It’s easy to find great beer in Vermont. Most local gas stations boast an embarrassment of riches on its refrigerated shelves far more varied and vast than some bona fide bottle shops in major cities. And that’s partially why we never thought to organize a brewery road trip when I assembled with 12 other 40-something men in Burlington, VT, for a three-night bachelor party celebration.
The plan had been to rent a van to ferry ourselves across the Canadian border one afternoon for…let’s call it a presumed “requisite” bachelor party activity. And then we’d hike one of the state’s many mountains the day after. But foul weather inspired some last-minute shuffling, since hiking (thankfully) outweighed any other priority. Montreal was out, and the bachelor himself—a dedicated craft beer fanatic—was summarily volunteered to choose three breweries to visit. One day of modest drinking, followed by one hell of a rigorous summit hike felt like an apt way to give Vermont—and the groom-to-be—its due.
So, we shuffled our motley collection of 13 outa-towners into a soccer mom mini-van and set out into the Green Mountains, discovering three different sides of the state’s multi-faceted beer scene.
Located outside of the town of Waterbury, Lost Nation’s brewery/beer garden/tasting room occupies a modest warehouse off one of the state’s many meandering country roads. The brewery specializes in sessionable beers like goses, pilsners, and other lower-ABV brews (as well as the requisite pales and IPAs). That day goses dominated the menu—their main gose as well as a handful of variations like one dry-hopped with Amarillo and brewed with blood oranges. One of the best, the barrel-aged bottle-conditioned The Wind Bretta combined their base gose with grapefruit and wild yeast, drank funky, tart, and crisp, a perfect drink for the blasting heat and humidity of summer. Lost Nation’s expansive beer garden flanks the brewery, blissfully sheltered by a roof, with an open grill-based kitchen on one end that shuffles out really solid food off its seasonal menu with shocking efficiency. It feels like the place you can happily lose hours without over-indulging (thank you, session-friendly beer!), making friends with the folks on the other end of the picnic table and trying to find room for another order of Vermont sausage.
Photo via Alchemist/Facebook
If Lost Nation feels like your friendly neighborhood brewery, then the Alchemist HQ comes off like its flashier older brother—and with good reason. This is the house that Heady Topper built, that famous canned double IPA that still ranks as one of the country’s best beers. And their new tasting room, located near the mountain town of Stowe, is the logical extension of that beer’s popularity, a place frequented by tour busses as much as by fans of craft. And while it’s much easier to find Heady Topper throughout the state, the place still warrants a visit. You get three free samples. Heady’s always on tap, and its sister, the double IPA Focal Banger, often occupies the other line. The third rotates in other suspects like their Skadoosh American IPA or Crusher, another stellar double IPA. The glass panel walls in the lounge overlooks the brewing and canning process, and includes a few high-top tables where you can rest your samples to gaze up at the art that adorns the ceiling and walls. Their merch game is strong as well, with everything from t-shirts and hats to socks, posters, and hot sauce. You can’t buy pints here—tasters only. But you can get Heady Topper soap. Opposite the tap area is the check-out line, where you can pick up canned four-packs to go. Heady Topper is a must, but feel free to branch out into non-hoppy styles as well. Their Luscious proved to be a welcome, rich, and refreshing surprise, an Imperial English-style stout with a burst of carbonation.
Located in the postcard-perfect town of Waterbury, Prohibition Pig is split into two facilities, the brewery/tasting room, which is tucked off a side street, and the restaurant and bar, which sits on the main drag and serves Prohibition Pig’s beer (naturally) as well as other Vermont craft beer and a dangerously appetizing menu of house-smoked meat dishes. Arrive hungry—and thirsty. Their Fluffy Little Clouds is one of the more accomplished New England-style IPAs in the state, and other offerings include double IPAs, brown ales, lagers, and ambers. Bonus: across from the tasting room you’ll find an indie craft beer store that sells some of New England’s best—and hard to find—beers. Between that place, Alchemist, and the low-cost swag of Prohibition Pig, you’re going to need a bigger suitcase.