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The Slow, Long Trail (Brewing Co.) to Success

by: Todd on 12-01-2001
Back in 1989, a two man operation called “The Mounstain Brewers, Inc” brewed their first batch of beer at Bridgewater Mill in Bridgewater, Vermont. Now situated on the banks of the Ottauquechee River, Long Trail Brewing Co. is one of the largest craft breweries on the East Coast (right behind the likes of Redhook and Harpoon). With 36 employees, a powerful brewhouse and 8 strong beers (Long Trail Ale, India Pale Ale, Tom O’Brien’s Stout, Double Bag, Pollenator, Blackbeary Wheat, Harvest and Hibernator) that seem to capture a bit of that “Made in Vermont” flavor, its people and the company behind them, in every bottle.

I caught up with Andy Pherson, Long Trail’s president, to get his perspective on the their current success and the industry in general.

Todd: To what do you attribute Long Trail’s continued success?

Andy: I’m not sure what you mean by success, but I’ll go out on a limb by assuming that you define success as profitable sustained double-digit growth in existing markets. I think that I can attribute most of that success by growing SLOWLY, and letting our ability to find and keep good people dictate the slope of our growth curve. Given that it is our brewers who handcraft our products, having a great team is critical to long-term success.

Todd: What’s your daily motivation and personal brewing philosophy?

Andy: I really enjoy what I do. My main job at our facility is designing and building our brewing equipment. I work almost every day on new equipment that plays right into my personal brewing philosophy. This is equipment that is not only more productive, but is able to produce the highest quality product possible. My other job is opening the mail!

Todd: How much beer does Long Trail make per year? And where does it sell the best?

Andy: We will ship approximately 40,000 barrels this year. It sells best in Vermont.

Todd: I’ve read somewhere that you’ve scaled back distribution. Has it hurt sales?

Andy: We have not “scaled back distribution”. We simply withdrew from the Massachusetts market. Of course it hurt sales in MA; they went to zero!!! We are not aware of how or why it would hurt our sales in any other market however.

Todd: So, what areas can you get Long Trail beers?

Andy: Our products are offered in VT, NH, ME, CT, and a little in NJ.

Todd: Do you see a growing trend with breweries focusing more on local sales/distribution?

Andy: I don’t see any trends either way. However, I think that it would be good for our industry if we, as a group, keep our products closer to home. This would allow us to better monitor overall distribution quality and product freshness.

Todd: Besides not “scaling back distribution,” has anything else changed? In-house expansion? Process? Recipes?

Andy: We are currently building an addition that will give us thee additional loading docks and Finished Goods storage space. We hope to break-ground on another building this November, we just added a second 60 BBL Kettle, a new Mash/Lauter Tun, a malt husk pre-conditioning system, a new wet milling process, and our current fermentation capacity is up to 55,000 bbls/yr. Otherwise, all is quiet.

Todd: What is your current view of the brewing industry?

Andy: Crowded.

Todd: And where do you see Long Trail within it?

Andy: I can’t! In other words, our deepest market penetration is 4.5% in Vermont, and it has taken us 12 years to get there!!! Although we continue to enjoy double-digit growth in all of our markets, we are still statistically insignificant within them.

Todd: If you could change one thing within the brewing industry, what would it be?

Andy: We would push for improved enforcement of existing State and Federal liquor laws. As an industry, we need to remind ourselves that it is illegal to give away our product under any condition.

Todd: What can we expect from Long Trail in the future?

Andy: More of the same. As long as we’re proud of what we’re doing, and we’re having fun doing it, then we’ll just keep-on do’in it!

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For more information on Long Trail Brewing Co., visit their website at  http://www.longtrail.com  or call them at (802) 672-5001.

Long Trail Brewing Company
Jct. Route 4 & 100A
Bridgewater Corners, VT 05035
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