State 14 is a digital magazine showcasing the makers, farmers, food and folk of today’s Vermont.
What is it with the Green Mountains and craft beer? Vermont, though relatively sparse in population, holds the distinction of having more craft breweries per capita than any other state. What’s truly amazing is that, of the 50-plus breweries that call Vermont home, nearly half opened in the last six years. And they’re good, too. As in, exceptionally good. We’re talking best-beer-in-the-world good and 100-percent-rating-on-BeerAdvocate good (breweries, you know who you are).
While the options for great Vermont beers are dizzying — and that’s before you even start drinking — many are available in-state only, often with limited runs or at select locations, and are therefore rare and coveted by beer lovers the world over. As residents of the state, we’re not writing this to brag about how lucky we are to have access to said superlative-prefaced beers (well, maybe we are just a little), rather, we’re shining a light on some noteworthy brews worth getting your hands on. To help State 14 in our efforts, we called on Healthy Living Market and Café’s craft-beer expert, Brian Maloney, to compile the first of many guides to Vermont’s tastiest brews. Here they are, in no particular order.
1. Prohibition Pig, Reverse Whirlpool — American IPA. If you’re ever in Waterbury, VT — a great central point for exceptional beer tasting — and stop in to Prohibition Pig restaurant and brewery, you might be lucky enough to try Reverse Whirlpool … but it’s unlikely. This fine, rare brew is a collaboration between Pro Pig and Lawson’s. It has a sunny-orange haze true to the Vermont-IPA way, a great light malt taste with hints of pineapple and citrus. If you do happen upon this batch, don’t hesitate and if you don’t, just order one of their other stellar beers. Either way, you can consider yourself lucky.
2. Hermit Thrush, Party Guy — American Wild Ale. Everyone loves a party guy … as in Parti-gyle … as in historical brewing technique used to optimize brewing efficiency and minimize waste. It involves using the mash of grains twice, the first batch yielding a very strong beer, the second batch a weaker or “smaller” beer. The latter is the parti-gyle. So now that we know what kind of party guy we’re talking about, let’s talk about Hermit Thrush. It’s not just the Vermont state bird, but also the innovative brewery out of Brattleboro, VT, producing new American sour beers. Pucker up for the Party Guy.
3. Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Sip of Sunshine * — American Double/Imperial IPA. We concur that this grapefruit-y, pineapple-y, floral brew is indeed like sipping on hop-dosed, hazy-orange sunshine. Snap a can open and be swept away on that tropical excursion you never went on this year. Come spring of 2017 you can also sip sunshine in Lawson’s upcoming larger brewery and tasting room in Warren, VT. Who needs the tropics, anyhow?
4. Fiddlehead, Second Fiddle — American Double/Imperial IPA. Second fiddle? That’s arguable. This is one of the finest DIPAs around, and Fiddlehead Brewery out of Shelburne, VT, is making a name for itself among the best breweries in the state. This pale ale — the color of a fall pumpkin, and a taste that bursts with citrus, pine and full hop flavor — is so big yet so smooth, you’ll definitely want seconds of this fiddle.
5. Hill Farmstead, Edward — American Pale Ale. You might have heard of it, read about it, but unless you’ve ventured to the Northeast Kingdom or the few spots throughout Vermont to taste it, you can only imagine its goodness. It’s the Edward, the patriarch of famed Vermont brewery Hill Farmstead (aforementioned “Best Brewery in the World”). The real Edward was founder Shaun Hill’s grandfather, who originally owned the land on which the brewery stands today. Describe the beer? Medium bodied, with aromatic flowery notes, citrus and pine … but really, words fail to capture how balanced and drinkable a beer it is. Best get yourself to Greensboro, VT, for a tasting of this and other ancestor-inspired beers.
6. Von Trapp, Helles Lager * — Munich Helles Lager. Johannes Von Trapp is the member of the famous family who started the Von Trapp Brewery in 2010. Their new brewing facility out of Stowe makes this classic example of a Helles Lager that is flawless. Pours golden and clear as crystal with a frothy head and extra bubbly carbonation. Herby, bready, with notes of cut grass … these are a few of our favorite things!
7. Lost Nation, The Wind * — Gose style. Big ups for the Morrisville-based brewery for figuring out how to bottle what originally was a cask beer. The Wind takes gose to magical heights with Citra hops, grapefruit and an overall complexity that leaves you a bit mystified. It’s funky in a great way.
8. The Alchemist, Heady Topper * — American Double/Imperial IPA. This is the beer you wait in line for the day it’s delivered to one of the few retail in-state locations privileged enough to carry it. It’s the beer that’s being sold on Craigslist out of some bachelor’s Upper East Side apartment in NYC for four times the price. I’ve even seen empty cans being sold as souvenirs online. None of the above is a lie (although the bachelor part was an assumption). Heady Topper has reached legendary status and it’s well deserved. Juicy, smooth, very hoppy. Get in that line.
9. Hired Hand, Nitro Milk Stout — Milk/Sweet Stout. Vergennes, known as Vermont’s “Little City,” is situated among Addison County’s expansive Champlain Valley and is the heart of the state’s dairy country. It’s fitting that the Little City’s brand-new brewery, Hired Hand, is pouring a Nitro Milk Stout that is some of the best we’ve ever tasted. Creamy coffee and chocolate notes, rich yet medium bodied, we could put our IPA proclivities on hold for the whole autumn season because of this beer. Nurse yourself a pint and consider yourself hired.
10. 14th Star, Tribute * — American Double/Imperial IPA. What does it pay tribute to? Humulus lupulus. Those beautiful green flowers that give beer that bitter, citrusy aroma that we’ve come to know and love. Tribute throws a juicy, somewhat sweet celebration for the guest of honor. Hopsters, this brew’s for you.
11. Zero Gravity, Conehead * — American IPA. We are huge fans of Zero Gravity. This pillar of the Burlington beer scene has a solid lineup of enduring beers that just keeps getting longer. Conehead is the one that catapulted the brewery into obsession-status. It’s a delicious, hoppy, super smooth IPA and the good news is, these days, it’s easily obtainable throughout Vermont.
12. House of Fermentology, Yellow Dot — American Wild Ale. Vermont honey, lavender, chamomile … Wake up! This isn’t sleepy teatime. It’s a supremely exciting sour beer packed with flower power. Calling themselves a “beer blendery,” House of Fermentology located in the Pine Street Arts District in Burlington has come on the scene, fermenting and aging beers in gin barrels. Try their living beers at Foam Brewers. They’re wild.
13. Foley Brothers, Prospect * — American Double/Imperial IPA. A bold and flavorful IPA by Foley Brothers from the hills of Brandon, VT. This family-run brewery works in small batches to produce excellent artisanal beers. We hear tell that a visit to the 1700s barn-turned-brewery is nothing short of idyllic. We’re looking forward to the day, but in the meantime, we’ll close our eyes and sip on the complexities of a bottled Prospect.
14. Foam, Built to Spill — American Double IPA. Heads up, kids, there’s a new brew in town and it means business. Foam Brewers opened earlier this year at the Burlington waterfront and they’re already killing it with their IPAs. Built to Spill is a hazy, fruity juice bomb, and rivals some of the best out there. Make way for the newcomer.
Beers indicated with * are available for purchase at Healthy Living Market and Café. Easy.