Not long ago, in a watering hold not far away, a few friends mentioned that they might be taking a trip to Vermont to visit a few breweries and squirrel away some bottles for rainy day (or just regular day) fun. As a veteran of two invasion campaigns (Operation Cheddar and Operation Cheddar II: Sharp Cheddar), I was fully on board. As it turns out, there was a secondary operation to this trip which took us to Boston for the American Craft Beer Festival and other wanderings. I shall dub this portion of the trip Operation Chowder and cover it in more detail tomorrow1.
Unlike the surgical strikes of Operation Cheddars I and II (single day affairs, with only a few tactical maneuvers), part III was a more extended campaign, stretching out across three days (with some travel time embedded in the first and last day) and reaching a more varied list of targets. It turns out that Vermont Beer is more than Hill Farmstead, Lawson's Finest Liquids, and Heady Topper. Not that we didn't partake in that holy trinity as much as possible, just that we hit up other places as well:
First stop was Fiddlehead brewery, before we even arrived at our hotel. It's a pretty small little tasting room for filling growlers and selling cans, but alas, no cans of the fabled Second Fiddle were available. We partook in some small samples and snagged a 4 pack of something else (covered below). There is also an attached pizza place, which a friend in Boston mentioned was better than the grand majority of pizza available in Boston (he also mentioned that this was not a particularly high bar - moar on Boston pizza tomorrow), though we did not partake as we wanted to get to our hotel, which was the Best Western just north of Waterbury.
When I mentioned my trip to Vermont on twitter, VT beer peeps came out of the woodwork to provide recommendations and planning for our attacks. The Vermont Beer Bros mentioned that we were near the fabled Waterbury triangle, a series of bars in "downtown" Waterbury arranged as the picture above shows. It was a bit of a lengthy walk, but totally doable (and honestly, I find walking a bit before and after drinking to be a good thing and enjoyed the walks, though my friends were a little less excited, especially at the big hill near the hotel). The first place we went was the place I'd heard the most about:
The Prohibition Pig is a bar that has a little brewery attached in the back. They serve their own beer, but also a pretty fantastic selection of local VT beer. It turns out that there was a Waterbury-wide Hill Farmstead tap takeover the previous weekend, so while we missed out on some of the more limited brews (we shall meet someday, Flora), there were a bunch of things we hadn't had on tap. Not to mention some Lawson's (Sip of Sunshine and Super Session IPA), amongst others. I sampled some of Pro Pig's brews too, and would recommend Bantam, a DIPA that holds its own against the other stuff I was drinking (the other stuff I had was not as successful, but still nice). Also of note, Pro Pig has a rather fantastic Bourbon selection:
BTAC, Pappy, and lots of other stuff you don't see too often (at least, around here!) I was on the fence, but when the bartender mentioned that Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 was on its last pour and didn't quite have a full 2 ounces left so he'd charge half price, I was on board. It was fantastic, rich and spicy, silky smooth and didn't drink at all like a highish proof bourbon... but I don't think it's really worth the $48 pour (and while I'm glad I tried it, $24 was still a bit much for the 1.5ish ounces I got, though obviously much more manageable). I can see why the hype is there, but that doesn't make it any less overhyped. This basically represented my only non-beer drink during the trip, and I was pretty glad I chose it.
Of the other bars in the Waterbury Triangle, the other one that really stood out was the Blackback Pub (the one in the center of the triangle). The taplist was great (if similar to Pro Pig and the Reservoir), but we made immediate friends with the bartender and scored some beer that wasn't available at Pro Pig either (more on this in a later post!) Also of note is that the Blackback has some pretty good food, and as a Philly native, I was very tickled to see their emphasis on using Amaroso rolls (Italian rolls that they somehow get delivered up to them). It's a great bar, a little smaller, but seemingly more lively, perhaps because we were chatting with the bartender for a while. The Reservoir was also pretty great, comparable beer selection, though we never ate there (but they seemed like they had a decent menu). The Blue Stone was the only one we didn't really get much out of... we were actually planning on grabbing some pizza there, but by the time we got there (around 9 or 9:30), their kitchen was closed (!?) so we didn't really stick around (and headed over to the Blackback for some snacks). Next time, Blue Stone!
