"It all starts with the water," says Trapp Family Brewmaster Allen Van Anda.
He holds a mug of Golden Helles in his hand. His senses absorb the aroma, color and flavor. A smile crosses his face as if he's found the meaning of life.
Allen is young, eager and, from talking to him, a perfectionist. You begin to understand why, after 30 years of dreaming, Johannes von Trapp chose this visionary to brew his beer.
A few years ago, rumors began to swirl about the Trapp Family Lodge constructing its own brewery. When the doors finally opened a few months ago, Trapps hit the market running with two flagship lagers, Golden Helles and Vienna Amber. Because Trapps makes lager rather than ale (pale ale, IPA, brown ale, Belgian ale), it automatically differentiates itself from the majority of the New England brewing market.
Ales are quicker to make and use a top-fermenting yeast that creates fruity and full-bodied flavor that is enhanced with hops. Lager uses bottom-fermenting yeast at lower temperatures, requires more time, and ends up giving these beers firm body with a distinct bitterness.
Think of Stella vs. an IPA; they are fraternal twins, related but very different children.
On this fine afternoon, the Trapp brewery basement is like a sauna where two guys in green shirts and black rubber boots shout temperature readings back and forth with relentless fervor. Every conversation is broken with a thermo reading and a couple of knob turns and lever adjustments.
This is how it is day in and day out. It's constant supervision, like parents who can't get away from their child because they don't want to miss anything.
"It's about balance and having everything in its place - harmoniously," Allen says.
Jean-Luc Jenni, Trapps food and beverage director, swings by to check on the beer. As Allen and Jean-Luc talk about sales and how things are coming along, you can't help notice the schoolboy excitement of these two.
They talk about the bourbon casks they brought in for seasonal varietals and what sold well over the holiday weekend. They look at the Oktoberfest, which is unleashing a rich, caramel malt fragrance through the air as it simmers away in the mash tub. This is pride; these are guys who don't cut corners. They use the best natural spring on the property, grains from Heidelberg, and the highest-quality yeast and hops.
In passing, Jean-Luc proudly states, "If you want to do it the right way, it just takes time. We'd rather have a beer that's done right than something that's rushed."
Since the opening, these Trapps craft lagers have started popping up on the best beer lists in the state. From the Reservoir in Waterbury and the Bluebird Tavern in Burlington, they moved east to the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier and to Elements in St. Johnsbury.
Overall, Trapps has about 80 accounts but still serves about 25 percent of all its beer on the property.
When asked about the beer distribution, Jean-Luc explains, "The beer is an ambassador for the lodge and the lodge is an ambassador for the beer."
And, as we sip our beers, I can't help but think that he's absolutely right.
Something good to go along with your beer;
Hot Currywurst Mustard
Currywurst is a German cult classic. It consists of traditional German sausage (wurst) topped with a curry-enhanced ketchup.
As you fire up your grills to beat the heat, we've married the traditional currywurst sauce with its mustard cousin. Spread a little on your knockwurst and you'll be craving an ice-cold lager in no time.
Two-thirds cup yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons mustard powder
1 cup pale lager
1 cup white distilled vinegar
1 and one-fourth tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons yellow curry powder
1 minced shallot
2 cloves smashed garlic
Place all ingredients in a nonreactive bowl and mix thoroughly. Let them sit refrigerated overnight. Place in blender and purée until smooth. Add a little more vinegar to smooth out mixture if needed. Let the mustard sit for 24 more hours before serving.
Sean Buchanan of Stowe is former executive chef at Solstice restaurant at Stowe Mountain Lodge, and is one of Vermont's foremost advocates of local farmers and foods.