawson’s Finest Liquids, are in the process of purchasing the warehouse buildings and property located at 155 Carroll Road in Waitsfield, VT with a goal of closing in the spring of 2017. Sean says, “It is our hope that this will become the expanded home of Lawson’s Finest in the Mad River Valley.” The craft beer company plans to open a new larger brewery, a tasting room and offer retail sales.
Currently, Lawson’s Finest is based in Warren VT with a 7 barrel brewery (1 U.S. barrel (bbl) = 31 gallons). In the new space in Waitsfield, they anticipate having a 30 bbl brewery. They plan to move their craft beer-making operation from a tiny 280 square-foot building at their home in Warren to the 7,500-square-foot warehouse in Waitsfield, which means more beer as well as adding employees and new equipment. They plan to keep the 7bbl brewery in Warren operational as a pilot location, with the opportunity for more creativity and experimentation. The Lawson’s also plan to continue brewing their Sip of Sunshine IPA and Super Session beers at Two Roads Brewing in CT now and in the future. Sean elaborates, “We’ve hoped from the beginning that our Sip of Sunshine IPA brewed at Two Roads could get to the big Northeast beer markets that are nearby, but people in Vermont and Connecticut are drinking it faster than we can make it!”
Create a destination for Lawson’s Finest consumers
“One of the things that’s been missing from our business is that due to our residential location, people can’t get to or see the brewery, and taste the beer or meet the brewer; people really want that,” Sean said. The tasting room plans to include a family-friendly space where people can sample a variety of locally produced artisan foods and beverages. The Lawson’s desire to align their project with both the scale and the character of Waitsfield and the surrounding areas of the Mad River Valley.
“While this is an exciting first step,” Lawson said,“our plans are contingent upon the completion of the Winter Park Community waste water system, as well as obtaining all of the necessary permits from the Town of Waitsfield and State of Vermont.” If the permitting phase is successful and they complete the purchase, the Lawson’s anticipate renovations and equipment installation will take an additional 6-12 months, with a potential opening in 2018. “We’ve given ourselves two years to get to an opening date. We want to be completely transparent with our community as we go through this process,” Sean said.
Since its inception, his beers have captured the fancy of beer lovers near and far, creating a cult-like following. Lawson’s Finest has also captured awards in recent years at the Great American Beer Festival, World Beer Cup, and the National IPA Championship, creating heightened interest in their brand. Several factors over the past few years have made them more willing to take the next step in terms of growing the business. They partner with Mad River Food Hub in Waitsfield for local Vermont distribution. “Having warehouse space with both dry and refrigerated storage, trucking capacity, and the distribution facility at the Food Hub have been critical” Sean said.
Lawson’s Finest also brews beer under contract at Two Roads Brewery in Stratford, Connecticut, where they produce Sip of Sunshine and Super Session #2. This experience has given them the confidence that they can take on a larger operation and have the ability to move forward with this project.“We have expected to grow at some point, but we wanted it to be on our terms. Our quality of life is the key driver of our business and now we’re ready to make Waitsfield the home of a bigger brewery and tasting room,” Karen added. “Our kids have become more independent in the last several years; we feel confident in making this move as a company.”
Enhance year-round tourism in the Mad River Valley
The Lawson’s expect to make a substantial contribution to the economic and social vitality of the area. “Vermont is already known as one of the world’s premier beer destinations and we would like the Mad River Valley to be one of the must-visit places for beer enthusiasts and tourists,” Sean remarked. In their first eight years, Lawson’s Finest has evolved as a small home-based business in Warren into a brand recognizable across the country and internationally in the beer industry. The Lawson’s predict that this new brewery will enhance business opportunities for Mad River Valley neighbors and business owners in the local lodging, retail, restaurant, farming and food production sectors by enticing visitors to the area on a year-round basis, which is especially of value during the slow “shoulder” seasons in a tourist driven economy.
Create new livable wage employment opportunities
According to Lawson, this project will create a number of salaried full-time jobs at the new brewery with excellent livable pay rates and benefits. Lawson’s Finest also plans to utilize local professionals and contractors in planning, renovating and operating the brewery, with the goal of creating a more sustainable economic future for local residents and business owners.
Sean currently serves as President of the Vermont Brewers Association (VBA) and he referenced a recent Economic Impact Study by the VBA that points to beer’s contribution to Vermont and its potential contribution to The Valley’s economy. Vermont breweries, he said, hosted over 1.5 million visitors to their locations in 2014, with over 1.2 million from out-state, and they provide over 1,000 jobs at 44 breweries and a direct economic impact of nearly $300 million.
Lawson’s Finest was founded eight years ago by Sean, a longtime home brewer and the director of Mad River Glen’s Naturalist Program, a title he still holds. Sean, 45, and Karen, 42, met on a full moon snowshoe in 1999 at Mad River Glen. They were married in 2001 and will celebrate 15 years together this August. They have two daughters, Ava and Jade.
Adapted story and quotes courtesy of “The Valley Reporter” 4/28/16, by Lisa A. Loomis