Vermont may be one of the most beautiful places in the world to drink beer.
That’s subjective, of course, and I’m biased. Some of my formative beer memories revolve around the town of Waterbury, where I reported a story on the growing obsessions around The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead back in 2012. When you drink a Heady Topper right off the canning line — before it even gets a lid — it’s hard not to think you’ve reached the mountaintop.
But life goes on, beers change, and I recently found myself back in Vermont for a guys’ weekend, trekking to some of my old haunts and visiting some new ones. These are the five best beers I tried along the way.
Edward, Hill Farmstead: For five years running, Hill Farmstead has held the title — bestowed by Rate Beer — as the world’s best brewery. Edward is the first beer founder Shaun Hill made in his Greensboro Bend brewery, and it’s almost always the first thing I order when I get anywhere north of Montpelier. In this case my draft pour came from Waterbury’s excellent-if too-clean-now Blackback Pub, and displayed all the sappy, citrus-y goodness I remembered. This is my desert island beer.
Rhythm of the Night (Batch 3), River Roost: About halfway up the state, where I-89 and I-91 meet, is White River Junction, a good stop if you’re driving from points south and especially if you like beer. River Roost is a tiny shop (think: garage) and on our visit a one-man operation, with brewer Mark Babson filling growlers, pouring samples, and scrubbing glassware. The IPAs are good here, but so was Rhythm of the Night (Batch 3), a whiskey-barrel-aged imperial stout with tart cherry. It may not be stout season, but it was hard to resist the decadence of boozy chocolate cut with one of my favorite fruits.
Rapture, The Alchemist: The Alchemist, maker of such iconic IPAs as Heady Topper and Focal Banger, isn’t apologetic about its hoppy standouts. And it shouldn’t be. In an era where IPAs are trending fruitier and— to be honest, muddier — the Alchemist gives it to you straight: floral, tropical, bracing. Rapture delivers the hops you crave (Galaxy, Citra) with the can art to match (hand of God bursting down through the clouds). British malts give this beer a nice, toasty backbone.
Poetica #3, Hill Farmstead: It’s hard to emphasize just how far Greensboro Bend is from just about everything else you’re doing in Vermont until you make the drive. But there’s something about the remoteness of the place that adds to the experience. We arrived early on a Saturday afternoon to a 15-minute wait, though it would have been worth waiting much longer for Poetica. The Czech-style pilsner comes poured in a heavy mug and sporting an enormous, fluffy head. It’s a paradox in a glass, drinking softly but tasting crisp, grassy. As we drank, clouds billowed by overhead and wildflowers rustled in the breeze. We each took another sip, but were in no hurry to leave.
Bonus Track 14, Foam Brewers: About as far away in setting (for Vermont) as you can get from Hill Farmstead is Foam, in downtown Burlington on the edge of Lake Champlain, and seemingly the place to be if you’re between the ages of 21 and 34. It’s busy here, but they do two things exceptionally well: hazy IPAs, and fruited sours. Bonus Track 14 is an example of the latter, a grapefruit, dragonfruit, and sea salt gose that pours like rosé in the glass and drinks like a post-workout quencher. It’s further proof that Vermont beer isn’t only about hops.