In a time (I miss that announcer guy) where great beer is ever more easily attainable and breweries seem to be to be popping up faster than bunnies can reproduce, there are wondrous little brew havens to be explored. So sit back, grab yourself a brew, and enjoy another trip to a beautiful New England town with scenic views, great food, and quenching (until the next beer) watering holes.
As you may recall from our June 8, 2014 post, “A Little Taste of Burlington, VT.” Burlington is a favorite spot of mine. If you’re hungry, there’s plenty of local eateries, or if you are thirsty it’s loaded with great Vermont beers readily accessible at almost every shop, restaurant or corner. In our previous article we mentioned such spots as Zero Gravity, Magic Hat, and Vermont Pub & Brewery. While a few of the aforementioned were revisited, we have a few more hot spots to share with you this time around.
Before we dig into the wonders of Vermont, I feel I would be remiss if I did not give credit to a great breakfast spot in my town of West Springfield. Fresh daily made pastries, breakfast foods, lunch items as well as brunch, and it comes in one size, Big and Beautiful. Yes, our first stop was Auntie Cathie’s Kitchen. Her pancakes come in two sizes, small stack or full stack. Would you believe that means one pancake or two? I started with a Turkey Club for the drive. I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone who has ever been disappointed with her delicious and filling food. If you plan to make a trip, it is cash only, but worth every penny.
After getting sustenance, we were off on our trip. As we neared our destination, we had some time to make a detour to The Alchemist. I was happy that I had the chance to visit The Alchemist for a second time. My first visit was at their original location, which was more of a home grown local restaurant with a brewery attached. They were friendly, made delicious food and had some delightful beers. Sadly, as mentioned in our previous article, this little haven didn’t last long. It reminds me of that scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail; “We built a brewery, that sank into the swamp. So we built a second brewery, that burned down fell over and sank into the swamp. But the third, it kept standing. And that’s what we get, the strongest brewery in Stowe, Vermont.” And my, how it has changed from it’s quaint humble origins.
Despite it’s brevity in it’s past two locales, their reputation has amassed throughout all of New England. Their highly sought after Heady Topper was on draft, for free sampling. Accompanied by Focal Banger and Pappy’s Porter. I much prefer the Focal banger over the Heady Topper, but hey, where can you get it free on draft? The line quickly moves, patrons are allowed three free samples, and there’s plenty of swag and cans to purchase thereafter. While sipping, one can admire the brewery over a half-sized wall, and read about its history on the other walls.
Unfortunately, while the staff is nice, they can come across slightly pretentious. But I guess if I had a sweet little niche in the middle of a ski resort town and sold limited quantities of beer to increase demand and be set for life, I’d probably be a little smug too. I guess I just hope they will share the wealth with the rest of New England eventually. It was a much different experience from my first visit. At least when you visit the brewery, you can see where all our Heady Topper money is going.
Let’s get started on the rest of the trip, shall we? First, I would just like say thank you to Airbnb for giving us the opportunity to stay at some great locales, Vermont was no exception. After settling into a rustic home, with a big fireplace, nestled on the top of a mountain, we set off on our trek to fill the fridge and get some sustenance. If you are in the area, Richmond Market and Beverage is a great location to get groceries, fresh produce, and of course BEER. Their selection of beer is loaded with local crafts of all different varieties; specials and limited editions, IPA’s and stouts, and a special section in the cooler which one can walk in and find some hard to find brews.
Being that it was early February, the groceries and beverages were fine in the car while we spent the remainder of the evening at a local brewery. If you want great ambiance, and that local appeal, Stone Corral is a nice place to visit. We were entertained by live music, home made food and fresh beer. It’s your average run-of-the-mill selection of beer, with a few neat concoctions. The food is served on simple plastic plates, and the food looks like it was made by your Ma or Pa, nothing fancy or over the top, but satisfying and flavorful.
I was able to try about nine of their craft brews (which you can also pick up in your local retailer). If you like darker beers, might I suggest the XX Chocolate Maple Porter? It is well rounded, with a bit of a chocolate latte appeal. It did not come across as overly sweet, and it had that roasty and light porter finish. Their Latigo Scottish-style ale as a bit lighter than I expected, with hints of chocolate, a soft mouthfeel, as well as a lingering but satisfying aftertaste. Other recommendations would be their Bourbon Black (made with Mad River distilling bourbon barrels), or their Raspberry Black Beer. Yes they do have a nice selection of saisons and pales too. For a full list of their brews, check out their beer list.
