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Side Dishes: "Nightfires," "Nipples" and Others

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If you haven’t sampled much Vermont vino, this weekend might be a good time to start. The Lincoln Peak Vineyard in New Haven is celebrating the grand opening of its new tasting room with a Cajun band, wagon rides among the grapevines, artisan cheeses and, best of all, free tastings.

According to co-owner and Middlebury grad Chris Granstrom, the LPV put its first grapes in the ground seven years ago and finished filling out the 12-acre vineyard in 2005. “This is the first year the vineyard will be in full production,” he explains. “We made our first wine in 2003 on a very small scale. My daughters stomped the grapes with their bare feet. Oddly, it was one of the nicest wines we ever made.” Each year since has seen a rise in production.

“What sets us apart mostly is that we’re using only grapes we grew here at our vineyard. That’s our number-one claim to fame,” Granstrom boasts. Right now, those homegrown fruits are featured in four wines with dreamy names: the white “Black Sparrow” and “Cloud Mountain,” red “Cove Road,” and a ros called “Starlight.” The vintners are also working on an ice wine called “Nightfires.”

Imbibers who rely on familiar varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will have to think outside the crate when sampling LPV’s offerings. Their fruit comes from “a new collection of grape varieties that have mostly been developed at the University of Minnesota,” Granstrom says. “They have good wine qualities and the ability to withstand northern winters. We got in early with these, and got our hands on cuttings of some of the best varieties.”

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For the moment, folks who want to get their hands on Sean Lawson‘s “nipples” may have to travel. Like all the brews from Vermont’s newest microbrewery, Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Warren, the syrup-flavored “Maple Nipple” is a bit difficult to find. Currently, Lawson’s creations are available at a few Mad River restaurants including The Pitcher Inn and The Common Man in Warren, The Village Porch in Rochester and American Flatbread in Waitsfield and on the shelf at the Warren Store. Interested Chittenden County swiggers can find ‘em at the VIP tent at the Vermont Brewers Festival, July 18-19.

Lawson, 38, works part-time as a naturalist at Mad River Glen. But he spends the rest of his time brewing small batches to sell under his new label, which he owns with his wife, Karen. “It was June of 2006 when I incorporated,” he recalls. “I got all of my licenses and my federal brewer’s notice last winter.” His first beer went on sale this March.

The brewmeister has been making his own suds since he was an underage UVM student, when a friend helped him whip up a hoppy batch in Lawson’s pad. Eventually, Lawson decided to turn his hobby into a business, in part because of “the encouragement I got from people, both friends and strangers,” he says, adding that some folks say his beer is “the best they’ve ever had.” He’d like to expand and open a pub, but “not in the near future.”

“Making beer is actually a lot like cooking,” Lawson suggests. “I tend not to follow a standard recipe. I approach it from the experimental or creative side, while still being informed by brewing traditions.”In addition to the oh-so-Vermont-y maple beer, LFL offers India pale ales, a Hefeweizen and a blond ale. He’s working on a lambic-like ale made with wild grapes. “Harvest or fruity nipple?”

Haven’t been keeping up with the brews news? This week, Forbes placed Magic Hat on a list of the “World’s Top Brewery Tours,” calling the company’s “artifactory” “funky.” No kidding.

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Since late 2005, Middlebury’s Otter Creek has been concocting a series of limited-edition beers in styles from around the globe. Currently available is the Japanese-style “Otter San,” brewed with rice, koji and sake yeast. Drink it while you can. Next up on the Otter Creek “world tour”: the Sphinx. It’s an Egyptian-inspired, multi-grain ale brewed with honey and chamomile.

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In April, the Long Trail Brewing Company got a lot crappier and we’re not talking about their beers. The brewery now draws 25 percent of its power from converted cow manure via the Central Vermont Public Service Cow Power program.

Other “green” initiatives at LTBC include treating its own wastewater, converting grease from the on-site pub into biodiesel to power its generators, and selling leftover beer mash to cattle farms as animal feed. Which then becomes cow manure. And so on.

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