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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Taste of Vermont

Our original plan for this month was session IPAs. We had done Session Beers once before, as well as Boat Beers and Lawnmower Beers - but nearly all of those were pale ales. Session IPAs is a fairly new trend - a hopped up beer which is relatively low in alcohol. But then a funny thing happened on the way to this month's meeting. Gerry got all Vermont-y on us. Gerry took a Craft Beer Vacation to Vermont. He embarked upon a whirlwind tour of Vermont craft breweries that would make any craft beer lover envious. Each day Gerry updated us via email as to what breweries he visited and what beers he tried. He also told us what beers he was going to bring back for us to try. Bottom line: we dropped the Session IPAs for this month (they will be our theme next meeting) and decided we would do a whirlwind sampling from Gerry's whirlwind tour. Since there was no real "battle" this month, and since I have included Gerry's in-depth analysis of his trip, we switched up the format a bit, opting for a stripped-down-lightning-round sort of review for each of the beers. We've included information regarding the brewery, ABVs and IBUs where available, and the three most representative comments we had while sampling the wares.


The Basics: BREWERY: Hill Farmstead Brewery, Greensboro, VT; ABV: 4.0%; IBUs: 40

What the Brewer Says: "(Walden) is a sessionable blonde ale. Hopped with Motueka, Amarillo, and Simcoe hops."

What We Said: "It is a light, unfiltered IPA; Surprising amount of flavor considering it's only 4%; It's a nice 'on your deck' beer."


The Basics: BREWERY: Switchback Brewing Company, Burlington, VT; ABV: 5.2%; IBUs: 26

What the Brewer Says; "Switchback Slow-Fermented Ale is a beautiful chestnut brown colored beer. It si fermented at an unusually cool temperature which slows down the fermentation. These
conditions stress the yeast, resulting in a slow methodical fermentation in which the resultant flavors are clean, somewhat like a lager, with the added characteristic of a creamy smooth mouthfeel. This brown ale has a rich roast caramel flavor, with a subtle sweetness in the finish, delicately balanced with hop undertones."

What We Said: "It has a nice toffee/caramel taste; A pretty robust flavor for a brown ale; It doesn't have that candy (horehound?) flavor that is prevalent in a lot of browns."


The Basics: BREWERY: The Burlington Beer Company, Burlington, VT; ABV: 5.2%; IBUs: NA

What the Brewer Says: "Hills and Hollows is a fantastic mix of an IPA with the full body of a Pale
Ale. It's perfect on summer and fall days in the sun."

What We Said: "It's crisp and  clean; It is really nicely balanced; Now that's how you make a summer ale!"


The Basics: BREWERY: Fiddlehead Brewery, Shelburne, VT; ABV: 5.5%; IBUs: 40

What the Brewer Says: "Bright colored and light bodied, brewed with 100% Pilsner malt."

What We Said: "This is a 'looks are deceiving' kind of beer; It has a little nose and a nice bitter bite; This is not a big beer, but has a nice piney hops presence."


The Basics: BREWERY: The Brewery at Norwich Inn, Norwich, VT; ABV: 5.6%; IBUs: NA

What the Brewer Says: "Pours a deep brown with ruby highlights and thinnish off-white head. Smells of toffee and caramel with some earthy bitterness that barely cuts through the sweetness.Slightly fruity esters add a touch of complexity to the aroma. Taste is sweet and malty with toffee and caramel mixed with a hint of earthy hops. Dry finish for a medium-bodied ale. Moderate carbonation level with a sweet sticky mouthfeel"

What We Said: "A bit of banana/clove/malt flavor; There is some black licorice at the end - a Good and Plenty in a glass; Interesting and complex - tastes like a little bit more."


The Basics: BREWERY: McNeill's Pub and Brewery, Brattleboro, VT; ABV: 5.7%; IBUs: NA

What the Brewer Says: "The aroma is hoppy, but not in the modern, juicy, American way. It's slightly floral but also has hints of resin and fruit. The first sips of this brew are also slightly hoppy with a definite biscuit flavor coming to the fore afterward. There is also a hint of nuts and more piney hops as the flavor develops on the palate. But unlike many current IPAs, it's the well-structured malt framework that makes this beer tasty. The hops are certainly there, but this is a classic British-style IPA."

