This weekend marks the beginning of Oktoberfest 2016 in Munich, Germany, but those in Stowe won’t have to travel that far to get a taste of the Bavarian experience.
The Bierhall at von Trapp Brewing officially opens tomorrow, capping the three-year brewery project that’s just down the hill from the Trapp Family Lodge. The Trapp Oktoberfest celebration will be held there Saturday.
“We wanted to create a magnificent space,” said Sam von Trapp, director and executive vice president. “We know the feeling that we have when we’ve gone into amazing bier halls in Austria, and we wanted to have that feeling.”
That feeling is one of the reasons it took a little extra time to build, von Trapp said. “It’s not cookie-cutter construction. My dad (Johannes von Trapp) looks at the long run, and he does things right.”
The construction was done by South Burlington-based company Neagley & Chase. The building’s unassuming facade gives way to incredible handcrafted details, starting with tall tree trunks at the entrance.
The Bierhall is open and airy, all golden wood and post-and-beam construction, with seating indoors and out for 175.
A small retail area offers glasses, mugs and steins, which can be filled at the central bar. Thirty taps pour von Trapp Brewing’s lagers and a small selection of Austrian and Italian wines.
Even though Trapps offers eight beers, six year-round and two seasonal, “we can’t rush it — we need a lot of taps,” Jack Pickett said.
Yes, that’s chef Jack Pickett, the man behind the knife at many Stowe restaurants including Phoenix Table & Bar, Ten Acres, Blue Moon Café and Frida’s Taqueria.
Pickett is general manager and chef; he’s joined by former Gracie’s Restaurant owner Paul “Archie” Archdeacon, who will skipper front-of-the-house operations.
The hall is peppered with rectangular wooden tables with benches that comfortably seat three or four on a side; perhaps more if you’re good friends.
The tables are modeled after those found in German beer gardens, crafted by Vermont Farm Table of Burlington.
They’re easy to move, so “if people want to do the whole 10-table thing we are ready to go,” Pickett said.
On the patio outside, a cluster of picnic tables, made by Lamoille Woodcraft in Hyde Park, beckons guests to take in the view of Mount Mansfield. Soon, a glass-walled atrium will be installed to provide a “winter garden” for admirers to stay cozy while looking at the view. On Mansfield, one can just see the top of the Quad lift, and Big Spruce and the Gondola will peek through once the leaves come down.
There’s a small pond as well, where von Trapp hopes trout will swim next year if the conditions prove favorable.
For those interested in recreating as well as drinking, the tee for hole 4 and basket for hole 3 of Trapps’ nine-hole disc golf course are practically in the Bierhall’s backyard.
“I think disc golfers like beer,” Pickett joked.
Suspended from the ceilings and walls of the Bierhall are a number of unique light fixtures and sconces, including a series of quirky conical pieces around the bar that seem as though they could be used to call across the mountains.
Lorena Chamberlin, a sales rep from Conant Metal & Light in Burlington, said the company got in touch with Trapps early in the process to create custom fixtures.
Chamberlin and designer-maker Tyler Vendituoli “dove into some research on our end about the Trapp family, the history, Austrian beer making, beer halls in general.”
The prominent lighting helps make the cavernous hall feel more intimate, and “defines an open space,” Chamberlin said.
For the bar lights, “this is kind of where your subliminal starts talking,” Chamberlin said.
“Tyler watched the ‘Sound of Music’ … we were thinking about the time period, music, Victrolas, old record players, and came up with this shape reminiscent of horns and music,” she said.
“We found out that it’s the exact shape and size of the bell tower that’s on Trapp Family Lodge building — one of few things that survived the fire (in 1980).”
“We didn’t really put pieces together until we met for the reveal,” Chamberlin said. “That one came full circle.”
A striking chandelier hangs at the staircase, with four concentric rings flowing downward, dripping with rectangular glass tiles. The shape is echoed in smaller circular fixtures in the hall.
The chandeliers’ form was inspired by photos of Austrian beer vats from the turn of the century, made from copper with beautiful fasteners. The hand-hammered iron framework relates to the post-and-beam work in the hall, Chamberlin said.
The glass tiles, made by AO Glass of Burlington, were crafted individually. For each one, a wooden box was built to the desired size and filled with molten glass. The box would catch on fire, creating an almost effervescent texture.
The crystal clear, bubbled glass looks kind of like ice, and is reminiscent of flowing water and winter activities, Chamberlin said.
“It’s really important to the family that the water used in the beer is from their springs,” Chamberlin said. “It has a lot of influence in the taste.”
From grain to glass
While waiting for a table, guests are invited to grab a beer and ascend to the second floor, via elevator or sweeping staircase that features beer bottle-shaped wrought railings.
