Beer is always fun, but every now and then a truly extraordinary beer opportunity comes along. I was lucky enough to take a trip this summer to what I consider to be the best beer town in the country. It's subjective, but it would be hard to argue that, at the very least, Waterbury, Vt. is not the best beer town in New England. I wrote a feature story saying as much in Sunday's Boston Globe Magazine. You can read the story here (or in the magazine that comes in the Sunday paper), and I'd be curious to get your feedback. I talked to a lot of great people in Waterbury and am grateful to them for their help and hospitality.
Waterbury is full of great beer, so to supplement the magazine story I decided to review some of the beers from there. With the help of my friends Javier and Jon, I reviewed four beer purchased on my trip: (left to right) The Alchemist Heady Topper, Maine Lunch, Hill Farmstead Society and Solitude #4, and Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Sunshine. The Maine Lunch is, quite obviously, not brewed in Vermont, but I found this little nugget of goodness in a Quechee, Vt. Mobil station on my way up. What a state.
The four beers above are some of the best IPAs in the world. That makes a side-by-side taste test appealing. How does Heady Topper, considered by many to be the king of double-IPAs, stack up against Lunch or one of Sean Hill's creations? Could the Lawson's Double Sunshine actually be the best of the bunch?
This was too much good beer for one person. Javier and Jon have great palates, and I was curious to get their takes on the beers. We went in this order:
-- Heady Topper: We each cracked a can to start the tasting off right. You're supposed to drink straight from the can, so we did. The smell of grapefruit seems to spurt out of that little metal oval. The aromatics in this beer are hard to top. What makes it great, though, is it's drinkability. This thing is 120 IBUs, but it's hard to tell. Jon wrote down that this "is very easy to drink for a double-IPA". Javier wrote that "the biggest compliment I can pay to this beer is that if you're not an IPA drinker and you don't like Heady, you won't like any other IPA." It's an extraordinary beer.
-- Lunch: The contrast between the first beer and this one is fairly obvious from the jump; there's a bigger malt profile here. While Heady Topper manages to balance bitterness with aroma and mouthfeel, Lunch sweetens the beer a bit with caramel and roasted malts. That's not to say this beer doesn't have all the aromatic, hoppy goodness of a great IPA. It does. But it's different, and as Jon wrote, "not as bitter [as the Heady], but not as clean a finish." Drinking this beer on it's own would undoubtedly produce a vastly different perception, which I've experienced when Lunch is the first and only IPA I'm sampling.
-- Society and Solitude #4: Hill Farmstead (left) makes many IPAs. This one is a hybrid ("Think Double Citra Meets Double Galaxy" it says on the Hill Farmstead website). I got a couple big bottles filled from a tap to take home with me from my trip. To be fair to Hill Farmstead, this is probably not their best double-IPA. I'm partial to Abner myself. But every Hill Farmstead IPA is exceptional. There's a ton of citrus in this beer, something Hill Farmstead does as well as any brewery I've ever encountered. Javier wrote that the beer would be great for a hot day. That's saying something for an IPA. Both Javier and Jon agreed, however, that the flavor of this beer wasn't perfect. Maybe that perfection was already found with Abner. Either way, another great beer.
-- Double Sunshine: By this point we were all on Cloud Nine. Did Lawson's stand a chance? After taking a sip, the first word Javier wrote was "fantastic". Jon said it was his second favorite after Heady. The balance in this beer is exceptional. It's got the same, great aromatic hops as the others; it's not too bitter, and it's not sweet. This is easily one of my favorite beers. I had the beer on tap in Waterbury and had a similar experience. Seek this out if you get the chance.
Seek all of these beers out. The magazine article describes the people and places behind this beer in greater detail. There are even a couple tips on how to get it. It's a serious beer journey, but it's definitely a worthy one.