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The Vermont Tech and Taps Tour (Part 4)

Jan. 12, 2018
Machine Design tours Vermont’s growing manufacturing, technology, and brewery Industries.

In Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series, I toured a variety of companies. Revision, a military-grade safety glass company, is expanding into helmets and batteries, and is proud to be a successful Vermont company. BioTek is a company that’s disrupting the life sciences by offering high-tech testing equipment at a fraction of the cost of the competitors. And Part 3 discusses my tours through Liquid Measurement System and Vermont Precision Tools. Vermont’s culture is to work hard and play hard, so in this part I’ll walk through some of the breweries that appreciate hard work and a good drink.

14th Star Brewing Co.

Those who don’t hail from Vermont might not know that the 14th star on the flag represents Vermont. After the 13 original colonies, Vermont became the 14th state in 1791, and about a year later a 15th star was added for Kentucky. Thus, it stands to reason that 14-star flags are quite rare. That fact also correlates to 14th Star Brewing Co. getting its name. The mission of the veteran-owned craft brewery, located in St. Albans, Vermont, is to brew high-quality craft beer while enriching its community.

The boxes of food were for a local food drive recently held by the brewery. Just further evidence of Vermont’s sense of community.

Steve Gagner, one of the founders of the brewery, told us how he found the space to start the company. The building that hosts the brewery and pub was once a bowling alley. While bowling with his four-year-old daughter, Gagner heard the owner was losing the space. Gagner seized the opportunity. Today, the wooden bar in the pub area of the brewery is actually the reclaimed bowling alley that Gagner and his daughter played on that day.  

The hardworking inventive spirit of Vermont was shown in Steve’s do-it-yourself solutions. Before having a canning line, Steve rigged up this simple valve system to fill bottles.

Before buying an industrial machine to do the job, this funnel sat above a power drill to sift tons of grain.

The brewery also benefited from local government when it came time for expansion, and funding. It now proudly dons a 14th flag, along with some hops, as its logo. Andrea Gagner, Steve’s sister, is the CEO of the brewery. This sense of community, being a family-owned business, working hard, and playing hard is on par with everything I’ve seen so far in Vermont.

Citizen Cider

Citizen Cider is currently distributed in all New England states, New York (city and areas upstate), New Jersey, Metro Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, and Illinois. It’s a locally sourced company that focuses on making hard ciders. This means temperatures must be watched with a close eye to ensure the taste and quality of the product.

Juston Heilenback, Bryan Holmes, and Kris Nelson had no money when they started this cider venture. They formulated a plan with Stan and Mary Pratt of Happy Valley Orchard in Middlebury, Vermont, who would handle the cider pressing. In the late fall of 2011, the local orchard handed over 5,000 gallons of its apples to the three co-owners of Citizen Cider—literally for free, because they had no money. Most of the work was done outside in the cold wet November nights of Vermont.

Since then, they have grown rapidly, to the point where it was a great help to have the support of local government to help allocate land and loans to expand as quickly as they did. And all of their apples still come from Happy Valley Orchard.    

Zero Gravity

In 2012, Zero Gravity began distribution for off-premise sales, and two years later it needed more space.  Today, the brewery has a 30-barrel brew house, full canning line, tasting room, retail shop, and a beer garden. This location also houses its barrel aging program, and allows them to make beer styles that they previously did not have the space to attempt.

Matt Wilson, director of sales and marketing for Zero Gravity, started the tour of the brewery.

While I was sampling some of the company’s product, I got a close look at its canning line. I noticed Wild Goose was using Festo parts on the machine. Though Wild Goose isn’t in Vermont, it carries similar traits. Starting with five cans a minute and two engineers, coupled with a brewer that needed some help, Wild Goose is now found in many breweries around the U.S., making sure cans are full, and processed fast. The company’s top model handles about 80-90 cans per minute. For more on Wild Goose's canning process, check out the video here.

Festo parts are used in Wild Goose's canning machine.

That sums up the Taps part of the tour. In Part 5, I’ll talk to a few companies emerging from Vermont’s incubator. Vermont’s Center for Emerging Technologies (VCET) hosts companies you might not expect to find here. VCET president David Bradbury walks us through the space, which ranges from helping the blind learn, to propulsion systems for CubeSats. After that, I tour Dynapower Corp., and Logic Supply, to wrap up my time in Vermont.

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