It feels like ages since I last visited Vermont! So many more breweries have opened up in the past 2 years like Foam Brewers, Prohibition Pig Brewery, and Four Quarters Brewing. Not to mention the breweries I did visit in 2013 and 2014 have grown by leaps and bounds. The Alchemist Brewery, Hill Farmstead Brewery, and Otter Creek Brewing have all gone through large expansion projects. It’s really quite extraordinary the incredible growth that the craft beer industry has seen.
A beer run back to Vermont was definitely needed to see the progress. Oh, and to bring home lots of Vermont craft beer goodies! I’ve learned a lot in each of my three trips and want to pass along my tips and recommendations to you all. Because let’s be honest. We don’t all have time to hit every single brewery (not even me!) and need to make the most of the trip.
Then there’s the issue of being prepared for the beer trip of a lifetime. I certainly don’t want you to be out of the loop on essentials.
OK. Let’s dig in:
TIP #1: BRING COOLERS. Lots and lots of coolers. Why? Some of the beers you’ll purchase will need to stay cold if they are unpasteurized like Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine or brews from The Alchemist – Heady Topper, Focal Banger & Crusher. Basically it’s a perishable brew. And, when you’re buying a case or two of brew, you’ll need lots of cooler space in the car for the drive home.
The added bonus to keeping the brews chilled is the hops nose and flavor will stay more intense. Which leads me to my next tip.
TIP #2 DRINK IT FRESH. You will be tempted to buy All The Beers. Gobs and gobs of beer. Practice restraint here, folks! Especially with IPAs, you want to drink them fresh or within a month or two. Yes. It will still be “OK” 6 – 8 months out but the hops flavor will drop off and the color may get somewhat darker. So don’t buy five cases of Focal Banger for yourself when your beer cellar/fridge/closet is packed full at home. Well, unless you drink like a six pack a day. Then I might recommend an intervention program. Just kidding (no I’m not).
And, let’s not forget you need ample refrigerator space when you get home to keep things cold. You DO also need to store food in your fridge not just beer. I’m speaking from experience here. I had an Oh Dear God! moment when I came home from my trip last week and discovered I didn’t have nearly the space that I thought I did. What did I do? Re-organized the refrigerator shelves, ate what food I could to make room and literally shoved it all in until the door closed (on all 4 refrigerators).
TIP #3 DON’T BE A BEER MULE. What’s a Beer Mule? Someone who visits a brewery to buy large quantities of beer to trade out once they return home – never intending to drink any of it. I know I probably just pissed off a few of you with that comment. Well, Beer Mules piss off the breweries too. Many breweries now implement a maximum amount you can purchase of their limited quantity beers. That’s why you’ll see rules like “2 bottles per person” or “1 case per person per day.” Breweries want to make it more fair for true fans who want to drink the beer to get their hands on said beer. And, I whole heartedly support these policies.
Let me be clear. I have no issues with folks buying extra for friends. I picked up some cans for a few close friends back home who would not be able to visit Vermont for themselves any time soon. And, I intend to take some to bottle shares.
p/s – I scowl at you Beer Hoarders, too. Just sayin’.
p/s/s – No need to chase the Heady Topper truck from stop to stop like all the beer mules do. Just go to the new brewery in Stowe at 10am and snag yourself a mixed case of Heady, Focal Banger and Crusher. Super easy. Check their facebook page as things change with what their selling. Yes. You will stand in line but it moves quite fast. My wait time was less than 30 min both days I went to get my mixed case but I’m sure that varies from day to day.
TIP #4 DON’T BE A D-BAG. OK. This is for those people that stand in line for beer and every minute that passes speaks in an uber loud voice going on and on how they do this every week so they can trade these brews for (fill in the blank with the first Whale brew that comes to mind). Bragging about all the rare beers they’ve tried and are about to get – again speaking at a volume that could be heard from 2 miles out. Grrrrr! Just be quiet all ready. You’re a Craft Beer God. We get it.
