Vermont is truly a wonderful state. Endless green mountains, pristine country views, rolling rivers, and of course beer. As if this state does not already have enough positives, it is additionally home to some of the, if not the best, craft beer in the country. With breweries such as The Alchemist, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, and Hill Farmstead, this state attracts beer lovers from all over the country and sends beer geeks scurrying to snatch up beers such as Heady Topper and Sip of Sunshine. While I am lucky enough to live in Western Massachusetts, which has quickly become a beer paradise of it’s own, a friend and I recently endeavoured to head to as many breweries in Vermont as we could over a three day span, all while not dying in the attempt. So, as I drink a Focal Banger from the Alchemist, yes they do make beers that aren’t heady Topper, I hope to share with you some tips and secrets on how to safely visit fifteen or more breweries over a few days and how to snag some of the most sought after beers in the country.
One initial thought you might have is, aren’t you driving to all these breweries? The answer is, yes. However, the good news about this adventure, is the majority of the breweries are spaced a half hour or so apart. All breweries visited offered flights of samples, so you’re not tossing back pints all day, and most have food available. There are many amazing and affordable camp sites in Vermont that offer a great place to stay and a great place to toss back a few around a campfire. Just bring a map in case the GPS cuts out (likely) and a very large cooler to keep those beers chilled. Seriously, the biggest cooler you can find as you will easily find many many treasures to fill it with. To safely complete this tour, we visited five breweries a day which felt like a good amount before enjoying the fruits of our labor in the safety of the campground. Vermont state parks book up quickly, are beautiful and immaculate, and carry pretty loose drinking rules (as long as you have some common sense).
Going into detail on every single brewery visited would be far to much for this space but there are absolutely some highlights worth going into detail about. The trip started at Long Trail Brewing which has long been a mainstay. Recently they have been reinventing themselves with new brews such as an amazing double IPA named Space Juice, a hearty and smooth stout, Unearthed, and recently a cranberry Gose. What could be more New England than cranberry in a beer? And it works! Additionally, there is a great brew pub attached to the brewery and a gently flowing river that seems straight out of a fairy tale, all making this brewery a great place to start a Vermont trip. Continuing North after a stop at Hop’n Moose, we ended up at Drop-in Brewing Company. Beyond serving flights and filling growlers they are also home to the American Brewers Guild which has been training brewers for over 18 years. Our last stop of the day took us to Fiddlehead Brewing Company which was ridiculously good. While they did not have their highly sought after Second Fiddle Double IPA, I did snag the Mastermind IPA, which certainly lived up to it’s name. This is not just a brewery that makes a great IPA, we also sampled a smooth delicious porter and a beer fermented with 100% Brett.
Burlington is one of my favorite cities to visit and makes for a great day as there are lots of options for dining and breweries close together. Situated directly on Lake Champlain, this hip college town has something for everybody, including of course delicious beer while also being host the Vermont Brewers Festival. If you google breweries in Burlington, you’ll end up with a pretty crowded map, so choose wisely. Someone needs to drive home after all. Before you start drinking your way through the city, it would be wise to check out the Beverage Warehouse in town to get the details on the next big drop there such as Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine which is basically liquid gold for hop heads. One brewery of note is Magic Hat Brewing Company which, while not being on par as the leading craft brewers of today, was one brewery that helped lead the craft beer movement. They also have the funkiest labels, taps and flavor combinations you’ll likely to find. The self-guided tour is a treat, featuring a movie theater demonstrating the brewing process and providing for good entertainment. The shining star in the city for me was Switchback Brewing. The Switchback Ale is fairly widely distributed throughout the region and is the number one tap in Vermont. I sampled a flight of their unfiltered beers and found them all incredibly well balanced and drinkable while boasting good hop flavor that wouldn’t scare anyone away. The only brewery in the area I would skip would be Queen City which was underwhelming. Zero Gravity Craft Brewery had a gruit on tap for the adventurous. Beer without hops? Worth a shot, especially with this style seeming to become more prevalent. Although not the most creative name, Burlington Beer Company is a great place to stop on your way out for a pint or a flight. They have a relaxed, somewhat hipster vibe and creative artwork that makes for a good atmosphere to kick back in the former warehouse they occupy. Their Complicated Being a Wizard, another great VT double IPA, is perhaps their most popular beer and well worth bring some extra home for later.
Beyond Burlington, the breweries become somewhat more scattered to the point you may need to use a actual real paper map. Hill Farmstead, named the best brewery in the word by RateBeer for the year 2015, is an absolute must, to visit. Just don’t count on using your phone to get there. There is essentially zero cell coverage in the area. You navigate a number of dirt roads to locate the facility, which is an absolute gem and newly opened after outgrowing their previous facility. While there, you can sample beers (special bottled releases for onsite consumption), order a pint to enjoy while you take in the mountain views and purchase growlers and bottles to go. Everything is very well run and organized. The wait was minimal, none of that standing in line for three hours business. Now, while one could easily stay here all day, there was even a food truck on site, Vermont still has some more to offer, even as far north as Hill Farmstead. Heading back down south, one can quickly stop at Rock Art, which produces a number of quality IPAs and Lost Nation found in what looks like a converted lumber yard and which is most famous for their Gose, but certainly give their Mosaic IPA a shot. As you continue back to civilization, you of course must stop by the brand new Alchemist Brewery, most famous for Heady Topper. Check the website first, which is updated frequently, as they list what is available in addition to current limits. You might need to be prepared to wait in line here depending on the time you arrived. Arriving late might mean a shorter wait, but in my case, limited me to Focal Banger, not that it is anything to ever complain about. It’s actually rated slightly higher then Heady Topper, but the less famous of the two. If you like German lagers, swing by Von Trapp, made famous by “The Sound of Music” and featuring some of the best views for drinking a beer and listening to live music. As you continue back towards Waterbury, which is a great town to visit anytime of the year, you will come across the Prohibition Pig. They are perhaps the best brew pub I have had the chance to visit. In addition to their own quality brews, they are the only place I have seen to have Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine on tap ever and the food is out of this world good. Conveniently, Ben and Jerry’s famous ice cream factory is just around the corner. Just in case you feel like you haven’t consumed your fair share of calories while enjoying all that Vermont has to offer.
There are currently 48 members in the Vermont Brewers Association which is not a huge number. Less than neighboring Massachusetts with over 125 for example, but there is a culture and history of producing some of the best beers in the country in Vermont. The state is a pioneer for the craft beer industry through the efforts of breweries such as Hill Farmstead and the Alchemist to name just a couple. Vermont is any beer lovers dream, not just for those seeking some of the best IPAs, and a state any true craft beer lover, snob, nerd or geek should add to their bucket list. You will not leave disappointed, just slightly hungover perhaps.
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