This past weekend, I thought it was time to head up to Vermont to see what our neighbors up north are brewing. The Vermont craft beer trail is quite extensive. In fact, there are even Vermont craft beer maps that will outline the whole trail for you. Overall, Vermont is home to 29 of the 5,000+ breweries in the United States. It was my goal to see firsthand what has changed in the past year in one of the most highly respected brewing areas of the country. After searching through forums and blogs, I came up with the seven stops I would make over the course of 48 hours.
The Alchemist – Stowe, VT
The Alchemist is no new face to the Vermont craft beer brewing scene, though they have grown to two brewing locations in the past six years. The original in Waterbury solely brews their flagship, Heady Topper, and the new location in Stowe handles everything else. Stowe is open to the public and has all of their offerings available for sale. This definitely beat out waiting in line for two hours last spring for half a case of Heady Topper.
In the past few months, they have released a number of new offerings including: Skadoosh, a rotating series of IPA, Pappys Porter, a dark mahogany colored porter, and Hellbrook, a double red ale. I am glad to see them expanding beyond hopped up (D)IPAs with Hellbrook and Pappys Porter. Though Pappys Porter still has a noticeable clean hop backbone.
Sampled: 2oz Heady Topper, 2oz Focal Banger, and 2oz Pappys Porter
Purchased: 4pk Hellbrook, 4pk Crusher, and 2x4pk Heady Topper
Idletyme Brewing – Stowe, VT
Idletyme is a year and a half old brewpub inhabiting an old blacksmith shop in downtown Stowe. Outside of brewing, Idletyme has a long history in meaning for Stowe, and the owners of the brewpub aim to honor that history through “real food, real drink and real good people with a few surreal stories thrown in for good measure.”
While busy with the lunchtime rush, the bartender was quite courteous in nature, asking about our trip so far and where else we would be going. Their Brewski Sampler flight came served on a faux ski tip, holding six pours that spanned their full range of styles. Possibly an ode to the nearby von Trapp family lodge, their Helles Brook Lager and Bohemian Pilsner were in line with what I would expect from a top brewer in Munich.
Von Trapp Brewery – Stowe, VT
My first visit to von Trapp brought me to their brand new bierhall. The only beer that I had at von Trapp was their Dunkel Lager, described as “medium in body and finishes dry and clean.” Of all German style craft beers, dunkel would be one of my favorites, but ultimately there was nothing notably special about this one. I did not taste or feel the “a little of Austria, a lot of Vermont” that their coaster promised.
Sampled: Pint of Dunkel Lager
Vermont Pub & Brewery – Burlington, VT
Much later in the night, and after a long nap at the hotel, Vermont Pub & Brewery would be my final stop for the night. The pitch black Blackwatch IPA was a nice change from the juicy IPAs that are abundantly popular in the New England region. It is one of the original recipes from Greg Noonan and is brewed with British malts offering a very roasted and bitter flavor.
Sampled: Pint of Blackwatch IPA and Pint of Bombay Grab IPA
Foam Brewers – Burlington, VT
Sixty-five degrees and sunny, I ventured past the downtown of Burlington towards Lake Champlain and the boardwalk. Foam Brewers lies right off the boardwalk of Lake Champlain in an exposed brick building that perfectly suits the vibe and message Foam represents.
Arriving shortly after they opened, there was already a line to the door of people waiting for growler fills and pours presumably to be enjoyed down by the lake. Having heard a lot of great things about Foam, I was excited to try nearly everything on their imaginative tap list. While very IPA heavy, I would be amiss if I did not mention some of their other offerings such as their crisp Tranquil Pils, or their Sleepy Time honey infused bière de miel (NOT mead).
By far my favorite new brewery and probably my favorite stop on the whole trip. If you’re are looking for the cutting edge of Vermont craft beer trends, Foam is the place to go.
Sampled: Pour of Terraform HC17 IPA and Pour of Clockwork IPA
Purchased: (I wish)
Frost Beer Works – Hinesburg, VT
I would be a happy man living in one of the new developments popping up in Hinesburg, VT. This would mostly be due to easy access to Frost in the business park right off the highway. Talking to the owner for a while, they seem to know what they are doing and where they want to be in the future. They are taking their time to do things right the first time, and not rushing to meet the demands of the market. Trust me, the market is very demanding for Frost.
Sampled: Pint of Really Pale Ale
Purchased: Bomber of Lush DIPA, Bomber of a DIPA
Burlington Beer Company – Burlington, VT
BBC has been one of obsessions since visiting a year ago. Now entering into their third year, they exemplify the aspirations of other young brewers. Their space is a large, open warehouse just outside of Burlington, filled with art, music, and plenty of good vibes. Their tap list was quite extensive for the small amount of brewing equipment I could see. While very IPA heavy, there was a noticeable amount of effort in the creativity and differentiation of their offerings.
Sampled: Pour of Chunky & Jelly Porter and Pour of Inertia (Coconut & Chicory) Stout
Purchased: 4pk Inertia
Vermont craft beer is a booming industry, and at the forefront of many trends for the industry.
- The IPA trend is just getting started. As a new generation is given more experimental ingredients to work with, more creative and innovative flavor profiles are being developed.
- Breweries are catering to the promiscuous craft beer drinker. Nearly every brewery had a constant changing rotation of beers being offered. Some (Burlington Beer Co.) went so far to include a timeline for future releases. It is increasingly well noted that the millennial craft beer drinker is promiscuous so I anticipate more breweries capitalizing on this in their marketing.
- Sub-par brews to keep relevant. A few of the beers I sampled did not strike me as anything special or different. Worse was the few I tried that could have been elevated by small changes to the recipe. Part of this is personal taste, but when a brewer only has one chance to make a recipe before jumping to another, there aren’t as many opportunities to fine-tune the recipe.
- The rotating IPA is here to stay. Related to my first point, more specialty hops coming to the US market creates opportunity for one off, small batches of unique flavors. Overall, I am a big fan of this trend, especially when using only a single hop per batch. The single hop does a lot to highlight the flavors and aromas of hops that we do not get when blended.
- Everyone has a sour/barrel program now. With the exception of maybe Frost, every brewery I visited emphasized their sour or barrel aged offerings. While these styles as a whole are definitely an acquired taste, I wonder about their overall level of quality.