Beautiful beers, beautiful Vermont
Ah, Vermont! The rustic land of mountains, farms, villages, and friendly folk is famous for its maple syrup, cheese, and (recently) beer. Oodles and oodles of beer. Vermont has the most breweries per capita in these United States of beer, and is a beer geek’s paradise.
The problem for beer lovers is that most of Vermont’s 32 breweries and brewpubs only distribute locally. While Magic Hat, Long Trail, and Otter Creek all have regional or national presences, almost none of the other breweries’ products are available out of state. This scarcity drives the incredible beer trading power of brewers like the Alchemist, Lawsons, and Hill Farmstead, and it also makes the annual Vermont Brewer’s Festival a must-attend event.
Held July 18 and 19 in the vibrant city of Burlington (only about four hours from New Bedford), the festival is a beer enthusiast’s Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Eve rolled up into one glorious event. Attendees to this $30 festival receive a nifty tasting glass, 15 beer sample tickets (more can be purchased), and the opportunity to try brews from all of the Vermont breweries without having to trek around the state.
In addition to the multitude of Vermont breweries, the fest also invites some of the best breweries in the Northeast (like Allagash and Jack’s Abby) and usually has representatives of at least five breweries from the bustling beer scene in Montreal, which is less than two hours away if you want to make a side trip.
While Mrs. Hunting and I weren’t able to visit all the breweries there, we did discover some truly amazing beers. From tart 3% ABV Berliner Wiesses to big bold boozy double-digit ABV imperial stouts and barleywines (and, of course, enough IPAs to float a battleship), beers of all types were there.
The biggest discovery for both of us was the simply amazing Fiddlehead Brewing from Shelburne. Their Hodad chocolate/vanilla/coconut porter tastes like Almond Joy in liquid form, and their Second Fiddle Double IPA has leaped right to the top of my favorite IPA list.
Fortunately for us, Fiddlehead was having a can release event at the brewery on Saturday (they normally only distribute on tap and with in-brewery growler refills). We had attended the Friday night Brewers Fest session and knew how amazing their beer is, so we drove over, stood in line and grabbed a case each of Hodad and Second Fiddle. In retrospect, I wish I had bought more, as 2/3 of that haul has already been distributed to beer geek friends. I’m now guarding the remainder like Smeagol and the One Ring. It’s that “precious.”
We also timed our trip to Burlington so we could stop by the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier at 3 p.m. Friday to buy The Alchemist’s Heady Topper. We were about 100 people into the line, but managed to get two cases (limit one per person), with only six cases to spare. Like our Fiddlehead brews, our Heady Topper is already all gone or spoken for.
One can’t attend the fest without waiting in the looooong line for Lawsons’s Finest Liquids, and we weren’t disappointed with the result of our patience: fantastic beers. Their Spruce Tip IPA uses actual spruce tips and has an incredible piney note that isn’t overwhelming, while their Sip of Sunshine IPA is a rich, fruity, floral double IPA that’s well worth seeking out. Finally, their Knockout Blonde Ale is a golden ale that pushes the envelope of the style into hophead territory.
The Montreal brewers also blew us away with their innovation and style. Three of the best beers I tried were from Montreal: Benelux’s Berlinoise (a Berliner Weiss), Dieu Du Ciel’s Chemen De Croix (a hoppy, rich, old-style India Porter), and Hopfenstark Brewery’s Boson De Higgs (a simply amazing smoked wheat beer).
I do have several warnings in case you’d like to attend the 2015 festival (July 17 and 18, already posted to their site at http://www.vtbrewfest.com/). To start, hotels that weekend fill up fast, so get your place to stay before you get your tickets.
Second, tickets also sell out incredibly quickly (32 hours in 2013, 11 minutes in 2014). If you don’t get your tickets, wait until the week of the fest before buying them on Craigslist or other sites, as the cost for the $30 tickets drops from well-over $100 per ticket to just over face value.
Finally, do make sure you have a plan to get back to your hotel safely. There will be plenty of transportation options, but driving should NOT be one of them.