Slow Death of an Old Friend: The Catamount Line RIP 2003?

In the early days of the American craft brewing industry, a small brewery in Vermont began selling amber and gold ales to local establishments. Within a few years of its 1987 opening, the Catamount Brewery would grow to become one of New England's most successful and well-recognized craft brewers, with annual production around 20,000 barrels. But after many years of success, stagnation set in and the brewery stumbled badly. The once ubiquitous label went absent from many locations and the brewery fell on poor financial times.

When many in the industry thought the line would fade from existence, entrepreneurs from the Harpoon Brewery in Boston swept in at the last minute to purchase the brewery and its trademarks. When Harpoon purchased Catamount in June 2000, people were all smiles and optimism. "All of us at Harpoon have a great deal of admiration and respect for the Catamount Brewery and the pioneering role it played in New England craft brewing," said Dan Kenary, Harpoon's co-founder and President, in a press release.

"We plan to continue brewing and selling Catamount and at the same time expand Harpoon's brewing operations to meet the growing demand of our New England customers," explains Dan Kenary, Harpoon co-founder and President.

Harpoon quickly renamed the brewery after itself and used it to boost production, which had previously been constrained by limits on its Boston facility. And while Harpoon made good on its promise to continue the brand, production of the Catamount line was a mere shadow of its former glory. In the intervening years, production levels hovered around 2,000 to 3,000 of Harpoon's 60,000 barrel production. While the brand never recovered from its near brush with death, it also suffered from a general lack of promotional support from Harpoon. From the start, it seemed the line was destined for a slow death.

So it is, sources at Harpoon report that the brewery plans to slowly phase out the storied brand. While Harpoon is certainly not to blame for the loss of this storied and often impressive line, the situation does raise questions as to how Harpoon let this happen, all things considered.

At the time of the purchase, Harpoon's owners seemed to offer genuine respect for the label. "Harpoon is excited about this acquisition, because it will enable us to keep the well-respected Catamount brand on the market, and also keep up with the considerable demand for Harpoon beer," said Kenary. "In addition to bringing back some existing Catamount brands, we hope to create some new styles, as well as utilize the Windsor facility's visitor center and offer brewery tours."

That never seemed to happen. While the brewery did release one or two new products, including a wassail and an Octoberfest, distribution was spotty and support non-existent.

Again, this is not meant to indict Harpoon, a company that nobly gave some support to an otherwise finished brand, but to lament the slow loss of this storied product line.

Catamount 8 Lives: A quintessential summer brew with a very distinct, fruity hop aroma and flavor. Medium bodied and thoroughly drinkable.

Pale Ale: One of New England's best English-style pale ales. A perfect session ale, with a strong English yeast flavor and some residual balancing bitterness on top of a sizable malt presence.

Catamount Porter: A very well-balanced porter, light malt sweetness and some roasted flavors. This is not a big-time, palate overwhelming porter, but one that mixes malts and hops to increase the drinkability factor.

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