Nestled gently between the rolling green hills of northern Vermont is the bucolic town of Waterbury. This happy haven might be best known as the home of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream or Stowe, the popular northeastern ski resort. Yet the only reason why I would drive any distance to get here is for a hop-tastic adventure at one of the greatest breweries in the land: The Alchemist–proud producers of the heavenly Heady Topper.
When you do something well enough, you might as well stick with it. The folks at the Alchemist have been brewing Heady Topper since 2003, originally out of their very own brewpub in downtown Waterbury. But after the disastrous floods in the wake of Hurricane Irene, new FEMA regulations mandated a shutdown of that operation, leaving the brewers with a minuscule cannery from which to produce and package their beer. Making the most of their limited space, they stopped brewing everything else and devoted themselves to canning one beer alone, the world-renowned double IPA that put them on the map.
As they firmly boast, the Topper is ‘not intended to be the strongest or most bitter DIPA.‘ Yet it’s well-balanced, rich and complex enough to make any hophead ecstatically giddy. Since the beer is only distributed within an approximate 20 mile radius of its origin, this top notch libation is a regional treasure to be cherished. For me, it was love at first sip. Not only is it hands down the best “West Coast” style IPA I’ve ever encountered on the East Coast, it’s also far and away the best beer that I’ve ever enjoyed out of the can. And they actually encourage this practice rather than pouring it into any sort of extraneous vessel.
The brewery is a small, straight forward affair. You can walk into the back and see the canning process while playing some games of pac-man on their old fashioned table arcade. And you can enjoy a generous portion of tastings for just $1 a glass. At 8% ABV, it won’t take a whole lot to feel the buzz of this expertly crafted beer.
The next time you’re in northern Vermont, get your priorities straight: skip the ice cream tours, don’t worry about the cheddar cheese, just get yourself straight to The Alchemist and all will be right with the universe. One taste can turn any day into pure gold.