Vermont Beer Travelogue – The Pillaging of Route 7

welcome-to-vermont-road-signVermont, a land of keeping it local to a level rarely seen apart from rampant inbreeding in the Ozarks. As the rest of the country shifts to farm fresh, locally-sourced food about as quick as a slug trying to free itself from a greased KFC bucket of molasses, Vermont’s been living it.

The OG of farm to table, they believe it, be it, eat it. This is a state that still has huge tracts of open land and a populace just under three quarters of a million protecting it. We saw a few chinks in that handmade armor over our three days, namely a LongHorn Steakhouse and McDonald’s, but the resistance is strong.

So yes, Vermont is a magical shire of mountain greenery that’ll make you want to dig in your roots and maintain your lawn (one of the main activities we observed). You may even be compelled to produce maple syrup and advertise it every five feet, but communing with nature isn’t what brought us to this land of hippies and trees.

We came to partake in a beer scene that fervently sticks to its oddly drawn borders. One where “distribution” is a dirty word, where locals buy up every brewed drop, and where  a couple thieving bastards from Pennsylvania can sometimes steal it away a case at a time (and with a little sloshing around in our guts). Here’s what we did and what you can do too.


There and Back Again

Route 7Vermont is not an interconnected spiderweb of highways and interstates, having probably close to as many miles of dirt roads as they have paved. This limits your options for getting around, but it also sets up breweries like dominoes.

Our path and yours should take you straight up Route 7, a stretch of some of the best up-and-coming and well-established brewers Vermont has to offer. (It’ll also take you past a dealership’s Euro-only lime green Focus RS that had my car mate twisted in knots.)

I’ve organized this from South to North, in the order you would hit them driving up from New York/Conn/PA. We only had three days, so we had to limit our stops and maximize out efficiency. The primary rule was any brewer that has distribution in PA is expendable, but we did as much as we could.

For our first day, we only went as far as Burlington as we had to turn off to our hotel in Stowe. Industrious beer nerds with a full day to kill can hit a whole series of brewers following Route 7 up to Canada. But, no matter where you want to end, it all starts with…


IMG_1517Foley Brothers Brewing

Address: 79 Stone Mill Dam Rd, Brandon, VT 05733
Hours: Wed – Sun (11-5pm)

Must Try Beer: Pieces of Eight, Citrennial, Fair Maiden, Maple Brown
Food Stuffs: Minor (baguette with toppings) – Didn’t try
Samples: $5 for flight
Trip Recommendation: Must Stop!

Foley is a bit off the paved path of Route 7, eventually introducing the lumpy dirt roads that would be the bane of my car’s suspension. It’s worth it for the converted barn tasting room and one of the friendliest beer servers I’ve yet met. We talked about our Lancaster origins, cattle (a companion with us drags cattle all over the country with her family), and black currant wine (very tasty for the winos and even the beerites).

It was such a great start to our tour, we stopped back on our way home to get Pieces of Eight (which released that weekend), a dank, resiny bitter delight which is worth far more than $8 a bomber. While technically our second stop as we shot past it to a Jehovah’s Witness church in the hills of Vermont, who knew GPS could be so temperamental, Foley Brother’s needs to be a priority on any beer nerds trip.

Foley (1)

Foley (2)

 

 

 


Drop-In Brewing CompanyDrop In (1)

Address: South, 610 US-7, Middlebury, VT 05743
Hours: Mon – Sat (11-7pm)

Must Try Beer: Supernova IPA
Food: Nope (restaurant next door)
Samples: $3 for 6-8 in a flight
Trip Recommendation: If you have the time…

Not only a brewery, a brewing school that has seen plenty of talent come through their program. A very personable and knowledgeable instructor was on hand to discuss everything that went into their beers (even talking to me about the mash temperatures and proper grain roasting). A female employee was also present and spoke frankly about what was worth checking out in the area and her general lack of interest in the PA beer scene beyond what already gets distributed in Vermont (I asked).

You’ve probably noticed I haven’t mentioned the beers. Hmm… for all the technical know-how and spot on execution, the spirit of innovation was lacking. I can’t say the 8 samples I had were much different than any standard PA brewer (Appalachian for instance). Nothing bad, but there was no identity or flair. It’s like radio-friendly rock where the production is so clean it makes it lifeless compared to the dirty fuzz rock of a garage band. Still, worth a look if you want an informed conversation to go with your sampling.

