Gregory Noonan – 1951-2009
Raise A Toast To Greg
It is with great sadness that we received the news of the passing of brewing legend Greg Noonan after his brief fight with cancer. His enthusiasm for craft brewing was infectious and will continue to influence artisan brewers forever. Dog-eared and wort stained copies of his books can be found on the shelves of many serious home brewers and in most microbreweries.
To meet Greg for the first time was like running into a long lost friend. He would talk endlessly into the wee hours about beer and brewing with perfect strangers generously offering all he knew for the asking. Helping many brewers make the jump from hobby to professional, he happily offered all of his knowledge and experience while mentoring those that were following in his footsteps. There is no doubt that the outstanding reputation Vermont brewers enjoy today was built upon the foundation Greg laid more than two decades ago. However, his contribution to the craft went well beyond the technical, he never let us forget the pure joy that comes from a well crafted beer shared with friends.
So many remembrances have been offered by those touched by the life of this brewing pioneer, but one posting to the Beer Advocate website by Rock Art Brewery owner Matt Nadeau sums up how many of us feel; he writes, “A great loss, but better, a great man to have known for as long as I did. I wish you the best, and I hope you can change the old saying, ‘There is no beer in heaven, that’s why we drink it here’ because if anyone can it will be you my old friend…Peace.”
When I was an apprentice brewer at Catamount Brewery, I drove up to Burlington to attend the release of a new beer at Vermont Pub and Brewery. It was 1990, and craft brewing had just come to Vermont. The beer that I drank that night was what I now call archeological brew, an attempt to imagine what the pilgrims might have brewed with local ingredients. Wheat instead of malted barley, spruce instead of hops, and maple syrup to replace the sugars used by British brewers to complete their beers. The man presenting his creation was Greg Noonan, who just two years earlier had introduced a bill in the Vt. Legislature to allow brewpubs to exist in the state. Greg mesmerized me. With his deep, FM D.J. voice, and a stunning knowledge of beer history, he set me on the path that would lead me to become a brewpub brewer. I learned that night that artistry and historical canon were just as important to the craft brewer as the science I had been learning. And the beer was amazing.
Over the following ten years, I was in and out of touch with Greg, until I returned to Burlington in 2000. He was always in view for me though, because he was a national figure as a writer and speaker on beer. His Brewing Lager Beer was an essential turning point for many home brewers and professionals, bringing into the craft scene an all-important pillar of beer brewing. His Scotch Ales was the go-to treatise on the wonderful beers of Scotland. And his pub was a destination for brewers and beer aficionados from all countries.
When I returned to Vermont, hoping to rejoin the brewing community here, Greg welcomed me back with that ever-present warmth and enthusiasm that he exuded with every person that he met. I returned to a vibrant brewing scene in which Greg urged, cajoled, and led his fellow brewers to be themselves and brew beer that was both truly local and yet universal, in its adherence to brewing history.
As a publicans’ Publican, Greg was the master host, sitting at his bar on the coldest night of the year, or at the height of Vermont’s great invitational event—the Vermont Brewer’s Festival. Whenever I could, I would join Greg to try some special beer or other . . . acquisitions of Rodenbach Grand Cru or a perfect Barleywine in the English style. Those nights are some of my most precious memories. Greg was always “all-there,” a man who lived fully in the present moment, with joy and vigor. And he was that for all the people in his life, especially the people who worked and now work at the Vermont Pub and Brewery.
Those of us who have known Greg are now missing him—he passed away last Sunday night, in his sleep. He led our community well, as the frequent president of the Vermont Brewer’s Association, and as a leading citizen of this town. A kind man, an amazing brewer, and the best of friends. This world is a changed place without your great heart, Greg.