BENNINGTON -- On Wednesday July 23, several organizations from within the town of Bennington and beyond will host the first Southwest Vermont Beer and Spirits Forum, in an attempt to offer guidance to entrepreneurs trying to enter the business of brewing and distilling.

The forum is being put on by the Bennington County Industrial Corporation, the Better Bennington Corporation, the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, the Bennington County Regional Commission, and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. It will take place ar Colgate Park at 6 p.m, and is designed to offer guidance in best practices and explore the efficiencies of scale involved in co-locating. The forum is a part of the town's ongoing efforts to make Bennington more of an area destination.

"The idea of a beer and wine forum is a great start," said Bennington's economic and community development director, Michael Harrington, "and if that leads to a craft beer cluster in Bennington, that would be terrific. We certainly have the resources and infrastucture to support such an initiative and I think it would be a great draw for people from around the region. I'm excited to see what comes of this initial conversation.

According to BCIC executive director Peter Odierna, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program and Vermont's Farm to Plate Network will be in attendance for the forum. Odierna said that he's already been contacted by six to eight people who are interested in starting craft breweries or spirit distilleries in the area, and who hope to be in attendance at the event. "We want to help as many of these people cross the finish line as possible," he said.

Vermont already produces the number one beer in the country, in The Alchemist's "Heady Topper," according to Odierna, and potential microbrewery owners could capitalize on the image that has been fostered of Vermont, as the home of excellent craft beer and locally distilled spirits. Odierna said that much of the interest he has received has been from Manchester business owners, who find the real estate prices in Manchester to be prohibitive compared to Bennington.

"Southwest Vermont could be well situated to accomodate this type of activity," said Odierna, "due to an abundance of clean water, locally grown agriculture products, and a robust sewer system with the capacity to handle the residuals."

The forum is open to the public. For more information, you can contact Odierna at 802-442-8975 or Harrington at 802-447-9710.