Vermont, America, Craft Beer, The World

by C. C. Hansen, the SCCB Blogger

Think globally, drink locally. A BeachRock Brew outside the SCCBB’s comfort zone in the comfort of his backyard.

Apparently, it’s American Craft Beer Week. The Brewers Association invites us to “drink outside our comfort zone” and “try special beers.” Craftbeer.com exhorts us to “flip our brew-tine,” reminding us that “anything goes, everything flows.” Both organizations ask us this week to “celebrate the creativity of small and independent breweries.” As readers of this blog know, that’s what we do every week.

Moms

Reflecting on the topic of “American craft beer,” I thought about an article my mother showed me this week from the April-May 2022 edition of AARP Magazine: “8 Pro Travelers’ Best Road Trip Ideas.” Mom knows I love craft beer, and she also remembers that I lived in Vermont and worked as a bartender there long ago. So, she just had to show me Pro Traveler and distinguished environmentalist Bill McKibbins’s Vermont road trip suggestion, “Craft beer tasting and cycling (or driving) in the mountains.”

Courtesy of Lawson’s Finest Liquids

Not only is May the month of American Craft Beer Week, but it’s also the month that Mother’s Day falls. And all of us at the SCCBB have fond associations with mothers and craft beer. In addition to Mom’s mention of craft breweries in Vermont (which we’ll get to in a minute), my previous post on this blog (Deluxe 1717’s New Liquor License) mentioned Mom’s choice of El Segundo’s “Mayberry IPA.”

Slightly blurry tap list at We’re Pouring in April 2018. Even today, if you need a dose of Bottle Logic brew, this is your spot…

A couple of years ago, BeachRock Bill’s mom, Nancy, invited him to join her at her new favorite brewpub, We’re Pouring, in Glendale. BRB told Guest Blogger Eleanor and me about it and, with its SoCal-centric tap list, it became a regular pre-COVID stop on our craft beer forays into the Big Wide World Out There.

And in his most recent post (Musings on Brews in Lockdown), BrewHead Ted talked about enjoying Shakespeare on Zoom, beer in hand, with his mom (and dad) during the Lockdown. Heck, BeachRock Bill and his erstwhile brewing partner, The Colonel, crafted a Black IPA in honor of Guest Blogger Eleanor’s dear departed mother on a day in May when I reported on their brewing operation for the now-defunct Examiner.com. GBE’s mother, it should be said, was born in May.

Back to American craft beer and Vermont craft breweries

In scanning McKibbin’s AARP article, I quickly spotted two breweries I had visited. “Mom,” I said, “You won’t believe this, but I’ve actually been to two of these breweries.”

“No! Really?” Mom responded.

The alchemical glyph for fermentation

“Yes, really. And I’ve actually blogged about them. The Alchemist has the coolest logo I’ve ever seen — it’s the alchemical glyph for fermentation. And Hill Farmstead Ales is often voted best brewery in the world.”

“How do you know about these places?” Mom asked.

“My friend Sir Ted of Sonoma,” I replied. “In fact, he loves Hill Farmstead Ales so much that he bought a summer house on a lake as close to Hill as he could get!”

“That’s dedication, I guess,” commented Mom.

The Alchemist

(originally posted on August 11, 2016)

The So Cal Craft Beer Blogger (SCCBB) recently had the opportunity to visit the Northeast Kingdom, God’s Country, not far from Burlington, where Vermonters have “felt the Bern” for decades.

The Alchemist, Stowe, Vermont

First stop was The Alchemist, which opened its new 30-barrel production facility and visitors center in Stowe, Vermont less than two months ago (editor’s note: June 2016). The original production facility in nearby Waterbury (where the original brewpub and 15-barrel brewhouse have been run by John and Jen Kimmich since 2003) was destroyed by super-storm Irene in August 2011.

Your So Cal Craft Beer Blogger is going to come clean: he’d never heard of The Alchemist, and he’d never heard of their signature beer, Heady Topper, before making this trip. It was his friend and beer guru, Sir Ted of Sonoma, who insisted the two knights-errant undertake this pilgrimage.

