Archive for the ‘Vermont’ Category

Beercation 2011: Part 6, The Farmhouse

This is Part Five of an ongoing series chronicling the Grand Beercation of July 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

The Farmhouse
A lovely night for the beer garden.

Following the suggestions from our 3 Needs bartender, the Lady Friend and I strolled over to The Farmhouse, and rather than sit in the noisy bar/dining area, decided to sit in the outdoor beer garden bar area behind the building. It was about 8pm at this point, and the evening light was starting to dim, while the strands of lights in the beer garden glowed yellow. It was purty.

Once again, I didn’t make the best of beer decisions for my mood, and went with the Long Trail Brewmasters’ Series Coffee Stout, thinking it would be the opposite of hoppy bitter, and would be suitable for my tired taste buds. At 8% abv, it’s a big boy. Very tasty… chocolate with a touch of bitter roasted flavor, but without that syrupy, viscous mouthcoat you get with some other big or imperial stouts. I couldn’t tell you what Lady Friend was drinking, but she had caught a second wind and went for another round. I nursed the stout and did some people watching. I’m a photographer… it’s ok.

There was cowboy hat/ striped polo shirt combo dude…

…and a group of girls who were having a BLAST hanging out, squealing, and pinching each other around the large boulder in the corner of the patio. Which I was totally ok with.

Not pictured: the two prowling cougars, who sauntered in dressed in all their white vinyl and 6″ heeled glory, sniffed the air a couple times as they peered across the deck, then retreated back to the indoor bar with its dimmer, and perhaps more flattering, light in search of easier prey. There isn’t a picture because I hadn’t applied my cougar repellent before we went out, so I was sure to sit perfectly still, as their vision is based on movement.

Those were the amusing characters. However, the rest of the crowd seemed a bit too frat-douchy for my taste. I saw way too many popped polo collars, plaid shorts and flip flops. Only one case of Sunglasses-at-Night syndrome. I was pretty much done, and ready for air conditioning.

Overall, the Farmhouse was great. I can’t speak to the food, but it was steadily busy in the dining room for the couple of hours we spent there. The indoor bar was also busy, but the beer garden offered a relaxing alternative to the crowd. I don’t know if people didn’t know it was there, or if they were just hoping to get pounced on by an indoor cougar, but it worked out quite well for us, as we were able to enjoy our drinks outside on a warm summer evening. The beer list (outside) wasn’t terribly long, but did have some impressive offerings. A more extensive list is available at the main bar, but we made do with the beer garden varieties.

This was our last stop in Burlington, and after a ride back to the hotel driven by a very talkative and amusingly-opinionated Italian cab driver, we hit the sheets in preparation for a journey north across the border, Drink Destination: Montreal.

Beercation 2011: Part 5, 3 Needs

This is Part Five of an ongoing series chronicling the Grand Beercation of July 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

3 Needs
A fantastically divey taproom.

3 Needs is only about a block away from the madness of Church St in Burlington, but you’d walk right past it and never know what you missed. The Lady Friend and I wandered around the tourist maelstrom for a bit after acquiring some official VT ice’d creams before heading towards the last stop on our passport mission. Saw a few mildly interesting oddities on the way including a Golden Retriever puppy shaved in an unusual manner, complete with tufted lion tail:

…and yet, right around the corner, a Ferrari F430 Spyder.

This one goes to eleven.

I think you’ve got a bit of an identity crisis going on, Burlington. Artsy-fartsy or Ferraris… pick one.

Lady Friend asked me what “those red things” were. Those are brake calipers, dear. BIG ONES.

Anyway, we tracked down 3 Needs and headed in. They’ve got a weird airlock double-door thing going on which makes it awkward to casually stroll in while wielding photo gear, but I eventually made it. It was 7pm on a Saturday, and dead. Three others, a couple and one other solo gent, were in watching a soccer game, and not saying much.

I’m assuming it gets busier later on in the night. The reviews on Yelp say this is a “love it or hate it” kind of place, and describe the normal crowd as “Phishy.” Perhaps it’s better that we were there while it was quiet.

The bartender was very friendly, and told me they brew in the basement, and I’m kicking myself for not taking a peek at their setup. He chatted a bit about the various laws, saying they can brew and serve on the premises, but can’t sell growlers or kegs, and have to use a local liquor store for sales. The decor of the place is very 18-35 year old male demographic, with a pool table, punk rock stickers, liberated street signs and license plates, and a plethora of Family Guy and Simpsons cutouts.

