alchemist

Better Than Pliny? (The Magic 8)

I was geeking out the other day with a bartender at an Upper East Side bar. We were sharing some of our favorite India Pale Ales (IPAs) and Double/Imperial India Pale Ales (DIPAs) throughout the country. We offered up a variety of our own favorites, but both agreed that Pliny the Elder is a grossly overrated beer. It’s a great beer, but there are plenty of other amazing hoppy fish in the sea. Here are some of the IPAs and DIPAs that I spit out during our craft beer nerd-fest. One of these below was a recommendation from said bartender who mentioned that it’s his second favorite IPA next to Heady Topper. This list doesn’t include Heady Topper.  (Much is already documented about my love for Heady Topper and my multiple Heady adventures.)

In no particular order…

1.  Hill Farmstead Brewery’s Abner:

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My brother and I were in Waterbury, Vermont, looking to bring home a few cases of Heady Topper and we stumbled across this incredible beer at the Reservoir Restaurant and Taproom. We took our first sip and immediately looked at each other in amazement. One of us immediately looked Abner up on Beer Advocate and quickly realized that this beer is a big deal. I won’t say how high the rating is, just take a look for yourself. Too bad Hill Farmstead isn’t super close to Waterbury. We also promised to return home to NYC that same day. One day we will make it there for sure.

2.  Bell’s Hopslam

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NYC was devoid of anything from Bell’s for quite a long time.  When the Michigan brewery finally struck a deal to distribute its beers in New York, craft beer venues pulled out their red carpets to welcome the much-lauded brewery. Their most popular beer, Two Hearted Ale, is a superb beer. It truly was my go to beer when the local bodega began carrying six-packs on a regular basis. However, it’s the harder-to-find Hopslam that truly pleased my palate. A few bottle shops in NYC put a two bottle maximum limit on Hopslam purchases when it was first made available.  Since then, I haven’t seen it around too much. Next time I do, I plan to snatch a few up right away.

3.  Alpine Beer Company’s Duet

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You will not see this beer in bars, restaurants or bottle shops in New York.  I traded a few Heady Topper cans last year to folks out in California. I actually asked for Pliny, but the West Coast IPA connoisseur told me to trust his hop guidance and sent me a bottle of this instead. It definitely didn’t disappoint. After having Pliny a few times, I think Duet is a better-balanced and overall tastier beer than Pliny the Elder. If any of my West Coast friends are reading this, please ship me a bottle of Duet.

4. Long Trail Brewing Company’s Limbo IPA 

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I might get hate-mail by claiming this beer by Long Trail is better than Russian River Brewing Company’s mainstay. There is something special about this beer. Maybe it’s Long Trail’s use of Australian hops which tend to impart delightful tropical fruit flavors. Long Trail started using the experimental Farmhouse Pilot Brewery to brew one-off batches that became quite popular on draft. Their Limbo IPA is the first of these pilot beers to be bottled and distributed widely. Don’t overlook or underestimate this Vermont gem.

5.  Maine Beer Company’s Lunch

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The first time I had this beer was at my beloved Guilty Goose, a phenomenal craft beer-centric restaurant in Chelsea, NYC. Eddie, the super awesome bartender over there (not sure if he’s still there), was always a Maine Beer Company aficionado.  I’ve had a few of their beers, but this one… Wow! (nuff said)

6.  Proclamation Ale Company’s Tendril

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My great friend Keith not only holds a doctorate now, but also knows a little something about good beer. During our annual trip up to Providence, he strongly urged us to try an IPA by a new brewery in the state, Proclamation Ale Company. My BeerMenus app wasn’t working too well in Providence, so my wife and I decided to just go to the source to try this IPA he spoke so highly of. I hope to do a full write up of the brewery soon. Tendril certainly didn’t disappoint. It was one of the best new IPAs I’ve tried in a while. You will only be able to find Tendril in Rhode Island for now. It was so good I almost put aside my disdain for growlers to take some Tendril back home to enjoy.

7.  Port Brewing Company’s Hop-15 Ale 

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Hop-15 is another West Coast beer that is difficult to find out East. Port Brewing Company has a wonderful portfolio and this is one of their best. Admittedly, I haven’t had this one in quite a while, but my first impression was very memorable. Here’s another one to stuff into a sock, to place ever so carefully into the middle of your (check-in) suitcase.

8.  Other Half Brewing Company’s Green Diamonds

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I absolutely love the name of this beer.  You can only go so far with different catchy iterations of that dank, piney and bitter flower we love so much. Beyond a great name, Other Half truly created what might be the best Imperial IPA in New York. I’ve had amazing New York IPAs by the likes of Six Point (Resin), Barrier (Daddy Warbucks), Ithaca (Flower Power), Peekskill (Eastern Standard), and Newburgh (Hop Drop). At this moment of time, Green Diamonds is my absolute favorite IPA the Empire State has to offer.

If you have any other IPAs or DIPAs to put on my radar, please leave a comment. I’ve tried so many beers, I might have forgotten about it. As I’m wrapping this post up, I just remembered how much I love Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum. Let’s see if I can do a Better Than Pliny follow up by next year. For now, I’ll keep searching.

In Search of Heady Topper (Part II)

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

Cheers,

BierWAX

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