Sir Ted of Sonoma, paying homage to the courtly virtues of Focal Banger

What Sir Ted knew, and the SCCBB did NOT, was that Alchemist Focal Banger (IPA, pictured) and Heady Topper (Double IPA) were ranked 3 and 4 in the world by RateBeer.com. Sir Ted favors the Heady Topper, while the SCCBB is partial to Focal Banger, which beer raters describe as having “Juicyfruit Gum” notes, along with a light bready sweetness in the malt.

Ted, whose home brewpub used to be Russian River in Santa Rosa, California, until it got so hip that he and his lady fair could no longer sup there, was familiar with the crazed frenzy of fanatics lining up to get their allotted beer quota at the Alchemist retail store (two four-packs apiece of Focal, Heady, and their hop-bomb, Crusher, if memory serves). The parking lot, mid-week in late July, was mobbed with a steady stream of cars with New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine plates. This is because the Alchemist does not distribute beyond a 30-mile radius of its production facilities.

Hill Farmstead Brewery

(Originally posted August 18, 2016)

After the two paladins paid their respects to The Alchemist in Stowe, their quest took them to a place that might be considered the Holy Land or, looked at from the Saracen perspective, the Mecca of Breweries: Hill Farmstead Brewing, rated Number 1 Brewery in the World by RateBeer.com.

The journey to Hill Farmstead Brewery required a supreme exercise of faith on the SCCBB’s part, mostly because it’s in the middle of nowhere, and the last five miles are on a seemingly abandoned dirt road. No cell service, hence no “google map” to verify you’re on course.

Below is the view from the parking lot, which was PACKED on a Wednesday afternoon.

Hill Farmstead Brewery is in the middle of Nowhere, Vermont

Sir Ted, a veteran crusader and zymurgist, recognized Shaun Hill, Hill Farmstead’s founder and head brewer, as the Dark Lord wandered through the Farmstead’s retail space, making sure the troops passed muster. A Vanity Fair interview from a few years back gives a pretty good background on Shaun (Parental Advisory: Explicit Language). 

Shaun and Sir Ted exchanged pleasantries, then Shaun introduced us to Andrew Peterson, whose company, Peterson Quality Malts, malts grain for beer. Andrew said there are only 42 maltsters in the United States, and he is the only one in Vermont. How can you tell when a brewer has used fresh malt? we asked.

“The difference in taste is the difference between home-baked bread and store-bought,” he responded. Here’s an article on Andrew from Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine. (Rated “G”: For general audiences).

“I am your liege, Lord.” Sir Ted swears fealty to Hill Farmstead Brewery.

Sir Ted and the SCCBB sampled a number of Hill Farmstead’s draft offerings, finally settling on a growler each of an American IPA called “Susan,” named after Grandfather Edward Hill’s sister, and “Harlan” an American Pale Ale, “dry-hopped exclusively with Columbus hops,” and named for Grandfather Edward’s “slightly more aggressive alter ego.” Intriguing… 

Hill Farmstead has a very eclectic brewing program, with some super-artisan yeast brews available only in bottles. Sir Ted, an accomplished yeast master in his own right (what I wouldn’t give for a loaf of his Petaluma sourdough, warm on a cutting board, a slab of Sonoma creamery butter just waiting to melt into its complex structure), collected some yeast from the bottom of a bottle of “Arthur” (named in honor of Shaun’s great uncle) for further investigation once he returned to Sonoma’s green and pleasant land.

Arthur, according to Men’s Journal, “is a golden saison with a huge rocky head and a nose that recalls lemon peel, herbal tea, and a light farmhouse funk. It’s intensely bright and dry. Above all, it’s balanced and extremely well-structured – the best saison we’ve ever tasted.”

Come to think of it, what I wouldn’t give for a pint of that golden saison right about now! Cheers to American Craft Beer Week! Cheers to moms! Cheers to May!

— C. C. Hansen, the original SCCB Blogger

Don’t forget to “Like” this post, and please include the briefest of comments: “Nice,” or “Not my cup of lager,” or “I like saisons and sourdough, too.” I’m not sure the comment feature is working. Try it out and let us know what happens: socalcraftbeer@gmail.com

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