Lauren Ober, Seven Days
June 16, 2010

On a drizzly weekday morning, Allen Van Anda pumps gallons of mash into a lauter tun where the liquid strained from the grains will eventually be turned into lager. It’s early still, but things have been cooking in Van Anda’s brewery since 6 a.m. If this day is anything like an average workday, he’ll probably be here until close to midnight.

The lanky brewmaster doesn’t mind the long days. He’s making great beer, he reasons. Plus, his office, a garage below a deli/bakery, comes with a great view. Even on a rainy day, the vista — a lush meadow with a backdrop of evergreens near the Trapp Family Lodge — is spectacular.

Van Anda, 32, is the inaugural brewer of Trapp Lager, the newest offering from the iconic Stowe resort. The appearance of the brewery, which opened in April to wide acclaim, is just one of a number of changes aimed at diversifying the four-season resort. Earlier this season, the Lodge opened its ski trails to public mountain biking for the first time. While the Trapp Family Lodge of the past might have been steeped in Nordic skiing traditions and Austrian alpine charm, today’s resort is contemporary, with far more to do than sit and admire the view.

The shining up of the Trapp Family Lodge has a lot to do with the return of Sam von Trapp, the energetic son of the resort’s president, Johannes von Trapp, and grandson of the famed Baron von Trapp and his wife, Maria. After a long absence teaching skiing in Colorado and Chile, Sam von Trapp came back to the family business in 2007.

Von Trapp is about as enthusiastic a man as you’re likely to meet. When he speaks, his mouth naturally peels into a smile, making him seem excited about nearly everything he says. With his rugged good looks and athletic stature, it’s no wonder he appeared on People magazine’s Top 50 Bachelors list in 2001 — a piece of press that continues to elicit ribbing from his friends. Today the 37-year-old is a bachelor no more: He married his longtime Chilean girlfriend, Elisa Sepúlveda, last year.

As the resort’s vice president and director of operations, von Trapp has the responsibility of overseeing its many moving parts. Currently, the 2400-acre property supports hiking, tennis, fishing, organic gardens, a herd of Scottish Highland cattle, yoga, maple sugaring, music concerts and a host of other activities. Von Trapp recently presided over the conversion of the Austrian Tea Room to a “DeliBakery” and, while the brewery was his father’s dream, it was the younger von Trapp who saw the idea to fruition.

“It’s definitely been revitalized,” von Trapp says of the resort. “It’s partly been because of the combination of my sister and me returning.” He’s referring to his older sister, Kristina, 40, who lives on the property and teaches many of the resort’s ski clinics in the winter. Both siblings help lead tours of the family’s property, a novelty relished by many fans of The Sound of Music, the 1965 movie loosely based on the von Trapp family history.

The von Trapp heirs’ return to their birthright has not only punched up the energy level at the resort; it has reinvigorated their father. Johannes von Trapp now has family he can depend on to implement ideas he’s been sitting on, says Sam: “A lot of it is my father getting more excited day to day. The fact that we’re all working together has given him the motivation.”

With the national explosion of craft brewing in the past decade, one can see why the prospect of a top-flight microbrewery taking up residence on the property makes the family a little giddy.

The DeliBakery, where the brewery is housed, is the former residence of von Trapp’s uncle, Werner. To accommodate the large brewing tanks, the structure had to be completely remodeled. Brewer Van Anda, who previously worked at Vermont Soy and Rock Art Brewery, oversaw the process. “They hired me and then said, ‘Go build it,’” he says.

And build it he did. Initially, Van Anda and the von Trapps decided on a seven-barrel brewery. But Van Anda pushed them to double the size, and now he’s glad he did. In just two months of brewing, Trapp Lager has become one of the most popular Vermont beers on tap in the area. Brewed with water from the resort’s artesian spring, it’s found in an astounding 75 bars and restaurants in Vermont, and the brewery can barely keep up with the demand.

“I don’t think any of us were expecting it to take off this quickly,” Van Anda says. “It has a lot more potential than we thought.”

While most breweries in New England specialize in ales, Trapp’s operation will focus on lager in the Austrian style — characterized by lighter, crisper flavor with lower alcohol content. In Austria, Van Anda says, villages have their own lager breweries that craft fresh lager daily.

Since lager takes six to 10 weeks to brew, it is somewhat more laborious than ale, which is typically ready to imbibe after 30 days. But it’s worth it, says Van Anda. No one else is doing lager in the region, and in the short time it’s been out, Trapp Lager has cornered the market. The brewery currently offers three beers on tap: a pale helles, a medium-bodied Vienna and a fresh summer lager. The dunkel, a darker wheat beer, will be available later in the summer. And if everything goes as planned, later iterations of the lagers will be made using hops grown on the von Trapp property.

“Fortunately, we hit it at the right time when there was a niche in the market,” Van Anda says.

Another new venture Sam von Trapp is hoping to hit at the right time is mountain biking. While the brewery was Johannes’ creation, the Lodge’s new mountain bike program is his son’s baby.

Since the late 1960s, the resort has won praise for its Nordic skiing program, the first of its kind in the United States. In the summer, those ski trails are typically used only for walking and hiking. But beginning this season, the resort is opening its trails to mountain bikes. Nearly 20 miles of double track and six miles of single track will be available for public use, with more to come as trails are built.

In late 2007, members of the Vermont Mountain Bike Association pitched the family the idea of adding mountain biking to the activities on their property. VMBA has long been working on creating the Vermont Mountain Bike Ride Center, a sustainable trail network of more than 75 miles of contiguous trails from Little River State Park in Waterbury to the Cotton Brook area of Mount Mansfield State Forest. Part of the Ride Center will cut across Trapp Family Lodge land.

Sam von Trapp sees mountain biking as a natural counterpart to the cross-country skiing the resort offers. But it took some convincing to bring Johannes on board. The elder von Trapp, a trained forester, worried about the impact of wheels on the trails and the potential for erosion. But, after talking with VMBA president Patrick Kell and master trailbuilder Hardy Avery, Johannes signed off on the project. The resort now rents out a fleet of 40 Giant mountain bikes and offers lessons for beginner riders.

Ed Stahl, executive director of the Stowe Area Association, is thrilled to see the new addition to Trapp’s. Mountain biking is an untapped tourist market in the Stowe area, he says. “The changes are great. They add a lot of value to our Stowe community,” Stahl adds.

Sam von Trapp sees potential in finding ways to make the resort’s new programs work in synergy. The draw isn’t just the bike ride; it’s the après at the brewery’s beer garden — or maybe a postride yoga class taught by his wife, who runs the resort’s yoga program. He sees Trapp’s as offering one-stop shopping in a way that feels more organic than the setup of other all-inclusive resorts. Plus, the resort’s new options engage the local community and make it open to everyone, says Ski Vermont’s Jen Butson.

The family’s efforts to broaden their appeal are paying off. Increasingly, more young families and folks interested in athletic vacations are visiting Trapp Family Lodge, Butson says. Those changes seem to reflect the priorities of the new generation of von Trapps.

But don’t expect this growth and change to make Trapp’s Disney World-esque. Maintaining the integrity of their land is of paramount importance to the von Trapps, who continue to cling to their history as responsible hoteliers, foresters, ranchers and agriculturists. For them, says Sam von Trapp, taking care of the land verges on the sacred: “All these things we’re doing,” he says, “are consistent with my family’s philosophy.”

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