Day 3 of our continuing high-end beer binge started with a decision. Do we throw in the crushed pounder can of Heady and take the day off, enjoying the beauty of Vermont’s many rivers, hiking trails and touristy spots forged by nature? Or do we double down and visit more breweries in a single day than we ever have, blowing out whatever whimpering portions of our livers still had the gall to function? It was never really a choice.
While one of us would briefly succumb hard to beer fatigue, it was a great time visiting Burlington in the midst of a jazz festival that we accidentally mistook for a farmers market. I’m pretty sure you’ll find vendors selling maple syrup and hemp-related goods at funerals, riots and the apocalypse. Never change Vermont.
There is one other aspect to Burlington that I should mention, especially for city folk used to tight and tidy city blocks. When someone tells you a brewery is only 7 or 8 blocks away, they are telling you to get back in your car and drive there, or bust out that portable penny-farthing bike you keep in the hipster pocket of your jeans for such an emergency.
While the city center is a lovely grid of shops and brick underfoot, it quickly spreads out along the shores of Lake Champlain with a mixture of the residential and commercial. What we thought would be a brisk 20 minute walk hit the 40 minute mark and we still had a few blocks to go. Not a big deal if we didn’t have to walk the same distance back to the car, potentially in cataclysmic weather (your frogs and locusts and what not). Heed my warning out-of-towners…
But, before we get to that, let’s buy some beer!
Buying Vermont a Case at a time
So you want to buy some beer, and a lot of it. There are a number of places you can accomplish this, but an early Saturday can supply pretty much all your needs if you know where to look. While it does take timing, luck and standing in line at 9am with the other out-of-state interlopers, there is plenty to be had.
Recommended Itinerary for Saturday Beer Buying
9:30am – Winooski, VT – Heady and Sip of Sunshine cases (check Facebook for availability)
11:00am – Shelburne, VT – Second Fiddle (potentially Mastermind)
Our path took us to Winooski, 2 minutes north of Burlington, to Beverage Warehouse. True to it’s name, it really is a warehouse of beverages, from beer to wine to soda to liquors. If it’s wet, they got it. We arrived around 9:30am for a 10am distribution of Sip of Sunshine ($75) and Heady Topper cases ($75). As you can see, we were a good fifty or so people back, but got everything we wanted plus a bottle of Lawson’s Basil Rhubarb Saison that they offered to us line dwellers (only $8!). When we left 45 minutes later, there was still plenty of Heady (Sip was gone), so plan accordingly.
With the knowledge we gained from our stop at Fiddlehead two days ago, we headed there next for the hush-hush release of Second Fiddle cases ($78) at 11am. We got there a little late and only waited ten minutes to get the goods. (Side Note: We stopped in again the next day on the way home and they still had cases for sale, so unannounced releases tend to stick around).
With that now a part of our collective pasts, we headed into downtown Burlington for the beginning of our brewery raid. Food, festivals and beer overload await us and we weren’t even able to catch’em all. A whole vacation could be spend wandering its well-maintained and suspiciously clean streets. We only had a day, so let’s see what we crammed into it.
Note: If you haven’t, check out Day 1, the Pillaging of Route 7, or Day 2, The Greensboro Loop, for the full picture on optimizing your beer-cation.
Zero Gravity BrewPub
Address: 115 St Paul St. Burlington, VT 05401
Hours: Wed – Mon (12-9pm, 10pm Fri/Sat)
Must Try Beer: Conehead IPA maybe…
Food Stuffs: Flat Breads, Artisanal Stuff
Samples: $7 for flight of 8 (or something like this)
Trip Recommendation: Good stop for those more hungry than thirsty.
With a hankering to quell the hangery beast in our bellies, we checked out Zero Gravity. This place has an inviting layout, delicious food (however did not compare to the Folino’s Pizza next to Fiddlehead), and perfectly fine beers. This is more about the atmosphere, the breads and grains, and the huge window overlooking the square, bustling with a Jazz fest while we were there (the lovely logo also caught the eye of our group).
Actually, it wasn’t until I think back that I realized my positive feelings came more from the atmosphere/food then the actual beer. It was perfectly serviceable, no where near the worst we had, but timid in a land full of magnetic beers get’s you quickly forgotten. The actual brewery is located nearby, but we didn’t stop in.
