July 9, 2016

Home brew supply store opens

Jennifer Williams Thompson Photo

Merrill Hersey stands with his dog, Sadie, at his new store in St. Albans.

ST. ALBANS — When Merrill Hersey needed a logo for his new home brew supply store in downtown St. Albans, his girlfriend’s coworker drew one freehand, in 30 minutes.

Now, the image of the “Bearded Expert,” which bears a striking resemblance to Hersey — especially the “bearded” part — is featured on the Web site and other marketing materials for his business, Open Barrel, located at 118 North Main St.

Hersey, 33, of Richford, launched Open Barrel to rave reviews in April, during Vermont Maple Festival in St. Albans.

“I had so many people coming in and out that weekend,” Hersey said recently, at his 800-square-foot home brew supply store. “And if people didn’t buy anything then, they came back the following weekend.”

Open Barrel is devoted to the home brewer, but Hersey also carries supplies and equipment for making wine, mead and cider.

“Home brewers are in a pretty tight community, so we all support each other,” Hersey said. “It’s a lifestyle, not only a hobby.”

Hersey has been a home brewer for six years and still works as a carpenter on the side. On his website, he recalls going to his grandparents’ house at the top of Bank Street, in St. Albans, and watching his grandfather make elderberry wine in his kitchen.

“I watched my brother and father pick every apple and pear off our trees in the side yard and make a few gallons of wine simple and pure,” Hersey says on his site. “I also had the opportunity to partake in the production of an old potato wine recipe. I must admit it was great and a little strong.”

On his website, and at Open Barrel, Hersey offers tips and advice to his customers, from novices to longtime home brewers. And if you have a problem with your brew? Don’t dump it. Call him.

“I offer unlimited support,” he said.

Prior to opening Open Barrel, Hersey worked in the construction industry. He had an opportunity to work on many microbrewery expansions in Vermont, which made him thirsty for a place in the state’s booming craft brew and home brew industry.

He enjoys mixing the scientific and culinary aspects of making beer, and encourages newcomers to find the fun in the latter before becoming too consumed with the former.

Hersey also likes having his business in downtown St. Albans.

“Ten years ago? I don’t know if I would have then,” he said. “But now? There’s a lot going here — lots of great changes happening.”

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