While craft brewery Lawson’s Finest Liquids (LFL) may have only gotten its official start in 2008, founder Sean Lawson had been homebrewing for nearly two decades. What started as the New Jersey native’s hobby quickly became a professional passion for the craft, and by 2018, Lawson’s business had grown from a miniscule homebrewing operation with a cult following to a full-fledged craft brewery.
With four core beers now in its lineup, Lawson’s Finest Liquids is available across nine states in the Northeastern United States. Beyond supplying the region with staple and seasonal brews, LFL is determined to leave the planet a better place than it found it. Now that you know the basics, here are 10 more things you should know about Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Vermont’s beloved craft brewery.
Lawson’s Finest Liquids got its start in a college apartment.
In 1990, Lawson was an undergraduate student at the University of Vermont working toward a degree in environmental studies. While attending the university, he started tinkering around with brewing after sampling a number of the state’s maple beers. Drawing specific inspiration from those made by local brands Catamount Brewing and the Vermont Pub & Brewery, Lawson brewed his very first beer — a maple wheat ale — right there in his Burlington apartment. Following his graduation, Lawson spent some time in the West, in Colorado and Arizona, where he worked at the Breckenridge Pub and Brewery and the Beaver Street Pub and Brewery, respectively. In the mid-2000s, Lawson relocated back to Vermont to earn a master’s degree, all while maintaining the hobby of homebrewing.
When Lawson’s Finest received official licensure, its brewery was just a 20- foot-by-20-foot room.
To support this hobby, Seanr and his wife Karen started construction in 2006 on a small cabin in their home’s yard where he could continue brewing. The couple built the tiny nanobrewery themselves, with Sean carving out the foundation. The lack of professional construction showed, and the building was fondly nicknamed the “Crooked Cabin.” Two years later, the couple received official licensure for their one-barrel brewhouse, and Lawson’s Finest Liquids was officially born. They also received a license to become a wholesale distributor of the beers they produced, kickstarting the wholesale side of their business, The Beer Guy. For an entire decade, every single beer under the Lawson’s Finest Liquids label was produced on Sean and Karen’s property, just feet away from their family home.
Sean Lawson never intended for brewing to become his full-time job.
While brewing had always been a love of Sean’s, he never envisioned it becoming his full-time job. He instead viewed brewing as something to do in his time off from work as a forest ecosystem health program manager for the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative. In 2013, he told Beer Advocate that to him, “It seemed to be a loftier profession to be a scientist or educator than to be a brewer.” But as the years went on and he continued making more and more, he came to appreciate the art and craft of brewing beer: “There’s something magical about creating something yourself that you can enjoy,” he said.
Hundreds of people once lined up for the chance to purchase some of LFL’s beloved brews.
Before opening their expanded Waitsfield, Vt., brewery and taproom in 2018, Lawson’s Finest Liquids was a rare brewery with no physical location for imbibers to come drink. As such, Sean used to distribute his brews himself, hand-delivering them to a handful of local stores and farmers markets to get product out to the public. Once demand increased, people began lining up outside the brewery — which was also the couple’s familial home — for their chance to buy his small-batch brews. Lines grew from 50 or 60 people to hundreds as cars lined up and down the block before sunrise for their chance to snag a few cans. Now, thanks to the brewery’s increased production capacity at their Waitsfield brewery, LFL is now a beloved bodega beer in the Northeast — cult following still included.
You can stay the night at the original Lawson’s Finest Liquids brewery.
Even though LFL has since expanded, superfans need not say goodbye to the brewery’s nanobrewery origins. In 2019, Lawson’s Finest launched an Airbnb at its former operation site. The Lawson’s former home and the Crooked Cabin are bookable through the vacation rental site with Sean and Karen both listed as the property’s hosts. If you’re keen to explore, be sure to pop your head into the cabin for a glimpse of the brewery’s original machinery, which is still operational today. In addition to hosting craft beer drinkers from around the world, the Airbnb is also a popular destination for engagements, and has even played host to a number of wedding ceremonies and receptions since its opening.