Address: 316 Pine St Suite 114, Burlington, VT 05401
Hours: Mon – Sun (11:00-10pm, 7pm Sun)
Must Try Beer Cider: Full Nelson
Samples: Not sure
Trip Recommendation: Worth a Stop
This was a bathroom stop that turned out to be much more. The building is a mixture of hand-crafted, industrial and local watering hole that is as inviting as it is airy. With garage doors thrown open to seamlessly blend inside and out, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for sampling the cider.
Normally I don’t care for fermented apple beverages (too damn sweet!), but we gave it a shot while we recharged. In keeping with the beer theme of the trip, I opted for the Nelson Sauvin hopped cider, Full Nelson. (On a side note, can we, the beer community, finally retire the “Full Nelson” moniker for any beer primarily featuring Nelson Sauvin? There are at least 23 beers with that name. You aren’t being clever. Just stop it. I’m looking at you too, Half Nelson.)
Name aside, I can say that this is thee best cider I’ve had. The white wine quality of the Nelson hop with a dry, not too sweet crisp apple from local Vermont orchards (where else could it be from!) won me over. If I would have been in my right mind instead of delirious from the hike and previous day’s drinking, I would have brought some back. Definitely a regret, but hopefully Citizen Cider will make its way into PA. Even if you think you don’t like cider, worth getting a glass as it may just surprise you.
Four Quarters Brewing
Address: 150 W Canal St, Winooski, VT 05404
Hours: Fri (5-9pm), Sat (3-9pm), Sun (12-3pm)
Must Try Beer: Great Bear – Ursa Major
Samples: $5 (cash) for the full tap
Trip Recommendation: Change of Pace?
I flew solo on this while my compatriots took a break at a lakeside park. Prior to our trip, I did some research and pegged this as a “change of pace” from the hopped up norm we were sure to encounter, and in that way, Four Quarters did not disappoint.
The interior is cramped and uninviting, but this isn’t the type of place to drink your evening away. I found most of the beers to be dull on the palate and consistently sweet and bready (like under cooked dough bready) with a base that veered between malty marzen and a biere de garde. Too malty and I start to check out. The beers didn’t quite hit that level, but I was searching for flavors for me to like. The brown, Great Bear, was decent and one of the best dark beers I had in Vermont, so there’s that.
Other patrons were highly-complimentary, so maybe my taste buds were fatigued or my idea of beer is fundamentally different. I do know that if I’m a local and this is an alternative to the hop-centric obsessed Vermont beer market, anything other would be a revelation. Even with that said, I had the opportunity to buy some wine barrel-aged saisons and I passed. A yeast-forward, farmhousey brewery that really set itself apart for better or worse.
Switchback Brewing Co.
Address: 160 Flynn Ave, Burlington, VT 05406
Hours: Mon – Thu (11-8pm), Fri, Sat (11-9pm) Sun (11-6pm)
Must Try Beer: Nope
Samples: $1 per sample
Trip Recommendation: Skip It (unless you are low on branded hats, sweatshirts, glasses, key chains…)
Nice enough place, but to this vacationer, it seemed like a retail store tacked on a 5 tap bar of boring (a brown, ale, pale ale, saison and pils… all snoozers). Merchandise and branding are King with the spirit of brewing excitement either locked in the dungeon or not on display while we were there. Admittedly, one hour and 5 taps is a very limited view of a brewery, but I can only evaluate what they presented.
First impressions made it feel like Switchback is competing against macro brewers rather than the multitude of innovative Vermont micro brewers. I suppose I’m being too cynical, but the appeal, other than the beautiful tasting room, eluded me. There is certainly a vocal group that likes Switchback (just check the overwhelmingly positive Google reviews), but my single hour there was enough to determine that meh beer is meh.
Burlington Beer Co.
Address: 25 Omega Dr #150, Williston, VT 05495
Hours: Wed – Thur (12-7pm), Fri (12-9pm) Sat (12-8pm), Sun (12-5pm)
Must Try Beer: It’s Complicated Being a Wizard
Food: Food Truck in Parking Lot
Sample: $5 for 4
Trip Recommendation: Worth a Look
A relatively new brewery, we didn’t know what to expect from Burlington Beer Co’s commercial warehouse in the outskirts of Burlington (definitely do not try walking there). The inside is inviting enough for a large building made out of metal and the benefit of space lead the owners to offer ping pong and baggo to their patrons. A small, but nice touch for a startup like this.
