Tag Archives: Farmhouse Ale

Breweries in Prince Edward County – County Road, Barley Days, Prince Eddy’s, and Parsons

My second set of breweries in outer Ontario Canada were all in Prince Edward County area, a small island known for its many wineries in part due to its unique terroir.

County Road Brewing

Immediately on walking up to County Road it had the feel of an upscale farmhouse restaurant with lots of wood in the decor yet open areas letting in plenty of natural light. I got to speak with the brewer while I was there and learned that they had recently shifted their focus more toward Belgian styles and farmhouse ales after discovering their water was better suited for this style of beer. From what I tasted while I was there, this seems to be quite true.

I started with their petite saison. It was dry and balanced with light spice character, earthy apricot notes, and grapefruit hops, with a mild bitter finish. I love how they took the classic style and gave it a hop kick that works well with the style. The standard saison is more true to style with notes of cracked pepper, light puckering tartness and a dry finish.

The pale ale was bitter and piney with a mild malt backbone. The gose was light and crisp with notes of lime and mild salt and a lightly tart finish. The version with added cherry was deliciously fruity and brought out the notes of lime even more prominent. The cherries also gave it a bright red color.

The biere de mars had a dry banana bread flavor with mild grapefruit, caramel, and light tart finish. I enjoyed this one a lot because it is a style I don’t see at breweries very often. The malts didn’t overpower the rest of the beer.

These statements are all about the quality of what I had on tap the day I visited. Sadly, the bottle of saison I brought back home from the brewery didn’t have the same classic style or level of attenuation, though things in the bottle are always unpredictable. The Biere de Miel was still great in the bottle and had a nice balance even if it tended to be a bit more sour than what I had on tap.

Top 3:
Biere de Mars
Cherry Gose
Petite Saison

Barley Days Brewing

Barley Days has a good medium-sized tasting room inside with air conditioning and a nice outdoor seating area. I wasn’t very glad when I saw that they chilled all of their glasses prior to serving. This kept me from getting the full flavor from some of the beers because they weren’t warming up very fast. Still the beers were quite good so it would be worth picking up some to take home and serve in your own glasses.

Their indoor voice European pale was to me a pure classic west coast style pale ale with mild herbal hops, tons of melon and citrus hops, and a mild bitterness and minimal malt notes. Their loyalist lager was crisp and fruity with a nice lager character. The harvest gold was dry and mildly fruity with some biscuit malt notes, perfectly to style.

Their dark ale had some light roast and a dark brown color with mild English hop character, overall very balanced. I also tasted some of my friend’s raspberry hibiscus beer that was delightfully balanced with strong hibiscus and raspberry and a mild tart finish. Though I didn’t expect much from this brewery I was very impressed overall with the quality of the beers. Sadly the owner didn’t care that I was disappointed about the chilled glasses.

Top 2:
Indoor Voice hoppy pale
Raspberry Hibiscus

Prince Eddy’s


Prince Eddy’s has only been open for a short time but they had a solid lineup available and I tried 5 of their beers. Though they are newly opened, they have a good sized tasting room and plenty of seating. Their pale ale was creamy and minimally bitter with a light malt base though not a ton of hop aroma. Their IPA had low alcohol for the style but a nice soft body with juicy pine and citrus character and lots of flavor for 5%.

The white IPA has more of an herbal balance to it that overpowered it and gave it a strong bitter finish of puckering grapefruit. The Belgian yeast seemed to overpower the rest of the beer a bit too much. The stout was tasty with mild lactose and plenty of roast and caramel, nicely to style. Their cream ale is more English style or as my friend called it Canadian style cream ale. It was soft with notes of vanilla and light sweetness. I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would.

For such a new brewery they were quite impressive and hopefully will grow nicely. The IPA and cream ale will both help them to attract a following.

Parsons Brewery


Parsons is one of the more established we visited and they had a huge number of taps in their mid-sized restaurant. Their rye pale was good and balanced but a little more bitter than I prefer, drinkable but nothing great. The coffee stout was mildly bitter and roasty with a dry finish. The coffee was very minimal and should have been stronger.

The Vortex Double IPA was classic English style and far too sweet and heavy on the malts, overpowering the hops. I didn’t care for this one. The two barrel aged beers I had were not very good. Though I found out later that they use a fairly low alcohol base beer, which gave both of them a really thin body.

As you can see they had way more beers than I could try in one visit. Plus this was my fourth stop of the day.

The Legend, aged in bourbon barrels, was super hot with a strong alcohol bite and very thin body. There was minimal roast or sweetness with a smoky dry finish. The scotch aged version was even less interesting and was a pure mouthful of peat and smoke that overpowered the base beer.

