Summer in the Green Mountains - Beer and Happiness in Vermont
I don't think anyone really knows how to define the swirl of emotions one feels when seeing something fondly familiar from your past. It's certainly, and generally, a happy moment. It's a blitz of a million thoughts and feelings and ideas and hopes and dreams and that small, steady, comforting little voice that tells you that this will always be a place that means more to you than most other places. Because I'm a New Englander, I view these moments like I view a great set of skis. I keep them neatly tucked away until it's the right time to bring them out, and then I get pretty gnarly about it. Truth be told, I don't think anyone really cares to define that swirl of emotions. It's special to me because it is, and that'll do.
Vermont has, and will continue, to inspire these moments. I formed my most important relationships here and spent almost all of my formative years wandering through its mountains, lakes, and townships. I went to college here, and I worked for great breweries here, and realized that's it's an existentially lovely place to exist in the world. It's a state full of entrepreneurs and environmentalists with a native and fundamental understanding of how to live a sustainable and moderate lifestyle. It's indescribably pretty. It's quiet. It's unapologetically rural. It just has that thing. I now live in Manhattan, which is the opposite of Vermont (and not a bad thing), and I hear people talk about Vermont like it's Narnia. I'm fine with that. If they think little gnomes and great magical beasts roam through the trees up north, then I think that's a myth worth propagating.
And Vermont, as you know, is absolutely stuffed full of great breweries. Breweries I've known from my childhood are now sharing the state's footprint with a veritable landslide of new players, and I can confidently say that it's only gotten better over the years. Those now-famous cats over at Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist have continued to innovate stylistically, while "old" hats like Long Trail, Otter Creak, Rock Art, and Switchback are continuing to see growth, both in sales and distribution. I wanted to highlight a few of the latest breweries in the Burlington area, which has quietly been pioneering great beer in the U.S for almost 30 years.
(Quickly - Michael Kiser, the Chicago-based writer/photographer who founded Good Beer Hunting, did a Kickass Podcast on his trip through Vermont. You should definitely follow him and his crew over there as they capture the ethos, energy, and story behind great beer in a unique, beautiful, and fundamentally relevant way. Truly great work there).
Unwind the clock just five years in Chittenden county (Burlington's county, and home to well over a quarter of the population of the state) and you'll see a remarkably different brewing scene as compared with the present day. In those heady days, you could find 7 breweries/brewpubs in the entire county making their own beer. You'll now find 17 breweries/brewpubs in that same geographic area, with more to come in the next few years. With a population of roughly 160,000 souls, and some really rough math...that's...uhhh...nevermind. I'm not gonna do the math, but it's an admirable number of breweries is the point.
I stopped into almost four breweries (Four Quarters Brewing should have been open, but they weren't, so I was left pressing my face up against the dark glass, parched and desperate for a cold pint) during a recent afternoon the Burlington area. I've heard great stuff about Four Quarters Brewing, located in Winooski, which is small town attached the northern arm of Burlington; I'll be happy to try their beer in the near future. I did get to stop in Burlington Beer Company, which is a bit of a misnomer because of its location, but they've got a great space in the neighboring business park area of Williston, VT. They set up shop in what I consider to be the best kind of space for a brewery; a totally urban warehouse space surrounded by similarly sized small businesses. They've also got a sweet little tap room sectioned off from the rest of the brewery, with a nice variety of cleverly-named brews on tap (after all...It IS complicated being a wizard) and a turntable pumping out the raddest variety of music this side of the Connecticut river. I heard the Grateful Dead, Naughty-by-Nature, and A Tribe Called Quest all before I finished my sample paddle. Swing by for a pint of Quixotic and get a growler of Sancho for the road.
The perfectly Vermonty day continued and I ventured down to Pine Street in Burlington. Standing directly across from one another (literally) are Queen City Brewery and Zero Gravity Craft Brewery's new location. Zero Gravity has been brewing their beer in partnership with American Flatbread for over a decade now, conveniently located in their restaurant space in Burlington. With this separate brewing location located a short walk down the road from their original spot they'll be able to really bump up the production of their famously delicious beer. Their new taproom was simply and sublimely decorated. This is my sort of style, with rock-solid and beautifully finished wooden tables inside and a ton of outdoor real estate to soak up the beautiful afternoon summer sunshine. They also just started canning the Green State Lager and Conehead IPA, so if you're kicking around the area you can always stop in and grab a case for the road.
Queen City Brewery had my favorite beer(s) of the afternoon, and I rarely play favorites with beer. On tap was an incredibly flavorful and summery hefeweizen and a smoky, smooth Rauchbier that blew my socks (sandals) off. Paul Hale and the founding team at QCB have a fantastic story to tell when you stop in, and the tap room space is a terribly interesting place to be (there is a full blown 50's style pick up truck parked on the roof of their coldbox...you should ask how they got it there). They're also not your typical young guns starting a new brewery, and they bring years of brewing experience to bear on their English-inspired taproom offerings. Get some.
That was the afternoon, and it was as sober as it needed to be. It's an exciting time for Vermont beer, and the best part is that they all come with a great story. Take a trip up through Vermont this summer and let me know if you have any questions...I'll be happy to point you in the direction of a great pint.