Marge nipples?

It was definitely a dive, but with that “neighborhood-bar-where-the-locals-go” sort of vibe. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was sitting in somebody’s “saved” seat. While we were there, a few others wandered in, and casually strolled behind the bar to get their personal pool cues before settling down for a couple games. My thoughts might change if I saw the usual crowd, but I loved it. Good, solid place to sit down, shut up, and have a good beer.

Oh right… beer.

I started with the Citra IPA, which was bad move, since I was still in the throes of palate fatigue. If only B&J had vanilla! Lady Friend went with the Helles Boch, in a surprising move. I had suggested the pils or the Belgian wit, but she was wheat-ed out and wanted some flavor. Nice. The IPA was fantastic… hoppy bitter bite, but with enough smoothness to balance it out. The best beer I had on the whole trip. Lady enjoyed her boch… medium dark and malty sweet. I nursed the rest of my pint, since my taste buds had been hop-burned away, but she was feeling adventurous and got a (free!) flight of the four house beers. I’m not sure if that is standard, or if it was just quiet that evening, but free beer always tastes better. The Belgian wit, Helles boch and Paul’s pils were all pretty standard and drinkable, but the IPA was by far the star of the show. Excellent.

We stayed for about 45 minutes before venturing out for further adventure. After consulting with the bartender, who suggested VT Pub & Brewery (went there), then American Flatbread (there too), he mentioned the Farm House with its outdoor beer garden, right up the street. Done and done. Onto the next one, Part 6, the Farmhouse Beer Garden.

Passport stamp acquired for a grand total of 4! (5 if I had paid attention to Zero Gravity. Bah!) However, four stamps gets us an official “Drink Vermont Beer” bottle opener magnet! Vermahnt… do watcha wahnt.

Beercation 2011: Part 4, American Flatbread

This is Part Four of an ongoing series chronicling the Grand Beercation of July 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

American Flatbread
What is this so-called pizza’ed pie?

Post Magic Hat, we checked into our hotel and called a cab to drive us downtown for an evening of dinner and drinks. Well, after asking the waitress at the Vermont Pub & Brewery, and the bartender at Magic Hat for dinner/beer suggestions, they both pointed us towards American Flatbread, an organic flatbread pizza restaurant with supposedly great beers. We had walked past it earlier in the day, as it’s about a block away from VT Pub & Brew.

The cab driver we got was certainly a character, telling us how lucky we were to call when we did because he was around the corner from the hotel getting the car washed. Apparently some sea gulls (lake gulls?) had left a few presents on the windshield earlier that day. Oddly enough, he referred to them as “dump chickens,” while Lady Friend calls them “dump ducks.” My coworker calls them “Mondo birds,” coming from his brother’s time spent in Biddeford, Maine. I had never heard any of these terms and think they’re all lunatics. The driver then proceeded to tell us his life story in four miles, about being on dialysis and medication as a result of a liver transplant at age 21. Nothing like talking to a liver transplant to take the fun out of a weekend of boozing. Apparently, when he had his original liver, he was very fond of drinking, as he described having “double Zombies” with his mother, and some ‘shine that he estimates was 225-250 proof.

Ok. Sidebar. I’ve looked into this subject quite a bit in the past, and there are a few things wrong with that statement. In the US, alcoholic proof is measured by the amount of ethanol (ethyl alcohol) in a beverage. The proof is simply double the alcohol by volume (abv), so a liquor that is 80 proof is 40% alcohol. Bacardi 151° (the symbol for proof is “°”, the same as “degree”) is, naturally, 151 proof, or 75.5% abv. The highest proof alcoholic beverage produced is Everclear, a neutral grain spirit that clocks in at 190° (95% abv). It’s about as close as you can get to pure alcohol by normal distilling methods, because at this level, when you try to distill (boil) the mixture further, the alcohol evaporates with the small amount of water left and doesn’t concentrate any more (called an azeotrope). Everclear is allegedly used in laboratory experiments, because it’s as reasonably close as you’ll get to pure ethyl alcohol.

