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Vanity Fair interview with Shaun Hill, Hill Farmstead

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by MikeCactusGordon, Apr 25, 2013.

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  1. WeymouthMike

    WeymouthMike Advocate (535) Massachusetts Jun 22, 2004 Beer Trader

    There is a listing for 167 acres in Greensboro for under $400k and another 120 acres for 144k, I don't believe the price of property applies here.
  2. emannths

    emannths Savant (445) Massachusetts Sep 21, 2007

    That's an easy fix: don't open 4 days a week, and don't give interviews to national publications.
    tzieser, ShogoKawada, sliverX and 5 others like this.
  3. THIS. I'm glad somone else sees between the lines and recognizes that Shaun's business strategy is an important one when it comes to quality beer. Several years ago - when Hill Farmstead Edward was Shaun's only beer on the market, and hard to find at that - a friend of mine (who coincidentally lives in Vermont) said his vision of the future for well made beer was go to small - beyond the notion of nanobrewery - to brew good beer for the people who live in your immediate area. My friend was likening his strategy to what Sean Lawson was just starting with Lawson's Finest Liquids: brew small batches, sell bottles at one or two accounts or the farmer's market, or just do growler fills on-site on the weekend. Low overhead. Make it fun. Provide something tasty for the community. I smiled and called it (with a nod to Mr. Lawosn) "Liquids for Locavores."

    But this is exactly where a lot of brewers are going. Shaun Hill says right in the interview, "From day one I’ve been saying that we are part of a neo-American ideal, which is the opposite of infinite, boundless growth." Hill Farmstead, Lawson's Finest, and The Alchemist are the three most popular breweries in Vermont, and all three brewers have made it very clear that they will expand to a certain point (or not expand at all) because they are sticking to running their businesses on their terms, and the see the inherent issues with rampant growth.

    Look around New England and you will quickly find a handful of breweries started over the past few years that (for now) are following this mantra of staying small and making a quality product: Oxbow in Maine, Blue Lobster in NH, and Tree House in MA, just to name a few. Twenty-first century consumer entitlement will always be the antagonist of these small breweries, but if more continue to pop up, then the needs of many drinkers of well made beer will be met. Just my two cents.

    And as for Hill Farmstead being "the best brewery in the world," give us a break with the arbitrary ratings. Every BA will say without question that - from the perspective of overall portfolio - there are several dozen breweries across the globe that brew "the best beers in the world"... and Hill Farmstead is definitely one of them.
  4. t8000shx

    t8000shx Savant (375) New York Mar 2, 2004 Beer Trader

    That's a valid point, but consider that there's a natural tension between wanting to grow/maintain your business to the level desired and wanting to maintain a lifestyle. Giving interviews and being open 4 days a week drives sales and growth, but obviously this has come at the sacrifice of a lifestyle. This goes back to what I said originally - the guy is learning on the fly how to manage explosive growth, and I struggle to criticize him for voicing complaints about growing pains when he's overall been very successful.

    Not to mention that even without nationally distributed interviews, the beer-geek word of mouth was sending droves of customers to Greensboro within 18 months of opening, although granted it seems that has accelerated in the last year. For better and worse, I suspect the quality of the product was going to cause this to happen regardless.
  5. emannths

    emannths Savant (445) Massachusetts Sep 21, 2007

    This is probably the crux of it. The tone in the article though is easy to interpret as "woe is me" as opposed to "I'm trying to improve." The vignette at the beginning sounds like "ugh--they damn customers keep showing up." The author or the medium may be to blame for that, and it may not be reflective of Shaun's feelings, but (imho) it's definitely present.

    To me, struggling with growing pains is complaining about difficulties finding good employees, or getting financing, or dealing with zoning, or keeping customers happy. Griping that your growth is cramping your style feels...different, somehow. Plenty of brewers talk about 18 hour days as a labor of love. Shaun comes off talking about his success strictly as a burden. I don't think he's a bad guy--by all accounts he's really nice--but the article doesn't really do that justice.
    jloomis and JuliusCaesar like this.
  6. Lot's of judgmental comments here which surprises me. Kinda thought the beer community was more about acceptance but I guess there will always be the critical crowd. No doubt Shaun is a quirky guy, but seems to me he is doing what he loves and just never saw this success coming. I for one am very thankful I get the opportunity to visit once or twice a year because it is a great experience.
  7. otispdriftwood