While the beer was decent and, in my opinion, it’s a better place to go for alternative Vermont beers than Four Quarter (Burlington Beer’s Surfing Waves of Dopamine was an interesting but funk-less Saison) the graphic designs made the strongest impression. Featuring a minimal can design with simple symbols and bright, solid colors, it gives the overall brewery some personality.
I was close to buying some It’s Complicated Being a Wizard to bring back to the Keystone state, but opted out after the morning’s Winooski money drop. Not quite a must stop, but they have potential to be something special.
Address: South, 610 US-7, Middlebury, VT 05743
Hours: Mon – Sat (10-7pm), Sun (12-5pm)
Must Try Beer: Focal Banger
Trip Recommendation: Must Stop!
Let’s give the Pig some context first. Prop Pig resides in the old Alchemist digs that got flooded during hurricane Sandy. John Kimmich, brewer/founder of Alchemist, built a new facility nearby and is rumored to stop by occasionally with beers for the patrons. This means that Heady and Focal Banger (and sometimes some other goodies) are almost guaranteed should bars, hotels, stores, gas stations, hospitals and the county waterworks (I’m pretty sure I showered and brushed my teeth in Heady) run dry.
What else is there to say about this place? Absolutely legendary BBQ and beer joint that carries a menagerie of top local brews (Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s, Alchemist, Lost Nation) as well as brewing their own. All this in addition to a superb bottle shop across the street and you have a recipe for win. Just go there and thank me, the Internet, or whoever else told you about it later.
Also, a side note for the uninitiated meat-eaters. We went there for dinner and found the main dining area sardine can stuffed with plenty more waiting to pile in. We wandered around back to the second building and sat at one of many open outdoor tables, surprised at our luck. It turns out that the second building is a separate entity where you can only order off a limited menu (hence the Cubano sandwich and pretzel bites in the photo). The real BBQ is upfront, so keep that in mind when you park your butt.
Crop Bistro & Brewery
Address: 1859 Mountain Rd, Stowe, VT 05672
Hours: Mon – Sun (11:30-10pm)
Must Try Beer: Idyletime
Trip Recommendation: Nightcap
Even after an epic day of drinking, we STILL found the courage to head out to one last stop and muscle down more beer. Crop Bistro was practically next to our lodging, so the effort was minimal, but I anticipate that a parade will be thrown in exactly one year to honor our accomplishment. Regardless, the nightclub like atmosphere was a little daunting given our scrubby appearance, but a half-hour before closing meant we had the place almost to ourselves.
Feeling welcome wasn’t an issue as we were greeted by a very attentive and downright friendly-as-hell bartender that shared stories of attending the water festival in Thailand and a regional drink recipe he brought back with him. He also put together a rather great mixed drink for a member of our group, winning him my vote for best server in Vermont. (He can pick up his award any time.)
As positive as it all was, our beer fatigue was real. I mustered that same courage that brought us there and sampled what they had on tap. All were solid enough, but didn’t make much of an impression. Worth checking out if you like your beer venues moody and the service personable.
End of Day 3
With that, our time in Vermont was essentially at an end. We drove home the next day, stopping in at Fiddlehead for a couple more cans and at Foley Brothers for some bombers of fresh-brewed and properly dank Pieces of Eight. I’m going to put together a best o’ Vermont overview, but this trip is pretty much milked.
Something I haven’t mentioned to this point is the Vermont beer trail. A simple act of taking a card, getting it stamped at each brewery you visit and sending it in to the Vermont Brewers Association nets you some sweet swag, depicted to the right. What you get depends on how many of the 20 or so trail eligible breweries you visit. For those on tiny screens, I got a bumper sticker, 2 coasters, a magnetic bottle opener and a high quality cotton T-shirt. Not to shabby for doing nothing and I highly-encouraged you participate for your own Vermont beer pilgrimage (hell, you’re going to these places anyway). Granted, we hit more than your average bear for such a short period, but it adds up quick. And it’s free. FREE! And free is good.
Up Next: Perhaps a drive out to Toppling Goliath and all breweries in between… and the results of a blind tasting with some PA bar patrons to get their honest opinions of Heady Topper, Second Fiddle, and Lost Galaxy. Why? Because I can’t seem to just drink a damn beer without tinkering, that’s why.
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