By a unanimous decision of the Mad River Valley Rotary Club, Karen and Sean Lawson of Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield have been named Rotary People of the Year.
They will be celebrated with a dinner on May 15 at the Pitcher Inn in Warren.
According to Rotary spokesperson Gordon Hoare, the Lawsons were selected based on the substantial economic boost they brought to The Valley by opening the new brewery and taproom on Carroll Road, Waitsfield, which includes jobs that pay a living wage, drawing visitors to The Valley and donating tips to local nonprofit organizations in the community.
The Lawsons opened the new business last fall and it has been drawing crowds ever since. They planned, engineered and built the project over the course of two years after purchasing the former Valley Rent-All property. They renovated the building on the south end of the property that had been Vermont Tents, turning it into a brewery. They removed the building that had been the Valley Rent-All building, recycling up to 95 percent of those materials, and rebuilt their taproom and retail store on the site.
Additionally, the brewery is using water from Waitsfield’s municipal water system, which has increased gallons used in that system to the extent that user rates were reduced last year due to that increased volume.
That increased water volume creates a lot of beer! In addition to its regular lineup, Lawson’s Finest is brewing six specialty brews every other month for package and draft that will be available in the taproom and retail store. Additionally, every eight weeks Lawson’s will be distributing six of its core brands, one brand at a time, in a broader geographic area.
Lawson’s Finest was started in Warren at the Lawsons’ home in 2008. The beer won numerous awards and much acclaim. With a 1 bbl brewery, though, the beer was only available in small amounts in a few locations in The Valley.
In 2011, the Lawsons added a shed brewery addition and expanded to 7 bbl, which increased the availability and reach of the product. In 2014, Lawson’s Finest began working with Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford, Connecticut, to brew and can Sip of Sunshine IPA and Super Session beers at that facility. That allowed distribution to expand from Vermont to New England and New York.
The Waitsfield brewery is a 30 bbl facility and the Lawsons have kept their original microbrewery – known as the Wizard’s Workshop – in Warren for experimentation and development of new products. At the new facility Karen Lawson is the chief creative officer, working in marketing and branding, while Sean Lawson is the founding brewer and CEO.
Karen and Sean Lawson both attended UVM but at different times. Karen received a degree in public administration and worked for two decades in state government before joining Lawson’s Finest full time.
Sean received a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a master’s in forestry. His first career was as a scientist and educator. He continues to lead the nature program at Mad River Glen, something he was doing when he and Karen met. They were married in 2001 and have two daughters, Ava, 13, and Jade, 10.