|From bottom to top: McNeill's, Long Trail, |
Otter Creek/Wolaver's and Magic Hat.
Jumping on 91 North, one of only two interstate highways in the state, (not including that little 12 mile jog of I-93 between the New Hampshire Line and St. Johnsbury) we head upstate for just under an hour-and-a-half trip to the hamlet of Bridgewater Corners—home of Long Trail Brewing Company. With under 1,000 year-round residents, the town Bridgewater is the very definition of a rural, Vermont community. Long Trail Brewing Company —named for the nearly 300 mile hiking trail that runs the length of the state— started operating in 1989, out of the basement of the Bridgewater Woolen Mill, but would move to it's current location in 1995. It's flag ship beers, Long Trail Ale and Double Bag, are both Altbiers, but the Double Bag is brewed in the style of the stronger Sticke Alt. Longtrail produces a number of other styles, including their Traditional IPA—which happens to be one of my all-time favorite beers. The brewery has also taken on an environmental responsibility with their brewing, by developing their EcoBrew campaign. They've made a commitment to sustainable brewing efforts by installing a heat recovery system, reducing water usage, and becoming Vermont's largest company to participate in the Central Vermont Public Service's "Cow Power" renewable energy program—that's a cow poop-to-methane-to electricty program, don't ya know! All these efforts, and many more, garnered Long Trail the "2009 Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence," presented to them by then Vermont Governor Jim Douglas (R). In the wake of Hurricane Irene, in late August of this year, a number of Vermont breweries and brew pubs were badly damaged or in some cases destroyed. Long Trail Brewing Company—with a good bit of itself under water—opened it's doors for seven days and gave out ice and water, and served three meals a day to friends and neighbors in the Bridgewater area—as far as I can tell, that's the Vermont way.
|Long Trail brewery, just after Irene.|
All right, back on the road, this time were going to cut through the heart of the state. This area of Vermont is exactly what you think of when you think of Vermont, rolling hill, green pastures and little red barns. Heading west on U.S. Route 4, we skirt just south of the central section of the Green Mountains National Forest, and through towns like Killington, Mendon and Spurbury, before meeting the junction with U.S. Route 7, north of Rutland. From this point were northbound on Route 7, and on our way to Middlebury and Wolaver's Organic Ales and its sister brewery Otter Creek Brewing . The original brewery, Otter Creek, opened in 1991, introducing its popular Alt-style Copper Ale (There must be an inordinate number of Düsseldorfians, er, uh, Düsseldorfers, in Vermont.) The brewery began producing an all-organic line of ales, seven years later, called Wolaver's Certified Organic Ales. Initially, Wolaver's was a beer marketing company based out of Nevada City, California, but with the success of this new line, the WolaverWolaver's is to certified, organically grown and locally sourced Vermont ingredients. They use only Vermont water sources; Vermont grown wheat and oats; only certified organic, domestic-grown malt and hops; and its own proprietary, top-fermenting yeast strain.
For me, the one beer to have, when your talking about Wolaver's, is their Oatmeal Stout. It's 5.9% ABV and nearly black with a thin-ish tan head. This oatmeal stout is a mouthful. Roasty and slightly sweet with a wonderful dark caramel—almost burnt sugar flavor—and a great bittersweet chocolate edge. It's like a caramelized plum, dipped in molasses.
The last stop on our journey is just up Route 7, in South Burlington. Burlington, Vermont's largest city, is a mash-up of hippie-chic, small-city irreverence, college town cool and old-fashioned home town-ness—and it's brewery, Magic Hat Brewing Company , is no exception. Opened in 1994, Magic Hat was bought by North American Breweries of Rochester, NY, in 2010 making it the 8th largest craft brewery in the U.S. Eclectic ingredients like beets, chamomile and vanilla, give Magic Hat an air of alchemy. In keeping with those ideals, and with a nod to the supernatural, Magic Hat produces four year-round brews and four seasonals—hanging it's hat on (pun intended) the apricot-infused #9, as it's signature beer. For this go-around I went with one of the brewery's seasonals—Hex, Magic Hat's, 5.4%, take on a Märzen-esque Oktober—or as they refer to it as "Our"toberfest. I'll be honest, here, Magic Hat isn't my favorite brewery. To me, all they're beer tastes alike. They did a fair job, however, on Hex. Firstly, it smells great—malty and deep with great, roasted biscuit and caramel tone. It pours a light amber with a creamy head—full bodied and malty, although, I'd love to have seen something more with it. It's not the best of the style, but still pretty drinkable.
I've now tried four different beers from four different breweries, and I think I can sum up everything with four simple phrases—homespun; environmentally conscience; organically local; and eccentric. Each one of these breweries bring something unique to Vermont-made beer. What interesting to is that those four phrases do a pretty good job of describing the state of Vermont, as well. One of the questions I'm asking of One For the Road, on these digital road trips, is can beer embody a place? In the case of Vermont and it's beer, I gotta say... jeezum crow , you bet!