​Hill Farmstead’s Consumer Focus

Yes, Hill Farmstead opened in 2010. Yet Shaun Hill points to one date, September 26, 2013, as the point where the northern Vermont brewery saw a shift that changed the literal landscape of the brewery’s property.
It was an announced release of Double Barrelled Damon — a Russian Imperial Stout aged at that time for 18 months in a Port barrel and then transferred to a Bourbon barrel for another 18 months (it’s since been stretched to two years in each barrel type).
Hill recalled looking outside his house situated beside the brewery on his family’s property on the outliers of Greenboro Bend on the morning of the release to see cars driving by at 6:30-7:00.
“I’m thinking, “OK shit, like this is weird.’”
Despite being specific in telling people not to come early, customers parked their cars down the hill from the brewery until 8:29, and about 350 people were at the brewery by 9:30 a.m.
“…At that point, everything changed, and we stopped announcing bottle releases.”
Hill always wanted to serve his local consumers. He started his dream of the brewery after drinking beers at the original pub of The Alchemist and decided if he could sell a growler of beer a week out of the little brewery he made in his backyard, he would be happy.
Still thinking of the consumer, and after the craziness of being named one of the — if not the — top brewery by multiple outlets since 2012, Hill saw the need to grow. But growth for him had limits and increasing the consumer experience was paramount.
After that experience, Hill said he realized he didn’t know how to release these beers properly to the public, and he also had been combating secondary sales for a long time. Hill reached out to Russian River’s Natalie Cilurzo to work on getting rid of secondary sales on eBay.
“It really made me quite angry when 20-40 percent of the people showing up on these release days were just there to resell the beer and profit from it,” he said. In order to completely cut off that revenue stream and alter it, a new taproom was opened on-site at Hill Farmstead in the late summer of 2015.
“The purpose behind this room was vintage bottles and on-site only bottle releases,” Hill said. “If we have a couple hundred bottles of something, you get to taste it. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
“Moving toward that and realizing that we had accumulated a pretty good vintage portfolio at that point by 2015 with thousands of bottles — I always held bottles back from all of these releases — and we could really kind of position ourselves as being the only brewery that I knew of in the U.S. that we could offer over the course of a year like 100 different bottles in various vintages.
That was a completely new approach to a brewery taproom experience.
“It’s not just getting a glass of IPA,” Hill said. “You can sort of taste history through the experience.”
But this undertaking required glassware, staff understanding, and staff knowledge, and it didn’t start out as a smashing success, Hill pointed out.
“We had to build the culture into it, which is where we’ve finally have arrived,” he said. “Not everyone that drives out here is excited about it. They may be like, ‘what the hell is this place and why is it so overhyped?’ We don’t hype anything. We’re just here doing what we do, and it’s awesome that people think we are worthy of consideration.
Because there’s not much else to do in town, “If you think about the intentionality with which a customer consciously makes the effort when they wake up in the morning to drive and get here, it is a type of pilgrimage for them.”
So for Hill Farmstead to show its appreciation and gratitude Hill said they have secured in the space they have to make sure that they can to try to provide an experience.
But the brewery is also profoundly limited by its place, which can only have one restroom and a limited amount of discharge and water usage per day according to Vermont regulations.
It’s also curbed other growth ideas, which Hill seems content about.
“John and Jen [Kimmich of The Alchemist] and I, we’re pretty fixed (in size). You can then reflect back and work on culture and team and benefits and taking care of people; creating foundations to take care of the community and start to actually just look at yourself as a sustainable entity that’s part of a community.”
Hill added that when a brewery is just growing and focused on expanding and how you can sell more beer, you’re not necessarily looking inward.
“The point you stop growing — when you’re not making more beer and you’ve plateaued — I think for capitalist American or foreign entrepreneurs, it’s the most frightening place to be,” he said.

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