As we bore down leaving Maine I realized we wouldn’t make it to Long Trail Brewing in Bridgewater Corners – but it is a great brewery and I did have a few of their beers before we ever made it to VT. There is such a strong Long Trail following outside of VT that it made the top 10 lists of quite a few of the folks I’ve run into on the trip, particularly the IPA – can you guess which beer I tried first? The IPA I first tried in Philly on tap – it’s immediately sweet and smells deeply of citrus and malt – suffice to say it smells damn good and the taste equals the smell. The one thing about Long Trail’s IPA that stands out to me is the body and richness of the beer – it is strikingly bold and both the malt and hop flavors are extremely pronounced and linger long after each swig. Craft beer quite often operates on a mantra with powerful flavor as a core tenet – so much so that it is usually referenced as what makes a “craft” beer – and in the case of Long Trail IPA the brew delivers in spades.
But I digress, back to Vermont and the beer we tried while actually in-state. Our first stop was Hill Farmstead, a brewery off the beaten path and a few miles up a dirt road from the nearest town. If you’ve never been to Vermont, it’s among the more beautiful places to visit in the country. The entirety of the state’s scenery is lush, as though a Bob Ross episode went wrong and all he had to work with were shades of green. The rolling hills and infinite tree lines welcome you to a place that seems at once serene and yet constantly in motion. This scenery gives way to a former family farm in Greensboro Bend with a grundy tank lying on it’s side still on a pallet in the yard and a few pallets of kegs and the old mash tun on the other side of the house.
The farm aspect really appealed to me, and Vermont seems like the perfect place for this kind of authenticity in brewing. Saisons are probably the best known “farmhouse” beers, but in Europe where there used to be distinct lines between beers produced by professionals and those made by farmers the lines are slowly blurring as over the last 20 years farmhouse beers have made their way into the mainstream. This was also the first brewery where we spotted a guest beer we recognized from our trip to Europe two years ago – De La Senne was among our favorite local brewers in Brussels and they were on tap here at Hill Farmstead.
We were only able to try two beers during our visit – Double Galaxy, which is an Imperial IPA made with Australian Galaxy hops and Everett, a Porter that is robust in every sense of the word. If you happen to make it up that way, be advised that Hill Farmstead is a cash-only establishment and without that sweet dough you’ll be leaving without their sweet nectar. The beers were both good, or at least I enjoyed the small taste I had of each, but it’s hard to critique a few ounces of beer or really analyze it too deeply. What I can say definitively however, is that Hill Farmstead is a place for innovation and stretching what beer should be – whether using hops rarely seen in the US or expanding on a style near and dear to beer hearts everywhere the brewery simply comes down to two guys working their asses off to bring you innovative brews.
We left the farm in good spirits and headed into town, Waterbury specifically, past the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters and to the local pub and brewery. The Alchemist is a brewpub that will be expanding to open a canning line for their flagship brews in the coming months. We took a quick spin past the building after our time at the pub and it looked to be progressing quite nicely if I do say so myself. The beers were quite good, and the brewery is entirely contained down below the seating for the pub so I will now inundate you with brewery glamour shots.
When we arrived at The Alchemist we were greeted by Jen who would be our tour guide for the brewery and our general purveyor of tastes of delicious beer. She set us up with a thorough tasting of the offerings on tap at the pub and we sat down to work through the list with a plate of fries topped with cheese curds and jalapenos (which by the way, are essentially the food version of magic).
The light beers at The Alchemist that we tried often followed a similar theme – well-hopped with a solid malt profile to exhibit relatively aggressive and strong hop flavor for the style. Light Weight is their beer 101 brew of choice, made with pils malt to be refreshingly light in body and hopped with Cascade and Hallertau to bring citrus notes and a clean finish. If you know someone in Vermont who isn’t sold on craft beer yet, send them to Alchemist and witness a conversion. If on the other hand they refuse to be convinced, you might want to order them a nice glass of Shut the Hell Up, a brew concocted to answer the age-old craft beer question of what to give someone who refuses to decide what they want. At only 3% ABV it is infinitely drinkable and though the low ABV means hop oil isn’t as easily extracted the brew is hopped strongly and powerful citrus notes stand out again. Hefty Weizen is a 6.2% wheat beer with tasty banana notes that hit immediately and subtle clove and boozy aftertastes that smooth the sweetness out on your palate. Donovan’s Red is named for an Irish restaurant in town and is exactly what I look for in an Irish style red ale – medium alcohol, medium body, mild hop presence, and malty as hell – this red ale is excellent.
Next in order were a pair of saisons – one made with yeast borrowed from Hill Farmstead and the other a gluten-free version of the saison style. Both topped 7% alcohol and the booze definitely shows a bit in each. Celia’s Saison is the gluten-free version and while good in my opinion for a gluten-free beer, it just wasn’t quite my style – made with sorghum and curacao orange peel the gluten-free aspect just stood out too much to be as enjoyable for me as barley beer, though the dry-hopping definitely ameliorated some of the difficult sorghum flavors. Sass Mouth was the other offering, and again it wasn’t the style of beer I would be likely to order again. Extremely rustic and with mineral and metallic overtones it leaned more in flavor toward IPA with regard to hopping and had barnyard spicy flavors from the yeast. While certainly an extremely interesting brew, there may have been too much intensity for me to really enjoy the individual flavors going on in the glass.
At this point in the evening we moved on to the Final Four of our tasting and bid farewell to Jen and were handed off to Cory and Joel at the bar. The entire crew at The Alchemist was amazing, and you could tell that the place mattered to them, which always makes an impression on me. We started with Wild Child, an American sour beer that utilizes a sour mash and barrel-aging to attain a Rodenbach-like sourness and malty body. The orange brew harbors a background warmth that gives away its nearly 8% ABV but never overpowers any of the subtle tart and fruity flavors – this beer is absolutely in the top 5 American sours we’ve had on the trip this far. Holy Cow is a session IPA with mild dry-hopping and medium body that make for an easy drinking IPA that would be an instant candidate for deconstruction in my opinion – a tasting of this beer in its current form, and brewed with individual hops side by side would be extremely educational. Rapture ratchets up the flavors of the Cow and brings home the East Coast IPA flavor – earthy, boozy, and hearty the brew finishes with a hint of chocolate and dirt that I’ve now learned to associate with Galaxy hops. I finished the evening with Pappy’s Porter – while not a standout for insane flavors or weird procedure this porter was a great endpoint as a traditional and scrumptious example of the style that was smooth enough to compete with the lingering hop flavors and win. Also a local favorite, try the red and porter 1/2 and 1/2 in a pint glass and thank me later.
Vermont treated us well and we were appreciative of the time we spent drinking before we headed to a campsite to enjoy the night sky. On our way out the door we ran into a craft beer drinker from upstate NY finishing a cigarette on the bench in front of the bar. We chatted for a few minutes about where we should explore once we made it to NY, and what we had seen and done so far before he imparted a bit of wisdom. Walking back into The Alchemist to rejoin his family on vacation he turned while holding open the glass door and looked me in the eye, “Get a fucking job” he said with a sly grin. “Not anytime soon”, I told him.