Drop In (2)

Drop In (3)

 

 

 



Otter Creek Brewing / Wolaver’s1612820.ottercreeklogo

Address: 793 Exchange St, Middlebury, VT 05753
Hours: Mon – Sun (11-6pm)

We made the executive decision to skip this stop even though we were told they have brewery only beers worth trying and a pretty cool facility. Familiarity breeds indifference I suppose. Next time perhaps…


Bobcat Café and BreweryBobcat_OutsideNight

Address: South, 610 US-7, Middlebury, VT 05743
Hours: Sun – Thurs (4-9pm), Fri – Sat (4-9:30pm)

This is one stop I’m sorry we missed. Bobcat is supposed to have some great food, solid enough beers and a nice atmosphere. It’s only 10 minutes off Route 7, but we were a little over-focused on the big hitters. Couldn’t catch’em all.


Fiddlehead Brewing Co.IMG_1528

Address: 6305 Shelburne Rd, Shelburne, VT 05482
Hours: Sun – Fri (12-9pm), Sat (11-9pm)

Must Try Beer: Everything (two taps)
Food: Yup (excellent pizza attached)
Samples: Free
Trip Recommendation: Must Stop!

While the building isn’t much to look at, the lovely winery across the street sucks up the curb appeal like some kind of agricultural vortex, and the brewery experience is basically a room with two taps, you owe it to your liver to stop in here. Head brewer Matt Cohen spent a decade at Magic Hat, but branched out on this own with excellent results.

We had their standard Fiddlehead IPA and Hodad (chocolate, coconut, vanilla bean porter), both of which were tasty, but the real star was yet to shine. While there, we found out about an unannounced Second Fiddle can release on Saturday. Those that have a special place in their bitter hearts will want to get a case at all costs (or $78). If you’re lucky, they may even be brewing their legendary Mastermind (the ingredients were on order when we were there).

Fiddlehead isn’t so much about the brewery experience or the amount of time you’ll spend there. It’s a pure beer experience from one of the best brewers on the very cusp of exploding to the top of every beer nerds must try list. Get there now while you can still get in the door.

IMG_1529

 

 

 


Magic Hat Brewing Co.IMG-5214_54_990x660

Address: South, 610 US-7, Middlebury, VT 05743
Hours: Mon – Sat (10-7pm), Sun (12-5pm)

This is another stop we considered but ultimately swept to the curb. For as unexciting as Circus Boy and #9 are, we have vague interest in Heart of Darkness and the Humdinger series. That, plus the locals mentioned the brewery was pretty cool with a tour not to be missed (consistently voted one of the top brewery tours in America). However, with a distribution plan that swarms PA like ants and no beers that really rustle the old jimmies, we passed.


End of Day 1

As I mentioned, you can keep the beer train going up Route 7 through Burlington, home of a plethora of breweries we wouldn’t get to until our third day, and on to 14th Star Brewing (20 minutes from the Canadian border), but that was it for our exhausting first day. I know we only hit three places, but 8 hrs plus of road travel made us tired pandas who still had an hour to our hotel.  Spoilers, day two has us going to Lost Nation and Hill Farmstead, so it’s not to be missed.

Up Next: Vermont Beer Travelogue – The Greensboro Loop

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6 thoughts on “Vermont Beer Travelogue – The Pillaging of Route 7

  1. Re.. Drop In: The samples are $3 for a flight….. We have 7 beers unless we let you try something unfinished from out back….. The female owner wasn’t there, that was an employee….. And in this market “technical know how” and “spot on execution” counts as innovation 🙂
    The brewmaster is a 32 yr British trained veteran, who’s won the Brewers Association Russell Schehrer award for Innovation in Craft Beer. There is nothing on the market quite like Sunshine and Hoppiness, and 6 Holes in my freezer (the Key Lime Pie) beer is hardly seen every day. Seems to me you’re only interested in IPA and Double IPA. I got bored with those a while back, although we do have a double IPA occasionally called Dude Are You OK? which is every bit as hoppy as Heady or Second Fiddle.There’s so much more to the world of beer you’re missing out on chasing the obscure and the extreme. Hopefully as you learn more about beer you’ll be less impressed with the obvious and learn to appreciate subtlety.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I apologize for getting the cost of the flights incorrect. I’ve fixed that. I would love to try Dude are You OK? and 6 Holes in My Freezer. If there is a way to get them down to PA, I’m all for it. Unfortunately, I can’t evaluate a brewery on beers that weren’t available while I was there. What I had was enjoyable, but just didn’t spark with me. It’s just an opinion, which is mine to have as a beer consumer, and one you don’t care for, which I get. I look forward to appreciating the obvious, subtle, and everything in between, and hope to visit your brewery again in the future.

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