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Freshly Brewed: Entrepreneur Hits Market With New Craft Beer

  • Owner and brewer Michael Czok works to thoroughly sanitize every corner of his self-built business- Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, Vt., on July 31, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Owner and brewer Michael Czok works to thoroughly sanitize every corner of his self-built business- Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, Vt., on July 31, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Three types of beer made at Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, Vt., are available in bars and stores as far north as Waterbury, Vt.<br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Three types of beer made at Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, Vt., are available in bars and stores as far north as Waterbury, Vt.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Michael Czok, owner and brewer at Bent Hill Brewery in in Braintree, Vt., takes a day off from brewing on Thursday to clean the small brewery he built on his family's property. At 25, Czok says he is the youngest brewery owner in the state. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Michael Czok, owner and brewer at Bent Hill Brewery in in Braintree, Vt., takes a day off from brewing on Thursday to clean the small brewery he built on his family's property. At 25, Czok says he is the youngest brewery owner in the state.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Main ingredients in beer brewing: dark and light malted barley, and hops are on view at Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, Vt., on July 31, 2014. Michael Czok, the owner and brewer, is a self-taught brewer who left a job in engineering and moved back to his hometown to open the brewery. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Main ingredients in beer brewing: dark and light malted barley, and hops are on view at Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, Vt., on July 31, 2014. Michael Czok, the owner and brewer, is a self-taught brewer who left a job in engineering and moved back to his hometown to open the brewery.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Owner and brewer Michael Czok works to thoroughly sanitize every corner of his self-built business- Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, Vt., on July 31, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Three types of beer made at Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, Vt., are available in bars and stores as far north as Waterbury, Vt.<br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Michael Czok, owner and brewer at Bent Hill Brewery in in Braintree, Vt., takes a day off from brewing on Thursday to clean the small brewery he built on his family's property. At 25, Czok says he is the youngest brewery owner in the state. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Main ingredients in beer brewing: dark and light malted barley, and hops are on view at Bent Hill Brewery in Braintree, Vt., on July 31, 2014. Michael Czok, the owner and brewer, is a self-taught brewer who left a job in engineering and moved back to his hometown to open the brewery. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Braintree, Vt. — Located off a scenic dirt road not too far from Randolph, Michael Czok’s new Bent Hill Brewery could be considered a little off the beaten path.

But “we’re getting the word out that we’re here, and we have a few people dropping by and trying the beer,” Czok said last week during a break at the brewery.

And he’s working hard to make his line of malt-driven beer a common sight in the bars and markets around the Upper Valley and the state.

“Most of the beer being made now is really hops-driven. We’re trying to produce something that is a little different.”

Czok, 25, had a job as an environmental engineer when he decided the time had come to pursue his passion of making beer and wine. He opened the one-room brewery and tasting area behind his parents’ house off of Bent Hill Road in June, and he hasn’t been getting a lot sleep since then.

He already has his beer on tap in eight locations from Randolph to South Royalton and available in bottles in seven stores as far away as Warren, Vt.

“I’m really busy with brewing, cleaning everything and delivering the beer. I’m working about 15-hour days, but this what I really want to do,” he said. “Our plan is to keep it local as much as possible in the beginning.”

On Saturdays, Czok gets a hand with the brewing from his longtime friend, Cody Montgomery, and that “really helps. It would be hard to do it all myself, and he’s just volunteering his time. He has a full-time job with Vermont Castings. He wants to learn this.”

Czok started brewing during his senior year at the University of Maine in Orono. When he decided to open the brewery, he put together the start-up capital from savings and friends and family, bought the equipment he needed and got the appropriate licenses.

Although he has no formal training in beer production, he’s an avid reader and a quick learner, he said.

The brewery is in a neat little building out behind the garage overlooking acres of grass, woods and the Vermont hills and mountains.

Inside bright white interior is divided by a bar with a natural wood top and a glass-front cooler, filled with bottles of the brewery’s offerings.

A half a dozen or so 22-ounce brown jugs bearing the brewery logo sit on the bar, ready to be filled for customers. There’s a T-shirt for sale hanging from the ceiling.

The work goes on behind the bar just beyond the beer taps, an area occupied by stainless steel tanks and other equipment. There is a heady but pleasant smell reminiscent of a local pub the morning after an exuberant evening of beer spilling.

Just before opening the brewery, Czok quit his job at Horizons Engineering in New London.

“I really liked what I was doing, but I don’t miss that drive every day (about an hour and a half). I just decided this was the right time in my life to give this a try. This is my dream, and if it doesn’t work, they said they’ll take me back.”

So far, so good. “We pretty much have all the business we can handle,” he said.

With the current equipment, Czok and Montgomery are producing four types of beer: Maple Red Ale, Coconut Porter, Blonde Ale and India Pale Ale. They work in 50-gallon batches with a total production of about 150 gallons a week.

“When we were coming up with beer names, I decided to just keep it simple and tell people what it is, rather than trying to find some cute names. The brewery name is where we are.”

Bent Hill is the 29th craft brewery in Vermont, a state that ranks first in the U.S. in per capita consumption of craft beer and second in the nation in craft breweries per capita, according to the Brewers Association.

If things go well, Czok plans to add a 30-foot expansion to the front of the brewery building. That will allow him to increase his production from four or five 31-gallon barrels a week to 21 barrels.

He is experimenting with growing hops. When he finds a variety of hops that is best suited for the climate and the soil, he’s hoping to grow most of what he needs.

Then he’ll put in cold-hardy grapes and start producing wine, he said.

“I really like working with the land. I’m pretty good at that.”

Warren Johnston can be reached at wjohnston@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.