Otter Creek Brewing Co. of Middlebury has made a name for itself within the nearby community and beyond. Recently they took home four medals (gold, silver and two bronze) at the Great International Beer Fest in Providence, R.I. Jed Nelson, director of brand marketing at Otter Creek Brewing, attributes the company’s success to their “rock-star brewmaster,” Mike Gerhart.
“We consider [Gerhart] to be the best kept secret in a state renowned for having some of the most skilled brewers in the country,” said Nelson.
Indeed, Gerhart has won numerous prestigious awards and was classically trained in the art of brewing in Germany, where he graduated youngest in his class.
Prior to working for Otter Creek, Gerhart was a pilot brewer at Dogfish Head in Delaware. However, it is clear that Gerhart made a stellar choice in joining the Otter Creek crew in 2008. Gerhart has been able to surround himself with a world-class staff of brewers and an excellent production team. Nelson notes that Gerhart joined a group whose “success is predicated on the devotion of our entire staff to brewing some of the best tasting beers in the world.” Otter Creek was one of the first breweries in Vermont, releasing their infamous Copper Ale in March of 1991. Originally founded by Lawrence Miller (current secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce), today Otter Creek is a subsidiary of Long Trail.
The company’s flagship, Copper Ale, took second at the Great International Beer Fest in the German Altbeir category. This year, however, has not been the first time Otter Creek’s beers have shined on the international stage. In the past, their Copper Ale won gold at the Great American Beer Fest and the U.S. Open Beer Championship. Additionally, their Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout, Brown Ale, Otter Stove Pipe Porter and newest release, Hop Session, have all won medals.
Despite their international success, the company still remains a quintessential Vermont brand, finding an ideal home in Middlebury. The company is committed to buying local and being good neighbors who are actively involved in the community.
“We source as many local ingredients as possible and work very closely with local farmers for everything from organic wheat, barley, pumpkins and Vermont organic honey,” said Nelson.
Otter Creek connects to the community in many more ways than simply providing customers with award-winning beer. The company is a member of the Addison County Chamber of Commerce and sponsors many local events and charities such as Middlebury Festival on the Green, the Vermont Sun Triathlon and Camp Takumta. One group with which the company hopes to engage is the student community at Middlebury College.
While Otter Creek clearly gives to the surrounding community, it also receives support and feedback from loyal customers.
“The craft-brew community is a very involved, extremely passionate and very vocal group, with lots of opinions and terrific feedback,” said Nelson.
The company takes this feedback to heart, spending ample time and resources developing recipes.
“We spend a huge deal of time refining recipes, and tweaking materials and processes to produce better beer every day,” said Gerhart.
Nelson adds that — after perfecting a recipe — the company puts painstaking effort into ensuring that their beers are consistent, batch after batch, pour after pour. Being awarded prestigious honors, such as the medals received at the Great International Beer Fest last month, offers validation that Otter Creek’s efforts are exceeding expectations.
Otter Creek is a company that does not settle for less than excellent. The company is constantly improving and expanding. Most recently, Otter Creek purchased the Shed Brewery line. The Shed has been a Vermont staple since the 1960’s and was once one of the most popular restaurants in Stowe. When the restaurant closed in 2011, Otter Creek bought The Shed line of beers. This fall, Otter Creek rebranded the line and released The Shed Mountain Ale and The Shed IPA, now available for the first time outside the state of Vermont.
In addition to making world-renowned beer, Otter Creek Brewing also delights in being responsible stewards of beautiful Vermont. Otter Creek is home to Wolaver’s Fine Organic Ales, the nation’s first USDA certified organic line of beers. In a world where the organic movement is outpacing the rest of the food and beverage industry, Otter Creek sees tremendous opportunity with the Wolaver’s brand. In 2010, Nelson had the opportunity to project manage Wolaver’s rebranding campaign and he asserts that the brand embodies a “farm to bottle” concept.
What are the company’s plans for the future? In the next decade Otter Creek hopes to remain a prominent leader in the craft beer industry.
“As the nation’s first line of USDA certified brews, we will continue to lead the way in keeping things local, flavorful and sustainable through organics,” said Nelson. It seems that Otter Creek lives up to their motto “Better Beer, Better World.”