Welcome to our Happy Hour Question & Answer series, where we ask questions to interesting people in the alcohol world.
This week’s spotlight is Sean Lawson, who founded Lawson’s Finest Liquids with his wife Karen. They started as a home-based 1bbl nanobrewery in 2008 before expanding production capacity in 2011 and 2014, then growing to include distribution across nine states in the Northeast. In 2018, Lawson’s Finest opened its popular destination Brewery, Taproom and Retail Store in central Vermont’s Mad River Valley town of Waitsfield.
Hops & Spirits: What drew you to craft beer/beer?
Sean Lawson: I discovered home brewing when my friend Matt Robinson at the University of Vermont introduced me to the craft with his own creations and I asked him to show me how to brew (we called it “microbrew” back then!). A love of flavorful beer and passion for brewing was born right then.
HS: When/how did the idea for a brewery come about?
SL: After I graduated from college, I worked in two brewpubs — The Breckinridge Pub and Brewery (CO) and Beaver Street Brewery (AZ) — and loved being in small brewery environment and around the beer. However, my degree was in Environmental Science and I pursued a career in conservation, forestry, and education. After 15 years of home brewing, visiting breweries, learning all about the process, and lots of encouragement from friends and family, I decided to open a brewery in 2008.
HS: Why the name Lawson’s Finest Liquids, especially the Finest Liquids part?
SL: From the beginning, I’ve always been passionate about making the best beer possible. A good friend started calling my creations “Lawson’s Finest” and it stuck. When my wife Karen and I opened a nano-brewery, I wanted to be a bit unique — not just another “Brewery” or “Brewing Co.” so the Liquids came to mind, as we always emphasize that what matters most is the quality and excellence of the liquids. Plus, I figured if the beer business didn’t work out, I might make maple syrup in the small outbuilding at our house that I constructed for the brewery!
HS: How were you able to grow Lawson’s?
SL: Very slowly and organically at first. It was all word-of-mouth. It started with a 1bbl brewing system next to our house in Warren, VT, that was not open to the public. I installed a 7bbl system three years later and was able to expand distribution within in Vermont. We really didn’t spend any money on marketing or advertising for most of the first 10 years. We went to events and festivals, got a ton of great publicity because people were raving about our beer and traveling to get it in Vermont. We’ve also won a number of awards (such as at the World Beer Cup and GABF) that have helped put Lawson’s Finest on the map. A couple more years in, we had overwhelming demand and made a strategic decision to launch a new beer, Sip of Sunshine IPA, that we brew in Stratford, CT at Two Roads Brewery. It has become our iconic flagship IPA and most recognizable brand. Its success put us in the position to expand distribution across the Northeast and starting planning our dream — a destination brewery, retail store, and taproom in Waitsfield, VT.
HS: What can folks expect when drinking a Lawson’s beer?
SL: Folks can expect to get the freshest beer in the marketplace, as we are fanatic about keeping our beer cold from the brewery each step of the way to the customer. We are committed to delivering the finest and freshest beer available. We have a 60-day freshness guideline (from date of packaging) for our hop-forward beers, which is the unheard of in the industry. When it comes to the sensory experience, balance is paramount in creating each of our beers, even when they are very high in alcohol, or very light and refreshing.
HS: What’s your approach to redefining a style of your beer?
SL: I’ve always emulated the classic styles of America and Europe, while pushing the envelope forward and creating layers of complexity with both flavor and aroma into each of our beers to the greatest extent possible, while remaining balanced and eminently drinkable. Our maple brews — in particular our Maple Tripple that is brewed with concentrated maple sap instead of water — help to stretch the boundary of beer flavors into new territory.
HS: Being part of Vermont and its craft beer scene
SL: Vermont is amazing place for artisans and makers of all types. There’s a little bit of Green Mountain magic in the beers, foods, cheeses, and crafts that people of Vermont share with the world. It’s all about careful attention to detail and putting your heart and soul into the product. The craft beer scene has changed incredibly since I started Lawson’s Finest. In 2008, there were 18 breweries in Vermont. Now, there are well over 70!
HS: What’s next for Lawson’s and you?
SL: Keep making the finest and the freshest that we can! We’re really excited to relaunch our classic maple beer recipe with new branding this fall — Mad River Maple — a robust and rich amber ale brewed with over 1 gallon of maple syrup per barrel of beer. We’ve also got our Big Hoppy Black IPA out for a limited fall release, and our World Beer Cup winning Barrel-Aged Fayston Maple Imperial Stout aged in maple rum casks to finish out 2022. All of these beers will be available across our nine-state distribution territory (VT, CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI).
For more on Lawson’s Finest Liquids, visit www.lawsonsfinest.com or follow them on Instagram (@lawsonsfinest) and Facebook (@lawsonsfinestliquids).