Wow. Vermont lived up to the hype. Everyone in the craft beer community knows about this wonderful state. The most breweries per capita of any state, bucket-list breweries in the small towns that dot the landscape, and more great beers than you can shake a stick at. I did not get to every brewery (only reached 10), but the ones I did blew me away. For this article, I tried to pick four that stuck out the most, but I am hoping to do an additional article on this state as well! If you have not yet made the pilgrimage to the Green Mountain State, I suggest you do. Making Burlington your base is probably the best bet, as many of the big name breweries are within a short drive, and there is plenty to do downtown as well.
- Foam Brewers; Burlington
- Magic Hat Brewing Company; South Burlington
- The Alchemist; Stowe
- Burlington Beer Company; Williston
Foam is still fairly new to the scene, opening in 2016, but they are making a name for themselves. Located between Lake Champlain and downtown Burlington, they work on making complex beers, especially IPAs. There’s a lot going on in the taproom. The lighting is dim, which lets the lit-up inlays on the curvy bar stick out. Brewing equipment sits along two different walls, opposite of the merchandise corner. In the middle is a long wooden table, which separate the brewing equipment from the bar. A slightly raised area made of wood provides additional seating, as well as better lighting. Local art and hanging air plants cap off this interesting space. There’s also a nice outdoor area with a small separate bar, but it was not open when I visited (it is November after all).
Of the 8 beers on tap, 2 were IPAs and 3 were DIPAs. They do not offer flights, and are pricey, so I only tried two beers. Both were winners. Of course I needed an IPA, and my choice was Distopian Dream Girl. A hazy offering, it was tropical on the nose, but had more orange notes on the tongue, or as they describe it: ‘creamsicle’. As a fan of sours, Stranger Things tested my palate. I haven’t had many smoked sours, so this smoked apple Gose was intriguing. It scored exceptionally well with me, as the apple aroma dominates to a certain extent, with some smoky elements squeezing through. I also discovered that as it warmed up, the smokiness became slightly more intense. I’d have enjoyed trying some others, but alas it did not happen. Besides the multitude of IPAs, they also had a pilsner and saison available.
It’s hard to judge a brewery off two beers, but if you can, Foam is a must visit. They are growing a fan base, and with a prime location they will become even more popular I am sure. Get there before it gets dark and walk the boardwalk along the lake front.
Quirky, eye-catching, intricate. Whatever you want to call it, the steampunk/fantasy themed taproom at Magic Hat is a sight to behold. One of the older breweries in the area, they’ve been brewing here since 1994. I took the tour and had a blast seeing the facilities and all the artwork and strange items they use for décor. From old beer labels and boxes, to a dinosaur and snowboards, you have so much to look at. They even have mounted sides from Mardi Gras floats! Why? Because they host the largest Mardi Gras event east of the Mississippi. Every year around 20 thousand people storm Burlington. You also have the chance to buy a large variety of merch from their gift shop (much of which is stored in cut-up culvers, a bathtub, and old fridge). Their name comes from a story that originates from their beginnings. Apparently, they gave away their beer, and someone asked one of the founders where the money comes from to do that. He said they ‘pull it from a magic hat’, and when they were discussing a name, it stuck.
They have a large selection of beers, with their flagship being #9. Referred to as a ‘not-quite pale ale’, it’s a little more crisp and malty than your average pale ale. Really their description is perfect. I scored all four beers I had similarly, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be Howl. This black lager had chocolate and coffee flavors, but the coffee is what shined on the aftertaste. Another big name is TFG (Taken for Granite). As their main IPA, I was surprised at how strong the nose was, with hints of orange, grapefruit, and cherry. The cherry was brightest on the backend. Finally, I had Circus Boy, an average hefeweizen with the qualities you would expect from this style.
Visiting the Magic Hat taproom should be toward the top of the list when you visit Burlington. It’s such a fun space, and if you come more than once I’m sure you would see things you missed the first time.