What We Said: "It has a real smooth mouthfeel; It's maltier up front, lively through the palate, and a bit bitter at the end; It reminds me a bit of Firestone Jack."


The Basics: BREWERY: The Brewery at Norwich Inn; ABV: 6.0%; IBUs: 150!

What the Brewer Says: No commercial description on this one.

What We Said: "It tastes better than a lot of IPAs I've had; What a fantastic aroma; The taste backs off a little from the aroma - but it is delicious with strong grapefruit hop all through."


The Basics: BREWERY: Hill Farmstead Brewery, Greensboro, VT; ABV: 6.0%; IBUs: NA

What the Brewer Says: "Brewed with our friend Luc Bim Lafontaine, formerly of Dieu du Ciel!,
this is a citrusy, salty IPA with notes of grapefruit. Light, tart, and refreshing."

What We Said: "A little sweeter than the rest of the IPAs we've had today; M-m-m-m-m, that's good; It's not just hops, it has a great malt backbone."


The Basics: BREWERY: The Crop Brewery, Stowe, VT; ABV:8.0%; IBUs: NA

What the Brewer Says: "Great looking bottle and great looking beer with a nice orange color and single finger white head. Some citrus and some grass in the nose. Taste has a decent amount of tropical hops. A sweet finish with very little bitterness."

What We Said: "Definitely sweeter, you can taste the alcohol in this - drink only if you have 'idle time'; A lot of depth - quite complex; This is a grown-up beer."


The Basics: BREWERY: Rock Art Brewery, Morrisville, VT; ABV: 8.0%; IBUs: 80

What the Brewer Says: "We brewed this one because we just can't get enough of those hops. IPAs seem to be a great choice any time of the year. They have a great malt flavor and hop profile, just what a beer connoisseur is looking for. We decided to give this one a bit more hops. Try this with a
strong cheese like a very sharp cheddar, cloth bound, aged if you can find one. Some good spicy foods will really play well off the hops in this beer."

What We Said: "Probably the most complex beer we've had today; Nice butterscotch-y flavor in the malt; A great beer to finish the Vermont tour with."

The following is Gerry's brewery-by-brewery description of his Vermont Beer Excursion. We offer this disclaimer:

The following is the exclusive property of The BOTB Guys. Any use of the text, pictures or descriptions by any of the breweries mentioned for promotional purposes is strictly prohibited unless they send us some of their delicious beer first. 


   As mentioned earlier, I took a Craft Beer Journey through Vermont in celebration on my recent retirement after 36 years in Education.  My love of craft beer started years ago when my sons went to college in Vermont and began bringing beer home for holidays.  Although I’ve always been a West Coast hops guy, I started falling in love with Vermont beers.  Anyway, my poor wife accompanied me to 24 breweries in 4 days and was patient while I sipped, swallowed, sniffed, and smelled literally hundreds of beer samples.  We crossed to Bennington, onto Brattleboro, all the way up Route 91, down Route 100, and back up Route 7 into Burlington.  We only missed 5 breweries on the Vermont Beer Passport due to a bridge being out on Route 100 and detouring through the Lincoln Gap - and a couple in Burlington that I can get to this fall when I visit my sons.  Unlike the annual Vermont Brewers’ Festival, which can be somewhat crowded and hectic, traveling through the back roads of Vermont tasting beer is a relaxing and delightful experience.  These owners and brewers are great, friendly, hard-working people who belong to a small and bonded group.  They know each other, speak highly of each other, have worked with or for each other, and basically get along.  Being fiercely loyal to their own brews, and being in search of the “perfect beer” in no way makes them less respectful of a brewing colleague. Heck, one owner was even wearing a t-shirt from another brewery!  They take their craft seriously and are dedicated to it.  At two of the smaller  breweries we actually saw posted signs to the effect of “Please go away, we’re making beer today!”  You have to respect that.  Additionally, it is worth mentioning that several breweries we visited are in the process of major renovations and expansions.  This certainly bodes well for craft beer drinkers!  

