Hops for Hunger - Vermont IPAs

In mid-December, I found myself on a fool's errand of beer shopping. It all started when my sister sent me a somewhat frantic text message around Thanksgiving. Her fiancé had informed her that all he wanted for Christmas was Heady Topper, and she, living in Kentucky, had absolutely no way of getting any. So she turned to me for help.

Saratoga Springs, NY, is approximately 2½ hours away from the only region on the face of the planet where Heady Topper is sold. Since they would be coming back to town to spend Christmas with his family, she asked me to drive to Vermont and pick some up.

For those who are reading this and aren't already aware, Heady Topper is a highly rated, highly coveted unfiltered Double IPA from The Alchemist. I have yet to encounter another beer in this world with the same level of fervor (and chaos) that surrounds Heady Topper. It is so ludicrously popular that it has become nearly impossible to get without proper planning and research. The brewery, which is not open to the public*, turns out 180 barrels of the DIPA each week, and distributes the 16oz cans to select stores and restaurants in the towns surrounding the brewery's Waterbury, VT location. The stores that are lucky enough to carry Heady Topper impose a purchase limit for customers (ie: only one or two 4-packs per customer) and every single one of those stores will sell out within hours - if not minutes - of receiving their delivery.

Lucky for me I have a trusty bff who is always game for pretty much any ridiculous beer related adventure you could think of. I enlisted her help, and the two of us went on a beer buying escapade. We left Saratoga in the wee dark hours of the morning, and headed east.

We set our sights on the Winooski Beverage Warehouse, which is one of the few stores out there that allow you to buy more than one 4-pack at a time. Their Heady Topper deliveries arrive at precisely 10am on designated days, and whatever beer is available is distributed among those who are waiting in line. We arrived promptly at 8:30am, a full hour and a half early, and were still behind 10 other people in line. Over the next 90 minutes, the line stretched behind us to over 100 people!

The line was even longer than that by 10am. I don't think those people at the end got any Heady.

Despite leaving the house at 6 o'clock in the friggin morning, I was only able to buy three 4-packs of Heady Topper for my sister's fiancé. At least I was able to get him some at all! With our precious cargo secured, we set off to continue exploring the wide array of beer Vermont has to offer

Later that day we found ourselves in Montpelier, at Hunger Mountain Coop. We were lucky enough to be there on the day of their Hops for Hunger fundraiser, benefitting the Montpelier Food Pantry. For $20, they were selling premade mixed 4-packs of famous Vermont IPAs. Each bag contained one Lost Nation Mosaic IPA, one 14th STAR Tribute DIPA, one Burlington Beer Co. It's Complicated Being a Wizard, annnnnnnd one can of the infamous Heady Topper. Since I was unable to score any Heady for myself that day, and I was quite intrigued by the other 3 beers, I decided to grab one. The fact that $7 from each bag went directly to the Food Pantry also helped seal the deal for me. It always feels good to give back a little, especially when you get to buy beer at the same time!

So without further ado, here are our reviews of Hunger Mountain Coop's Hops for Hunger Vermont IPAs!

Lost Nation Brewing, Mosaic IPA

Lost Nation Brewing, Mosaic IPA, Single Hop IPA, 5.5% abv, 65 IBU

Lost Nation Brewing's Mosaic IPA is a single hop ale, brewed and dry hopped with only Mosaic hops. At first, we found this one to be tightly wound and unappealing, and we were afraid it suffered from a case of "cool label." But, like many misunderstood wines, all this IPA needed was to breathe a little bit.

After a few minutes in the glass, the "dead mouse" and "old Kleenex" notes (Brandon's words, not mine) wafted away, and out came some lovely floral aromas of rose petals, lychees, and mandarin oranges.

On the palate, the Mosaic IPA is light in body and offers flavors of apples, lemon zest, brambles, and under ripe berries. It finishes quickly with clean, hoppy notes that don't linger. This was light and refreshing, and although at first we were quite worried, by the end of the glass it had proven itself to be rather enjoyable.

14th STAR Brewing Co., Tribute

14th STAR Brewing Co.,Tribute, Double IPA, 8.4% abv, 65 IBU

"That's dank" were the first words out of Brandon's mouth upon opening 14th STAR Brewing Co.'s Tribute Double IPA. And dank it is.

Cedar and woody aromas were the first to escape the glass, quickly followed by notes of caramel and milk chocolate. The palate is strong, dry, slightly bitter, and grippy, but not without being intensely flavorful. We found a wide range of flavors, including oranges, grass, caramel and coffee malts, berries, biscuits, and brown butter. Toffee and caramel flavors continued to jump out and layer on top of each other, while citrusy hop notes danced along with them. This was busy and attention grabbing, and evolved on the palate with every sip. The long finish never let up on the toffee notes, ending with lingering hop bitterness.

I thoroughly enjoyed the malty side of this Double IPA. It never once got boring. Tribute kept us engaged and entertained the whole way through the glass.

Burlington Beer Co., It's Complicated Being a Wizard

Burlington Beer Co., It's Complicated Being a Wizard, Extra IPA, 7.5% abv, 50 IBU

Burlington Beer Company was established in 2014, in Williston, VT. It's Complicated Being a Wizard, an Extra IPA, is one of their four flagship beers.

Aromas of lemon meringue and orange blossoms mingle with tiny hints of barnyard. The company's website doesn't list the specific hops or yeasts used in the brewing process, but the slight musty note leads me to believe that there's some use of naturally occurring brettanomyces. It reminded me of old world ciders, like those from Spain or France, which I found to be quite intriguing and enjoyable.

This IPA is quite complex. The name, "It's Complicated," is no joke. We found vegetal flavors of green peppers and green beans, and fruity notes of peaches and nectarines. At one point I even tasted orange dream popsicles. According to Brandon, "it tastes like the hops grew in the shape of the wizard's staff." I bet they did.

The Alchemist, Heady Topper

The Alchemist, Heady Topper, American Double IPA, 8% abv, 75 IBU

Aaah yes, the famous Heady Topper. The Alchemist's main focus and their illustrious claim to fame.

The proprietary - not to mention secret - blend of hops used in Heady Topper is quite citrusy on the nose. Aromas of lilies, lemon, grapefruit, citrus pith, green apples, and pears draw you right in. In my tasting notes I have written "like fresh weed out of the baggie," which actually isn't all that surprising, since hops and cannabis are in fact plant cousins.

Heady Topper is purposefully brewed to be an extremely approachable IPA, and it is. It is fresh and fruity, light to medium bodied, with a dry, slightly bitter hop flavor on the finish. It's no surprise that Heady Topper has attracted such a huge following and the consequential hoopla that comes with it. It is absolutely well made and goes down super easy.

Yes, I know you're supposed to drink HT straight from the can, but my insatiable curiosity got the best of me. I had to know what color it was!!

* The owners of The Alchemist are currently building a new, larger brewery and visitors center (!!!!) in Stowe, Vermont, with a projected July 2016 opening.