To say Vermonters like their beer is something of an understatement. The Green Mountain State has the most craft breweries per capita in the US with more than one garnering international praise. While these breweries are scattered throughout the state, Vermont’s relatively small size means that it’s easy to visit several inside the space of a day or a weekend — provided you have a designated driver. Brew tours are so popular, in fact, the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing even has a whole page devoted to it. Indeed, half the fun of visiting these breweries is getting to explore the great towns in which they are located, and taking in some gorgeous scenery along the way.
With so many great breweries, narrowing it down to a dozen for this list was no easy task. To simplify things, we left off some of the bigger names like Long Trail, Magic Hat, and Harpoon — all great in their own right — in favor of spotlighting some under-the radar breweries you’ve probably never heard of. (You can find a comprehensive list of Vermont breweries here.)
Photo credit: Fiddlehead Brewing Company
Located on a stretch of Route 7 that also includes a vineyard, a cookie maker, a museum, and a locally famous purveyor of bacon and other smoked delights, you can get the whole Vermont experience within about 10 miles. While varieties change seasonally, the flagship IPA is always on tap. With citrus and pine notes, this is a hoppy beer that is nonetheless easy to drink. And if you get hungry, there’s a wood-fired pizzeria right in the same building.
These brothers know their beer. A small-batch operation, located off the beaten path in the small Rutland County town of Brandon, the Foleys turn out unique brews like their smooth Ginger Wheat Ale, subtle Maple Brown Ale, and the big Fair Maiden Imperial double IPA.
There’s a reason why Switchback, an unfiltered ale, is on almost every tap in the state. Since 2002, this crisp, smooth, red-amber brew has become a local staple. Only available in kegs until relatively recently, Switchback was probably Vermont’s most buzzed about beer until Heady Topper stole the crown. Now available in 22-ounce bombers and several additional varieties, Switchback remains a popular alternative to the glut of IPAs currently on the local beer scene.
Okay, this is one of the bigger guys that did make the cut. The reason is because this place is actually three breweries in one. Located in the industrial neighborhood of the quaint college town on Middlebury, the space is also home to OCB’s organic label Wolaver’s, as well as Shed Brewery. You can sample all three in the tasting room, which also includes a pub menu with some tasty localvore treats. Definitely try OCB’s Black IPA, a malty, hoppy brew born right here in VT. For Wolaver’s, the easy choice is the Alta Gracia Coffee Porter, an organic, GMO-free pour with a chocolaty jolt of caffeine in every glass. Shed’s Mountain ale is always a good bet. An English Strong Ale, the medium hoppiness is balanced by notes of caramel. And if you’re lucky enough to be there when it’s in stock, grab a four-pack of OCB’s Russian Imperial Stout, a dark monster of a beer that’s still incredibly smooth despite the 10% ABV wallop.
Photo credit: Bob M. Montgomery
Hill Farmstead Brewery is an operation rooted in history and place. The brewery sits on land that’s been in the Hill family for generations. Beers, like the aromatic Edward Pale Ale, honor the Hills’ ancestors — the water used for brewing is even from the family well. That dedication to craftsmanship is evident in their award-winning brews, which has made this small, out-of-the-way brewery such a destination for beer lovers.
Photo credit: Lawson’s Finest Liquids
Another award-winning Vermont brew, Lawson’s is a small-batch, artisanal brewer whose reputation has far surpassed its distribution area. While owner Sean Lawson has experimented with numerous varieties, his Sip O’ Sunshine IPA is the most widely available. The brewery is closed to the public, but you can find out where to get a taste on the website.
Next: Heady Topper and others of Vermont’s finest.
Home of the elusive Heady Topper, The Alchemist is probably Vermont’s most famous brewery at the moment. Fans of the hearty, floral, award-winning double IPA traverse the state to stand in line for a four-pack. Rather than scale up to meet the overwhelming demand, this family-run brewery has kept it small, preserving the quality of this coveted brew.
Owner and Army vet Steve Gagner is a local boy making good by creating some great brews. Situated in the corner of an unassuming shopping plaza in downtown St. Albans, this innovative nanobrewery has steadily been building a solid rep across the state for its tasty offerings. New flavors are always on tap, but definitely check out the hoppy amber Valor Ale, and hearty Maple Breakfast Stout.
Photo credit: Lost Nation Brewing
Allen Van Anda and James Griffith are a couple of brewing industry vets who decided to strike out on their own and create some truly unique beers in the European style. Be sure to try the traditional German-style Gose, a slightly tart brew with beer made with coriander and sea salt. The brewery also offers a bottle share program that entitles members to two 750-mL bottles of its rare releases.
Photo credit: Four Quarters Brewing
This four-barrel brewery, which only opened its doors in March 2014, is already creating buzz around the Burlington area for its unique, “responsibly-sourced” brews. With a flare for the mythological, owner Brian Eckert denotes his creations with suitably epic names. Stop in for a growler of the Belgian Trappist-style Opus Dei or the smoky Ursa Major oatmeal brown ale.
Photo credit: Queen City Brewery
Those looking for a break from the all hops will enjoy Queen City Brewery and its Old-World offerings. Free of IPA expectations, these guys are turning out a variety of classic Kölsch and Belgian-style brews, as well as their popular Landlady ESB (a rare find in VT) and the chocolaty Yorkshire Porter.
Located along Middlebury’s Tasting Trail; which includes Otter Creek Brewing, as well as Woodchuck Hard Cider, a distillery, and a vineyard — Drop-In has been appearing on more and more taps around VT since opening in 2012. Its flagship Sunshine & Hoppiness is a crisp Belgian-style golden ale perfect for summer cookouts. Those looking for a bigger brew will enjoy the malty Heart of Lothian Scottish ale.
Jim Sabataso is a freelance writer and part-time bartender living in Vermont. Follow him on Twitter at @JimSabataso.