The point is, anything over 200 proof is theoretically impossible. So whatever liver-destroying moonshine this guy was drinking certainly wasn’t 225+ proof. But that’s getting technical. In his defense, I’m sure it TASTED like that. Moonshine is unaged corn spirit that is usually distilled to a high proof. Because it isn’t mellowed by aging in barrels, which gives it color and flavor, it usually has a very rough, raw, burning taste. You can drink a 150 proof aged rum and enjoy it, because of the flavors added by aging, but even a 100 proof unaged spirit is going to taste relatively raw, and make you think it’s something much stronger than it is.

Back on topic!

So, we got to Flatbread around 4pm ready to stuff our gullets, since we had an early lunch, and many beer tastings that afternoon (about 13 samples by my count). There was about a 5-10 minute wait for a table outside, so we moseyed over to the bar thinking we’d get a beer to start while we waited. We thought wrong. The beer list was… impressive.

Most impressive.

It was a daunting list, with special bottlings up to $30. This is BEER. Serious beer. However, when I’m faced with this kind of situation, I default to the local house brews, of which there were plenty. American Flatbread is partnered with Zero Gravity Brewing. For some reason, I didn’t make the connection that Zero Gravity on the menu referred to the name of the brewery, and was trying to puzzle out how you make a 0.000 gravity beer. Yeah. I’m a genius. They don’t seem to have any sort of official webpage that I can see, and most links direct back to American Flatbread. It seems that there’s a master brewer, Paul Saylor, and that everything is brewed on the premises. As near as I can tell. Would have been helpful to think of all this while I was actually there, but I was hungry.

So we ordered our pizza. I don’t like most toppings, so I got the cheese/herb on my half, and Lady Friend had some sort of mushroom veggie horror on hers. I’m of the opinion that sauce is a vital part of good pizza (this guy gets it), and the flatbread just didn’t do it for me. It was just cheese and bread, but not pizza. Granted, toppings would have helped, but pizza is such a simple thing that it doesn’t always need it. This “pizza” needed it. Lady Friend wasn’t thrilled either, but downed it since she was hungry.

As for beers, I convinced her to stick to the local stuff. I went with the Anniversary Ale, a session pale ale, and her starter was the Weizenheimer wheat beer. Both were excellent, and the pale ale had plenty of hop. I was starting to fade after the cheese intake, and we ordered one more beer apiece. She had the Bach Nein, a strong dark lager, and I had to try the TLA IPA, a double dry-hopped beast. It was a big flavor punch, lots of bitter hop. I was starting to get hop burned after the first couple sips, as the day’s tastings caught up with my mouth, and by the end of it I was just in full palate fatigue. I’m told that raw cashews are good for palate cleansing, and are used at wine tastings, but we decided to go to Ben & Jerry’s for some ice cream (when in Vermont…). I was really looking forward to some nice creamy vanilla, or a choc chip, but the closest they had was chocolate chip cookie dough; too filling. Went with the chocolate, and it was delicious, but not as refreshing as I had wanted.

No passport stamp on this one, due to my own ignorance.
Next post, Part 5, 3 Needs Brewpub.

Beercation 2011: Part 3, Magic Hat Brewery

This is Part Three of an ongoing series chronicling the Grand Beercation of July 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

Magic Hat
Oh so Vermonty.

Following a tour of Switchback Brewery, it was off to South Burlington to pop into Magic Hat Brewery. Arguably Vermont’s most well-known brewery, Magic Hat is part of the North American Breweries group, the largest chunk being NY state’s Genessee Brewing Company. We got to Magic Hat just after 3pm, and decided not to bother with the official tour (they do hourly tours on Saturday afternoons). Instead, we checked out the sample bar and gift store.

Holy rampant merchandising, Batman.

Yeah, if there’s one thing Magic Hat isn’t afraid of, it’s slapping their logo on a glass, tshirt, frisbee, hoodie, bottle opener, mirror, magnet, golf ball, backpack, bucket, poster, water bottle, dog leash, flag, bag, hat, bar mat, bar rat (maybe), bumper sticker or condom.

Won’t SOMEbody please think of the children?

Not that it’s a bad thing. They’ve been around since 1994, and have gathered quite a following, so they’ve earned the right to go crazy with anything they can sell. I myself purchased a pint glass to add to the collection (and the Switchback glass I bought about 30 minutes earlier was getting lonely). I’m a sucker for cheap stuff, and it was on sale for $2, since it had a Mardi Gras logo on it. They also had “Graduation 2011″ glasses, but it’s been awhile since I was in any sort of school, and decided to skip that one. If you really want to see all the crazy stuff they sell, check out their website, which is quite well done.