Parsons was the least interesting of the day for me though perhaps i ordered the wrong things. Lots of their hoppy beers were too old-school for me.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Breweries in Western Michigan – Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, and other areas

There are many breweries in Western Michigan. I could never visit all of them in a span of two days, nor can I give sufficient time to all the breweries I did visit. I stuck to those breweries most recommended on Beer Advocate message boards. In this post I will cover Brewery Vivant, Founders, New Holland, Arclight, Transient, and Bell’s. I didn’t try anything on tap at Arclight though so I will be posting based on the bottles of sour beer I picked up recently on my way to Transient. I also didn’t taste anything but stouts at Bell’s because I happened to visit on their All Stout’s Day.

Brewery Vivant

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Vivant is known for its Belgian style beers and the few that I tried were quite well done even if some were not to my tastes. Vivant is located inside an old funeral church and they have a gorgeous space with two large stained-glass windows. They have tons of seating and a full menu of food. I stopped in quickly for a flight. Keep in mind the tasters are on the expensive side, with prices ranging from $3 to $4. I’m not sure that I understand why they have such pricing. Thankfully, the bottles are more reasonably priced and they have cans of most of their core beers.

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Their farmhouse ale was dry with notes of white wine and some mild peach with minimal spice character. It is a very well-done saison. The maelstrom stout is bitter and smoky with some mild roast and hints of burnt caramel. It has a creamy finish and if you give it some time to warm up and for your palate to adjust to the initial shock it is a fantastic beer. The Verdun Biere de Garde has notes of dark fruit with a mildly sweet finish. It wasn’t as dry as I expected but I enjoyed it enough and the beer was nicely balanced. The Liquid Crystal Belgian IPA was intensely floral with a fruity base malt similar to the Verdun. I wasn’t a fan of the mix of flavors and it was not my hop profile but it is a well-made beer.

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Their stone fruit sour was excellent with some intense brett on the nose and a puckering tart at the finish that gives way to sweet peach and nectarine. I left with two bottles of this for myself and another for a friend. It is worth checking ahead to see if the brewery has any sours because they are excellent. The barrel aged stout on raspberries was a shock at first with a mix of flavors I haven’t experienced before. I’m not sure I like the blend of bourbon and raspberry. To me this is almost a sour and not something I would recommend for someone who is mostly into sweeter stouts. The raspberry comes on as mildly tart and overpowers the bourbon. If you like sweeter stouts you should go to Founders or New Holland instead.

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Top 2:
Farm House Saison
Stone Fruit Sour

Founders

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Compared to the spacious area of Vivant, which is already a good size as breweries go, Founders is massive. While they do have some people taking orders from the tables, you can also line up and order beer or food directly from the counter, which is faster. They also have a water bottle filling station near the restrooms to make it easy to hydrate. Because of the huge space, Founders has live music and we were blessed by some bluegrass during our time there. I’m not sure why the groups seemed to only play one song and then switch but I wasn’t complaining because despite being bluegrass they had a ton of bass in the music. Come with ear plugs if you like a quiet brewery experience, especially on weekends.

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I tried a couple of their IPAs and a couple of stouts but we didn’t have a ton of tasters because they didn’t have many stouts on tap and I wasn’t a huge fan of the IPAs. The harvest IPA was a fantastic mix of resin and grapefruit and nicely balanced with a mild sweetness and bitterness. I got some notes of fresh grapes at the back. The Beer City IPA was quite old school with a prominent bitterness and tons of pine. It was well-made but not my favorite hop profile.

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The Rubaeus was a tasty raspberry ale, jammy and not too sweet with the right blend of amber malts to support the berries while giving it some additional fruit notes. The watermelon gose was sweet and mildly tart with a great balance of flavors. It wasn’t too salty and is probably the first really good watermelon beer I’ve had. My husband went up to order the nitro breakfast stout and backwoods bastard tasters but the server heard him to order a pint of breakfast stout. Though he hadn’t been in love with breakfast stout before, he really loved it on nitro. I got an intense nutty coffee with a smooth mild chocolate. The nitro made it extra special.

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I had tried the regular dirty bastard before and really liked the flavors of the base beer. The backwoods bastard has a ton of caramel and bourbon and is super smooth. I passed this up in the stores before based on the price of a four pack but now I might consider buying some because it is so good. It is quite easy to spend a full day at Founders if you are staying in town longer. How long you want to stay depends on what sorts of beers they have and your preference. I would recommend Founders more for their stouts though the Harvest IPA was excellent too.

