By Robert Layman
Perhaps it was on the ferry rides between Port Jefferson, New York, en route to Vermont that craft brewer Mike Philbrick finally connected with the idea to open his second brewery at the foot of the East Coast’s largest ski resort.
Philbrick said the adventure of starting the Killington Beer Company, which opened a month ago, wasn’t driven by capitalism, but by identity.
“Why doesn’t the biggest regional attraction have a brewery?” Philbrick recalled asking himself. “There was no Killington beer identity.”
Philbrick, who founded Port Jeff Brewing on Long Island, New York, shared his ideas for creating that identity with Dave Morse, a friend who connected him with Killington resident Vince Wynn.
“We met through divine intervention,” Philbrick said.
Wynn serves on the board of The Woods Resort, a condominium complex featuring a full-service spa on Killington Road.
Philbrick and Wynn then partnered to turn a long-vacant, 4,400-square-foot restaurant at the spa into a brewery capable of producing 500 barrels a year.
That might seem like a lot, Philbrick said, but it’s “baby steps,” and their only planned expansion is serving to local restaurants on Killington Road for now.
Taking those baby steps resulted in nine new employees to help with production and the front-of-the-house operations.
One of those is Tony Celentano, who said the beer industry has brought young and enthusiastic people together — a point that’s hard to argue with when looking at the tap room.
Running the show when Philbrick is in Long Island is his protégé, Pat Brennon.
Philbrick said a brewery typically starts with an apprenticeship model, and KBC will be no exception.
Brennon served up flights, or groups of small samples, and pints to employees from Otter Creek Brewing, who visited after their “State of the Brew-union” address on Tuesday at Long Trail in Bridgewater Corners, OCB’s parent company.
“It’s common practice to visit (another brewery),” said Rick “Frenchie” Venne, who was among a handful of visiting Otter Creek Brewing employees. “It’s a small-enough community, we’re in it together.”
But how is the state of the brew-union?
The Vermont Brewers Association cites a 2016 study that shows Vermont is leading the rest of the country with 11.49 breweries per capita — making the equivalent 139 pints for every adult in the state 21 and older.
The economic impact of those breweries is $376.7 million per year, according to the report.
While some critics think the craft beer boom is just a bubble, Philbrick thinks its resiliency lies in hyperlocal attractions — between the high standards of Vermont beer and the skiing attraction — with KBC serving as a bridge between the two.
Philbrick and Wynn also wanted to use the large square-footage to appeal to families and create an après ski environment for everyone.
The brewery features a large game room with free pool and popcorn and eight arcade games. The furniture includes reclaimed booths with alcoves that afford a more intimate experience away from the bar.
And when the kids go home, KBC will host live music, with their first show scheduled for April 20 with the Dirk Quinn Band, a jam band from Philadelphia that fits the atmospheric style Philbrick hopes to cultivate.
“When we first started, I had to keep correcting Mike,” Wynn said. “He kept saying, ‘We’re going to brew good beer,’ and I said no, ‘We’re going to brew great beer.’”