Strap in. This is going to be a long one.
Don’t want to deal with the tabloid-content below? Click here to read my “2015: The Year in Beer” (Hill Farmstead Edition)
Last week, via Google Alerts, I came across 2015: The Year in Beer written by Hannah Palmer Egan for Seven Days VT. You can read the article here. The Google Alert I had was for Hill Farmstead brewery. Shaun Hill’s upstart is new to Vermont’s very long history of craft beer and I like to read press about the brewery for any news or updates on what’s on the horizon. I was confused because I did a CTRL+F in my browser for “Hill Farmstead” and found 3 matches:
“This is nothing new — Otter Creek’s OG pale ale was single-hopped with Cascade hops, and Hill Farmstead has been making single-hopped beers for years.”
“Best Imperial IPA: Society & Solitude #5, Hill Farmstead Brewery”
I checked “2014: a Banner Year for #VTBeer” written by the same author posted a year ago exactly and executed the same query but last year seemed to be a bit nicer to Hill Farmstead although still so very little was said:
“Memorial Day Weekend launched a beer-soaked summer in style in the Mad River Valley, with an Alchemist truck sale, Lawson’s Finest Liquids sale, and Valley-wide tap takeovers from Hill Farmstead, which celebrated its fourth anniversary that weekend.”
“And in Greensboro Bend, Shaun Hill spent most of the summer and fall building more brewing capacity into his operation at Hill Farmstead.”
“Best fruity beer: Siren/Mikkeller/Hill Farmstead Limoncello/li>” (their HTML coding issue, not mine)
Since Hill Farmstead brewed their first batch of beer in 2011, they’ve been recognized in local and global press. Seven Days’ Readers Choice Poll appropriately named “Seven Daysies” awarded Hill Farmstead the best craft brewery in Vermont in 2013 and 2015. The award in 2014 went to Switchback but Hill Farmstead was a runner up. Also, RateBeer announced that via very intense calculation on ratings entered during the calendar year, Hill Farmstead was awarded best brewery in the world in 2013 and 2014 and they earned #6 Brewery in the world in 2012 after being open for less than a year during a time where most breweries are too busy dialing in their brew-house to worry about winning awards. I wouldn’t be surprised to find Hill Farmstead again at the top when RateBeer announces this year’s winners but that’s purely speculation by this blogger.
To be honest, my Twitter rant on the subject began when I was trying to confirm my suspicions that Vermont hipsters were over Hill Farmstead. I mean that with no disrespect to the brewery at all. Switchback had always been cool. Alchemist is pretty cool. Breweries like Fiddlehead, Prohibition Pig and a Vermont beer brewed in Connecticut (aka Sip of Sunshine) are ’so hot right now’ and beer fans couldn’t be bothered to drive 90 minutes from Burlington, aka the center of the world to the Northeast Kingdom every week for growlers. No one has said that Shaun Hill doesn’t brew amazing beer but my suspicion is since you have to drive to the middle of nowhere to get more than a pint on draft, it was not worth even discussing or trying for unless you roamed into Farmhouse Tap & Grill and saw Edward on draft. Then you can officially start freaking out.
Due to this, I assumed Hill Farmstead, the #1 brewery in the world and #1 rated brewery in Vermont according to Seven Days readers was not included because uber-nerds didn’t think Shaun Hill was cool anymore. “Hill Farmstead? That’s so 2013.”
My tweets below basically summarize my point above but with more brevity:
“Your Year in Beer 2015 has zero mention of @HillFarmstead except to compare it to Otter Creek’s Single Hop Pale ales.” ”When I talk to Vermonters, @HillFarmstead is that far-away brewery w/ lines & lotteries and tourists. Why did the perception change?” “No other brewery in Vermont compares to @HillFarmstead but it seems the breweries making good-enough pale ales distroed in Bton get love.” ”/@FindThatHannah @sevendaysvt CCing the author for my last few tweets hoping for clarification on the omission”
I was surprised when the author of the story came back to me with this whammy of a line:
 “@AdamCBeer Omission mostly b/c my paper and @HillFarmstead have history and Shaun Hill won’t talk to any @sevendaysvt reporter.”
The following is the dialogue I had with Hannah. I link to each tweet and start each with “Adam” and “Hannah” to keep who-said-what clear:
Adam: ”@FindThatHannah @HillFarmstead @sevendaysvt No journalistic integrity or reporting on a company despite past grievances?”
Hannah: ”@AdamCBeer also past grievance = not mine and = nada to do w/ me or my writing, but let’s all have fun calling each other out via web eh?”
Adam: ”@FindThatHannah don’t take this personally. You authored the piece and they edited / published what they wanted. I understand how it works.”
Hannah: ”@AdamCBeer It’s OK and no worries. But FYI journalists take accusations re: journey integrity very seriously!”
Adam: ”@FindThatHannah which is why I phrased it that way to get your attention but omitting the #1 brewery in the world is a big one.”