Top 3:
Breakfast stout on nitro
Watermelon gose
Harvest IPA

New Holland

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I almost skipped visiting New Holland because we already got their new coconut rum dragon’s milk in San Diego. It was worth a stop to try a few other variants of their beer. The Down Dogger, a hoppy wild Belgian golden was fruity with lots of spice from the Belgian yeast and super dry but it wasn’t sour, funky, or hoppy. It was a fairly standard beer. The Harvest 2, a fresh hop pale, was bitter and malt forward with some notes of grape. It didn’t stick out at all or suggest from the flavors that the hops were fresh. The Vanilla Chai Dragon’s Milk had tons of cinnamon and clove with mild vanilla. To me the spice overpowered the rest of the beer too much. I didn’t really care for it. The Brewer’s Select Dragon’s Milk, a slightly stronger version of the regular, was smooth with notes of vanilla but the alcohol came out a little too hot on the finish.

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Comparatively, the coconut rum version, released this year, is much better. It has tons of coconut flavor and a mild rum note at the back. I’ve been enjoying these bottles for a couple of weeks at home prior to visiting. I’ve also had the regular Dragon’s Milk in the past and thought the standard was more balanced than the Brewer’s Select version. The few beers I tasted at New Holland tell me that it is worth sticking to variations of Dragon’s Milk and having other beer styles at other breweries in the area. Since you can find Dragon’s Milk in four packs as far out as the West Coast (we started receiving them in San Diego) I would recommend grabbing some bottles to enjoy at home instead.

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New Holland’s various locations are restaurants and they tend to get crowded quickly. The location in Grand Rapids had such an insane wait that we decided to stop in Holland on our way south to visit the original brewery. Since we already ate at Founders, we only had a little dessert at New Holland to go with the stouts.

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Known for:
Known mostly for their popular barrel aged imperial stout called Dragon’s Milk and the different variations.

Transient Artisan Ales

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Transient is a very young brewery but has developed a ravenous following from the nearby areas for its release of juicy North East style IPAs in cans as well as the different variations of sours. It is quite a drive to get to Transient either from Grand Rapids or Chicago, and will likely take you over an hour either way. Coming from Grand Rapids or Kalamazoo you can stop by another brewery along the way called Arclight. I stopped there briefly for a few sours they were releasing but they had plenty of other beers available on tap. Considering all the fantastic stouts at Founder’s and Bell’s I might still recommend coming out to Transient for their Buckley light chocolate stout.

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I started with the Cromulent pale ale. It was juicy with notes of orange peel and peach with tons of hops and not a lot of bitterness. It is a very respectable juicy pale. I had a small growler of this beer at home the next day and it was still quite good. The pineapple salarium is tasty pineapple, not too acidic, mildly tart, and a dry finish. It reminded me of the Beatitude series of beers from San Diego’s Council Brewing. Bottles were already sold out when I got there. The Indoorsman brett pale ale had a strong woody bite with an herbal finish and some mild bready malts and peaches at the finish. I couldn’t get over the lingering bitterness at the finish and did not finish the taster.

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The Henry porter was smooth and smoky with a ton of burnt caramel. Though this one was a bit shocking at first once I adjusted and it warmed up the beer had more caramel and I enjoyed it better. The Double Barrel Obelus was super smooth with notes of honey, peaches, and a mild buttery finish from the American oak. It is a fantastic complex beer that I enjoyed so much I left with two bottles. The Buckley light is pure liquid dark chocolate and creamy smooth. This is an excellent chocolate stout and worth seeking out.

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Top 2:
Double Barrel Obelus oak aged saison
Buckley Light chocolate imperial stout

Bell’s Brewing

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Despite Google showing multiple locations for this brewery, they have only one location that is split into a general store and a cafe. The brewery itself is not open to visit or drink in a tasting room. I visited on the day when they had All Stout’s Day, which meant all but two of the taps at the brewery were replaced by stouts. Thus, I won’t be including any commentary on how good their IPAs or other styles are.

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I started with the java stout. It has mild smoke and tons of coffee roast, a very easy-drinking beer. I had two varieties of their expedition stout, one of their flagship brews. The 2014 and 2015 were not all that different but both were fantastic. The beer has tons of caramel and roast and a nice thick body.

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The whiskey aged expedition stout was super smooth with a creamy mouthfeel and a strong but not overpowering or hot whiskey. The black note on tap had some nice notes of chocolate and fudge when compared to the whiskey expedition. The whiskey aged 30th anniversary had tons of fudge and cinnamon with some mild vanilla on the finish. The barrel aged dagger stout had tons of vanilla and espresso with a super smooth finish. All of the barrel aged stouts on tap were fantastic but the barrel aged 30th anniversary and barrel aged dagger stout were my two standouts. With such strong beers it gets difficult to give more detailed descriptions after a while.

