Most serious craft beer fans have a bucket list. Mine includes making it to the Great American Beer Festival and trying Russian River's legendary double IPA, Pliny the Younger. I checked another item as "done" this week when I made a pilgrimage to a legendary Vermont brewery.
My brother pulled our full car into the parking lot of The Alchemist’s gleaming brewery in tiny Stowe, Vermont at 10:40 a.m., twenty minutes before the doors opened.
Despite the fact that it was a Tuesday, there were already a handful of other beer fans waiting in line. Shortly before 11 a.m., the friendly folks inside opened the doors and a growing crowd lined up to purchase four packs of fresh Heady Topper, a world-class and highly sought after double IPA.
Certain beer experiences are transcendent, and sipping on a fresh pour of Heady in the shadows of The Alchemist’s brew kettles fit the bill. The expertly balanced brew is perfectly piney, has a hint of citrus, and finishes with a crisp bitterness that isn’t overpowering. It’s a flawless example of an IPA whose recipe was honed well before words like “juicy” and “hazy” were predominantly popular descriptors of the style.
The Stowe brewery is a gorgeous 16,000-square-foot space that opened in the summer of 2016. The original location is a short trip down the highway in Waterbury. After a half an hour, I reluctantly left the heavenly spot to begin the long three-hour drive to Boston Logan Airport. I didn’t leave empty handed. A four-pack of Heady Topper snuck its way into my checked luggage. Next time, I’ll be sure to bring a bigger suitcase.
The Burlington Beer Scene
The visit to Stowe was the end of the trip. I also had the opportunity to check out the beer scene in nearby Burlington. It’s odd to see gems like Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine IPA and Fiddlehead IPA — a pair of brews that we here in the Midwest would pay a steep price just to sample — readily available in most bars and even in convenience stores. I made sure to get my fill of both.
The highlight in Burlington was Foam Brewers, a busy spot on the shores of Lake Champlain that’s crafting a slew of outstanding New England IPAs (see the hazy and juicy reference above). Standouts were beers like Life Without Buildings, a decadently fruity double IPA made with lactose, pineapple and vanilla bean; and Everybody Daylight, a juicy IPA that was less sweet but no less flavorful. Nothing at Foam disappointed, and judging by the large crowd bellied up to the bar early on a Saturday night, they’ve built quite a fan base.
There are plenty of popular destinations for beer tourism — big cities like Portland, Denver, San Diego, Chicago — but it’s hard to argue with what a quaint college town like Burlington, and the surrounding Vermont countryside, has to offer. I highly recommend a trip.