Enough shopping, time to taste the beers. I’ve had much of what Magic Hat has to offer, and purchased their Summer Scene sample pack for a Memorial Day trip up to Lady Friend’s family lake cabin (or as they, and many other New Englanders, call it, “camp”). Lady Friend’s sibling, Sissy, has somewhat of the hippie persuasion in her, and was happy to share in the 12 pack.

She might kill me for this.

The Summer Scene had everything (except the Circus Boy) that they were offering for samples, so I didn’t get anything new, but free beer always tastes better. We had the Single Chair golden ale, Wacko summer beer (brewed with beets!), Circus Boy hefeweizen, #9 “not quite” pale ale, and the Blind Faith IPA. Magic Hat isn’t my favorite brewery, but they don’t make anything that’s bad. It’s all drinkable and palate friendly. My favorite offering from them is the Lucky Kat IPA, mostly because it’s got a great hoppy bite, but partially because there’s a Cheshire Cat on the label.

As you wish.

As we were finishing our tasting, apparently the tour let out because it suddenly got quite crowded at the bar. I bought my glass, got the passport stamped, and wandered outside to poke around for a few minutes. The whole Magic Hat scene has a strange Willie Wonka meets Alice in Wonderland vibe to it, with crazy colors and patterns. As long as the beer is good, I really don’t care how you decide to paint your company van.

Oh my.

Clearly, Magic Hat is doing something right, if they’ve managed to hang around for 17 years. I know their products are easily found throughout New England, and even though they’re not my favorite, I don’t think I’ve ever had anything of theirs that was bad.
Passport stamp number three: Magic Hat. Next up, Part 4, American Flatbread.

Beercation 2011: Part 2, Switchback Brewery

This is Part Two of an ongoing series chronicling the Grand Beercation of July 2011. For Part One, click here.

I don’t know why I put an exclamation point there.
It just seemed right.

Ok. I had never heard of Switchback before this trip, but it was one of the breweries in Burlington, so we went to check it out. It’s also listed on the Burlington Brew Tours package (apparently Lady Friend and I hit all these destinations on our own journey). Founded in 2002, they’re a small-ish brewery located within a warehouse in an industrial section of Burlington, which reminded Lady Friend of our visit to Mayflower Brewery in Plymouth, MA. They don’t seem to have an actual website, but do have a Facebook page here. Their tours are by appointment only, but it seemed like you could get away with just showing up, as several people did during the course of our tour. Several arrived at the end of the tour during the tasting; whether this was intentional or not, I don’t know.

We arrived about 10 minutes before our 2pm tour. Parking was a bit of an issue, as parking is along the street, but only between the signs. Someone helpfully wrote on one of the “No Parking” signs “$50 fine,” and we saw at least one vehicle with a bright orange ticket. Just up the street is a park by the water, so on a nice day getting a spot might be an issue. Once we got to the building, we couldn’t figure out how to get in. Around the left of the building, there is an glass door office entrance, which was locked. Don’t bother to call, since they won’t pick up the phone on weekends. Turns out, the brewery entrance is on the right side, just as you enter the lot. It happened to be sandwiched between two large delivery trucks, otherwise it’d be plain as day.

Once inside, we listened to our tour guide (I didn’t catch her name) give the usual ale auditory (lager lecture?) about the creation of beer, which if you’ve ever been to a brewery tour, you’ve heard. A few interesting things about Switchback: their fermenters are custom made to height, and clear one of the ceiling beams by about an inch. They had to punch holes in the roof to install the caps on top because they built them as big as they possibly could.

We’re going to need a bigger roof.

Their beautiful copper brew kettles came from a defunct brewery in Germany.

As a bonus, they got copies of the plans for the kettles from their original home in Germany, and are framed on the wall.

…and a cool copper control panel with fun German beer words like Läutergefäß, Vorwärmer, and Wassermischer.

It was sweltering up next to the kettles (which weren’t even cooking) while we were listening to the brewing process explanation. Of course, this being Burlington, some goddamn smelly dreadlocked hippie douchbag kept asking questions that the tour guide had just finished answered two minutes before. I’d lock him in the lauter tun to roast, but you’d never get the taste of weed and hacky sack out of the mash. Hippies bring out my inner Cartman.