A platform overlooking the great hall will put guests at eye level with a mounted Alpine ibex bagged this summer by Johannes von Trapp; the distinctive horned head of the wild mountain goat is emblazoned on the von Trapp Brewing logo and echoed in the curved tap pulls.
A private room on the second floor is available for parties of up to 40 people, with large windows through which to see into the hall and out to the hills.
A set of heavy doors leads to an open observation deck looking out at the vast brewhouse, where one can see the whole gleaming operation happen from grain to glass.
For lovers of lager, it’s a bit like getting a glimpse into Wonka’s factory.
A hopper full of barley is the first sight on the self-guided tour, and a closer look through a glass panel in a nearby blue pipe shows a steady stream of grain whooshing up through it. The dust is explosive, Pickett said, so it must be carefully enclosed.
To the left is a collection of large brew kettles, and in a glass-walled room are a number of coverall-clad men looking at an array of screens.
“That’s air traffic control,” Pickett says.
Computers display a constant, interactive feed of what’s happening in each part of the complex system, and if there’s a problem, the brew team can contact Rolec — the German-based company that manufactured and installed the brewhouse equipment last year — instantly to find a fix.
It takes about 10 employees to man the brewhouse, including brewmaster John Patrick Williams.
Beer production has been ramping up and “continues to crank along,” von Trapp said. Distribution has expanded to seven states, including all of New England and most of New York.
Pickett marvels at the popularity of not only craft beers, but the brewers who make the magic happen.
“It used to be just some guy in rubber boots, now people look up to you,” Pickett said.
Under a comically gigantic spinning fan — the company that makes it is actually called Big Ass Fans — the lagers sit, waiting, in huge shiny tanks.
“The bigger the tank probably the more popular the beer,” Pickett said.
The kegging and bottling lines are humming along, but plans for a canning line are still in the works. Iron Heart Canning, a mobile cannery that hops around New England, now fills and seals 16-ounce cans of Golden Helles, Bohemian Pilsner and India Pale Lager, with Vienna Style Lager canning planned for late fall.
There’s still a lot of room left in the 36,000-square foot brewing space to add more tanks or the canning line, so “we won’t get pigeonholed,” Pickett said.
Perhaps the most important of the trinity of ingredients, the water comes from a spring on the von Trapp property. The summer’s been dry, so the water is stored in another set of massive tanks to await treatment.
“We build lagers,” Pickett said. “I think people like their IPAs, but people have been making lagers for well over a thousand years.”
A Bavarian law established in 1516 proclaimed that beer should only contain barley, hops and water, and Trapp lagers are pretty close to that initial decree.
“I think in a thousand years we’ll still be drinking lager,” Pickett said.
Before the completion of the Bierhall, Trapp lagers were served and tastings conducted at the DeliBakery near the main lodge.
“It’s the bakery with the best view on the planet,” Pickett said, and it will return to its original missive once the hall opens.
“I think the Bierhall will be a great addition for the town of Stowe,” Williams said, calling it “a true beer destination.”
They’re happy to share the fame with neighbors including the Alchemist, a mere 1.7-mile jaunt away.
“Beer geeks can get their super hoppy beers down the road and some delicate lagers up the hill,” Williams said.
There’s “variety all around here in this little hamlet.”
Eat, drink and be merry
Three 15-barrel tanks in the hall —the equivalent of 30 kegs each — are stocked with the beers that will be served in the highest volume at the bar. The Helles, Pilsner and Dunkel Lager are at bat now; this year’s Oktoberfest is all kegged up and will be also served alongside the other beers. The smoked Trösten Lager will be available in November, “just in time for the long cold nights ahead,” Williams said.
The kitchen is modern and neat, with a hot line including fryers and a gas range, and a separate prep area. The real gem is a pair of wood-fired grills — called parrillas — that reside in an island that juts into the dining area, topped with a powerful copper hood.
Wood is carefully stacked and fired into a 3-inch bed of coals, and the grills can be raised and lowered by hand as needed.
“It gets hot,” Pickett said.
The grills will be fueled by “pallets of nice, well-split sugarwood” from the property, von Trapp said.
What goes on the grill?
“All sausages, shish kebabs, meats, chicken, specials,” Pickett said.
The menu features all kinds of wursts, schnitzel and pretzels, as well as a lager-marinated ribeye, burgers, pretzels, salads and veggie options.
Saturday’s Oktoberfest celebration will feature a buffet in addition to beer, and Pickett and von Trapp can’t wait to fill the space with guests and good cheer.
“Now we really have no limitations,” Pickett said.
“I think the most exciting thing for me is to be in such a beautiful brand-new building and to have such an amazing team,” von Trapp said. “We’re so excited about having Jack and Archie here.”
“I’m pretty excited,” Pickett agreed. “I’ll be ready to be open.”