TIP #5 GO FOR SAMPLERS/FLIGHTS. Some breweries will offer free beer tastes while others allow consumers to buy a flight of beer to be consumed in their tap room. It’s just basically small glasses (2-3oz pours) of several drafts of your choosing. I find that tasting the beer while visiting the brewery helps me widdle down the amount of beer I’m going to buy to take home. My bank account thanks me for focusing my purchases to only those brews I absolutely fall in love with.
TIP #6 DO YOUR RESEARCH. I use Twitter and Instagram to get leads on what breweries and bottle shops to visit prior to any beer run trip or beercation. Like I said before – you just can’t hit them all even in a several day span. I now try to prioritize the brewery list into Must Visit, Maybe Visit and leave off those that aren’t my preference in beer style or quality. During this most recent Vermont trip, I’d highly recommend you seek out The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead (duh!), Foam, Prohibition Pig, Citizen Cider (yes, I threw in a cidery) and Lost Nation. My “Maybes” would be Fiddlehead, Burlington, Foley, Magic Hat and Otter Creek.
Also, hit up the breweries social media spaces for announcements on special, limited releases. Untappd is another great resource to see which beers are getting high ratings. Research. Research. Research.
TIP #7 VISIT A BOTTLE SHOP OR TWO. Another good way to bring home bottles or cans that you know you want to try but don’t have time to go to the brewery. Helps streamline your trip.
TIP #8 IT’S NOT A RACE. Take your time and talk with the folks at the bar and behind the bar. I love to get to know the local people and listen to their recommendations on places to eat, new breweries that just opened, what touristy things to stay away from, etc.
Savor every sip that’s in your glass. Really taste it. Tell the bartender which brews you really liked and why. You never know. You might just be talking to the brewer or owner. I’ve made life long friends this way and sometimes gotten a super secret brewery tour or extra beers to take along with me.
There’s really no reason to race all around to 10 breweries a day. I try to keep it to 3-4 max and spread out my visits giving me enough time to check out other aspects of the area – local artisanal shops, restaurants, the scenery, art galleries and the architecture of the area. Just some things that interest me personally.
TIP #9 BRING YO GROWLERS. I would recommend taking 3-4 growlers. Don’t have growlers on hand? No worries. Almost all of the breweries sell them now days. Note that I didn’t see many breweries that had crowler machines. Prohibition Pig was the only one that offered these 32 oz glorious cans in my lineup of brewery stops.
Just remember. You should drink beers stored in growlers within a few days of filling them. Sure. I’ve kept filled growlers up to a week before enjoying them. But know the carbonation starts to dissipate. Keep these lovelies cold!!!
p/s – Waiting to get growlers filled at Hill Farmstead is much improved since their expansion. They have multiple tap stations in the new space and use a deli ticket system so you don’t have to stand in line. Enter the building, grab a ticket then go get a brew to enjoy until they call your number. The line was moving so fast that I didn’t grab a ticket until after I had enjoyed a brew and fantastic shrimp tacos from the food truck. So good.
TIP #10 STAYING OVER NIGHT. The first 2 trips I stayed in a quaint B&B that was centrally located to all my brewery Must Visits. It was great but it was expensive. Most of the hotel rooms in Vermont are pricey, especially around ski resort areas. To save some money, try using Air BnB. I went this route this time around and loved it. Saved a ton of cash! Cut my hotel expense in half. Make sure you find a place that is reputable – you’ll know by the ratings and reviews it has received. You can find everything from a spare bed to sleep in to staying in an entire condo. I chose a condo for a variety of reasons but mostly because it had a full size refrigerator to keep my beers cold during the duration of my stay and it was mine all mine. No sharing bathrooms or dining space. (I’m such a germaphobe – sharing these spaces is “ewwwww.”)
Pretty much all of these tips can be applied to most beercations and beer runs. Let me know if you have any to add to the list. Cheers!
CHECK OUT PREVIOUS TRIP TIPS:
(Follow Me On: Twitter & Untappd: @dzyngrl | Instagram: @dzyngrl14)