Where to next? I will be honest, I am going to save mine, as well as some other’s, favorite brewery of the trip until the end. Even though it was one of the first that we visited. So let’s talk about food first, since sampling on an empty stomach may inhibit your senses a bit. First stop, the Skinny Pancake! Don’t let the name fool you, it’s not a just a breakfast joint. While they specialize in various renditions of crepes, from BBQ pulled pork to Apples and Brie, you may hold up the line trying to decide. If crepes aren’t your thing (I’m judging you), they have a smorgasbord of burgers, salads and starters. I had the Jonny Crepe, which the menu describes as “VT pulled pork in a sweet maple BBQ sauce, caramelized onions and Cabot cheddar with a side of root slaw.” It was simple, delicious and held me over for a next round of sampling. They also have a full bar.
“Next,” it was off to Mad River Distilling Burlington Tasting room. Yes the name is a mouthful, but so are the samples. When we first entered, we were surrounded by bottles of rums, whiskeys, and brandy. There’s a fridge to the left with Sip of Sunshine, and other local brews. Straight forward you’ll find the tasting room where you are greeted with a friendly bartender, who will serve you a limited number of paid samples, and/or order cocktails. In my opinion, the rum was quite impressive. It was smooth, and sips like a bourbon, warming and just very delectable. Not your average rum.
Surprisingly, instead of another brewery, we headed up a peaceful cobblestone road and found Smuggler’s Notch tasting room. For a small fee we were able to try Gins, rums, whiskeys and vodkas. There’s also a few maple concoctions such as Metcalf’s Maple Cream Liqueur, and Maple liqueur. This stop turned out to be a nice little palate cleanser before our next location, the VT Pub and Brewery. I got to have the Handsome Mick, oh how I missed thee!
The VT Pub and Brewery is always a favorite spot of mine. Their beer may not compete with some of the big name brewers out there, but it is pretty well balanced and there’ a great atmosphere to boot. This was a quick stop before meeting up with the rest of our party, so we were unable to try any of their delicious food. I do recommend stopping here if you get the chance.
About this time, we were quite peckish and decided to head to a great spot to eat and grab a fresh brew, American Flatbread and Zero Gravity brewery. Unfortunately the restaurant was packed, so we headed to a delicious little nook, The Sherpa Kitchen. Freshly made Himalayan cuisine, local beer on tap, quiet ambiance, there was no complaints in our book. After convincing the waiter I did NOT want a Heady Topper, we enjoyed great conversation food and drink. If you want something different and slower paced this is a great little nugget. I suggest the Lamb Bindalu and pair with a local stout.
Before heading back to the house, we finished off with a night cap of samples at Zero Gravity (yeah, it’s an addiction-the brewery, not the brew). Zero Gravity was still crowded, but the beer is worth it. Now before I end this post, I do need to introduce you to a new Brewery we discovered, Foam Brewers.
I feel Foam set’s the bar on New England craft breweries. Set right on Lake Champlain, and only a few minute walk from Skinny Pancake, it’s a conveniently situated peace of brewing heaven. When you first walk in there’s a long line of happy an anxious customers waiting to get their sips of suds.
Local vendors sell farm fresh tasty foods to order while you wait or after your beer purchase. While no flights are served, you are able to order two beers at a time. So bring some friends to share the wealth, the serving sizes are much bigger than your average samplers.
I’m going to level with you for a moment, I am getting kind of sick of the hop head craze out there, the IPA’s are just getting to the point of nothing special. Everyone is having their IPA’s, IPL’s, BIPA’s, DIPA’s; its getting to be less of a specialty and more of a commodity. That was my thought prior to Foam, however. Yes they have reinvigorated my faith in the magic of the IPA. You can have your Treehouse, your Alchemist, your what-have-you’s of the beer industry, but in my opinion, Foam sets the bar when it comes to good home grown IPA’s. Oh don’t get me wrong, they make an exquisite Imperial stout, as well as other brews, but I have to comment on their IPA’s. Each one has their own flavor profile, from juicy to hoppy to mellow to strong, and each with the New England classic cloudy, unfiltered look (see the pic for a description of what was on tap for our visit).
We were able to meet Bobby Grim, one of the brewers there. He and the staff are fun, and ready to get you filled up with your next brew. I was also impressed with their proper glassware, each one makes you feel like you know how to drink a good beer. Whether you are a hop head, a stout drinker, or just like good tasting beer, make the trip and visit Foam brewing, I stake my reputation on their quality.
If you can’t decide, here’s three suggestions: Built to Spill – An IPA that is juicy with a light flavor. It has a full body with a balanced citrous flavor. Overall, it’s a pleasant experience; Pavement – Tropical nose, with a citrus fruity finish, a great body and full balanced flavor; Influence of Heat – Chocolatey, smooth and creamy, with a malty sweet nose.
So, that’s our trip in a nutshell. Believe me, this story was abridged, but I do hope you can make it and make your own story. It’s always a great visit, even if not for the breweries. I’m hoping to take another road trip in the near future, mainly for Foam, but who knows what other niches await.
Hope you enjoyed!
Barley Man Nick
P.S. A special thanks to @lipsticknlager for the recommendations!