Vermont is known for many things—spectacular fall foliage, a plethora of winter sports, delicious dairy-based foodstuffs—but in recent years, it’s become a center for beer connoisseurs, too.
The craft brewery trend that’s swept the nation over the past few decades has benefited the Green Mountain State more than most, with tiny Vermont today boasting one of the country’s highest number of breweries per capita (with more than 55 currently operational). Its main city, Burlington (pop. 42,000), is loaded with notable beer-makers, but many of the best spots for suds are found deeper in the countryside, hidden in small towns cradled by ancient mountains. And while many of those breweries take pride in whipping up the hoppy India pale ales that are so in vogue nowadays, there are also plenty of craft brewers here experimenting in ways that are sure to surprise even the most jaded beer nerds (as you’d expect from a state that takes delight in being a little off-kilter). If you’re planning a beer-cation to Vermont, these eight breweries need to be at the top of your list (and in the bottom of your glass):
Hill Farmstead Brewery
Located outside the tiny town of Greensboro in Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom, Hill Farmstead Brewery might not be where you’d think to look for a brewery that’s been declared the world’s best several times over by website RateBeer’s vast user base. Yet wander into this farm-turned-brewery’s rustic taproom, with its warm scent of fermentation, and everything clicks. Founder Shaun Hill grew up here, in the same area where his family has lived for more than two centuries (the brewery’s logo comes from a sign that hung outside his great-great-great-grandfather’s tavern in the early 19th century), and the facility reflects both his family history and his passion to its very core.
What to Drink: Some brews are available in cans, but Hill Farmstead’s stock-in-trade lies in growler fills of its mainstay brews like Edward, a pale ale, and Mary, a pilsner, as well as exotic specialties sold in limited numbers in bottles like Twilight of the Idols, a winter porter brewed with cinnamon and coffee and aged on vanilla beans.
When the floodwaters of Hurricane Irene wiped out their Waterbury-based brewpub in 2011, John and Jen Kimmich made the best of things: They moved to higher ground and left the restaurant game behind, concentrating instead solely on beer. Their new facility in Stowe is a marvel of clean, industrial design; sunlight pours into The Alchemist’s airy tasting room and shop, where beer fans cycle through tasting brews and ogling the ballistic missile–like fermentation tanks behind a plate-glass window. The brewery is also striving to be as green as fresh hops: It’s currently testing a winter-proof solar panel awning for the parking lot.
What to Drink: The Alchemist turned hops, malt, and water into gold with the creation of Heady Topper, a double IPA that quickly developed a cult-like following. Devotees have been known to follow the delivery trucks on their routes to snap up the beer as soon as it’s delivered.
Frost Beer Works
Huddled away in a nondescript building in the town of Hinesburg, which is located just outside the greater Burlington area but feels entirely remote, Frost Beer Works ranks among the state’s unsung heroes of brewing, cranking out delightful beverages in relative anonymity. The taproom may not be particularly chic, but its proximity to the freshly produced beer—made just one room away—makes it a pleasant place to while away a weekend afternoon. Be sure to check the calendar before you go; the taproom hosts occasional special events, including food pop-ups and beer talks, too.
What to Drink: The brewery specializes in pale ales like the Plush IPA and the Really Pale Ale—one recent menu saw no fewer than five double IPAs on draft at once—but other types such as stouts, porters, and blonde ales are typically available, as well.
Burlington Beer Company
Don’t judge this brewery by its generic name: It more than makes up for that with the wild titles of its dozens of different beers, found in its cans and on draft. Burlington Beer Company’s spacious modern taproom takes up a space shared with the fermentation tanks, only a stone’s throw from the Burlington airport. And unlike many Vermont breweries, it also offers a wide selection of snacks, sandwiches, and tacos that makes the most of locally sourced ingredients, including Vermont cheeses and New England–raised pork and beef.
What to Drink: The beers seem peeled from a list of rejected Smashing Pumpkins album titles: there’s Paper Maché Dream Balloon (a dark IPA), Alien Hymns & Stoner Fables (an 11 percent imperial stout), Hyperspace Fury (a double stout made with waffle cones, salted caramel, and milk sugar), and Shoegazer (a New England blonde ale). If they happen to be making it at the time, be sure to try the Bee Keeper IPA, brewed with organic Vermont honey.
Four Quarters Brewing
The name may refer to the phases of the lunar cycle and the brewery might describe itself in circle-of-life terms, but don’t let the New Age sentiments put you off; even the most jaded souls can find solace in the beverages produced at this 10-barrel brewery in Winooski, a fast-rising ’burgh that’s more than earned the (admittedly cliché) designation of the Brooklyn of Vermont to Burlington’s Manhattan. You’re welcome to stop by Four Quarters Brewing during weekday brewing hours to buy cans, but if you want to sample, come by during designated times—the tasting room and the brewery operations don’t even have a wall between them, so pours are limited to when production is quiet.
What to Drink: Experimentation is king here, with oddball ingredients such as raspberries, pumpkin, and even locally made apple cider doughnuts used to create rauchbiers, sours, stouts—and brews like The Flood of Sunshine witbier, which uses orange and mango, and the Caff-O-Lantern pumpkin ale that has maple syrup and cold brew in it. (It also offers the requisite IPAs, of course.)
von Trapp Brewery
Yup, those von Trapps, the family of the singing and the Nazi-escaping and the Julie Andrews movie. After reaching the United States, they eventually settled in Stowe, where they opened a summer camp—which begat a lodge, which in turn begat a brewery in 2010. Now stationed in a capacious bierhall down the road from the hotel, the von Trapp Brewery specializes in German- and Austrian-styled lagers and pilsners—all of which pair well with the wide variety of Bavarian and American foods cooked up in the kitchen, including hamburgers with meat sourced from the cattle grazing on the surrounding von Trapp land. After you fill up on wursts and weissbier, it’s worth a quick drive up to the main lodge; the view from the hilltop suggests that those hills might very well be alive indeed.
What to Drink: von Trapp Brewery serves a wide variety of German- and Austrian-inspired brews like its Golden Helles lager, Bohemian pilsner, and Dunkel brown lager.
Lost Nation Brewing
Nestled in the back of a tiny industrial park in the small, remote town of Morrisville is one of Vermont’s hidden brewery gems. The cozy taproom and restaurant serves a delightful variety of beers—IPAs, pilsners, black ales, and other regional varieties and seasonal specialties among them. Save room for the food, though; the kitchen at Lost Nation Brewing is open for both lunch and dinner, and chef Erik Larson—an instructor at the New England Culinary Institute—puts together a masterful rotating menu that makes good use of local ingredients, like a soup-and-grilled-cheese pairing that uses locally sourced Cabot cheddar and focaccia.
What to Drink: Anyone looking to expand their palate beyond the usual lagers and pale ales should be sure to try the brewpub’s gose, a slightly salty, sessionable brew bursting with flavor.
River Roost Brewery
This two-year-old brewery’s White River Junction location puts it smack at the crossroads of the state, at the intersection of Interstates 89 and 91, the two highways that serve as Vermont’s main passages to the outside world. It’s two hours by car from Boston and four and a half from New York City, but the juicy IPAs being brewed alongside the humble, pale wood–furnished taproom at River Roost Brewery are well worth the drive. Go now, before the rest of the world finds out about this place and the lines start stretching out the door.
What to Drink: The barrel-aged stouts and smoked brown ales stand out—but it’s beers like the Mo’rilla IPA and Glimpse double IPA that have local cerevisaphiles salivating.