The brewery has 4 signature releases in addition to a number of special-release brews.
Four beers compose LFL’s core lineup: Sip of Sunshine, the brewery’s flagship IPA, Little Sip, Scrag Mountain Pils, and Hazy Rays. Each of the beers is available for purchase in Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. In addition to the core four, Lawson’s also drops a number of special releases throughout the year for their thirsty customers to sample. These brews include Super Session (available from January to August) Double Sunshine Ruby Red Grapefruit (January), Kiwi (May), and the Scragarita, a.k.a. the Scrag Mountain Pils Salt & Lime (July). The brand also offers its Mad River brew and a select IPA, which are released every September, followed by a Nitro Stout and a Barrel-Aged Fayston Maple Imperial Stout in November.
Lawson’s Finest is committed to leaving the world a better place through its Social Impact Program.
One of the pillars of Lawson’s Finest’s business model is its Social Impact Program (SIP), developed in a partnership with Jeff Bercuvitz of The Sparks Center, a Vermont non-profit working to promote personal, organizational, and social transformation. Through the SIP, Lawson’s Finest Liquids is working to strengthen the communities it belongs to. Within the SIP, the brewery has identified five core initiatives — Great Place to Work, the Sunshine Fund, Good Brews For A Cause, Green Is Grand, and Sip of Support — each of which seeks to improve the livelihood of LFL’s employees and community members and the surrounding environment.
Brewery taproom guests leave donations to local non-profits rather than tips.
While most brewery taproom employees make their wages from tips, ensuring that each employee receives a living wage and generous benefits is of utmost importance at LFL. Under the Great Place to Work prong of the Social Impact Program, each employee receives medical, dental, vision, and life insurance benefits, short and long term disability, 401(k) and HRA contributions, paid time off, annual profit sharing, and parental leave in addition to making a fair wage, thus eliminating the need for tips at the brewery’s taproom. In lieu of tipping, Lawson’s Finest requests that guests instead use that money as a donation to the Sunshine Fund from which all donations go to benefit local non-profit organizations. Previous organizations Lawson’s Finest has donated to include organizations promoting food and economic security, natural resource protection, and sustainable recreation in Vermont’s beloved Green Mountains.
The brewery is devoted to reducing its carbon footprint.
With the full understanding that brewing is a resource-intensive profession, Lawson’s Finest developed the Green Is Grand initiative as a means of minimizing its own economic impact. In the years since implementing this policy, the brewery has installed a rooftop solar power system, allowing it to produce 52,000 kilowatt of renewable energy per year. In 2022, the brewery constructed the largest solar canopy in Vermont, expanding its capacity for renewable energy production and adding 12 electric vehicle charging stations. With this new construction, the brewery will be able to offset 60 percent of its current utility bill with this new energy source, which is able to produce approximately 2.4 million cans of beer. Further strengthening the brewery’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint is its self-constructed wastewater treatment facility that transforms wastewater into energy. By the end of this year, the brewery is on track to accomplish its goal of generating 100 percent of the electricity used on site, and by 2050, it hopes 90 percent of this electricity will be renewable.
Lawson’s ‘Good Brews for a Cause’ initiative raises funds for causes the team is passionate about.
The Good Brews For a Cause program is focused on brewing specialty, small-batch beers from which the proceeds are donated to causes the brewery is passionate about. Each beer brewed within the program is partnered with a specific non-profit organization tied to a region in its distribution territory across the Northeast. Previous releases include the Brave Little State Pale Ale benefiting Vermont Public Radio and it’s Brave Little State Podcast, the Kingdom Trails IPA promoting trail preservation in Vermont, and the Brave Noise Pale Ale, brewed in partnership with the Vermont Network’s Uplift Vermont Campaign that works to eliminate sexual and domestic violence in the state. In 2020, LFL released its Black is Beautiful brew, a collaborative effort in the craft brewing community spanning across 1,000 breweries in 20 countries. One hundred percent of the proceeds ($3,457) was donated to the Vermont Peace & Social Center. To date, 13 beers have been brewed under the Good Brews for a Cause initiative.