STOWE -- High in the Green Mountains, low in a labyrinthine basement beneath the Austrian Tea Room at the Trapp Family Lodge, Allen Van Anda toils away like a crafty alchemist, pouring water and yeast into shining stainless-steel vats and hoping the combination turns into something close to heavenly.
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Gazing toward a window looking out on those snow-covered peaks, Van Anda talks like someone who's pretty close to heaven himself.
"I've been brewing beer professionally since high school. This is a dream come true -- you brew beer on a mountaintop," he said.
Since late last year, Van Anda has been creating the first batches of Trapp Lager, which should be pouring out of local taps in April and available in bottles within a year. That will be the culmination of a dream the man who runs the lodge -- the youngest child of Maria and Baron von Trapp of "The Sound of Music" fame -- has had for more than a decade.
"Every time I've gone to Austria and I drink the good local beer, I come back here, and I can't duplicate it," said Johannes vonTrapp, whose family settled in Vermont after famously fleeing Austria as Adolf Hitler rose to power in Europe. "It seemed like a niche that wasn't being filled."
Von Trapp said Vermont brewers make plenty of good beers, mostly ales and stouts. He said it's harder to find good lagers, which tend to be lighter in flavor and alcohol content yet, in the Austrian style, still have ample taste and body.
Van Anda, hired a year ago as the brewmaster at the resort outside of Stowe village, said Trapp Lager will specialize in the golden helles lager style as well as the Vienna lager style commonly found not in large plants in Austria and Germany but in small-town, small-batch breweries. "We're doing something that's very different," according to Van Anda. "We're trying to mimic the true style of European lagers."
Trapp Lager also will feature what Van Anda termed a "brewer's delight" that will rotate between varieties such as hearty Oktoberfest and a pair of wheat beers, hefeweizens and their darker cousin, dunkelweizens. Von Trapp said he also wants to offer a non-alcoholic lager.
"We're going to play with a bunch of ideas," according to von Trapp.
Now seemed like the right time to finally start making beer, von Trapp said. "With the economy going to hell, we had to do something to make us happy," he said, adding that Trapp Family Lodge plans to serve its beer on an outdoor patio overlooking the mountains near the tea room this summer. "The beer promotes the hotel, and the hotel promotes the beer."
In his basement brew room just down the road from the main building of the Trapp Family Lodge, Van Anda spoke on a recent afternoon about the research he's put into his work for Trapp Lager, including a trip to Germany last year in which he toured several breweries, tasting big, bold beer flavors and learning tricks of the trade not available in any books about brewing. He also attended Oktoberfest in Munich and sat at a table with brewers from the famed Bavarian beer maker Paulaner, which the 32-year-old Wolcott resident described with a wistful smile as "a very difficult day."
When other high-school kids were sneaking their first tastes of beer, Van Anda was not only sampling beer, he was brewing it. He said he began making a German-style lager with a brewer in his home state of New Jersey in 1996. "I said, 'I'll work for free, whadda ya got?'" Van Anda recalled.
After coming to Vermont to study environmental science at Johnson State College, Van Anda worked for Rock Art and the now-defunct Kross Brewing Co., both in Morrisville. He said a big part of his attraction to brewing is the science of it -- on an afternoon when he spent much of his time strolling the brewery twiddling knobs on the stainless-steel tanks and spewing excess water out of hoses onto the floor, Van Anda talked excitedly about boiling mash. He's just as excited about the mechanical aspects of beer-making, including the plumbing and carpentry that went into building Trapp Lager's brewery, which he expects will produce about 1,000 gallons of beer a week made from mountain-spring water.
Not everything that appeals to Van Anda about brewing, however, can be summed up by something as empirical as science.
"The fringe benefits -- you've got something at the end of the day. That's the most fun part for me," he said. "It's a living thing. I talk to yeast all the time -- 'Don't mess with me today....'"
This story appeared on page B3 of Friday's Burlington Free Press