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More Beer! River Roost and St. J Breweries Open


Published February 9, 2016 at 1:46 p.m.
Updated June 14, 2016 at 1:33 p.m.

River Roost Brewery's Mark Babson - COURTESY OF RIVER ROOST BREWERY
  • Courtesy of River Roost Brewery
  • River Roost Brewery's Mark Babson

Last Wednesday, February 3, River Roost Brewery opened in White River Junction. Located across the parking lot from Big Fatty's BBQ and Elixir restaurant, it's the brainchild of former Magic Hat Brewing brewer Mark Babson.

The new brewery opened with growlers and samples of three beers on tap. They included a golden oat ale called Miller's Daughter, a "small stout" dubbed Jack Sprat and My Darlin', a hoppy wheat ale brewed with citrusy Vic Secret and Simcoe hops. At 5.8, 4.7 and 5.4 percent ABV, respectively, River Roost's beers are all fairly lightweight and drinkable.

Babson says locals extended a warm welcome, buying more than 200 growlers in his first week of business. "It was pretty wild," he says. "I feel so humbled by the local support."

Up next? Pale ale is in the fermenters, and Babson says he's aging a Mosaic session pale ale in California white-wine barrels. The resulting "funky pale ale" will be the first in a series of oak-aged beers. Babson is excited to keep "playing around" with native yeasts and tart Belgian styles. "Really, what I'm trying to do is develop a little house culture to season those barrels with," he says, and he promises to keep something on draft for the hop-loving crowd, too.

For now, hopheads seeking a taste will have to go to the brewery, though Babson has plans to self-distribute the beers to area bars and restaurants later on.

Sixty-five miles north, Saint J Brewery is opening in St. Johnsbury's Green Mountain Mall on Wednesday, February 10. The brewery's grand opening party is this Saturday, February 13.

The project is a follow-up to Grains & Grinds, a sandwich shop and nano-brewery that closed in 2014 after a broken water main flooded the space.

The subsequent insurance claim allowed owner Scott Salmonsen to transform a sandwich shop with house-brewed beer into a seven-barrel brewery. "Because of the flood, Grains & Grinds is now a brewery," he says.

St. J opens with three Belgian-inspired house beers on draft. An IPA is brewed with Citra and Simcoe hops; the strong dark ale has rich fruit flavor and a dry cocoa finish. Master brewer Dean Rouleau says he modeled the third beer, a blonde, after regional brews from south of Brussels.

Rouleau is a Bow, N.H., native who has been making beer professionally since 1992 and owns San Diego brewpub Prodigy Brewing. The busy brewer also manufactures and installs custom equipment for small breweries and brewpubs nationwide. His résumé includes six years at San Diego Brewing and stints at California's Stone Brewing, Pitfield London Brewery in the UK and Colorado's Phantom Canyon Brewing. His beers have taken high honors in domestic and international beer competitions.

Though Rouleau remains based in California, he plans to travel regularly to Vermont to keep the beer flowing. He'll focus on IPAs and Belgian styles — "The Belgians pretty much do everything," he notes, "so that's not very limiting." For locals less interested in intense old-world styles or hop-bombs, Rouleau will keep light lagers and ales on draft.

But drinkers who nerd out over barrel-aged beers should know that Rouleau comes armed with a seven-barrel foudre (oak fermentation tank) that once held pinot noir in the Napa Valley. In St. Johnsbury, the brewer will use it to ferment fruit-tinged, funky "Vermont nouveau" beers once the brewery finds its footing.

This week, the bar's 30-odd draft lines will also flow with beers from von Trapp Brewery, Rock Art Brewery and Kingdom Brewing. Salmonsen plans to dedicate a few lines to nonalcoholic offerings, including Rookie's Root Beer and cream soda, Aqua Vitea kombucha, and local cold-brew coffee on nitro.

Those liquid assets will complement a menu of sandwiches and snacks. "The heart of the menu is called Hoagie Nation," Salmonsen says. A nod to the cultish Red Sox Nation fan base, that name describes the pub's Sox-themed sandwich lineup. Options include the Green Monster steak and cheese, the Pesky Pole pulled pork, and the Big Papi, stuffed with meatballs and marinara. The vegetarian option is known as the Yankee's Suck. And, yes, the bar will play every Red Sox (and Patriots) game on big-screen TVs.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Connecticut River Suds"