By Polly Lynn Mikula
BRANDON— Pete Brooks and his two brothers-in-law, Riker Wikoff and Andrew Gates, plan to open a taproom in downtown Brandon, brewing a rotating selection of artisan beers.
“Best case scenario, we open early fall,” Brooks said, explaining that the timeline will be determined by the permitting process.
The Red Clover Ale Company’s taproom will be located in the Leary building on the Conant Block where the Blue Moon and Pale Horse Tattoo used to be. (Both have since relocated downtown.)
On Monday night, April 9, Brooks and the Red Clover Ale Company got one step closer to making those plans a reality. The company received approval for a $40,000 loan from the Revolving Loan Fund Committee and subsequently the Brandon Select Board at the regularly scheduled Select Board meeting.
“It’s a win-win,” said Bill Moore, economic development officer for the town of Brandon. “I’m glad the Select Board and Revolving Loan Committee found it fit to support these young entrepreneurs.”
The Revolving Loan Fund is one of two main loans that Red Clover Ale Company will use to start up the operation. The other is a Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) loan for $95,000. Both loans will be repaid in about seven years, said Brooks. Additionally, the three founders will be investing their own money in the start-up. He estimates they will need about $150,000 to begin.
“We’re the three biggest beer nerds I know,” Brooks said of their passion for brewing.
The plan to open a brewery started in 2012 when he and his wife’s brother, Riker Wikoff, managed Consider Bardwell, a goat farm in West Pawlet, Brooks explained.
“We started brewing beer, then about two and a half years later we hatched a business plan to open a taproom and started looking at where we should do it,” Brooks said. The threesome also sought business and financial planning assistance from Brian Declue at the Vermont Business Development Council in Rutland. “He helped us with the financial, budgeting, projecting and making sure our business plan was viable,” said Brooks.
“We were also looking to buy a house where there were better job opportunities for my wife, who’s a nurse,” he said.
When in Brandon after visiting a house on Old Brandon Road, Brooks met Bill Moore who introduced him to Nancy Leary and they visited her business space for rent. Unfortunately, it rented soon after they saw it, but when it became available again, “We were ready,” Brooks said.
Moore described first meeting Brooks in December 2016 when Brooks and his wife were first considering Brandon as a place to live. “Cue the softly falling snow,” Moore said. “It was a perfect Vermont winter day and I met Pete on the sidewalk and he was like ,‘this place is so beautiful! I think we might come and live here.’”
Not long after, Brooks and his wife bought that house on Old Brandon Road, Moore said, and his wife got a job at Brandon Medical Center. Now Brooks hopes to make his home hobby into a viable business.
“It’s funny how everything just fell into place,” Brooks said.
The name Red Clover Ale Company reflects the founders’ farming background.
“At Consider Barnwell we practiced rotational grazing, which is sort of a lost art these days,” he said. “The Red Clover is the perfect pasture crop. It’s a legume, which means it’s high in nutrients, it’s easy to grow and it’s the state flower,” he cited as additional inspiration for the name. “Red clovers were omnipresent in our lives and they’re gorgeous,” he added.
At the Brandon taproom, the Red Clover Ale Company will focus on selling beers on tap with select cans also available to go. Brooks envisions about eight different beers on tap with a frequent rotation so that “folks can always try something new.”
Thus far, the samples they’ve given out have received positive feedback from both “craft beer snobs and people like my mom, who have a more delicate palate.”
While Red Clover Ale Company navigates federal, state and local permits in advance of opening, those interested in learning more about recent brews can follow the company on Instagram #redcloveralecompany.