Vermont veteran's battlefield dream expands with brewery - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermont veteran's battlefield dream expands with brewery

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When most people think about retirement they think beaches and relaxing, but Army Captain Steve Gagner sees a brewery.

"When I started thinking about life after the Army I knew I had to do something, but I also knew I didn't want to work for anybody," says Gagner.

After 18 years in the Army he was looking forward to taking orders from himself. So he decided to follow in his father's footsteps and start his own business, 14th Star Brewery.

"Part of the appeal of St. Albans is: one, I was here and two, there were no breweries north of Burlington or west of Morrisville, so there was a whole corner of the state that was under-served," says Gagner.

His business plan was formed on the battleground. Gagner used his free time to formulate his future.

"This place started a few years ago as a dream when we were in Afghanistan. We were writing the business plan in the back of the notebook just to pass the time," he says.

That plan turned into a reality in 2011 when they set up shop on Newton Road. It's a modest space for the three-man shop. But it's where they brewed 28 different beers in two years including their flagship, Valor.

Gagner is heading out at the start of the year for training. But while he's away his business has big plans. They are moving two miles down the road to start of their new adventure.

The brewery is taking over an old bowling alley along the main strip in St. Albans. The old 18-lane setup is the future home for 14th Star Brewery. It's a major expansion, more than 10 times the size of their original shop.

"When we first walked into the initial space of 1,200 feet we thought this place is huge! What could we do with all the space? Now when I walk in here it's a huge space, but it's tempered by remembering, 'hey we got that place. It was huge at one point,' " says Gagner.

He's got every inch accounted for already. They plan to open a brewery and a tap room to show off their beer and some more of their local favorites. And they hope to hang on to that bowling alley ambiance.

"We were actually able to save some of the woods from the lanes to serve as the bar top and some tabletops and I think people around here will be able to identify with that and appreciate that," says Gagner.

While Gagner is away for military training work will just be getting started inside. Setting up infrastructure and laying the flooring. Gagner says the expansion is moving faster than they expected, but they are responding to demand for their beer. The whole shop should be open by the end of next year.

"I won't say I didn't have fun 18 years in the Army, but this is a lot of fun as an industry to be in, you're brewing beer," says Gagner.

It's a labor of love for a military man who calls himself a student of beer. He has big plans for his brewery after decades of defending his country, he's looking forward to raising a glass.

"We didn't sign the size of a deal planning to fail," he says.

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