The Serious Eats Vermont Beer Guide
If there's one thing I've learned in two months of living in Vermont, it's that this state loves its craft beer—especially if it's made by Vermonters. Case in point: Last weekend I drove to the little town of Waterbury to check out Prohibition Pig, the beer 'n' BBQ spot occupying the space that housed the Alchemist Pub and Brewery prior to 2011's Hurricane Irene. I walked down a single block of Main Street from my parked car and looked in some windows. The Blackback Pub: 25 taps of craft beer, many from Vermont. The Reservoir: 38 taps. Arvad's: I see at least 8. Looking down Stowe Street: there's two signs advertising cans of Vermont's own Heady Topper. All that rubbernecking made me thirsty, but Prohibition Pig's 22 taps and 90+ bottles handled that with ease.
If this block of Waterbury isn't precisely representative of the whole state, it is at least symbolic of Vermonters' passion for all things barley, hops, yeast, and water. The people are passionate for good reason: the area's been producing some great beer lately.
Headed up for a Vermont visit? We've written before about where to go if you're seeking out good beer. Once you arrive, here's what to drink.
Hill Farmstead Brewery
If you're on the hunt, Hill Farmstead's excellent offerings aren't hard to find. Most Vermont spots that specialize in beer will have something on tap from Shaun Hill's farmstead brewery. The pale ale, Edward, is most common, but you really can't go wrong with anything from these guys. If you're especially lucky, you'll run into Everett, Susan or Abner—ah, who am I kidding—they're all good. Don't miss the beers from Grassroots Brewing, either. It's an offshoot of Hill Farmstead and is every bit as good as its more-famous sister company. Legitimacy IPA was the first beer I had upon arrival in Vermont, and it should be yours, too.
Lawson's Finest Liquids
Lawson's Finest Liquids' beers are a bit tougher to come across, but worth seeking out. I haven't yet encountered cult-classics Maple Tripple or Double Sunshine IPA, but was recently wow'ed by their Vermont Local Hop Harvest Ale and Chinooker'd IPA. Anything brewed by Lawson's is a safe bet.
I'm constantly being asked: "Is Heady Topper as good as they say?" It is. "Is it better than P—" Stop it. It's great. You're in Vermont, go drink some. The beer is almost exclusively available in cans (I've heard you can find it on draft at Prohibition Pig from time to time) and its the only beer currently being produced by the Alchemist. It's usually around $7 for a 16 ounce can in bars/restaurants or $4 a can in shops. Don't miss it.
Lost Nation Brewing
I first heard of Lost Nation as "that brewery that makes salty beer." That's right, there's a Vermont brewery that's known for its gose. And it's everything a gose should be. Fruity, tart, and refreshing with a restrained saltiness on the finish that keeps you reaching for another sip. The brewery's other offerings, like their Vermont Pilsner, are good as well, but keep an eye out for "that salty beer."
Zero Gravity Craft Brewery
Based out of the American Flatbread restaurant in Burlington, I've had mixed experiences with this brewery. That said, their rauchbier, Smokey the Beer, and their Conehead Wheat IPA are super delicious and more than worthy of your attention.
Rather than brewing their own beer, Backacre Beermakers purchase wort (unfermented beer) from local breweries and ferment, barrel-age, and blend it themselves. This time-intensive process yields one beer: their Sour Golden Ale. It's exclusively bottled and a bit pricey at around $17 retail for 750 mL, but it's worth it. Light, sour and refreshing, their blending and mixed-fermentation practices produce a final product that is earthy, fruity, dry and endlessly interesting. Look for it at the Hunger Mountain Co-Op and Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier, or at any of the locations listed on their website.
Drop-In Brewing Company
A fairly new brewery based out of Middlebury, Drop-In's beers are quickly making their way across Vermont. Red Dwarf, their Amber Ale, is a rock-solid representation of more "modern" interpretations of the style (read: it's pretty damn hoppy).
Fiddlehead Brewing Company
Another newcomer to the scene here is Fiddlehead Brewing Company out of Shelburne. Brewer Matt Cohen started the company toward the end of 2011, and his tasty, drinkable flagship IPA can be found all over northern Vermont.
Long Trail Brewing Company
Long Trail's beer is everywhere in Vermont. Their flagship Long Trail Ale (an altbier) is the best-selling craft beer in the state and they're the parent company of similarly-ubiquitous Otter Creek, Wolavers, and the Shed. Some of their stuff is better than others, but the beers rarely offend. While altbier isn't exactly the sexiest style, Long Trail Ale is well-made and underappreciated. Double Bag Ale offers a bolder version of their flagship style and their Brewmaster's Series is a little flashier still.
Around since '91, Otter Creek makes a wide range of styles under their own name and as Wolaver's, their organic label. Snubbed by the scene's more recent craft beer converts, there are some gems to be found in their lineup. Otter Creek's Russian Imperial Stout is better than you might expect, Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout is easy to find and not bad, and Otter Creek's recent collaboration with Lawson's Finest Liquids, called the Double Dose IPA, is absurdly good.
The Shed Brewery
The Shed was founded in 1965, which makes it ancient by the craft beer world's standards. Now owned by Long Trail and brewed at Otter Creek, the label produces just two beers: Mountain Ale, a malty strong ale, and (yes,) an IPA. Both are easily-accessible gas station staples that, while not necessarily worth seeking out, are a solid value.
Rock Art Brewery
Rock Art is another brewery that's been around a while in Vermont. Founded in 1997, the brewery is now best known for its Ridge Runner and Vermonster barleywines. I prefer the latter—it's big and malty but not overly sweet with a strong, drying hop bitterness for balance.
Switchback Brewing Company
Switchback brews a small portfolio of simple, balanced ales. They aren't thrilling beers, but their flagship Switchback Ale is loved across Vermont and is inexpensive enough to try at least once (around $4 for a 22 ounce bottle).
Trout River Brewing Company
With a long-standing loyal Vermonter fan-base, Trout River is best known for their Rainbow Red Ale, which is malty with a lot of fruity yeast character. Not worth going out of your way for, but not worth snubbing either.
Magic Hat Brewing Company
Magic Hat has been in Vermont since its establishment in 1994 and have built quite a following for themselves and their apricot-flavored pale ale, #9. The company is now owned by Cervecería Costa Rica—the beers aren't great and your dollars won't stay in the Green Mountain State. Try something else.
What Vermont beers do you love to drink? Chime in in the comments!
About the author: Mike Reis is a Certified Cicerone. Follow him on Twitter @beerspeaks or find him behind a pint near you.
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