Up here in Vermont, the nights have dipped down into the 40s, the first fires have been lit and the leaves are just starting to turn. Any week now, we'll welcome waves of foliage groupies who will chase the cascading rainbow of mahogany, burnt orange, and gold from the Northeast Kingdom all the way down to the southern border.
For those who love both changing leaves and craft beer equally, Vermont is not only dotted with 26 craft breweries—the most per capita of any state—but also some innovative beer bars with carefully-curated taps and bottle lists. Whether you fancy ending a crisp fall day with a glass of gueuze or grisette, these pubs (broken down by region) regularly decant eclectic, unusual, or hard-to-find local craft beers, sometimes alongside some pretty exquisite (and usually locally-sourced) food.
Northeast Kingdom: Parker Pie Company
Tucked up in the northeast corner of the state, Parker Pie Co. is a cozy brick-and-wood oasis whose pies are scrumptious enough to inspire long drives by locals. Yet the 12 taps here also dispense local craft beers that are almost impossible to find outside of our border; on any given day, they could include Founder's Cerise, multiple selections from NEK's Hill Farmstead, and Citizen Cider Unified Press, a crisp, sublime hard cider made in northern Vermont. You'll probably have to wait for a table, especially on weekends, but live music and a cold pint make the minutes pass easily.
Parker Pie Co.
Mad River Valley/Stowe: Blackback Pub and Prohibition Pig
Waterbury is ringed by striking mountains and endless hiking; back in town, you can't throw a stone without hitting some rare quaff. The Alchemist Pub & Grill used to anchor the main drag until Tropical Storm Irene flooded downtown last summer and forced the pub to close. Fortunately, the Alchemist crew still produce their iconic Heady Topper at their cannery just up the road, where it sells out a few times a week; the only place in town to get it on tap is at Prohibition Pig, the airy smoked meat and booze place with an impressive tap list, hearty BBQ, and apothecary-like bar.
Across the street, the subterranean Blackback Pub & Flyshop harbors an eclectic collection of fishing ephemera (it's the owner's hobby) as well as a tap list that casts both near and very far. One recent night found five Hill Farmstead beers, Lawson's Finest Liquids Chinooker'd IPA, Petrus Aged Pale, and Evil Twin Femme Fatale Brett all on tap. For something more bracing, hit the impressive assortment of single-malt Scotch.
Blackback Pub & Flyshop
Central: Three Penny Taproom
Inside the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier, you could spend an entire weekend sampling from the 24 taps, and another few days supping from rare bottles (Tilquin Oude Gueze and multiple brews from Cantillon among them). The best-kept secret, though, is the food from chef Matthew Bilodeau; all of it is thoughtfully executed to pair with the beer. Pilsner sweet corn fritters with a Hopfenstark Helles, or pork sausages with a Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Tremens? Um, yeah, that'll work.
Three Penny Taproom
Upper Valley: The Worthy Burger
Everyone within 100 miles is still buzzing about this spot, which opened recently inside an old freight house in sleepy South Royalton. The kitchen sources local grass-fed beef for succulent, cheap burgers that practically melt beneath house-made kimchi and pickles. The L-shaped bar fills up for a list curated by co-owner Dave Brodrick (he who also owns NYC's Blind Tiger). It might be Brodrick who hands you a glass of Zero Gravity Saison, Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale, or Hill Farmstead Everett. For non-tipplers, the house kombucha—in flavors such as ginger and lemon balm-lavender—is zesty and addictive.
The Worthy Burger
South: Whetstone Station Pub & Brewery
The only place to sit right now at this pub-in-progress is on the deck, but that's not a hardship: with a stunning view of the Connecticut River and a Schneider Aventinus in hand, winter seems a million miles away. This three-month-old place is still finishing up its nanobrewery, but the 14 taps here are eagerly dispensing Monk's Cafe Belgian Sour Ale or Green Flash Hop Head Red. (Or pour some Pinkus Munster Alt from the bottle).