Ultimately, staying in Waterbury was a fabulous idea, and as there's plenty to do and it's a pretty central location when you start to visit breweries, etc... Recommended!
Day 2 started off at a little supermarket and a rather fantastic bottle shop called Craft Beer Cellar (right across from Pro Pig), where we picked up some cans of Heady and Sip (more on that later), amongst other miscellaneous beers:
What we have here are some Jack's Abby Framinghammer Baltic Porter, Barrel Aged Framinghammer, Vanilla Barrel Aged Framinghammer, and Saxonator. Also some Switchback Citra-Pils and Foley Brothers Fair Maiden. Super excited for pretty much all of this! Next stop, that old chestnut:
Not much to say about Hill Farmstead. The beer is excellent as ever, and seemed more plentiful than the last times I made the trip (though it appears we missed out on more limited stuff like Flora the previous week... and dammit, this week too - poor timing, I guess). As for the haul, I got some Dorothy, Arthur, and Grassroots Brother Soigné bottles, and growler fills of Susan, Harlan, and Double Citra. Quite a successful sortie. Next up, Lost Nation:
It was starting to rain at this point and we were hungry, so we decided to get some lunch here and holy crap, that was the best decision ever. They have some fantastic food here. I had a smoked lamb flatbread thing (with some sort of garlic feta aioli) that was out of this world good. Definitely a recommended stop! I was driving, so only had a couple sips of beer, but it seemed good enough to snag some bottles/cans.
Not far away from that is Rock Art, which had a little tasting room and lots of other bottles and general stuff for sale. Once again, I was driving, so I didn't really drink much beer, but snagged a few bottles:
So the haul from those two breweries begat us a few bottles (cans covered somewhere below), including: Lost Nation Lamoille Bretta and The Wind and Rock Art Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout (Smugglers Notch Barrels) and Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale. Another successful sortie, and thus day 2 closed with another trip around the Waterbury triangle (already covered above).
Day 3 began with a trip to one of my favorite little VT stores, The Warren Store. Got some nice cans and the requisite breakfast sandwich (fantastic, as always, eaten outside on the deck by the creek).
We also managed to pop over to the Burlington to hit up a couple of breweries, Zero Gravity and the Vermont Pub & Brewery. Alas, we ran out of time and had to begin the trek to Boston before I got a chance to stop at some of the other Burlington targets, particularly Four Quarters Brewing. Ah well, next time.
All in all, a pretty successful trip, and here are some more of the beer we picked up:
What we have here is some Lawson's Sip of Sunshine, Alchemist Heady Topper, Fiddlehead Tejas Marron, and some cans of Lost Nation Lost Galaxy and Gose. On the end there, two lonely cans of Night Shift Morph that are actually from Operation Chowder, but included here as a bonus or something.
The glassware haul turned out well too, with Pro Pig, Lawson's, and Blackback Pub glasses, which I guess you'd call snifters, though they're also kinda tulip-ish. Whatever they are, the VT breweries seem to love them, because everyone had one like that, and most restaurants had them in several sizes...
I also bought some things that were not beer. Astounding, I know. What we have here is some VT Maple Syrup aged in Bourbon Barrels (hnng), some VT Habanero hot sauce, and some sort of weird beer jelly stuff (from Rock Art). I also snagged a couple of tshirts, not pictured here because come on, this post is long enough and we still have to cover our final Vermont stop:
Per a recommendation from our bartender friend Eric from the Blackback Pub, we stopped at Worthy Burger on our way to Boston for some lunch. As you can see, it's another fabulous tap list, and they have this great wood burning grill where they cook their burgers, which are rather fabulous:
Quite tasty! Once again, I was driving, so I partook in some local root beer, which was also rather nice. Oh, and we shared a strip of heavenly deep fried bacon as well (let's just say it was good). While a bit out of the way of most other VT beer stops, if you can make it work, it's worth a trip...
Well, this trip was quite a bit more eventful than previous Operations Cheddar, but totally a good time. Stay tuned for the slightly more tame Operation Chowder, wherein we actually managed to snag some of the VT beer we missed out on in our travails above!
1 - I named this Operation Chowder despite the fact that no Chowder was actually consumed at any point in our Boston wanderings (not exactly Chowder weather). We did, however, get a fair amount of Lobster, but I'm saving Operation Lobster for the inevitable Maine invasion, should that ever happen.