It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, - Did you ever have a Vermont beer? Now before you snicker and tell me that's a
dumb question consider the fact that I recently had a beer called “Vermont Farmhouse Ale.”
The label on the can had a picture of a bucolic farm field of waving barley and an old brown
barn. Makes you long for a nice vacation in the wonderful Green Mountain State, doesn't it?
There's only one problem with all of this, the brewery is located in Berkeley, California so this
is not exactly a Vermont-made farmhouse ale. In my opinion the label’s use of “Vermont
Farmhouse Ale” is an unfair capitalization on Vermont’s brand as a leader in craft brewing.
I'm not the only one who has noticed the spreading rip off of the well earned reputation of
Vermont brewers. The state itself passed a law called “Representation of Vermont Origin
Rule” that regulates and protects the word “Vermont” when it appears on food products.
The rule, also called Consumer Protection Rule 120, gives the state legal footing to protect the
“Vermont brand” and made-in-Vermont food products, but beer is not specifically mentioned in
either the text of the rule, nor the FAQ page.
Look Bill, I know that Imitation is said to be the most sincere form of flattery, but should brewers
outside of tVermont be allowed to use the word “Vermont” when describing their products? Or
should they be held to saying a beer is “Vermont-style,” such as a Vermont-style IPA?
Even when brewers are paying tribute to a beer style that originated in a certain place, there
are federal requirements for labeling. I hope you realize that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax
and Trade Bureau, the agency who regulates beer labels, won’t approve a label that says
something like “Belgian Tripel” if the beer isn’t brewed in Belgium. The label would have to say
“Belgian-style Tripel.”. That's totally fair and justified to me.
I know you've heard me say this before Bill but I'm happy to remind you that I’ve always been a
big proponent of giving credit where credit is due, and believe in honoring the origins of
specialty products. (for example: Champagne only comes from Champagne, France)
Vermont has become well-known in the beer world, and has thus far exported at least two
distinct beer styles: the Black IPA, which was developed in Burlington in the early 1990s at
Vermont Pub & Brewery, and the Vermont-style IPA, pioneered by The Alchemist and Hill
Farmstead in the mid-2000s.
To sum it up let me say that any thing that abuses the identity of others instead of using
honest labeling for true consumer information should be stopped.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hello Gina - You do have a big heart and a big soapbox, Gina. Just teasing of course. As you
know I’ve advocated privately and in this column for years exactly what your closing line says. To
get specific about the Vermont issue the term, I'm firmly in the camp that advocates that
“Vermont-style IPA” should be used by all out-of-state brewers who were brewing beers in this
style, much in the way that brewers say “Kölsch-style” or “Belgian-style” - paying homage to the
style, but acknowledging that they aren’t brewing within the region of origin.
However, let me point out to you Gina that our position on that has a flaw. Currently not
everyone acknowledges that Vermont-style IPA is a distinct style, so the use of the term could
confuse consumers into thinking the beer was made in Vermont which is something neither of us
would want to happen. So since for some ‘Vermont Style’ beer is not a distinctive type of malt
beverage, it would mean that the federal rule on misleading brand names would not apply,
I agree that this mimicry highlights just how high the quality of Vermont beer making is these days
which is a nice compliment. That is not to say we should ever allow vendors to reap financial
rewards by misleading customers that Vermont craftsmanship or Vermont ingredients went into
making their products. Simply put, when you buy a beer labeled as a “Vermont” ale or Trappist
Ale or Belgium Dubbel it’s reasonable to assume that the brew actually comes from those places.
You mentioned the "Vermont Style IPA" sometimes known as the New England IPA. It's now the
hottest trend in craft beer. I'm a big fan of it's juicy, hazy, viscous,tropical/citrus flavor and aroma
with low bitterness. It all started with Heady Topper, the cult beer made by Vermont's The
Alchemist that has resulted in hop heads lining up days in advance for a chance to consume this
golden liquid goodness. And the result of the beer’s popularity has been that other brewers
across the country are copying and riffing on the style. But since your issue is this proper naming
of things is the style rightfully called New England or Vermont and is it even a style? So I can see
why some people might say once we play name games and who gets the credit for what things
can become muddled. I don't but it but nonetheless it is a fair argument.
You'll find this interesting, Gina. It's a fact that in the beer world many are now actually lobbying
for the style to be officially named Vermont IPA instead of New England IPA, Ah, but John
Kimmich, brewmaster at The Alchemist said in an interview last year, “There are people in the
Vermont scene that really push the idea of Vermont-style IPA and demanding the name be fully
sanctioned, but I am not one of them. Personally, I find it a little arrogant to try and claim that we
do something so different that it deserves its own category.”
Maybe he has a point. After all, if you buy a Russian Imperial Stout you know it isn't made in
Russia but the name simply means it will taste a certain way. The samet goes for a Sasion not
made in France or a bock not made in Einbeck or calling something a barleywine when it actually
is a beer.
Don't you just hate it when both sides make some sense? It's sort of like our column even
though you're usually the one that makes more sense. Sometimes.
Here's looking at you Gina