As we all know, Vermont is a series of mountain ranges, rivers, and fields all held together by maple syrup and its primary export is nothing, because locals first and locals only seems to be the name of their game. The same can be said for the beer. This means you’ll either need to smash its borders and steal it away like a wallet emptying thief ($75 a case!) or find a brave soul willing to ship it out, knowing they will be shunned from the community should their traitorous ways be discovered.
While it might not be quite that Orwellian, there is a sense of local pride and farm-to-table that pervades their restaurants, breweries and primary past time, lawn maintenance. But when your state produces some of the most coveted (or overrated if you’re of that mindset) beers desired the world over, it’s a trip worth making.
That’s why I decided to take the drive up from PA, stick around for 3 days, and taste/buy as much as my liver and bank account would allow. I’m no Vermont expert and 3 full days in Vermont isn’t anywhere near enough to really experience everything the maple drenched state has to offer, but I did get a good idea of how to pull off a pretty great beer run.
For those that want the full breakdown of my three days in beer-adise, including the best beer route into/out of Vermont, where we stayed along with what to hit before and after your inevitable Hill Farmstead pilgrimage, and a plan of action for coming back with cases of Heady, Sip and Second Fiddle, click the links below. For those just looking for the highlights, read on.
Day 1 – The Pillaging of Route 7
Breweries Covered: Foley Brothers, Fiddlehead, Drop-In
Bottle Shop: None
Day 2 – The Greensboro Loop
Breweries Covered: Rock Art, Lost Nation, Hill Farmstead
Bottle Shops: Hunger Mountain Co-op, Craft Beer Cellar
Bar/Eateries: Three Penny Taproom
Day 3 – Burly Burlington
Breweries Covered: Zero Gravity, Citizen Cider, Four Quarters, Switchback, Burlington Beer Co, Prohibition Pig, Crop Bistro
Bottle Shop: Beverage Warehouse (cases of Heady, Sip of Sunshine)
Bar/Eateries: Zero Gravity, Prohibition Pig
I couldn’t get to all 40+ Vermont breweries, but I did my best to maximize my time and hit an area concentrated with the most highly-regarded breweries the state has to offer. The locations varied from a farm on the edge of the flat earth to a BBQ and taproom that sounds like it’s sharing space with a hammer clanking industrial metal shop straight out of Brad Fiedel’s Terminator 2 score (deep pull!), to a brewer’s home with a brewing barn out back.
Of the 12 I did visit, I think the ones listed below are most worth checking out first hand and should be a part of any beer nerd’s Vermont vacation plans. I should also note that Fiddlehead probably would be in with this group, but a two tap taproom is a couple taps too few to really get a taste of the brewery. I will say that Second Fiddle, their DIPA, is easily the equal of Heady Topper and Sip of Sunshine, so pay attention to can releases on their Web site and plan accordingly.
Vermont beer, specifically Vermont IPAs, are in a league of their own. So much so that John Kimmich, Alchemist co-founder/brewer, wants the Vermont IPA to be considered its own style. There does seem to be a certain sweet drinkability and controlled bitterness that still manages to feature the subtleties of hops which is common among the popular canned trade bait.
I won’t go as far as to say Vermont is an IPA only state, there are some darker Hill Farmstead beers I covet, but hop heads will get the most out of a summer beer trip. This is IPA/Farmhouse country, so don’t expect to malt it up with motor oil stouts or bourbon-aged anything while it’s warm out (same as anywhere else really). The closest we got were two adequate browns, some overly boozy barely wines and a porter I vaguely remember.
Thankfully, I’m an IPA lover and self-anointed hop head, so I found plenty to tickle the taste buds. The IPA-centric list below is the upper tier or an already upper tier beer binge we experienced. I’m sure there are plenty more the residents of Vermont would add, but this is representative of the 3 day snapshot of when I was there.
Favorite Drinker: Alchemist – Focal Banger
Favorite Overall Beers: Hill Farmstead – Double Citra/Susan
Biggest Surprise: Lost Nation – Lost Galaxy
Favorite Beer Alternative: Citizen Cider – Full Nelson
Best of the Rest
It’s not always about beer…hold on…gotta think about what I’m saying here, but we did actually do a few things that didn’t involve a brewery. This is the best of our non-brewer related activities, but everything we ate, drank, and visited was topnotch. Really, I should just list every place we stopped at, drove passed or saw in the distance, but these places are an absolute must should you find yourself in the hills of freedom and unity.
Bottle Shop: Beverage Warehouse, Winooski
Breakfast: 158 Main Restaurant and Bakery, Jeffersonville
Bar: Three Penny Taproom, Montpelier
Eatery: Three Penny Taproom, Montpelier
Pizza: Folino’s Pizza (next to Fiddlehead brewery), Shelburne
Indoor Drinking Alternative: Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour, Waterbury
Outdoor Drinking Alternative: Just walk around (it’s beautiful dammit)!
All Trips Must End
When the time came to pack it up, pack it in, my car was full of the beers featured below, limited only by the fact I have a mortgage and responsibility for other humans beings that count on eating again. What isn’t pictured are the bomber bottles of Foley Brothers Pieces of Eight, a deliciously dank DIPA we got a day after it was bottled for free by running an errand to PA for the brewery. Not a bad deal.
Speaking of free, the second image is the swag I got from doing the beer trail. Pick up a trail card at any brewery, get it stamped at each brewery you visit, mail it to the Vermont Brewers Association and voila, free stuff. What you get depends on how many breweries you visit. Depicted is the 10+ level (nice T-shirt, bumper sticker, two coasters, and a magnetic bottle opener).
That’s it for this trip. I hope to be making another one in the near-ish future, possibly out to Toppling Goliath and all points in between, but that’s for a future me. So for now, Prost!