The adventure begins with an early morning exodus from our apartment. As soon as our twins awoke from their slumber, we ushered them into the car and made our way to the Bronx. I dropped off my wife and kids and picked up my brother, who was accompanying me on this journey up North. Our wives understand our mutual love of craft beer, but most other people were dumbfounded to learn about our one-day trip from NYC to Vermont to buy beer. We kissed our loved ones and set the GPS for Waterbury, Vermont.
I’ll skip details about the ride up to Vermont and our pitstop at Cracker Barrel to have breakfast. The ride up was fairly routine for a trip to Vermont: smooth roads, very little traffic, beautiful snow-capped mountains, and plenty of moose crossing signs.
We arrived by 3:00 pm. My brother and I chatted the entire ride up, so seven hours passed by painlessly. It felt great to finally pull up to the Alchemist Brewery, though, after nearly an entire workday of driving. We trekked through the muddy parking lot and eagerly made our way into the brewery. I tried to take a self-guided tour, but quickly changed course and made a bee-line to the tasting room. Our samples were poured into snifters and we both nodded in mutual understanding – We knew we were about to taste something very special.
I’m not going to even review the beer. Enough is written about it. However, I will say that the hype is well worth it. What I will do is point out three things I learned from visiting the brewery.
1) The elusive Heady Topper – I knew Heady wasn’t distributed to New York. Heck, that’s why we traveled to Vermont in the first place. I was under the impression that the Alchemist Brewery distributes to other states in the nation, just not New York. It turns out that Heady Topper isn’t distributed past state lines because they have a hard enough time keeping up with demand in Vermont. The photo below also explains why.
“Local First” is a language that I can understand, thanks to my Master’s program at Goddard College, not too far from Waterbury, Vermont. I studied Socially Responsible Business and Sustainable Communities, so the Alchemist’s sustainable practices make perfect sense for a brewery in Vermont. Actually, it just makes sense. I had a conversation recently with a fellow Goddard alum about how the craft beer industry can take steps towards reducing its carbon footprint. (I’ll return to that idea another time.)
2) The Secret Recipe – I’ve never been able to find the different types of hops the Alchemist uses for Heady Topper. That’s because it is a highly guarded secret. Supposedly, the tasting room staff members don’t even know; at least that’s what they said when we asked. According to founder and brewer John Kimmich, Heady Topper is brewed “with a proprietary blend of six hops – each imparting its own unique flavor and aroma.”
3) Extreme dedication and focus – The Alchemist used to brew 10-12 different styles of beer at a time. When Tropical Storm Irene hit in 2011, the Brewpub in downton Waterbury was destroyed and the brewery had to switch gears. The brewery and canning line was already up and running two days after the brewpub met its end. The Alchemist decided to focus on making one beer really, really well.
It was an absolute privilege to see the Alchemist Brewery in person and to bring home an entire case of Heady Topper. I’ll be enjoying Heady for the next few weeks. Props to every single person who contributes to the production of such an incredible beer, a huge shout out to the friendly folks we met in Waterbury, and peace to my brother for joining me on this adventure.
See below for a few more photos from our trip.