    otispdriftwood Advocate (730) Colorado Dec 9, 2011 Beer Trader

    Looks like a haircut too, perhaps.
  8. otispdriftwood

    otispdriftwood Advocate (730) Colorado Dec 9, 2011 Beer Trader

    If he didn't want to deal with people showing up, he could keg ALL of his beer and sell the same amount. Or he could limit the hours or the amount you can buy. What I got from the article is that Shaun is a little taken aback by the success - it wasn't planned or anticipated in any way. He just wants to brew beer, period. What he really needs is someone he can trust to deal with the business side.
    dar482 and DogfishJoe like this.
  9. MikeCactusGordon

    MikeCactusGordon Advocate (710) Ohio Feb 20, 2011 Beer Trader

    I wish I could go back in time and tell Vincent van Gogh how to paint and how much to paint
    Auror, benbking, PsilohsaiBiN and 3 others like this.
  10. He wouldnt be able to hear you though
    tzieser, Auror, sliverX and 2 others like this.
  11. stmgl01

    stmgl01 Savant (280) Pennsylvania Dec 11, 2007

    I'm not sure if this has been posted yet but Shaun Hill did a reddit Ask Me Anything a few weeks ago...perhaps compare and contrast this more candid "interview" with what was found in Vanity Fair.


    Someone writing an article is always going to have an angle they want to take with an interview to tell a story. Who knows what we missed or what was actually said?
  12. wants to be out of the spotlight............gets interviewed by vanity fair?

    if its that much of a burden, require a VT state ID for anyone that buys beer.no out of staters. problem solved
  13. That's pretty laughable if you had any semblance of insight into what I do. Everything you said is true and applicable to my situation (except for the New England part, just substitute the Western US), but much, much worse comparitively.

    Would I rather work in peace? Yeah, sure. . .

    But everytime I catch myself griping and bitching about the downside of my career, like Mr. Hill in that interview, I take the time to remind myself how lucky I am to be in this position, and how I could be much worse off, like some of the more talented, yet unemployed people I know.
    M1A2 likes this.
  14. otispdriftwood

    otispdriftwood Advocate (730) Colorado Dec 9, 2011 Beer Trader

    Your post should be called "hitting the nail directly on the head".
    lhteacher likes this.
  15. BB1313

    BB1313 Poobah (1,010) Ohio Jul 16, 2009

    Seems like a cool guy.. I've only had 2 of their beers, and they were killer..

    As for RB, I really never went on there. They seem to give lower scores and not give everything a high score which is cool, but their descriptions of the beers are so bad.. example: "Hops, spice, malts, smooth beer".. lol that helps. Not to mention their site has never been easy on the eyes.
  16. (Dick skier bro voice)
    I'm gonna have to try that skiing on foothills kind of thing one of these days. 4000ft peaks at MOST? That's cute! My beer cellar in my house is at a higher elevation! Nice try DARSH!

    (back to reality)
    Anyways, I think Bob Dylan said it best when it comes to your career.

    "You may be an ambassodor to England or to France.
    You may like to gamble, you may like to dance
    You may be the heavyweight brewing champion of the world
    You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls,

    So as soon as you accept that fact, you can get on with the "woe is me" routine while working your dream job.
    tzieser, rrryanc and MikeCactusGordon like this.
  17. MikeCactusGordon

    MikeCactusGordon Advocate (710) Ohio Feb 20, 2011 Beer Trader

  18. joeebbs

    joeebbs Savant (360) Pennsylvania Apr 29, 2009

    Today's society of ordering anything you want on ebay or amazon is what is driving the demand for these local beers. Beer isn't distributed to your state? Find someone to ship it to you. The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead would still be busy without Beer Trading but they might not have the stress or strain on their production that they do now. Or have to worry about being asked when there beer is going to be shipped to a certain state.
  19. t0rin0

    t0rin0 Champion (860) California Dec 30, 2006

    This is too easy, but in case anyone else is confused, the numbers are percentiles. If you dont understand what a percentile is it simply shows how the beer ranks compared to other beers on the site. So if a beer shows a ranking (not score mind you) of 100 that means it's in the top 1% of beers on the site or within the style. That doesnt mean that it's a perfect beer, or 100/100. In fact, as you pointed out, a beer with 100 ranking only (only) has a weighted score of 4.26.

