POWNAL, Vt. -- To experience a taste of Vermont -- that is, through its craft beers, artisan wines, fine cheeses and more -- merely glance to your right after crossing the Williamstown-Pownal border on Route 7.
There one will find the Hoppy Valley Organics Vermont Tasting Room, which opened on weekends this month in space within the Hillside House home furnishings complex in Pownal.
The tasting room and outlet compliments the Hoppy Valley Organics hop growing business that began two years ago, producing hops for craft beer brewers on a site farther north off Route 7 in Pownal Center.
John Armstrong III, who operates Hlllside House, Peter Hopkins and their partners have carved out and remodeled a 1,000-square-foot retail and tasting area, complete with a bar for sampling beers, wines and Vermont-made foods.
"This started with us talking about putting up a rustic building at the hops site," Armstrong said, referring to the parcel where Hoppy Valley grows six kinds of specialty hops for the burgeoning craft brew industry.
But that discussion evolved into the thought that an underutilized section in the Hillside House -- smack near the state border and within view of some 7,000 vehicles passing daily -- would be ideal.
Hopkins, who is also a longtime Pownal resident, was behind the tasting room's small, three-sided bar on a recent Saturday, offering samples of five different Vermont craft brews, including Magic Hat's Elder Betty and Big Hundo (100 IBUs), Shed Mountain Ale, Otter Creek's Fresh Slice and Lost Nation's Vermont Pilsner.
On Sundays, there are Vermont wine tastings, and both can include plates of cheeses, sausages and other specialty foods.
"The Vermont wines have been well received," Hopkins said, "and the response to Vermont beers has been especially strong."
The tasting room is open from about 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, and a Friday tasting will be added by summer. Groups that plan to visit should make a reservation, Hopkins said.
"The breweries and wineries have been very supportive," he said. "They know we are the only ones doing this."
In addition to beers on draft, the business also has bottled craft beers. It also sells draft by the growler (64-ounce bottles), and in quarts.
The adjacent retail store is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and features award-winning cheeses, such as Harbison or Blue Cheese varieties from Jasper Hill in Hardwick and other specialty foods.
Hopkins said the owners and state Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal-Woodford, sponsored a bill that passed the Legislature this year that will make it less expensive to stock wines from smaller wineries.
The bill allows second-class liquor license-holders to travel to Vermont wineries not served by a distributor and purchase wines directly at their stores. This allows small Vermont wineries to increase their distribution and for retailers to broaden their selection of Vermont wines.
Beers tastings cost $4 and wine tastings $6 to sample a variety of Vermont Tasting Room selections. Food tasting plates are offered at $9.
For information or to reserve for a group, call 802-823-5700.
The business has posted a Facebook page and is working with bed and breakfast and timeshare owners to spread the word about the shop and tasting room, Hopkins said.
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