Welcome to the Sunny Side
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Written by Candice White
To enjoy a can of Sip of Sunshine IPA is to travel down a gustatory pathway that reveals some of what is unique and satisfying about the new Lawson’s Finest Liquids Brewery and Taproom in Waitsfield. The extra-tall, yellow can of beer emblazoned with a fanciful orange sun and dancing graphics fills you first with bright anticipation. Peeling back the can top and taking that first sip then sends you on your way to a happy place. Whether it is the lupulin from the hops, or the heightened alcohol content (8 percent), this India Pale Ale is, as Lawson’s says, “a vacation in a glass.”
A visit to Lawson’s Taproom is also a vacation of sorts—a getaway deeply rooted in central Vermont, where many local craftspeople contributed to its creation. A double wooden front door displaying that fanciful sun floating in glass opens onto an enormous timber-frame structure that hosts the taproom and retail space. You are greeted warmly by a two-sided stone fireplace with a floor-to-ceiling chimney, surrounded by several cozy sitting areas, some of which have tables for checkers, chess, and other board games. In the far corner sit a pair of classic arcade games, where guests can battle over throwbacks such as Pac Man and Donkey Kong for free—just like old times, but without the worry of running out of quarters. A smaller room just past the games houses the retail space, a Willy Wonka–like display of brightly colored four-packs—The Space in Between in blue, Sugarhouse IPA in turquoise, Maple Nipple in orange, Hopzilla in green—and matching T-shirts, hats, fleeces, cycling jerseys, and work shirts.
The main event, the taproom, is a community gathering space, a locals’ bar, a visitor’s point of interest, and a place to celebrate a special occasion. The horseshoe-shaped bar offers many cushioned stools to perch on, solo or with a friend. Long wooden picnic-style tables fill up on busy afternoons, inviting you to chat with your neighbor, whom you may or may not have met before. Fireplace nooks can accommodate romantic dates, teenager gatherings, and little-kid play zones. Lawson’s Taproom is truly all things to all people, in the best sense.
Behind the bar stands a giant wall—covered with classic deep green Vermont Verde stone—that houses the taps. They feature Lawson’s playful beer varieties, of course, but there’s also a small selection of wines and ciders, and nonalcoholic lemonade and root beer. An outdoor patio with fire pits, Adirondack chairs, and cornhole boards provides another inviting hangout space in the warmer months. Food is served as a complement to the beer, and is another ode to local talent: a charcuterie plate boasts saucisson sec and sopressata from Babette’s Table; a Vermont cheese plate highlights rotating local cheesemakers like Von Trapp Farmstead and Consider Bardwell Farm; and Green Mountain Twisters of Montpelier provides the pretzels, served with Ploughgate Creamery butter.
The man behind the beer, Sean Lawson (whose bearded face is etched on the brewery’s silo), discovered home-brewed beer while in college at the University of Vermont. His first officially licensed home-brew operation opened in January of 2008 in a small cabin built with friends next to his home in Warren. That same year, he wrote a business plan that envisioned a future brewery and taproom in the Valley. In 2011, Lawson expanded his home-brewing system, and in 2014, he struck a deal with Two Roads Brewing in Stratford, Connecticut, to contract-brew his Sip of Sunshine IPA. (Sip is still brewed there.) By 2015, Lawson had expanded his beer distribution outside of Vermont, and in 2016, he found the Waitsfield space that would become the brewery and taproom. Lawson and his wife, Karen, oversee more than forty full-time employees and a host of part-timers who help them run an operation that is open 359 days a year. (They are closed on a handful of holidays and for two staff retreat days.)
The Lawsons’ commitment to quality is apparent in the beer they create and in the many details of the taproom and brewery they have built. They value those details, and, for example, traveled to Simon Pearce in Quechee to work with artisans there who blew the glass for a stand-out light fixture hanging in the taproom. The Lawsons’ investment in the community is multifaceted, though nothing speaks to this more clearly than their philanthropy program. They proudly pay their staff a living wage, making it unnecessary for staff to rely on tips. When gratuity is offered, it is channeled to a designated nonprofit, which changes every two weeks. In 2018, Lawson’s gave more than $80,000 to charities, including Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity, Hannah’s House, the local ambulance service, and Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sports (see “Undaunted,” page 34).
A visit to Lawson’s Finest Liquids may feel like a vacation; certainly, their main product provides an element of relaxation. And the ambiance allows you to shape your own experience, whether it is playing games with your child, chatting with your table mate, admiring the mountain views from the patio, or intently sampling the eclectic offering of beers on draft. It’s a place you can grow very comfortable with, near the fireplace, at the picnic tables, or on a bar stool. But be sure to avoid the fourth bar stool from the left—that one has already been claimed, by a local who begins his vacation each day around 5 p.m.
Be sure to check out the local food in the Mad River Valley!