Perhaps the epitome of Vermont breweries is Hill Farmstead. Hill Farmstead is located in a remote corner of Vermont known as the Northeast Kingdom, where 74% of the roads have been rated as being in 'poor' or 'very poor' condition. The land on which the brewery sits has been in the brewer's family for eight generations, and most of Hill Farmstead's beers are named after his ancestors. The demand for their beer has so outstripped supply that bottles have been illegally auctioned off for hundreds of dollars on eBay.
I didn't make it out to Hill Farmstead, but I did manage to try several of their beers at a great pub in Waterbury called Prohibition Pig. Holger Danske, a brown ale with Beech-smoked malt, was a perfect pairing for savory food. Susan (hopped with Riwaka, Citra, and Simcoe) was an excellent example of what seems to be an emerging style for Vermont's IPAs: juicy, full of resinous and tropical fruit aromas, and nearly opaque with unfiltered hop debris. But the star of the show was Arthur, a saison heavily hopped with both American and European hop varieties. This is the first really hoppy Belgian-style beer I've particularly enjoyed. So good.
If there's one beer that Vermont is known for, it's Heady Topper, a double IPA from The Alchemist. Since The Alchemist's main brewery was destroyed in the floods of 2011, they now brew Heady Topper exclusively. Heady Topper is sold in cans, but generally sells out the day it arrives in stores, so I visited their cannery to taste a sample. Like Susan, Heady Topper is cloudy in appearance and features tropical fruit notes, but seemed to have a firmer, more defined bitterness and a bit more malt flavor. Their proprietary yeast strain, Conan, gives the beer a distinct peach aroma. Homebrewers across the country are currently working themselves into a frenzy trying to clone this beer.
Lawson's Finest Liquids is Vermont's smallest commercial brewery, but has garnered an outsized reputation. Unfortunately, they're not open to the public, but I did get a sip of their Kiwi Double IPA at Prohibition Pig. The beer doesn't contain kiwis, but is hopped with New Zealand's Nelson Sauvin and Pacific Jade hops. Pretty damn good. I also found a bottle of Lawson's at Winooski's Beverage Warehouse. It was Paradise Pale Ale, a dry-hopped pale ale brewed with 100% Vienna malt, which gave it a deep amber color and a nice nutty note in the finish.
After visiting Prohibition Pig, we found ourselves just down the street from Magic Hat, so we stopped in. Samples were generous, and they had some cool artwork. We also stopped at a few breweries I hadn't previously heard of: Fiddlehead was featuring an excellent hoppy imperial brown ale, though their IPA wasn't anything special. Switchback offered a nice tour, but fairly uninspiring beer, unless your thing is subtle, malty pale ales. Vermont Pub & Brewery had a number of interesting beers, including a sour-mashed raspberry beer (which wasn't sour enough), and another sour called Tulach Leis, which had a nice brett aroma but a weak finish. Unfortunately, we were a day early for the release of their bacon rauchbier.