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Known for:
Intense stouts and barrel aged variants, also some old school IPAs that are quite popular.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Breweries in Anchorage, Midnight Sun and Anchorage Brewing

It is fitting to start a post about Anchorage breweries with Midnight Sun because from what I have been told by the locals, the brewer who now brews all the beers at Anchorage brewing was originally at Midnight Sun. These two breweries are fantastic to hit although you may find the on-tap selection at Midnight Sun somewhat lacking like I did. They make up for this with their bottles available to-go.

Midnight Sun Brewing

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Midnight Sun is a brewpub so they have food and serve brunch on the weekends, making it a great first stop once you arrive in Anchorage if you already need a beer. Depending on how far you traveled to get there, you will most likely be ready for a beer immediately. The brew pub has ample seating and a wide tap list. Though the items on tap were not of the sort that blew me away, no imperial stouts or sours on tap, the beers I did get to try were well-made. Since flights are limited to specific sets of beers, we ordered half pours of everything, which was plenty. In total I tried the Alt Bier, Coffee Porter, Pleasure Town IPA, and Imperial Pumpkin Porter.

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The alt bier was quite fruity and super smooth and clean. I could easily see myself going through multiple pints of this. The coffee porter was smooth and mild and quite light bodied. It could have used a bit more coffee kick but it was done well. The pleasure town IPA was quite bitter and dank balancing the three hops nicely with the occasional citrus or tropical fruit coming through. Overall I thought it was just a tad too bitter such that the aromas got a bit overpowered. Still it is a solid IPA and one you can’t go wrong with bringing with you on a hike. The imperial pumpkin porter had a ton of dark fruit from the malts and lots of spice. It was thankfully not made overly sweet. To me the spice was a bit overpowering of the rest of the beer as is common with this style.

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I left the brewery with a number of bottles to bring home and have already opened two of them. The wine aged brett pale ale was quite delicious. The other imperial stout was well-made but pretty solid. I am excited to try the Berserker bottle I have in the cellar as well.

Anchorage Brewing

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Anchorage Brewing is one of the few breweries that completely lived up to the hype. Though they only allow you to order full pours of beers, which made me come back two days in a row to enjoy everything, everything was very well made so I didn’t mind this at all. The tasting room has no food and tends to have close to 10 beers on tap at any given time. Because no tasters are served they are fine with giving you a few splashes.

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I started with the Migrating Eyes brett saison. I found it very smooth and funky with a nice tart kick. The anadromous dark sour was a nice mix of jam, vanilla and oak, and was quite smooth. My husband went straight for the darkest hour imperial stout. It had lots of molasses and caramel and was super smooth. Despite being 13% it wasn’t very boozy. He loved this one so much that coming back the second day he didn’t mind ordering it again.

Brett saison and Imperial Stout.
Brett saison and Imperial Stout.

The triple IPA they had on tap was absolutely delightful. The beer was smooth and juicy with a bright orange cloudy color. Flavors included lots of citrus and mango. I ended up ordering this a second time the second day after trying a few others. When I came back the second day I tried the single IPA, which was well-made but didn’t have the same intense flavors of the double IPA. The Bitter Monk, was a delicious brett-forward Belgian double IPA. It had the right mix of bitterness, brett, and Belgian yeast. I also left Anchorage with a number of bottles because they have quite a wide range of beers available to bring home.

Dark sour
Dark sour
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Triple IPA, super juicy

Anchorage Brewing is one of the most exciting breweries I have visited and is a great way to spend a few hours if you happen to be in town. Though they tend to focus on sours and tarts they do hoppy beers well and their imperial stout was quite impressive.

Top 2:
Triple IPA
Migrating Eyes Brett Saison

Though I did visit a couple of other breweries in town for a few beers, these two were the most excellent and would be worth planning a trip around to visit. Though both breweries do distribute to San Diego, you may find a few bottles at the breweries that you can’t find down here.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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Portland Maine Breweries, Oxbow, Bissel Brothers, Foundation, and Maine Beer Company

The astute reader may want to jump right to the comments section to note that Maine Beer Company is not in Portland Maine. While this is true, the beers are widely enough available in Portland that a review of what I had at the tasting room can be useful for someone planning a trip out to Portland Maine. Oxbow is also not in Portland, the brewery itself is further north, but they have a tasting room available that you can visit where you can buy bottles and try tasters. Sadly, like many trips the number of breweries i could visit was limited by both time and the day of the week when I visited so certain other breweries were not an option either.

