When Sean Lawson started his brewery Lawson's Finest Liquids in 2008, it's unlikely he knew what he was in for...The avid skier was working as a Naturalist at Mad River Glen, a position he still holds. A graduate of UVM, Sean grew up in New Jersey, but always felt a special calling to the mountains of Vermont.
His passion for brewing began when a friend at UVM brought over something that stood out from the crowd of cheap beers Lawson was used to drinking...a home-brew. After that revelation, the beer exploration began. Sean took a crack at home brewing and came up with his first beer, a Maple Wheat. That hobby took, and nearly 20 years later, Lawson's Finest was born.
Lawson's Finest Liquids launched with one employee, Sean. His 7-barrel brewery was, and still is, in a small outbuilding on his property perched in the mountains of Warren, VT. Any beer enthusiast can tell you the names of Sean's beers, and any central Vermonter can tell you what days he delivers what beers to what stores. They'd also tell you that a trip to visit family outside of our tiny state is never complete without a beer request or two.
Lines at Sean's retailers form early, and the cars in the parking lot often carry foreign plates. Folks from far and wide make the pilgrimage to Vermont to buy as much Lawson's as they can, carrying coolers in their trunks to ensure the beer's freshness. His beers are hop forward, and the ones he's best known for, Sip of Sunshine, Double Sunshine, and occasionally Triple Sunshine boast alcohol levels up to 10.5 ABV.
On a recent Thursday, I lined up bright and early at The Warren Store to try to snag a bottle or two of Sean's elusive Triple Sunshine IPA as a gift for a beer-crazy relative. The crowd seemed to be familiar with each other, connected through a love of the beer. A two bottle limit was brought down to one as the cases started to dwindle...the crowd agreeing in the spirit of the Holidays to sacrifice their extra bottle so as to accommodate the folks at the back of the queue.
As demand for his beers has grown, Lawson hasn't done much by way of expansion. Quality of life and quality of beer seem to drive the majority of his decisions, and he didn't want to sacrifice either to churn out more product. However, in 2014, a partnership was struck with Two Roads Brewing in Connecticut to contract out the production of Lawson's Sip of Sunshine and Super Session IPA's, It couldn't have been an easy choice to make, knowing that part of the appeal of the beer is its exclusivity.
Of that relationship, Sean said to Vermont publication Seven Days, "The whole idea of contract brewing is predicated on quality. If the quality of the beer and the profile doesn't match what I'm making in Vermont, it's not worth it to me. But they're so spot-on in producing my beer. I'm proud to put my name on it."
Now Sean and his business partner (and wife) Karen are in a place where they're ready to think about expansion. The pair has announced plans for a Waitsfield, VT production brewery and tasting room, to open in 2018. With the expansion comes capacity for 30 barrels, as opposed to 7. What is really exciting, is the ability for fans to interact with the brewery, and the brewer. As part of the unofficial Holy Trinity of brewers in the state of Vermont (the other two being John Kimmich of The Alchemist, and Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead), Lawson's is the only brewery without a retail space and commercial brewing facility.
Ski weekends at Sugarbush and Mad River Glen are about to get a lot sweeter...And who knows, maybe you'll ride the Sunnyside Chair next to a tall Naturalist on tele-skis with a passion for brewing.