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SPARGE: Montbeerlier

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Scott & Kevin Kerner at Three Penny Taproom. Photo by Jen Sciarrotta
Scott & Kevin Kerner at Three Penny Taproom. Photo by Jen Sciarrotta

Sparge: /spärj/ verb. A brewing technique that extracts the sugar from the grains by exposing the grains to water.

by Jerry Carter

The sun is shining, temperatures are rising and the snow is melting. While the sap might be drying up, the beer is running. Spring is here at last and it’s time to enjoy the great outdoors.

The time for huddling around the fire and sipping heavy beers behind the confines of four walls is over. It’s the time of year to grab a Frisbee, rejoice with friends and embrace the sun. That’s why the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier is kicking down the doors, rolling out the kegs, firing up the grills and cranking the tunes. This year’s Montbeerlier Festival will feature the bluegrass sound of the Mad Mountain Scramblers, said Kevin Kerner, the manager of Three Penny and one of the event coordinators.

“We are doing bluegrass-themed,” said Kevin, “because spring has taken a while to get here and bluegrass is just spring. It’s kind of just celebrating. You know,” he said, “it’s finally here guys. Everybody, come out of your houses. It is going to be alright.”

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Kevin and his brother Scott, one of the three owners of Three Penny, are making sure everything is going to be alright when hundreds of people descend upon Langdon Street in Montpelier on Saturday, May 3 by orchestrating an incredible draft list of beers to highlight the season’s flavor. Outside, Three Penny will be showcasing a collaboration beer made just for this event. Made at Lost Nation Brewing in Morrisville, this beer marks the third collaboration Three Penny has crafted in preparation for the annual event.

Over the last two years, Three Penny has teamed up with two other local greats, Sean Lawson, of Lawson’s Finest Liquids, and Sean Hill of Hill Farmstead Brewery, brewing under his “Grassroots” label. Each of these past two collaborations resulted in great beer and fantastic festivals, a combination that Kevin and Scott are hoping will work again. So while the recipe is different, they are hoping the results are the same.

When Three Penny teamed up with Lawson in 2012, they set out with the goal of making, “something as low in alcohol as humanly possible that was still balanced and hoppy,” said Scott. Because the event fell on Cinco de Mayo that year, they ended up calling the beer, TPT (Three Penny Taproom) Especial.

Last year, Montbeerlier’s second year, they partnered with Hill to create Grassroot’s Three Penny Song of Spring, which was a 4.2% ABV hoppy amber ale. Both this beer and TPT Especial satisfied the fine balance that Three Penny is looking for when making their annual Montbeerlier collaboration, great taste and low alcohol content. This combination is not easily struck, but Scott emphasized how important it is to Three Penny, “The idea is that we have about 700 people who show up for this party, and the original intention was that we need to make a low alcohol beer that people can have at like 3 or 4 in the afternoon and not fall on the pavement, and be able to enjoy the entire party.”

At Montbeerlier, it’s all about enjoying the party, the good weather and the great people while sipping on some of the finest beer the world has to offer. Kevin and Scott are really excited for this year’s collaboration with Lost Nation, which incorporates two of their favorite hops—citra and galaxy. The two hops, which are known for their tropical fruity notes, will be on full display in this blonde and hazy ale. With 60 percent of the grain bill being made up of wheat and an intensive dry-hopping cycle, this beer will be as refreshing and aromatic as a spring breeze. While neither brother has had the chance to sample the beer yet, they are confident it will turn out great.

Long time friends with the guys over at Lost Nation, Kevin and Scott are psyched that they got the chance to push Allen Van Anda and James Griffith out of their comfort zone of making exceptional old world beers, to trying something that merges old world simplicity with some of the market’s newest and most celebrated hops for this year’s collaboration. Lost Nation’s Vermont Pilsner, one of Three Penny’s best selling beers, will also be on tap outside.

Three Penny isn’t the only outfit that is collaborating out there. Many breweries around the continent and in Europe are collaborating on a regular basis so that brewers can explore new techniques, try new styles and really take advantage of the terroir of some of the most renowned breweries in the world.

Kevin said he first dabbled in collaborative brewing while working as a brewer at the Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grill in New Hampshire in a project undertaken by the New Hampshire Brewers’ Guild. Members of the guild were asked to create their own recipe, brew it and then share the recipe with others to brew. This exercise helped demonstrate the role that terroir plays in shaping a beer. Differences in water quality and yeast really made each beer taste uniquely different even when all other factors in a beer’s recipe were kept constant.

Big craft breweries are getting in on the action too. Sierra Nevada, which was founded in Chico, CA, regularly invites collaboration with outside breweries and brewers. Matt McCarthy, Wes Hamilton and Scott, the three owners of Three Penny, were fortunate enough to be invited out to Chico just one year after the bar opened to take part in Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp. The camp brings together some of the biggest industry names every year to create a new beer on their ten barrel pilot system.

When the guys from Three Penny went, they created with the seven or so other campers a unique ESB (Extra-Special Bitter). An ESB, said Scott, “is a really nice perfect balance between malt and bitterness.” But while this beer is usually carbonated with CO2, they decided to nitrogenate the one that they were making, a process usually reserved for stouts like Guinness. This beer, which they dubbed Knightro, was the first nitrogenated beer to ever be made at Sierra Nevada.

While Three Penny is not offering up Knightro, they will be offering up some other Sierra Nevada collaborations later this summer when Sierra Nevada wraps up its 12 brewery tour on its way to opening its new North Carolina brewery. Ken Grossman, Sierra Nevada’s founder, will be touring the country visiting some of the nation’s most well renowned, yet often regionally exclusive, breweries to make single collaborative beers with 12 different breweries. These beers are intended to highlight the collaborative nature of the craft beer community and, just like the beers themselves, are meant to be drank with friends and in good company. Patrons will be in good company May 3 when they get a taste of this year’s Three Penny collaboration and the opportunity to ring in our long-awaited spring with fine brews, good food and some down-home bluegrass.

Tom Brown is contributing editor of The Bridge. ..... You can contact him at tom@montpelierbridge.com