Drop-In Brewing Company &
American Brewers Guild Brewing School
BY NICOLE L’HUILLIER FENTON
PHOTOS BY BRENT HARREWYN
You can pull up a stool in the brightly lit, garage-style tasting room at Middlebury’s newest brewery, Drop-In Brewing Company, order a sample of their popular Sunshine and Hoppiness and get comfortable. If brewmaster and co-owner Steve Parkes is around, ask him to tell you about the history of craft brewing in America. He will gladly oblige.
Craft brewing is one of Parkes’ passions, which he has pursued for 30 years. In this time, he has helped pave the path for artisan brewers and craft beers in America. Parkes’ brewing career dates back to 1982, when he graduated from Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University with a bachelor’s degree in brewing science. Since then, he has had a stellar career, which includes running a small brewery in England and guiding a craft beer newcomer, Red Nectar by the Humboldt Brewery, to star status in California. Today Parkes’ life revolves around creating his own popular and often experimental beers and teaching some of the most acclaimed brewers in the world through the American Brewers Guild Brewing School.
“Through teaching, I really feel like I’m giving back,” said Parkes.
“I’ve spent years in this industry, in the trenches, done the hard work and have the credentials. I now have the opportunity to influence 50 new brewers at a time and to educate them away from the land of flavorless commodity beers towards craft, artisan beers.” The students bring the new talent and the inspiration and Parkes teaches them the science of brewing. “You have to know the rules before you can break them.”
Parkes and his wife, Christine McKeever-Parkes, purchased the American Brewers Guild, one of the premier brewing schools in the country, in 1999 while living in California. They developed the first distance-learning brewing program in the nation and now boast a list of graduates that includes some of the top brewers in the country. But, even as Parkes reveled in his new-found love of teaching, he knew something was missing.
“I missed brewing. The school in California had a brewery that let me brew with the students, which was a good thing. But I still needed to brew on my own,” said Parkes.
An opportunity to do both was presented to Parkes in 2002 when Wolaver’s Organic Ale, based in Middlebury, purchased Otter Creek Brewery and needed help developing quality-control practices at their facilities. Parkes and his wife packed up their family and the brew school and moved to Vermont.
“We went from making about 20,000 barrels a year to 32,000 at Wolaver’s and Otter Creek; we were able to turn the breweries around and crank out some pretty amazing beer,” Parkes said about his time as brewmaster at these two well-known Vermont breweries.
When Parkes wasn’t overseeing the brewing process at Otter Creek Brewery, he was teaching the classes and running the programs for the brew school. The distance-learning model that he and Christine developed culminated in a week-long onsite brewing intensive that students had to complete in order to graduate. At the time, the school was renting space twice a year at already-established breweries, including Otter Creek and, eventually, Harpoon’s. But that model proved challenging.
“We were vulnerable to the breweries—to their routines, schedules and any issues that came up.” Parkes knew he was going to have to find a home for the hands-on curriculum and opened the doors of Drop-In Brewery last July.
“It’s the first time I’ve owned my own brewery,” Parkes said with a big grin. “It’s an amazing position to be in; this is truly our brewing playground.” Parkes developed his first beer on tap, Sunshine and Hoppiness, to be a “perfect beer that I wanted to drink.” He thought a lot about what he has learned over the years regarding what people like about beer—clean bitterness, earthy flavors and bready, doughy malt characters—which he has incorporated into Drop-In’s most popular brew. Contrast this with the more intense, aggressive style of the Super Nova IPA or the complex flavors of the Scottish Shilling Ale, the Heart of Lothian.
You can quickly appreciate that there is a drinkability theme to each of Parkes’ beers. And thanks to Parkes, a history lesson in brewing to go with it. You can find Drop-In Brewery on the web at Facebook.com/dropinbrewing and the American Brewers Guild school at ABGBrew.com
Sunshine and Hoppiness: A Belgian Golden Ale brewed with Best Malt from Germany, Cascade hops from Oregon and a blend of two Belgian yeast strains.
Heart of Lothian: A Scottish 90 Shilling Ale, brewed with Scottish Golden Promise barley malt, British floor malted crystal and chocolate malts, Fuggle and Kent Golding hops and British yeast.
Red Dwarf: American Amber Ales brewed with Canadian two-row malt, English crystal malt, Columbus, Willamette, Mount Hood and Cascade hops, and a West Coast American yeast strain.
Super Nova IPA: West Coast IPA brewed with American two-row malt and English crystal malt, generously hopped and repeatedly dry hopped to 70 IBUs with a blend called Falconers Flight.
CURRENT ROTATING SELECTIONS, LIMITED QUANTITY
Shooting Star Session Ale: An English-style best bitter with two-row malt, crystal malt, Tettnanger and Liberty hops. This beer is brewed to session beer strength only (ABV 3.9%) meaning it can be enjoyed repeatedly over the course of a “session” in the pub.
Christmas Cake Ale: Dark Brown Ale brewed with raisins, sultanas, currants, orange peel, grapefruit peel, brown sugar and a super-secret ingredient, ABV 6.0%.