- Sally Pollak
- The Full Monty at Lawson's Finest Liquids
"Sharing is caring," noted Nick Zeeben. He was loading cases of beer into the back of a pickup truck in the parking lot of Lawson's Finest Liquids in Waitsfield. The 12-case haul, which included beer from Lawson's and the Alchemist in Stowe, was bound for Manchester, N.H., with Zeeben and his two beer-fetching friends. There it would get spread around a bit, but most of it was for the trio who made the interstate beer run last week.
"His stuff was always super hard to get," Zeeben said of brewer Sean Lawson. "Now we can get our fill, or however much our credit card wants to hold."
The brews available from Lawson's expanded in quantity and variety last fall, when the brewery opened a production facility, taproom and retail store in Waitsfield. The timber-frame taproom with a big stone fireplace has seating at a U-shaped wooden bar, indoor picnic tables and high-tops.
The bar serves a changing selection of Lawson's beers, from the well-loved Sip of Sunshine IPA (brewed in Connecticut) to special pours that are brewed at the "Wizard's Workshop" — Lawson's name for its original brewery in Warren.
You can pair the drinks with a bowl of vegetarian chili, a warm pretzel from Patrick's Green Mountain Twisters in Marshfield, or a cheese and charcuterie plate that highlights local products and comes with pickled vegetables and nuts. You can even consume a liquid dessert: Fayston Maple Chocolate Tart Cherry Imperial Stout packs a rich wallop at 10.1 ABV.
The retail space sells Lawson's to go, including special releases in bottles — such as this week's Stony Hill Smoked Porter — and a selection in four-packs or six-packs of cans.
Sean and Karen Lawson, who founded the company 11 years ago in Warren, have sold their beer at farmers markets and beer festivals before, but this is the first time they've had a permanent place to offer consumers direct sales and a view of the brewery. (While tours aren't yet offered, they're in the works.)
The taproom opened on October 22, 2018, Karen's 45th birthday. "It was the best birthday present ever," she said.
"We took over two years to create this memorable experience that guests would have here," Karen went on. "It's exactly what we wanted, and we're really proud of it. It's really nice to have a space for a conversation ... about Lawson's Finest."
- Sally Pollak
- Lawson's Finest Liquids in Waitsfield
The couple chose to grow their brewery slowly, opting to wait until their daughters — now 13 and 9 — were older before they embarked on the Waitsfield project. "We were adamant about putting our family first and raising our kids," Karen said, "before we undertook this leap of faith."
The Lawsons are committed to paying their employees "a generous living wage" and benefits, said Karen. That's particularly important in a service-oriented ski town, she noted, where income often reflects the vagaries of weather and scheduling.
"We wanted to create parity and sustainability," Karen said.
There is no tipping at Lawson's taproom; instead, guests are invited to make a contribution to a local nonprofit. Every two weeks, a different one is featured. In February, the organizations are Hannah's House, a mental health provider in Waitsfield; and Fuel Your Neighbors, a program of Capstone Community Action that provides food and heating assistance to people in need.
Since the brewery began collecting donations in late October, Lawson's has raised more than $100,000, Karen said. She expects the range of the charitable program to grow "in larger concentric rings around the state" over time.
"I like to remind folks [of] the generosity of the guests who come here," Karen continued. "It's so powerful. It has much more power than Sean and I thought it would. It's heartwarming to see how generous folks are."
Sharing is caring, indeed.