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A Pilgrimage To Vermont

Michael Donato, January 23, 2014 -   

There may be a bit of West Coast bias when it comes to craft beer, at least as it pertains to hoppy IPAs, but there is also some terrific beer being brewed in Vermont. The problem is that a lot of the best beer doesn't travel far from the state and one of the bigger breweries, Magic Hat, is technically a macro brewery. I'm headed to Vermont for a weekend getaway and it's time to take a look at what beers and breweries I should be looking for, besides the obvious Alchemist's Heady Topper, while I'm there. 

Here's a list of the top 10 beers from Vermont, sorted by average rating.

Brewery

Beer

Style

Rating

BAR

Style+

The Alchemist Pub & Brewery

Heady Topper

Imperial / Double IPA

4.835872

18.65433

117.55

Lawson's Finest Liquids

Double Sunshine

Imperial / Double IPA

4.751225

11.57582

115.49

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Abner

Imperial / Double IPA

4.652223

10.50056

113.09

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Double Citra

Imperial / Double IPA

4.634387

8.397792

112.65

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Society & Solitude #5

Imperial / Double IPA

4.618996

9.129851

112.28

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Double Galaxy

Imperial / Double IPA

4.612676

8.952893

112.13

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Society & Solitude #4

Imperial / Double IPA

4.561728

7.622852

110.89

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Madness And Civilization #2

American Imperial / Double Stout

4.559701

5.340003

109.20

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Flora

Saison / Farmhouse Ale

4.50289

7.34686

121.18

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Edward

American Pale Ale

4.489684

10.88449

122.40

Well, that's some diversity of style isn't it? Hills Farmstead clearly is something I need to try, but this list introduces a third, lesser-known brewery. Lawson's Finest Liquids describes itself as a small-batch artisanal brewery, and the ratings agree. They've been around for five years and brewed 24 beers that have made our leaderboards, and only one of them has a negative BAR and that one only barely. Their top beer is Double Sunshine, and as you can see above, it's very good. Also very good and having won medals is the maple triple, an American strong ale utilizing fresh Vermont maple syrup. Reader tehzachatak on last Friday's beer chat had some illuminating things to say about the brewery, including how hard it is to actually get bottles. 

Tehzachatak also suggested to try Hill Farmstead's Saisons. You'll see Flora on the list above at a rather impressive 121 Style+, and below the top six in Vermont.

Brewery

Beer

Rating

BAR

Style+

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Flora

4.502857

7.368422

121.17

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Flora With Satsuma Mandarins

4.477011

6.198431

120.47

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Civil Disobedience #6

4.46371

7.542457

120.12

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Juicy

4.453125

6.17172

119.83

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Art

4.438776

5.178689

119.45

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Phenomenology of Spirit

4.40884

6.684285

118.64

Those are some impressive numbers. These are clearly all similar variations on the same base Saison, but it illustrates just how much you can do with the style. Whether it's wild yeast, a different crop of hops, aging on mandarins or barrel aging these beers all get rave reviews and I'm excited to try any or all of them.

One brewery that's gone unmentioned so far is Long Trail. This brewery is perhaps the widest-distributed of Vermont's craft breweries reaching as far south as Virginia.  Long Trail also owns the merged Otter Creek and Wolaver's breweries, as well as The Shed Brewery. They've got a wide variety of beers, and while they're perhaps not in the league of the others breweries they still make good beer. A personal favorite of mine is Long Trail Harvest, brewed with maple syrup. It's a sessionable brown ale, and although I'm in the minority (-0.58 BAR) I still enjoy it. In fact I'm tied for fifth for most Untappd check-ins to this beer, with 14. Other popular beers from this bunch include Long Trail Limbo IPA (5.23 BAR), Otter Creek Kind Ryed American IPA (2.44 BAR), and Wolaver's Wildflower Wheat (1.77 BAR); a flavorful hefeweizen.

Being within Long Trail's distribution range I'll end up putting them on a back burner during my visit, although if I have time I may stop by at the brewery on my way back south. The research suggests that the main goal of a beer pilgrimage to Vermont is to get as much Heady Topper as you can, try as many Saisons from Hill Farmstead that you can, and try to get your hands on whatever Lawson's Finest Liquids you can. It's a worthy agenda. 

You can follow Michael on Twitter and Untappd, where he'll undoubtedly tweet about this trip.

The header image is my own. The beer being brewed with maple syrup clearly means it pairs with pancakes.

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