    There will be the same amount of 99's as 100's on the site and the same amount of 84's and the same amount of 42's. At the time of writing this the most recent beer added was number 210,984. Granted the total is a bit lower than that since some of them have been rolled or deleted but it's safe to say that there are around 200,000 beers listed over there. 200,000 divided into 100 percentiles is... you can do this... 2,000. IF every beer on the site had enough ratings to qualify for a percentile (and they dont since I think the minimum is around 8 or 10) there should be 2,000 beers with a 100 score, 2,000 beers with a 99 score, and so on. These are overall scores, obviously there will be less in each percentile for individual styles.

    Now if you want to have something intelligent to complain about you can look at style bias which becomes easier with the rankings. Popular styles like DIPA are going to be skewed higher, like the following example where its not a very good DIPA but compared to the rest of the beers on the site it does ok:


    Looking at an unpopular style you can see the opposite effect, like pale lagers and in this case it's one of the top 50 for the style and has over 600 ratings but the overall is only a 42 compared to 99 for the style:


    But I suspect that it's very similar here. Look at something like LH12 which is not even as good as 50N (which isnt all that good either) or Don Quijote which is salty and weird, or the Muscat version of Reed Gueuze which is sulfury as all hell (though it does get a lot better as it breathes but still not amazing) but they say Cantillon and Lambic on the bottles so they get instant 4.whatever (or high 90's rankings).

    That's what any rating site should be used for, regardless if it's for beer or anything else. Some people here seem to think that they're more qualified to "properly" review a beer but in the end this is a consumer website where the users are no more credible than those on Yelp or any other site.

    A year ago I would have argued the exact opposite, but now I dont spend much time here anymore so I cant comment on how people here look at Rare beer. But in the spirit of pointing out how you are hating with really no idea what you're talking about, look at the top lists on both sites:


    They're really not that different. Westvleteren, Russian River, Three Floyds, Cantillon, Rochefort, they're all there just in a different order.
  20. stupac2

    stupac2 Advocate (565) California Feb 22, 2011

    This topic of discussion has me wondering, over time will we see more and more skilled brewers like Hill (and Vinnie, Armand, etc), causing people to care less about each individual one? I mean, if there 200 breweries making beer of that quality instead of a couple dozen (at most), no one would even try to hunt down everything they do. You could care about your local awesome breweries more than the others.

    I mean, I know that people already drink local, to some extent. But despite living in one of the biggest MSAs in the country there's only one brewery making beer that quality. I can get top-notch food of any kind I want, but the local beer options are virtually nonexistent for some styles.

    And I wonder if that's just part of the fact that brewing is playing catch-up in terms of where it should be as a local service. There are, what, a half-dozen brewing schools in the country? Sure, people can learn from homebrewing, but scaling is a major issue in brewing. I wonder if, as it becomes clear that this isn't a fad, that people want good local beer, that we'll see Hill-Farmstead-quality breweries cropping up all over the place. I don't know this for sure, but I suspect that Hill wouldn't see 2-hour-long lines if there was a brewery in Boston making beer just as good as his.
    M1A2 and Beerandraiderfan like this.
  21. How is that different from mail order catalogs that have been around for almost a century (that isn't "today's society"). And how did you even arrive at such a conclusion, aside from ignoring the historical relevance of off site consumerism that has been existence for a long time?

    I certainly cannot buy the beers I want off ebay or amazon.
  22. Ranbot

    Ranbot Advocate (620) Pennsylvania Nov 27, 2006 Verified

    He can run his business however he wants. He doesn't owe the community anything other than a product they want to buy. If you don't like his attitude, don't buy his beer. There's really nothing else substantive to say on that subject, IMO.

    I see some echo's of Jim Koch's recent interview in Shaun...

    "A lot of brewers now go straight from home brewing into making a chili-chocolate-chipotle porter or whatever, and it’s like . . . well, just fucking make a good porter first, and understand what a porter is instead of trying to re-invent it...But we’re not trying to slap people across the face with flavor and intensity. Just make succinct, enjoyable beer."