Here are just a few “shout-outs” after my 846 mile Beer Journey:
-The food was fantastic at Madison Brewing Co. and their Hopback IPA was delicious.  The bartender was generous with samples and very knowledgeable.

-The guys at Northshire Brewery were busy making beer.

-Disappointed that McNeil’s Pub was closed when we arrived, but were saved when owner Ray got behind the bar himself and served-up several delicious samples.  Both his Firehouse Amber Ale and the Professor Brewhead Brown Ale were worth the wait.  I found some Deadhorse IPA in cans later on for our Club.

-Whetstone Station Brewery had a helpful and knowledgeable bartender who served the fantastic #56 Sim City IPA.
-The folks at Backacre Beermakers were also making beer.
-We had a wonderful dinner and stay at the Norwich Inn where everyone was friendly and welcoming.  The lady at the reception desk was everyone’s favorite aunt who took care of getting us food, a beautiful room, and ice cold “pounders” to bring home.  What a great experience, plus, they pump their beer underground directly from the brewery (Jasper Murdock’s) to their alehouse – fresh and delicious.

-The Covered Bridge Brewery is above the clouds in Lyndonville, VT and was also closed, busy making beer.

-Also in Lyndonville was Trout River Brewing Company and a great Amber Ale.

- Hill Farmstead Brewery, where the owner/brewer actually came home to his farmstead to brew his beer from the well water, was a true treat.  After traveling miles down a dirt road you run into cars parked everywhere and people carrying armloads of growlers!  My initial thought was that people were hoarding beer to survive a natural disaster we didn’t know about because of spotty radio reception.  But no, it was just delicious beer that people (including me) were standing in line 2-3 hours for.  Now, I won’t stand in line for a paycheck, but I must admit both the Walden and the Friends and Devotion were hits at the Club meeting.  I was sorry to discover that the Double Galaxy IPA is no longer made.

-Two of the friendliest and “greenest” brewer/owners we met were Jenn and Brian at Kingdom Brewing way up (I mean way up) in Newport, VT in the Northern Kingdom.  Great folks who are “farmer brewers” with a young, but rich history in the business.  I tried the Skinny Bitch Blueberry because they made me. The Maple Nut Brown (at 10%) was made with maple sap instead of water and was delicious.  What a great winter fireplace beer.  But really the Out-Of-Bounds IPA at 6% and the other Out-Of-Bounds IPA at 8.3% made the drive way up (I mean way up) absolutely worth it!

-On to Morrisville and Lost Nation Brewing.  Great food, and fantastic beers.  Many are German style, in fact the Gose has been resurrected here and was fantastic.  The Vermont Pilsner was a delicious, crisp Pilsner (like the beer we were brought up on as kids).  But being an Ale guy, the Rustic Ale was my favorite and absolutely tasty.  I have to mention that the co-owner/co-brewer, a young guy in his mid-30’s, Allen Van Anda is a knowledgeable and veteran beer maker beyond his years!  A personable guy with a thriving business and great beers.  He also went to college with my son – just a real nice guy.

-Also in Morrisville is another favorite Rock Art Brewery.  Their American Red is outstanding, and of course, I brought some Belvedere home.

-We made it to Stowe, VT later than we had planned and visited the Trapp Family Lodge for the views and the Vienna Lager, which was ice cold and tasty.  The young bartender was great, helpful, and even replenished my growler-filled cooler with ice!

-In downtown Stowe we dined at The Crop Bistro and Brewery  (formerly The Shed) where I enjoyed their Idyletyme Double IPA.  It was delicious enough to bring home for Club critique.

-The next day brought us to Waterbury, VT, home of The Alchemist and the wildly popular Heady Topper IPA.  We visited the brewery which was like a ghost town after their annual Truck Sale event.  I consoled myself by ordering a Heady Topper for dinner that evening in Burlington.

