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Westward Season 6 / Episode 3

Sean Lawson

A craft beer uprising has taken place in the small mountain town of Waitsfield, Vermont, in recent years, leading to the town being called the Napa of beer. One of the main figures in that scene? A guy named Sean Lawson.

Originally from New Jersey, Lawson moved to Vermont to attend college at the University of Vermont. He tasted his first legitimately hoppy beer while in college and started homebrewing not long after. After graduating, he got a job in forestry, which took him out West for a while, where he also worked in brewpubs. But Vermont drew him back in 1997. “I knew Vermont was home,” he says. Back in Vermont, he worked as a naturalist and started a winter naturalist program at Mad River Glen, the region’s notorious ski area, but he always tinkered with brewing on the side. (He also made plenty of time to ski.)

His beer was so good that his friends and family encouraged him to turn brewing into a career, but he wasn’t quite ready yet. He spent decades fine tuning his brewing as a hobby at home.

But in 2008, he was ready. He launched Lawson’s Finest Liquid as a one-barrel, part-time nanobrewery in a shed next to the house he shared with his wife, Karen, and their two kids in Warren, Vermont. He sold his IPAs and maple stouts at a small number of country stores and farmers’ markets around Vermont and the beer quickly developed a cult following. People would line up for the releases of his latest batches.

“Over time, I’ve really come to appreciate the artisan side of brewing beer,” says Lawson, who previously served as the president of the Vermont Brewers Association. “It’s a true art form and a craft. There’s something magical about creating something yourself that you can enjoy.”

By 2018, he couldn’t contain the business any longer. He opened his first taproom in Waitsfield, a place that’s pivoted to an outdoor beer garden and drive-through beer market to survive the pandemic.

One of his early favorites that’s still a top-selling beer? Sip of Sunshine, an 8 percent IPA in tall yellow can that people still line up to buy.

Westward Series: Season 6

What is it about Vermont? There are places with bigger mountains that get more snow and less subzero temps. But there is no place with a more committed core of skiers. Raining? No problem. Bulletproof? They invented bulletproof. Negative 20 and 30mph wind? Better be ready at 6am so you can get first chair at Stowe.