Thursday, August 18, 2016

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Vermont Craft Beer Pilgrimage, 2

The So Cal Craft Beer Blogger (SCCBB) recently had the opportunity to visit the Northeast Kingdom, with friend and beer guru, Sir Ted of Sonoma. 

After the two paladins paid their respects to The Alchemist in Stowe, their quest took them to a place that might be considered the Holy Land or, looked at from the Saracen perspective, the Mecca of Breweries: Hill Farmstead Brewing, rated Number 1 Brewery in the World -- again -- for 2015 (
according to

As indicated in Part 1 of this chronicle, the SCCBB pretty much learns anything that's new and exciting about beer from Sir Ted. The journey to Hill Farmstead Brewery required a supreme exercise of faith on the SCCBB's part, mostly because it's in the middle of nowhere, and the last five miles are on a seemingly abandoned dirt road. Below is the view from the parking lot, which was PACKED on a Wednesday afternoon.

Sir Ted, a veteran crusader and zymurgist, recognized Shaun Hill, Hill Farmstead's founder and head brewer, as the dark lord wandered through the Farmstead's retail space, making sure the troops passed muster. A Vanity Fair interview from a couple of years ago gives a pretty good background on Shaun (Parental Advisory: Explicit Language). 

Shaun and Sir Ted exchanged pleasantries, then Shaun introduced us to Andrew Peterson, whose company, Peterson Quality Malts, malts grain for beer. Andrew said there are only 42 maltsters in the United States, and he is the only one in Vermont. How can you tell when a brewer has used fresh malt? we asked.

"The difference in taste is the difference between home-baked bread and store-bought," he responded. Here's an article on Andrew from Craft Beer and Brewing Magazine. (Rated "G": For general audiences).

Sir Ted and the SCCBB sampled a number of Hill Farmstead's draft offerings, finally settling on a growler each of an American IPA called "Susan," named after Grandfather Edward Hill's sister, and "Harlan" an American Pale Ale, "dry-hopped exclusively with Columbus hops," and named for Grandfather Edward's "slightly more aggressive alter ego." Intriguing.... 

Hill Farmstead has a very eclectic brewing program, with some super-artisan yeast brews available only in bottles. Sir Ted, an accomplished yeast master in his own right, collected some yeast from the bottom of a bottle of "Arthur" for further investigation once he returned to Sonoma's green and pleasant land.

Sir Ted, Veteran Crusader and Zymurgist

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Alchemist

Vermont Craft Beer Pilgrimage 1

The So Cal Craft Beer Blogger (SCCBB) recently had the opportunity to visit the Northeast Kingdom, God's Country, not far from Burlington, where Vermonters have "felt the Bern" for decades.

First stop was The Alchemist, which opened its new 30-barrel production facility and visitors center in Stowe, Vermont less than two months ago. The original production facility in nearby Waterbury (where the original brewpub and 15-barrel brewhouse have been run by John and Jen Kimmich since 2003) was destroyed by super-storm Irene in August 2011.

Your So Cal Craft Beer Blogger is going to come clean: he'd never heard of The Alchemist, and he'd never heard of their signature beer, Heady Topper, before making this trip. It was his friend and beer guru, Sir Ted of Sonoma, who insisted the two knights errant undertake this pilgrimage.

"It was his friend and beer guru, Sir Ted of Sonoma, who insisted
the two knights errant undertake this pilgrimage."
What Sir Ted knew, and the SCCBB did NOT, was that Alchemist Focal Banger (IPA, pictured) and Heady Topper (Double IPA) were ranked 3 and 4 in the world by Sir Ted favors the Heady Topper, while the SCCBB is partial to Focal Banger, which beer raters describe as having Juicy Fruit Gum notes, along with a light bready sweetness in the malt.

Ted, whose home brewpub used to be Russian River in Santa Rosa, California, until it got so hip that he and his lady fair could no longer sup there, was familiar with the crazed frenzy of fanatics lining up to get their allotted beer quota at the Alchemist retail store (two four-packs apiece of Focal, Heady, and their hop-bomb, Crusher, if memory serves). The parking lot, mid-week in late July, was mobbed with a steady stream of cars with New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine plates. This is because the Alchemist does not distribute beyond a 30-mile radius of its production facilities.

The new brewery produces about 180 barrels of beer per week,
or about 9,000 barrels per year (Photo from The Alchemist blog)
The SCCBB is a graphomaniac, and loves symbols, so he was particularly fascinated by The Alchemist's logo. Deep research revealed that it is a stylistic reimagining of the ancient alchemical symbol for "fermentation," based on the astrological glyph for Capricorn, which happens to be Sir Ted's Sun Sign.