-Also in Waterbury is an absolute find in the craft beer scene – Prohibition Pig.  Not only did we have a great lunch, but I had the ProPig Amarillo Dream, a very hoppy wheat, the ProPig Bantam Double IPA, and a Schlitz 60’s Formula (just because it reminded me of High School).
-Now here is where we ran into trouble.  There was some kind of bridge out on Route 100 and we detoured past Mad River Glen through the Lincoln Gap (where only eagles fly).  I will have to go back this Fall to visit Lawson’s Liquids, Long Trail, ( a great brewery I’ve visited before and usually always have a Long Trail Ale in my fridge), Foley Brothers, and the Hop ‘N Moose.  
-We made our way over to Bristol, VT and the Bobcat Café’ and Brewery.  A great snack and Prayer Rock Pale Ale.

-The Harpoon Brewery was just hoppin’ by the time we got there with a huge crowd.  It didn’t stop me from having Rich And Dan’s Rye IPA and a touch of the Leviathan before leaving.

-Going up Route 7, we came to the ever popular Otter Creek Brewery.  I fell in love with their Copper Ale years ago when the oldest son started at Johnson State.  Although I’m not a Pumpkin Ale fellow, something about a brewery getting their pumpkins from 30 miles down the road makes it taste even better.  Their Kind Ryed IPA is great, and you have to respect the way they have held true to the recipe and tradition of The Shed IPA and Mountain Ale.
-Just up the road is the newer Drop-In Brewing Company that offered a knowledgeable taproom host and several delicious beers, namely Gupta’s Gleeful English IPA, Heart of Lothian 90 Shilling Scotch Ale, and the Red Dwarf and Red Giant.

-By evening we arrive in Shelburne at Fiddlehead Brewing Company.  Now I normally always growler-up their IPA, and in fact had ordered one with my growler in line while tasting their Pale Ale.  I changed my mind and brought the Pale home – a great beer.

-The next morning brings us to more breweries in the Burlington area.  An old favorite The Vermont Pub and Brewery offered up their Burly Irish Ale.

-Across the street at Zero Gravity Craft Brewery a great bartender provided Blue Gibbin Session IPA (a great breakfast brew), R. Prime American IPA, TLA IPA (the house beer), and even Weed Wacker Cream Ale.  A great brewery right across from the park!

-Switchback Brewing on Flynn Ave. has become a favorite of mine.  Their Switchback Ale is a “go to” beer for me.  The Roasted Red is super, and the Slow-Fermented Brown Ale followed me home for a Club meeting.

-No trip to the area is complete for me without going back out to South Burlington and visiting Magic Hat Brewing Company. It is just a fun place.  The Single Chair is an old favorite, the Hi #9 IPA was fruity, and the Humdinger Imperial Pilsner was refreshing.  Can we have a moment of silence for Humble Patience.  

-Another real “find” on my tour was Queen City Brewery tucked behind another building on Pine Street. Only open since June, these guys have a great thing going.  I chatted with co-owner Paul for quite some time and he has reason to be proud of what these 4 friends have accomplished.  Their City Beer was an excellent Kolsch, their St. Amandus Amber was delightful, but for me it was their Landlady Yorkshire ESB that made it all worth it.  Good Luck you guys.

- I was pretty well tired by this time, having a 4 day whirlwind of hops, malts, and barleys dancing in my head.  I was ready to call it quits and finish the rest later this Fall when my wife actually convinced me to do one more.  I chose the Burlington Beer Company not far away in Williston, VT.  Boy am I glad I did.  The Mason Jar Mild Brown was a delicious creamy Newcastle style brown and the Strawberry Whale Cake was just plain interesting.  But, the Hills And Hollows IPA was worthy of finding room in and over-filled cooler to bring home for the BOTB guys.  

Ÿ Trying not to leave anyone out I promise to visit my sons in October and visit the following crafters I missed on this trip:

Ÿ Lawson’s Liquids
Ÿ Longtrail Brewing
ŸFoley Brothers Brewing
Ÿ The Hop ‘N Moose Brewing Company
Ÿ 1st Republic Brewing Company
Ÿ Stone Corral Brewery
Ÿ Infinity Brewing Company
Ÿ Four Quarters Brewery
Ÿ 14th Star Brewing

   Don’t worry, I promise to get to you guys soon!

I hope you enjoyed following Gerry on his most excellent Vermont Beer Adventure. We certainly enjoyed the fruits of his labor.
Next time: Session IPAs and some Yonkers Brewing Company Brews

Until then -
The BOTB Guys

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