    I thought this statement was interesting too: "I’m still enthralled and amazed by yeast, though, man. That’s where the mystery remains."
    It's not very often brewers, besides Alan Pugsley, say much about different yeasts. Too bad he didn't talk about that a little more.
  23. joeebbs

    joeebbs Savant (360) Pennsylvania Apr 29, 2009

    A century ago you would not know about Hill Farmstead unless you either lived in Vermont, visited Vermont or knew someone who went there. How do you know about them today? Probably from this website. You can't buy beers off of ebay/amazon but you can use a website like this to trade for them.
  24. t8000shx

    t8000shx Savant (375) New York Mar 2, 2004 Beer Trader

    How long have you been doing your job? What's the growth rate been for the last few years? What was your lifestyle like before you started this job? Do you have physical separation from your place of work?

    From the interview, and with some knowledge of the brewery, it sounds like these three factors play heavily into the Shaun Hill's complaints. I suspect if you do not have much overlap with him on these grounds, then the comparison to your situation isn't terribly informative. (I'm not at all trying to attack you or belittle what you do, but I think it's important to note these differences).

    I'll reiterate again before signing off this thread - he is coping with unforeseen (and unforeseeable) explosive growth both in sales and exposure, along with the natural tension between the desire for growth/maintaining the business and maintaining a lifestyle, and is managing it as best as possible. I struggle to level criticism at a small business owner who is trying to learn all of this on the fly. It doesn't sound unreasonable to me that this circumstance fosters serious stress. Giving voice these stresses != being ungrateful of success.
    BOBPINCH666 likes this.
  25. Cool sidestep, but your original point was about "today's society - ebay - amazon = consumerism" which ignored history. Its pretty common for people to think their generation is totally unique though, so its all good.

    Anyways, now you're changing it up, good call.
  26. After reading this thread there are a couple of points I find very funny.

    A lot of people seem to feel the need to defend what this guy said in the article. So, they start their post by addressing him by his first name because...you know, they filled a growler there once and shot the shit with Shaun so their tight, even though Shaun makes it clear in the interview that he hates this kind of interaction with customers. You don't know him and your not friends. Stop speaking as though your buddies and you just know what an awesome dude he is.

    He does come across as an asshole in this article. Bitching about how it's so shitty to be successful doing what you love is stupid. Your passion is making beer but you don't want to deal with all these people, who you find annoying for traveling long distances, waiting in line outside of your brewery for hours to give you their money in exchange for the product you sell? Then close the fucking doors, homebrew, and get a 9-5 job like everyone else. I don't care about his limited distribution and he can run his business however he sees fit but complaining about success and how annoying it is to have devoted customers is lame. "Fuck, I built a brewery on the side of my house and connected the guest shop to the brewery, so now all these people are around all the time. Even worse, these plebs actually take an interest in the thing I sell and want to talk to me." Get over yourself.
  27. First off, with reviews like:
    "Looks yellow, smells floral, tastes good, hoppy and delicous. I would drink this again." as legit ratings I'm not surprised by anything that spawns from "the other site".

    Secondly, he did nail it here!
    "A lot of brewers now go straight from home brewing into making a chili-chocolate-chipotle porter or whatever, and it’s like . . . well, just fucking make a good porter first, and understand what a porter is instead of trying to re-invent it.".........AMEN!
  28. 10 years, massive (almost exponential) growth, more free time and I walk one block to work to answer your?s. Plenty of overlap as I see it. Not at all taking it as an attack/belittling, we're all good here. But. . . what differences? That he is loved and I am often loathed in our careers? Heck yeah I'm jealous! And then to hear him bemoan being appreciated!

    What he is coping with, is success. . . which is a lot less stressful than failure. "Having money's not everything, not having it is." Which is probably why he operates a capitalistic for profit enterprise that provides him with his romanticized way of life, which he ironically seems to begrudge at times.
  29. Firstly, thanks for that link.

    The below quote from Shaun Hill sounds perfectly reasonable to me:

    “This is why I cannot sleep at night. There is no way to meet demand. In opening this brewery, I did not somehow sign a contract with "consumerism" that I must, at the end of the day, grow my business until all consumers are happy... but it often feels this way. This brewery began as a means for me to continue to live in the place that I love (sense of place). To create an industrial park on my front yard would make me not want to leave here any longer... Goal: To brew beer. Take care of employees. Take care of myself. Be happy. And eventually find a day in which I can turn off my cell phone, not check email, not worry about fermentation or demand... and relax.”

