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Desination Vermont: A Craft Beer Lover’s Paradise

The eighth month of the year, August marks the end of summer as we know it in Central New York.  Back-to-school sales are everywhere, pumpkin and Oktoberfest beers are already on the shelves, and the sounds of children splashing water will soon be an echo.  BT-4In spite of dreaming of a longer season or hoping one more day will stay above 70, August is still summer filled with many things we look forward to, like the New York State Fair.  August is also a great time for another road trip…to Vermont.  Just four hours away to Middlebury and five to Burlington, it’s an easy drive and a craft beer lover’s destination.

Growing up, the only things I had direct experience with from The Green Mountain State were maple syrup and cheese.  Both delicious and worthy of a visit in and of themselves, I didn’t know much other than what my friends had told me about this beautiful state.  The first Vermont craft beer I tried was from Long Trail (from Bridgewaters Corners).  I liked it well enough, but not enough to pique my curiosity about what this small state had to offer.  It wasn’t until I attended more and more beer fests in Central New York that I noticed how popular Vermont beers were with our local aficionados.  The Alchemist was an enigma, and its Heady Topper was a silver can that would turn grown men and women into children wanting that golden ticket in their Willy Wonka bar.  Sure, I had read beer reviews on this mighty Double IPA with a score of 100 in beer magazines.  It was so elusive for a while that I found myself drooling in anticipation of that first sip.  It was THAT beer that made me really think more about Vermont.  Soon after, my friends had told me about the Vermont Brewers Association’s Vermont Brewery Challenge – Passport Program.  More than just a map of state breweries, it’s a “passport” in BT-FIwhich you attend each brewery listed, get your passport stamps, and when you’ve gone to all the breweries listed, you mail it in and receive a t-shirt!  Craft beer tourists don’t need a reason to visit all these breweries other than the locations and the beers themselves, but who doesn’t like a good challenge?  With 48 breweries in the Vermont Brewers Association, my guess is the passport has to be completed over several visits.  It’s definitely a good start if you’ve never been to Vermont and need a little guidance.

 My first (and only) visit to Vermont was a trip to Burlington to attend the Vermont Brewers Festival last July.  Alone with my GPS, I took the lovely drive through the Adirondacks into the unknown.  A beautiful city on Lake Champlain, Burlington is quaint, picturesque and worth the five-hour drive.  I had no expectations other than to attend an event and experience Vermont’s finest.  From the very well known (Harpoon, Magic Hat) to craft breweries that Vermonters knew so well (but I didn’t), most of it was new to me and I loved it.  After trying different styles, meeting people from other parts of the state, I knew that I wanted to return for a proper visit to explore more of this beautiful state and what their breweries have to offer.  Two days at a beer fest was just a tease!  After leaving, I knew I wanted to come back to actually visit these breweries.  The Alchemist, probably one of Vermont’s best-known craft breweries, has had a reputation of exclusivity.  That is, their Heady Topper was only sold on certain days, with limits, and just plain tough to get.  On June 30th, this Stowe brewery BT-1opened its Brewery and Visitors Center to the public, to the delight of many.  Central New Yorkers didn’t waste any time to go visit them – Facebook posts with pictures of their visits were all over the place.  Another popular brewery and destination is Hill Farmstead in Greensboro Bend.  Your new friends there will be Edward, Arthur, Susan, and Mary among others.  They’re a welcoming bunch that wants you to enjoy your visit and to take them home with you!  I first met Arthur in Syracuse, where a local pub manager gave me a bottle of this beer.  Delicious!  Similar to The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead has a pseudo-cult like following for good reason, as does Lawson’s Finest in Warren.  If someone says they have a Sip of Sunshine from Lawson’s, then by all means take a sip, no sunscreen needed!

I am certainly no expert in Vermont beers and I’m still learning as I go.  What I do know is that Vermont is a beautiful summer getaway, an easy drive, and worth the brewery visits alone.  Just because August is a bittersweet month doesn’t mean it’s the last chance to take a drive over to our friendly neighbors to the east.  Anytime of year would be perfect to go to Vermont – cheese, syrup, beer and all.  So pack up the car, have some extra room in the trunk for all the beer you want to buy and enjoy the exploration.  Cheers!

Gloria Rakowsky