You can dry hop with patchouli.

Switchback is somewhat small, and produces an unfiltered amber ale, simply called Switchback Ale, as their primary product. Their second brew varies depending on season, and when we visited, they had the Roasted Red Ale. After sampling both, I found them to be very unassuming and drinkable. Not quite bland, but just didn’t stand out as anything particularly memorable. They have a small merchandise selection, and I snagged a pint glass for a reasonable $4. Free bumper stickers were offered, but no tasting glasses. Switchback is available on draught only; they do not bottle, they only keg their product. We saw it on tap at a couple other bars throughout Burlington, and they claim to distribute into NY and NH, but I’ve never seen it (not that I had been looking for it). It was a good beer, but nothing I’d seek out specifically. I’d be more willing to order it if I happened to see it on tap, to support a small craft brewery with a decent product.

Passport stamp number two: Switchback. Next up, Part 3, Magic Hat.

Beercation 2011: Part 1, Enter the Vermont

I had been thinking of a quick blast up to Canada for some time for the specific purpose of acquiring a certain whisky, until Lady Friend came along. Between the two of us, we decided to expand it to a tour of several Vermont breweries, and a night in Montreal. After several various planning changes, we had a decent itinerary worked out, and went on the long 4th of July weekend.

We sauntered up I93 from Boston, hopped over the border into New Hampshire (Live Free or Die), banged a left onto I89 at Concord (Cahnkid), and bade farewell to traffic, tolls, and, well, people. NH has the White Mountains, but they get moldy in VT and become the Green Mountains. Ah, Vermont. New Hampshire’s upside-down sister, 69-ing since 1791. Land of cows, trees, and… I can’t think of anything else.

This is what Vermont looks like.

It’s about 215 miles to Burlington from Boston, and we got there around 11am. Burlington has a couple of breweries, and a number of brewpubs, so the Vermont Pub and Brewery brewpub was our first stop. They had 10 craft beers available, and you could order a 3oz sample for $1, four for $4, or a flight of six for $6.

We went with six.

Out of the ten beers, you could choose which six you wanted, or have the bartender choose for you. Lady Friend left it up to fate but I deliberately chose my targets, knowing I didn’t want to bother with any wheat beers or popsicle-flavored brews. I went with the Bohemian Pilsner, Grandslam Baseball Beer (American Ale), Burly Irish Ale (Red), Dogbite Bitter (ESB), Opa Pale Ale, and Bombay Grab IPA. Least favorite was the pilsner, since I’m not particularly a fan, and winner was the Grandslam American Ale. The IPA just didn’t have enough punch to win me over, but the AAle was delicious.

Lady Friend’s flight skipped the IPA, pale ale and ESB, and got the Forbidden Fruit (raspberry flavored), Beetlejuice (Weissbier) and Tulach Leis, which was a Brettanomyces-yeasted sour red ale. Yikes. She liked all three, but wishes she hadn’t started with the sour. Neither of us had the Milk Stout, which was a shame, since we both tasted all of the beers between us, and it would have been nice to hit the entire menu. I found the raspberry too fruity (I call it chick beer), the Weissbier acceptable (though I’m not a fan… what makes it taste like banana?) and the sour was a whole other category. Think vinegar. She’ll drink that but won’t eat a pickle. Irish Lad is making headway into the sour beer world, but it is a voyage he will partake alone. I’m not following him down that rabbit hole.

Overall, the experience was a pleasant one. The food was as it should be: good, solid, pub style fare, but with a long and varied menu that should please just about everyone. Good prices, good beer. Didn’t have anything that blew me away, but there also weren’t any duds in the bunch. Their motto of “Drink good beer, eat good food” sums it up quite well.

Our waitress let us in on a tip we hadn’t known about. There is a “Vermont Brewery Challenge Passport” with many regional brewers’ and brewpubs’ logos on the inside. It’s a promotional piece for the upcoming VT Craft Brewers Festival. The idea is to go to the different places, and get them to stamp your passport. Depending on the number of stamps you receive, you can redeem it for various prizes. Lady Friend and I got our first stamp at VT Pub & Brew… onto Part 2, Switchback Brewery!

Return top