For most of us, enjoying a beer is pretty simple. After a long day of work…walk to fridge, grab beer, crack open, sit and enjoy.
But for true craft beer connoisseurs, it can get…complicated.
Beer lovers from all over the world converge upon the quaint little towns and icy backroads of northern Vermont for what many consider the ultimate road trip… a pilgrimage to three of the best breweries on earth.
But when such worldwide acclaim lures hordes of bearded hipsters to these rural breweries, drinking beer isn’t so easy.
So, is the best beer on earth worth dealing with long lines, muddy backroads, and a lack of facilities to relieve all that beer you’ve consumed?
Well, that’s a personal question.
An Epic Beer Lover’s Road Trip
For many people, driving a scenic two-lane road through rural Vermont to sample world-class beer directly from the source at Lawson’s Finest Liquids, The Alchemist, and Hill Farmstead is the ultimate journey to personal fulfillment.
No inconvenience is too great to deter such a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.
And if that’s the case, then here’s what you need to know.
Keep It Cool and Fresh
First, bring a cooler.
The beers crafted by these legendary breweries are famous because of their fresh hoppy aromas and flavors. You’ll destroy that which you’ve come to seek if you let your four-pack just roll around in the trunk of your rental car.
In fact, all three breweries are sticklers for demanding that their retailers and the bars that serve their beer keep them cold and fresh.
So you should do the same.
Get a room. Or get a designated driver.
Most beer lovers don’t trek to Vermont to get wasted. They come to savor the best beer on earth a few luscious sips at a time.
But that doesn’t mean the high alcohol content of the imperial IPAs won’t sneak up on you.
You do not want to be negotiating the icy, rural roads of Vermont impaired. So spread this adventure out over a long weekend.
For accommodations, you can stay at the famous Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, just a mile from the Alchemist, and enjoy your Focal Banger in the comfort of your own suite in front of a roaring fire. Yup, the rooms come with a wood-burning fireplace.
Pack Your TomTom
Oh, and don’t forget your GPS—a REAL GPS, not the one on your phone.
Your phone will not get reception where you are going.
You’ll want to start your beer run south and work your way up north along Vermont 100 and Route 15, past the quaint covered bridges and white steeple churches.
Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Waitsfield, Vermont
Your first stop will be Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Waitsfield, a tiny town 13 miles off of I-89.
Lawson’s makes beer drinking easy with a spacious new tap room and plenty of parking.
Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine, Double Sunshine, and Triple Sunshine are some of the best IPAs on earth—quintessential examples of the hazy, luscious New England-style ale.
They taste even better fresh from the source.
And could there ever be a better name for this brewery other than Lawson’s Finest Liquids?
Nope. The brews here are surely some of the finest liquids you’ll ever taste.
The Alchemist, Stowe, Vermont
25 miles north on Vermont 100, you’ll arrive at the oh-so-quaint tourist town of Stowe.
Nestled in the shadows of Mount Mansfield, the Green Mountain’s tallest peak, you’ll find The Alchemist, one of the first “destination” breweries built when the craft beer craze first exploded.
People come from all over the world to try The Alchemist’s famous Heady Topper, once rated the best IPA on earth.
And true to its cult-like status, you won’t find Heady Toppy at your local Total Wine. The Alchemist only distributes their beers in northern Vermont.
Heady Topper tastes better than it looks, which is why The Alchemist insists (it’s printed right on the label) that you drink your Heady straight from the can—not poured into a glass like most civilized craft beer aficionados are trained to do.
Hazy, thick, and full of floating bits of hop residue, Heady Topper may not win a beauty contest, but it’s all those hoppy remnants that give this beer its legendary aroma and flavor.
While the new brewery was designed to better handle the masses of beer pilgrims who form lines out the door on summer weekends, unfortunately, you can’t buy a pint here. You can only buy four packs to-go and sample free tasters (limited to three per person please).
Hill Farmstead, 10 Miles NE of Hardwick, Vermont
Drinking beer gets exponentially more complicated the further you head north in search of the elusive Hill Farmstead.
Plug this into your GPS and hope for the best: 403 Hill Road, Greensboro, VT 05842.
Eventually, the icy, slushy dirt roads will lead you to a brewery in the middle of nowhere—that’s if you remembered to bring your TomTom or Garmin.
If not, you might be out of luck. There is no cell service here and there are no signs.
Road signs are illegal in hippy, liberal Vermont. And the folks at Hill Farmstead, in addition to being world famous brewers, are also die-hard rule followers.
And once you do get there, good luck finding a place to park. Zoning rules allow only enough parking space for eight vehicles.
Nevermind the fact that on “special release” days, literally hundreds of folks descend upon this rural brewery.
And the rural septic tank rules allow for only one toilet.
Yes, one. Toilet. For hundreds of beer drinking pilgrims who have already driven miles to get there.
Thankfully there are a few port-a-potties sitting in the snow out back in case of an emergency.
Welcome to Bernie Sanders’ socialist Vermont, where they’d rather make your life difficult than make money.
Take a Number
If you came for a growler of Hill Farmstead’s famous IPAs or tart saisons, the first thing you’ll need to do is take a number – just like at a deli counter. Then wait for your number to be called.
It could be an hour or two on busy days.
Lines to buy cans are long as well.
Lines are even longer if you happen to be there on a “special release” day, when throngs of beer snobs line up before the doors open to snag a precious four-pack or growler. So, try to come to Hill Farmstead on a weekday when there is no special release.
And while you’re here, be sure to try the flagship Edward Pale Ale first, a bright hoppy pale ale that lets the citrusy and piney flavors shine.
Now, a rational capitalist would take one look at the overflowing crowds, the muddy road lined with cars, and the overwhelmed staff and conclude that Hill Farmstead should just move their production someplace that allows for a real parking lot and proper restrooms, like at Lawson’s Finest Liquids and The Alchemist.
But owner Shaun Hill is having none of it.
Hill Farmstead was built on his own family farm, which is all part of the charm. Notwithstanding the port-a-potty lines, I’m sure.
Of course, it should be noted that these difficulties add to the mystique of ending your ultimate beer pilgrimage here at this hard-to-find, rustic beer mecca.
Maybe this remote, rural, we-can’t-keep-up-with-the-overwhelming-demand shtick is all part of their marketing plan?
Call me cynical if you want.
Regardless, the beer is pretty epic. People don’t endure inconvenience for bad beer.
Crossing Oceans for IPA
You’ll be surprised with whom you might find yourself standing in line with too.
Beer lovers will cross oceans to come to rural Vermont in search of fresh, hand-crafted brews.
No inconvenience can deter a man on a beer pilgrimage to Vermont.
On my flight home from my most recent trip there, I was seated in first class (a rare upgrade) next to a businessman from Dublin, Ireland. He was on an end-of-year “mileage run” to secure his American Airlines ‘Elite Status’ for 2019.
In his charming Irish brogue, he explained the purpose of his trip, “I was a couple thousand miles short so I figured, what the hell? I’ll fly from Dublin to Philadelphia to Burlington for the day and fly back home with a cooler full of IPA.”
A bit flabbergasted, yet completely understanding his logic as only a fellow beer connoisseur could, I simply nodded and said, “Now that’s what I call a beer run.”