Montbeerlier Celebrates Spring, Beer, and Birthdays

Compiled by Mike Dunphy

Saturday, May 5, Montpelier transforms into Montbeerlier, thanks to the annual block party thrown by Three Penny Taproom. Around 1,500 people are expected, as are pours of some of the finest beer in Vermont and, therefore, the world. Three Penny’s co-owner and beer buyer, Kevin Kerner, sat down with The Bridge to chat about the festival, Vermont’s beer scene, and the success of Three Penny Taproom.

The Bridge: Can you tell me more about the Montbeelier Festival?

Kevin Kerner: Sure. Three Penny’s birthday is May 1, and this year we celebrate our ninth birthday. Typically every year we throw ourselves a big party. We shut down Langdon Street and bring in a couple of bands. I bring in a lot of casks, which is an old-world manner of pouring beer.

What’s the difference between a cask and a keg?

Kerner: A cask is pulled off of a fermenter just before maturation, and at that point brewers will sometimes add special ingredients. For instance, from Hill Farmstead, we’ll be getting a double-dry hopped version of one of their pale ales. So the Hill Farmstead pale ale you’ll be able to drink on draft will not be double-dry hopped; the cask that we have coming is completely unique. 

Is the container the same?

Kerner:  It’s a different container. It’s usually a large stainless steel container, but sometimes wood. It’s tapped by gravity, so there’s no CO2 pushing it. The only carbonation you are getting is from whatever they primed it with and whatever we are pouring out of it.

Up to 1,500 people attend the event. Are they mostly local or from further afield?

Kerner: We get a little bit of both. We get a lot of people from further afield who come every year, and from all over Vermont. But mostly it has to do with the local community, because it’s the first weekend of the year when the farmers’ market is outside. The town really comes alive after that weekend. It’s also our way of welcoming spring.

What is “yacht rock” as listed on the event?

Kerner: It’s a band called Full Cleveland and they play yacht rock music. It’s early ’80s, late ’70s, sort of like smooth jazz, smooth rock, Hall & Oates, Doobie Brothers, something like that.

What puts the “special” in the name of the beer you are highlighting at the event, the Savoy Special?

Kerner: I collaborated with Zero Gravity and we came up with this hoppy blonde ale that we are going to be serving. It was made at Burlington Flatbread. It’s basically something that’s very sessionable—that you can consume a good amount of before you notice that you’ve consumed a good amount of it. The idea behind it was I wanted something that looks and acts like a pilsner but is hoppy like a pale ale. It’s a recipe that I came up with. It’s what I want to drink. Brewers typically make exactly what they want to drink.

What are some of the rare beers coming.

Kerner: Usually, these are beers that I see throughout the year, and I put them aside in the root cellar until Montbeerlier, and then I’ll bring them out and load up the draught board with all of them at once.

Generally, how do you choose beers for Three Penny?

Kerner: I try to create trends and I’m usually a year or two ahead of everyone else. I was in the beer industry very early in my life and became a brewer when I was 20. I mostly think about the customers, and I like to balance the board. I like it when there’s something for everyone.

Do you have a concern there is a bit of a beer bubble in Vermont?

Kerner: We have passed the bubble. Well, it’s more of a bell curve than a bubble, and I am not entirely sure when we hit that apex, but I believe we are beyond it. There are many, many breweries in the state, and they are all making incredible beer. I am interested to see what the indicator or reasoning is behind them continuing or ending, because it’s not going to be the quality. Ninety-nine percent of the breweries in Vermont are putting out awesome beer.

How do you view Three Penny among the bars in the state. Are you the apex?

Kerner: I would be remiss if I didn’t say yes. I personally would say that if we are successful because of our beer, it would be because I spent nine years at the other end of the business. I was a brewer for nine years, and I know what it takes to make these beers. So we take care of the beer better than anyone. Every beer is cold, clean, and as pristine as possible. Also what sets us apart are the relationships I have with the brewers and distributors. There are things that come into the state that are specifically earmarked for us.   

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