"Raindrops on roses and fresh, malty cold ones...." OK, so beer may not have been among Maria von Trapp's favorite distractions--at least according to Sound of Music lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. But in my head, I could hear Julie Andrews crooning, "I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so bad," as Brew Master Allen Van Anda explained why he was hired to launch New England's newest--and one of its most distinctive--breweries at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont.
Johannes von Trapp, the mountaintop resort's president and the youngest son of Baron George and Maria von Trapp, "has been wanting to do a brewery for over 25 years," Van Anda told me. According to the Brew Master, von Trapp's rationale for getting into the beer business now was: "The economy's bad. We need to do something to make us happy. We're going to build a brewery."
A year after he was hired--and nine days before the April 17, 2010 grand opening of the Trapp Lodge Brewery--Van Anda offered me a behind-the-scenes tour of the brewhouse and revealed why Trapp lagers are destined to become a local favorite in Vermont and beyond.
The von Trapp family settled in Vermont in 1942 because Stowe's verdant mountains reminded them of the Alps they'd left behind when they fled Nazi-occupied Austria. Trapp lagers will likewise be reminiscent of the beers produced in Germany and Austria, where each small town has its own small brewery.
"The beer there is designed to be local, fresh. It's not designed to travel across an ocean," Van Anda said. Vermont has been a leader in the locavore movement, so a Vermont-made beer distributed and consumed chiefly in Vermont is a natural fit. The Trapp Brewery's lagers will be made using pure spring water from the Trapp estate's own mountaintop wells.
Although he recently ordered a two-spout bottler, Van Anda says he'll only use the labor-intensive machine to produce a very limited number of bottles for special events. Trapp lagers will be served on-site seven days a week at the brewery, which shares a building with the Trapp Family Lodge's deli and bakery. "You can sit down and have a cake and a beer," said Van Anda, who also hopes to make 1-liter flip-top bottles of draft lager available to visitors who'd like to take beer to go on a picnic or to consume at home. "It's two glasses of beer; it's perfect," he says of this option.
By mid-summer 2010, a full beer garden will be up and running behind the brewery. It will be an easy stop for guests utilizing the property's mountain biking and cross-country skiing trails and will overlook the stunning mountain vistas that inspired the von Trapps to make Stowe their new home.
Trapp Lodge Brewery's most important distinction is that it will produce lagers, not ales. "So many people do ales," Van Anda said. "We're brewing a traditional, Euro-style lager beer. People are very, very excited to see a different style of beer come out of Vermont."
What's the difference between a lager and an ale? "It's like ketchup and mustard," Van Anda quipped. The technical answer is that while 99 percent of American breweries employ an infusion mash process, crafting lagers requires a decoction process: a traditional method used in Europe that requires more time, care and many more steps.
The result is an easier drinking beer that is lower in alcohol than an ale.
Brewing a lager not only requires more mixing and mashing and a series of temperature rises and reductions to achieve that "true, bready, malty-bodied flavor," it necessitates a longer cold fermentation process, Van Anda explained. While ales are fermented for only three to five days, lagers require seven to 14 days.
After fermentation, the beer is refrigerated in the cold storage room for four to eight weeks before it is ready to package or serve.
Initially, the brewery at Trapp Family Lodge will produce two flagship beers available year-round. The Helles golden lager, which I had a chance to sample, is light and crisp and would pair well with just about anything, from cheese, grapes and light appetizers to a fish dinner. Vienna amber lager will be the brewery's second mainstay beer, and seasonal brews, such as an Oktoberfest, are planned, as well.
Van Anda is also investigating the feasibility of creating a non-alcoholic beer, as well as an all-natural root beer for kids.
Legislation is pending that would allow the beers to be served at the Trapp Family Lodge, as well as at the brewery. Trapp lager will also be available at bars and restaurants in Vermont and eventually, perhaps, in New York City and Boston. The distributor, Van Anda said, has already made inroads in Stowe, Burlington and Montpelier.
Van Anda, who heard about the opening for a Brew Master at Trapp Family Lodge via word of mouth, has more than a dozen years' experience in brewing and food product development. Still, launching a brewery "has been an amazing amount of work," he reflected. "I had no idea of the bureaucracy and everything that's involved."
Nevertheless, he admits: "I ended up with a dream job."
During the interview process, Van Anda made one thing clear to his new employers: "I need to be able to have a brewer's choice beer." His first "experiment," Bourbon Barrel-Aged Bock, was fermenting in a pair of oak bourbon barrels when I visited.
"We're going to have a lot of fun with some interesting other styles," said Van Anda. "It keeps things fresh and interesting." While ales come in myriad varieties, there has been little experimentation with lager beers in America, and Van Anda looks forward to "pushing the limits of what can be done."
I asked Van Anda about his goals for the Trapp Lodge Brewery, and his first response was simple: To "have people like the beer, have people drink it."
The ultimate achievement, he said, would be "to have a European brewer say: 'This is good.'"
My hunch is that Vermont residents and visitors will be drinking--and liking--Trapp lagers from the moment they're officially launched. Van Anda, who graciously interrupted a call to federal regulators to show me around, still had plenty to do to prepare for the grand opening. "I think I might even have a couple of beers after that," he said.