Heady Topper. Yes, I will get to the beer that made them famous. But first, we have to discuss the brewery itself. In 2011 they built the cannery in nearby Waterbury, and that location remains the only place they brew Heady Topper. You cannot visit them, but down the road in Stowe is their new state of the art facility that was opened in 2016. This brewery and ‘visitor’s center’ is in a beautiful spot, with the rising mountains providing a picturesque backdrop. When you enter, there are two separate areas you can get beer. To the left is a tasting station, when you can get free samples of three of their beers on tap. On the right, you can purchase cans of the beer to go. Between these two areas are several tables, and the space is open to the brewery. Over by the tasting station is also a nice gift shop area, with a variety of clothing and glass wear. It is truly a wonderful place to enjoy delicious beer.
As most in the beer community know, Heady Topper is ranked as one of the best beers in the world on many lists and websites. People will make the pilgrimage to Stowe specifically to buy this beer. Heady Topper does have an incredible bouquet on the nose, with a mix of orange, pine, and tropical fruit. Others pick up on different aromas, such as grapefruit and spice. It really is a great DIPA. However, I actually enjoyed their other DIPA, The Crusher, even more so. Citrus, pine, and pineapple rise from the glass, and for it being fairly high in ABV, it goes down dangerously easy. I capped off this hop-filled stop with another year-round offering, Focal Banger. This IPA had arguably the best nose of the three, bursting with citrus, melon, and plenty of other layers. It’s medium-bodied with dank characteristics, and overall another excellent choice.
This is a must-stop for any beer drinker, but especially IPA fans. The Alchemist is the definition of a destination brewery, and the beer lives up to the hype. Hopefully someday I’ll try more of what they offer. I cannot express how great this place is.
So, Burlington Beer Company is not actually located in Burlington, but in nearby Williston. The founder is actually from the area. He worked at several breweries, including Dogfish Head, before coming back to start BBCO. The taproom is a large open space, with high ceilings, and looks like a giant shed. A small wood bar sits in a corner with a decent number of tables providing seating. There are actually two areas separated by a short wall, and is separated from the brewery by what I would call a ‘barrel wall’. Essentially, there are barrels stacked up that provide a barrier, but the brewery equipment is still visible. Large garage doors I’m sure are opened when the weather is nice. Judging by the artwork, I believe nature plays a role in the theme. And of course there is a small area by the bar to purchase merchandise. It was a popping place when I visited, especially for a week day.
There were some super interesting beers at BBCO. My favorite may not seem like a stretch, as Barista is a coffee porter, but it had the strongest coffee characteristics of any beer I’ve had. As in, it smelled almost exactly like a pot of coffee. I enjoyed it, but would be curious what others thought. Also, it is made with locally brewed coffee. Inertia is a stout brewed with salted pretzels, peanut butter puff cereal, and chocolate. Quite the concoction! It was creamy and definitely chocolately, with slight hints of peanut butter halfway through the sips. I stuck with dark beers and ordered their brown ale brewed with toasted wild rice, Peasant Bread. It had a nutty flavor, and while it wasn’t my favorite it was certainly different from other browns I’ve had. Finally, I had Beekeeper, their Imperial Honey IPA, which comes in at 9% ABV. The honey doesn’t really make an appearance until the aftertaste though. If you like big beers, order Puzzles & Pagans, an 11% ABV Bourbon Barreled Aged Imperial Raspberry Almond Stout. Ya, that’s a mouthful.
They are certainly trying some different brews at BBCO. While they do have their year-round offerings, they can more than 50 different beers a year according to their website. Creativity can help a craft brewery stand out, and they certainly have that!
As I said at the start, Vermont was incredibly. I wish I had the time to hit more breweries there, but sadly that is not possible at this point. Hopefully I’ll have time to write about more of those I did visit. One other note is that Vermont is a lovely place to visit without taking the breweries into consideration. For instance, my wife and I enjoyed taking tours at Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury, and the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory in Shelburne.
We have briefly touched on Maine in the past, but now we will head for the hub. Portland, Maine is one of the top craft beer destinations in the country, sporting one of the higher breweries per capita counts of any US city. The downtown is a fun place to walk around, and there are plenty of places to hit right nearby.
Current Brewery Count
162 Breweries across 96 cities in 16 states. These numbers are current as of 11/12/17. For an up-to-date count, follow my adventures on Twitter: @brewerytravels.