Hannah: ”@AdamCBeer Also @HillFarmstead and I are cool — enjoying #vtbeer = 1st/most important priority between me and all local breweries.”
Hannah: ”@AdamCBeer So I haven’t been able to properly cover @HillFarmstead’s expansion, but can admit that not noting it here was pure oversight.”
Adam: ”@FindThatHannah I’m happy to take this to email. I have no foul agains you personally.”
Hannah: ”@AdamCBeer as you wish: (email)”
Ron, who is a fan of Hill Farmstead too jumps in with a very appropriate response and something I had not noticed, ”@AdamCBeer @FindThatHannah @HillFarmstead No other owner is quoted–just links to others’ reporting. Oversight/grudge/immaturity/laziness?”
Hannah: ”@RonDufresne @AdamCBeer @HillFarmstead Lesson #1: Can’t please everybody, tallyho!”
This all took a turn for the worse. What started as simply a branding issue I thought Hill Farmstead was guilty of turned into some beef between Seven Days (the newspaper) and Shaun Hill (the owner of a brewery in Vermont) and yet that beef has bled over from a personal issue to one that the entire newspaper has. I still can’t believe Hannah challenged me on calling for journalistic integrity in one tweet while just before stating that the paper and Shaun have history that no one at Seven days has disclosed.
Ron, who chimed in above is also right. I didn’t see any other brewers quoted in the article by Hannah. If it was a requirement that the brewery pick up the phone to be written about, I certainly didn’t see that reflected in the article.
As promised, I sent the below email to Hannah. Note, this email was intended to remain private but I believe in transparency when reporting on things I experience especially when it comes to oversights in journalism:
I haven’t read your work before but over the last few months, I keep a Google Alert active on “Hill Farmstead” as I’m working on a larger piece about the collapse in coverage of Hill Farmstead and even though some of the major newspapers still make time for them, most local blogs and Vermonters have written them off. it comes down to their location, the lottery system on bottle releases / events and the fact that their clientele seems to mostly be out of staters. Everyone I know thinks the brewery thinks too highly of themselves and this has led to not negative coverage but simply no coverage from local press.
Note, I am not employed by Hill Farmstead. I’m just a fan of their beers.
The article published on VT Beer in 2015 further confirmed what I’m seeing lately in press about Hill Farmstead.
Note, you’re just the author and while it’s easy to single you out, I put a lot of onus on the editors of the paper to ensure their journalists are offering fair coverage w/o bias and they either fell short of this for their readers or they deliberately left it out. Given your comments, it seems the latter is true.
I called Journalistic Integrity in to question not as a personal dig to you and your background. I’ve never read your work before but you represent this paper and, for the time, you two are linked because you write for them. If they are asking you to omit a brewery from coverage or simply removing the coverage of the #1 Brewery in the world for 3 years running, then their Journalistic Integrity is at stake.
If I were in your shoes, I’d file a piece on Hill Farmstead and if they rejected the piece citing (in writing) that Hill won’t give them the time of day or they think Shaun Hill is a jerk, or too cool for school or whatever issue they have with him, I’d file my resignation. Associating myself with an independent newspaper with leadership that holds grudges against Vermont owned businesses is a company I wouldn’t write for.
You gotta pay the bills so my thoughts above you probably find offensive but it’s just one non-professional’s opinion. I’ve written for publications in the past local and national and I choose to maintain a personal blog because “independent media” is a joke these days.
In closing, no publication that is striving for reader trust and covering a topic while omitting the hottest company of that topic for our area should exist. I put the full blame of this on them and not you. It calls into question how many other articles in the tabloid are rejected and edited due to conflicts between the ownership and local job creators, politicians and activists. What articles are left on the cutting room floor that we the readers never see?
It’s shameful of them and I’m very sorry that I involved you. I really assumed they weren’t covered because Hill Farmstead in your eyes aka the Burlington/Montpelier beer scene is no longer cool and worth talking about. The issue is far worse than I assumed.
Thank you very much for your time.
On a personal note, I have a script that runs every day that checks for sent emails that have not received replies and it prompts me if I want to re-send those emails or not and sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I think in the last seven days, I’ve sent Hannah the same email 4 times and I have not received a response.
Yesterday, I reached out to the two managing editors of Seven Days VT, Paula Routly and Pamela Polston requesting a comment:
Good morning. I’m writing a short article on the absence of Hill Farmstead from your 2015 in Beer article published last week. http://www.sevendaysvt.com/BiteClub/archives/2015/12/29/2015-the-year-in-beer
Would you like to make a comment or provide your side of the story for why this brewery was absent aside from a comparison to Otter Creek’s new single-hop pale ale in this year’s summary of Vermont beer?
It’s been over 24 hours and no response. If anyone from Seven Days would like to comment, I’ll publish their text without edit in its entirety.
Because I feel that Hill Farmstead was shunned by local media over a private issue between 2 people, I’ve decided to write my own 2015 year in beer featuring Hill Farmstead because they deserve to be recognized for the banner year they’ve had: