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Burlington, Vermont is the home to a unique culture that embodies that of the state as a whole. This culture paints a vivid picture. Hard working farmers growing fresh produce. Bees making the tastiest honey. An army of college students. High-grade marijuana. And some incredible bars, breweries, and distilleries.
I drove into Vermont for the first time four years ago. There were miles and miles of grass and nothing. There were also tired cows, abandoned barns, and the occasional dairy silo. Serving as a break in the middle of the nothingness, was a moonshine distillery with a sign in front that said "Free Trials!"
Free trials? Behind the wheel? Isn't moonshine something you drink solely for the effect? It falls far from the category of a fine wine.
Despite my convictions, I stopped in front of the small, white booze shack with one car out front. They greeted me inside with friendly faces for my first sip of moonshine.
This was my informal introduction to the wide variety of alcohol in Vermont.
A Brief Tour of Burlington Bars
Friends are made and friends are lost at bars. That is simply the nature of the bar scene. And it is for that reason that bars are the first place you want to go in the college town of Burlington, Vermont.
The first stop on our tour is What Ale's You. It is the dive bar you never knew you wanted. Expect it to be empty on business days and shoulder-to-shoulder on every night from Friday to Sunday. The music played there is old school, and is selected right out of a juke box. There is only one dance floor, right smack in the middle of the bar. Early in the evening, they offer small booth tables dedicated to poker and blackjack in the back. The beer deals are incredible on every day that starts with "T," offering one dollar beers and three dollar shots.
The second stop on our tour is Red Square. As a self-described dancer of all genres, I take a great appreciation of the live music and the two dance floors Red Square has to offer. It has a bar directly on the right hand side when you walk in, and another bar in the back (in case you are fed up with the service at one, obviously).
Archives, the third stop on our short tour, is a bar-cade that makes a unique variety of cocktails. The owners from New Zealand are incredibly friendly, and they encourage an interesting mix of patrons. They also host events like gaming tournaments that serve as a good opportunity for buying some of their local beers and unique mixed drinks.
Rasputin's has to be the last stop of the night and is generally the last stop of the week. It is only open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights from 10pm to 2am. It is a sweaty, blackout escapade. Loud music, blinding lights, and cheap drinks. Prepare yourself to wait in a twenty minute line for this one.
Beers and Their Respective Homes
The Alchemist has a reputation in the US as offering one of the alcohol world's finest products. It is located in downtown Burlington.
Heady Topper is a double India Pale Ale with an 8 percent ABV. It has hints of citrus flavors. Better yet, Heady Topper had a 100 percent rating on numerous credible beer rating sites in previous years, like RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. It holds a reputation as "America's Most Coveted Beer." People go to unimaginable lengths to acquire a single case: driving from all over Vermont, waiting in line, paying more than twenty dollars for a four pack of 16-ounce tall-boy cans. Because of increasingly high demand, The Alchemist Brewery limits purchases of Heady Topper to two four packs.
Recently, The Alchemist released a new product called Focal Banger.
A more recognizable brand with a brewery headquarters in Vermont is Magic Hat Brewing Company. Their headquarters is in South Burlington, Vermont and it is a must-visit if you are in the area for a limited time. The flight deck here includes the beers you can find in a classic Magic Hat assorted 12-pack: #9, Circus Boy, Single Chair, Low Key, and Electric Peel.
They have a new "elixir" called TFG. I tried TFG the last time I was in Vermont for an open bar wedding, and it was incredible. Incredible and dangerous (because you'll always want another one). The Vermont flavor of it was overwhelmingly present, but in a way that was more than agreeable. It tasted like fresh grapefruit and orange, and is brewed with Pale, Victory, Oats, Cara Malt, and Carapils Malts, Magnum, Nugget, Simcoe, Amarillo, Cascade Hops, and London III Yeast. It has a 6.6 percent ABV. Just right, some would say.
After exploring many of Vermont's spirits and beers, I have found my Vermont beer of choice to be Switchback, a product of Switchback Brewing Co. in Burlington, Vermont. Switchback has one main brew that is their staple, called Switchback. It has a 5 percent ABV. This brewery is unique because it hosts events, such as Music Fridays and Stretch and Sip Yoga. Other Switchback brands include, but are not limited to, Connector IPA, Extra Pale Ale, and Citra-Pils Keller Bier.
More breweries worth checking out:
Foam Brewery: Situated on Lake Street in Burlington with a close-to-perfect view of Lake Champlain, Foam Brewery has a 4.2 BeerAdvocate Rating. For lovers of heavy double IPAs, I recommend the Experimental Jet Set, offered primarily at this brewery with a 9.2 ABV. It may not be one of the highest ABV beers you can buy, but it retains its value in taste and accessibility.
Zero-Gravity Brewery: I found out that Zero-Gravity has an a brewery branch within ten minutes from my home in New Jersey. I was eager to pay that one a visit because I never managed to get to the main location in Burlington. That said, one of their offerings is dedicated to the state of Vermont and is honorably dubbed Green State Lager. This has an average 4.9 percent ABV. One of the products on the higher end of the ABV spectrum is Choice Make Good Double IPA at 8.3 percent ABV. They likely rely on your better judgement to make the good choice- scratch that- the best choice, to satisfy your beer hankering.
I would be remised to not include Sip of Sunshine India Pale Ale on this list of Vermont spirits and breweries. This lupulin India Pale Ale is packed with notes of tropical fruit, floral aromas, and layers of hop flavor. Even as somebody who shies away from "fruity beers" I can say with pride that I love this one to death.
There are many other top fruit flavored beers with breweries based in Vermont. It is worth exploring.
Events In and Out of Beer Season
SIPtemberfest. Moretown, Vermont. September 22, 23, and 24. Started by three beer lovers in 2008, the SIPtemberfest has been rocking the Mad River Valley area for more than ten years. If you're planning on exploring Vermont's spirits and breweries, this is a solid place to start. Tickets to this event notoriously sell out fast. Based on personal testimonies, this a rain or shine event.
Oktoberfest. Burlington, Vermont. September 21-23. Located on the Burlington Waterfront, Oktoberfest hosts the best local, regional, and world-renowned brewers. Many of these are German beers brewed seasonally for a limited amount of time. Some of the festivities include beer, games, live music, and German food. Holy Schnitzel!
There are more Oktoberfest events scattered throughout Vermont during this season.
- Stowe Oktoberfest. Stowe, Vermont. September 30.
- Killington Oktoberfest. Killington, Vermont. October 8.
Harpoon Barbecue Festival. Windsor, Vermont. This celebration of sun has everything you need to compliment your beer: friends, barbecue, and live music. It has a barbecue competition from contesters all over the country.
These are dates based on the 2017 calendar year. Click on the names of the festivals for more information.