For the last night of my trip, I am heading to Waterbury, VT. Why Waterbury, VT? Because that is close to Stowe, VT, where The Alchemist brewery is located, but more on that later. I have to check into my Airbnb and then it’s off to the Prohibition Pig for some great craft beer. However, sometimes, the universe has a different plan in store. Nothing adds to the stress of travel when you are relying on Google Maps like spotty cell service. It was sheer luck that I found my last Airbnb. Adding to the absurdity of the situation is the lack of wireless connectivity in the Airbnb. These challenges prevented me from getting to the Prohibition Pig in time for food and so I called an audible and headed across the street to The Reservoir, a craft beer bar with a nice menu.
Definitely hangry, I sit down at the bar and happily order a Susan from Hill Farmstead. After perusing the food menu, I know that a cheeseburger is the only thing that I want to pair with this nice hoppy American IPA. Relaxing at the bar and thinking about how time has flown by quickly since I first checked into my hotel in Boston. The service is attentive and the food is great. The burger, which is cooked perfectly is juicy and takes the edge off my frustrations of the lack of ability to connect. I am just brushing up on my plan for the morning when I head to The Alchemist’s new production facility in Stowe. My eyes are heavy and my hunger is staunched. It is time to head for some shut-eye and get ready to chase some Heady Topper.
To understand why this stop is important to a craft beer geek like me, you have to know some history about The Alchemist. The Alchemist started in Waterbury, VT as a brewpub in 2003. They instantly set the region abuzz with their incredibly delicious Heady Topper, an IPA bursting with hoppy goodness. The popularity of this beer is all anyone in Vermont talks about.
Between patrons parking on the street and disrupting traffic and no limit on how much people could buy, The Alchemist could not keep up with production. So, in 2011 they opened The Cannery, a 15,000 barrel facility attempting to meet the fervent demand for their beers.
As the cannery began producing cans, Hurricane Irene hit and destroyed the original brewpub. The Cannery closed to the public for a spell while they desperately tried to keep up with the growing demand for their beers. Eventually, they set sights on Stowe and a larger production facility.
Heady Topper from The Alchemist fits the definition of a whale almost perfectly. It is an American IPA with a colossal amount of hops. To many, this beer is the best IPA in the world. Heady Topper is so popular there are websites listing delivery truck schedules to liquor stores and they are meticulously maintained. People even in Boston lit up when they found out I was venturing into Vermont. One dude sitting next to me at Night Shift asked in a thick New England accent, “Are you going up to Vehrmahnt to get some Tawppah?!?!?”
The other thing that make this beer unique is that it is best enjoyed fresh due to the hoppy nature of its taste and aroma. I always figured that I would never even bother trying to trade for it because I wouldn’t be able to get it fresh. However, now I am listening to the sultry, robotic tones of the Google Maps lady direct me to the brewery.
Stowe Visitor’s Center
As I pull into the parking lot, a gentleman directs me to park really close to the other cars so they have enough room for everybody. It is 10:30, the parking lot has only been open for ahalf-hour, and there is already a line.
While in line, I strike up some craft beer conversation with a trio of people in front of me. We chat about how often lines like this happen and they tell me that it is a daily occurrence. At about 1o minutes to 11:00 a dude comes out to make an announcement. To me, it is bad news. This guy is telling us that each person can purchase a whole mixed case. Many people in line are now piddling a little with the unbridled enthusiasm of a coked up puppy. However, knowing the amount of space left in my suitcase, my heart sinks like the playoff hopes of a Twins fan after the first homestand of the year.
I still get to try the beer, but bringing some home isn’t really an option anymore. That is when the good karma from never giving a boy scout a wedgie and returning all my library books on time came shining down on me. The trio of people in front of me in line offer to buy whatever I can’t fit in my suitcase. The generosity of Justin, Eliza, and Rosemary is flooring and warms my heart.
As the line gets closer to the door, about ten feet away, my olfactories are titillated from the glorious smell of fresh hops. No, these were not just hops, they were the lupulin glands of angels! I closed my eyes to breathe in the fresh, tropical, floral, and heavenly scent. It is as if I have my head in a bucket of hops, yet I am standing 15 feet away from the building.
My First Taste of Heady Topper
As the line moves along I am getting ready to have my mind blown. All of the sudden, skepticism is invading my though process. What if it is not as good as everyone says? Was this whole trip to Stowe a waste? Will this beer destroy my palate because it is too hoppy? I get up to the serving station and a woman asks if I want a sample of Heady Topper. I say yes and get ready for something I hope is not hugely anticlimactic.
What happens next is surreal. It feels like that for a second, I am actually outside my own body looking down and watching some pear-shaped stooge with a unibrow almost lose control of his bodily functions. All I can think about is juicy, tropical, fresh, and supremely heavenly flavors and aromas. I probably am swearing and speaking in tongues, too. Heady Topper is all that everyone said it would be and more. It is officially my favorite IPA. The golden and cloudy appearance capped with a beautiful white head makes for an eye-popping visual. The aroma is so fresh, juicy, and tropical. The flavor is smooth and the hops come through with citrus and tropical flavors of mango, lemon, and grapefruit. For being 8%, this is incredibly drinkable andsmooth.
After snapping out of my reverie, I also tried Focal Banger and The Crusher. These are each incredible beers which display hops in a major way. It is my turn in line and I get my mixed case and a Heady Topper tin sign for the basement. While I chat with my line friends as we divide up the cans. I try to get as close as possible to 50 lbs. and Rosemary guesses that I am at around 45. She turns out to be great at guessing weight because that bag weighed exactly 46 lbs. We exchange goodbyes and handshakes and I begin my drive back to Logan International Airport. As I pull out of the parking lot, I am smiling because my trip to The Alchemist is a success.
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