    The sentence of “There is no way to meet demand” is the crux of the issue (to me). No matter how big or how much beer Hill Farmstead would produce there would be more demand than product.

  30. One of the hardest things is to express trepidation about success. It seems like a lot of people have the attitude that saying anything hesitant about it is "bitching" and basically shows how ungrateful he is, etc. I guess what I see in the article is not an asshole but somebody who's just a little confused. He started the brewery with a vision of one thing - a small brewery serving his community that allowed him to support a fairly modest lifestyle, and now he has something pretty different. Lines out the door, being named the top brewery in the world, people offering him investments to vastly increase the size of the brewery. And don't forget how quickly this has all come to him. The brewery is only a few years old. So yes, he can obviously make this all go away in a second if he wants. Close the doors, sell only kegs, and become a hermit if that's what he wants to do. But I don't think it's unreasonable to give the guy a little bit of a pass for being conflicted about what he wants to do. There are obviously a lot of worse things than being in the situation he's in, but if only the people who had it worst ever complained about shit there would be a hell of a lot less whining in the world.
  31. otispdriftwood

    otispdriftwood Advocate (730) Colorado Dec 9, 2011 Beer Trader

    It's true. It may not be possible to upscale your production amounts and be as good. Case in point...Nugget Nectar. There are varying opinions but in my opinion, it is different now than it when it was brewed in Harrisburg.
  32. emannths

    emannths Savant (445) Massachusetts Sep 21, 2007

    Maybe he should raise his prices until he no longer sells out? That would depress demand to the point of equaling supply.

    How could the growth in sales be unforeseen? Did he not expect the sell the beer he brewed?
    hinemk76 and JuliusCaesar like this.
  33. I am assuming that these are rhetorical questions for me.

  34. stupac2

    stupac2 Advocate (565) California Feb 22, 2011

    There's a difference between selling the beer he brews and selling out of everything immediately because there's a line all the way to Canada at opening.
  35. emannths

    emannths Savant (445) Massachusetts Sep 21, 2007

    He's selling 1800bbl of beer per year from his house. He's open 20 hours a week. That's 27 2L growler fills per hour (yes, I know not all sales are growlers). Whether they all show up at noon or not, that's a lot of customers rolling up your driveway!
    Takeanotherswing likes this.
  36. rrryanc

    rrryanc Savant (480) California May 19, 2006 Beer Trader

    I had the opportunity to take a small tour of Sierra Nevada a couple of years ago with Ken Grossman (was just Ken, my father, my brother and me). Ken started SN with one other guy, bought him out after a few years, and has been personally involved with the brewery ever since. He still works on the equipment, is involved with the brewing, does marketing and press and they've been expanding pretty much every year.

    My point here is that he (and SN as a whole) is proof that you don't have to choose. Sierra Nevada still pumps out quality beers (and new and interesting beers as well) - and Ken still controls and is heavily involved with all aspects of the brewery. I'm not nearly as familiar with the guys who own New Belgium, but I'd suspect it's largely the same.

    In my opinion, if you're a brewer and you can't figure out the expansion process - it's because you're not very good at business. And that's fine, you don't have to be good at business, or want to expand, or whatever else doesn't make you happy. If staying small and brewing good beer makes you happy, then so be it - but don't bitch about how much you hate being successful in the same breath.
  37. He should brush up on his Nietzsche.

    Shaun Hill: “Man, success is fucking stressful . . . ”
    Friedrich Nietzsche: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

    Shaun Hill: "Oh man, I can’t even go out there. It’s just too much. I wish it wasn’t like that."
    Friedrich Nietzsche: "The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

    Shaun Hill: "From day one I’ve been saying that we are part of a neo-American ideal, which is the opposite of infinite, boundless growth. Why that manifest destiny?"
    Fiedrich Nietzsche: "Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."
  38. I have absolutely zero knowledge of Fiedrich Nietzsche but that post was awesome!

    Cheers to you!
  39. franklinn

    franklinn Savant (450) Vermont May 29, 2012

    So you spent the hour and a half since your last response here researching Nietzsche and matching up quotes. Good use of your time, most likely.
  40. No, I read books.
    rails, MagicJeff and miketd like this.
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