Oxbow Blending and Bottling

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Oxbow has a tasting room in Portland Maine where they have a good number of beers on tap and offer flights. They also have some guest beers on tap and in bottles that you can drink while you are there. I stuck with the house beers. The basic farmhouse ale was earthy with a nice mix of fruit and funk and some mild hop flavor coming through. Both this and the Loretta are quite low alcohol and yet manage to deliver plenty of flavor. Loretta is also quite subtle but it has some tasty earthy hops, mild fruit notes, and a dry finish. Freestyle 37 is a tasty farmhouse pale that blends the earthy farmhouse malts with fruity hops quite nicely though you might want to skip this and the Domestic Farmhouse IPA if you don’t care for hops.

My delicious taster flight.
My delicious taster flight.
Plenty of indoor seating.
Plenty of indoor seating.

Domestic Farmhouse IPA is a flagship of theirs and sadly wasn’t availble in bottles when I visited because it was delicious. The beer blended really nicely with the subtle earthy farmhouse malts and delicious juiciy hop character the area is known for. The Biere de Garde was quite complex with notes of dark fruit and caramel and some mild bitterness from the hops.

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Top 2:
Domestic Farmhouse IPA
Freestyle 37

Maine Beer Company

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Though not in Portland Maine directly, it is a short 30 minute drive or less to Maine Beer Company where you can order flights, buy bottles, or do some full pours. I stuck to the hoppy options because they are most hyped for them. The Beer II Session IPA was quite nice for a session and not too bitter with lots of hop character. The Mo Pale was slightly stronger than the session and added on some fruit notes but was otherwise not drastically different than the session.

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Another One IPA was smooth and low on bitterness though I didn’t detect any specific hop flavors. Lunch was a little smoother and has a nice balance of malt character and citrus and resin hops. Lunch would fit right in with the various San Diego IPAs and is quite a tasty beer. I chose to not leave with any bottles, despite their high trade value, because I thought a few of San Diego’s IPA offerings are better and I prefer to only buy individual bottles of hoppy beers if they are quite exceptional especially on a trip where I brought back quite a bit of hoppy beer in cans.

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Though Maine Beer Company does brew a stout, it was not available on tap at the time so I am glad we stopped in Vermont and picked up a bottle to taste. It was quite a nice stout with notes of vanilla, tons of roast, and mild smoke character.

What to drink:
If you are going out to Maine Beerc Company, look for Lunch and Dinner, their two most popular IPAs. If you don’t value the tasting room experience you can usually find their beers around Portland Maine quite easily to bring back with you.

Bissel Brothers

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I only tried two beers at Bissel Brothers because they were not selling any cans. I found out the hard way that they don’t sell cans on Sundays. The two beers I had were quite good and both made me wish I could buy a few cans. The Rye Pale was super juicy and cloudy with some herbal notes, very impressive. The IPA I tried, their flagship, was juicy with tons of grapefruit and some mild spice. I thought overall the beers at Bissel Brothers and Foundation were more impressive than Maine Beer Company. The tasting room is also quite noisy and tends to get loud even with a small number of people.

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What to drink:
Come to Bissel Brothers for IPAs and to try the signature North East style juicy IPAs.

Foundation Brewing

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I almost didn’t visit Foundation but since the tap list was limited at Bissel Brothers I wanted to hit another brewery. I tried their Afterglow IPA, Epiphany Double IPA, and imperial stout. The Afterglow was smooth and juicy and not too bitter with some nice orange notes, like drinking orange juice. Epiphany was extra juicy and fruity with lots of citrus character and super smooth, also not very bitter. I thought Epiphany was the best beer I had on tap for the trip and was up there with the Trillium Double IPA cans I brought back with me. They also had an imperial stout on tap, a first for the area, and it was fruity with notes of bitter coffee and a bitter finish, quite a nice stout. My husband ended up having two tasters worth because he liked it so much.

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The tasting room at Foundation was a bit small but had a good sized outdoor area open where you could enjoy the beers. Some locals I saw indicated that there is usually more room inside for you to drink. Foundation is also in an area where you will find a bunch of other breweries including Allagash, which happened to be closed the day I was in town. If you make a trip to visit Allagash, keep in mind that doing tours is the best way to taste the most beers.

After some noisy indoor breweries, I was glad to have some outdoor seating options.
After some noisy indoor breweries, I was glad to have some outdoor seating options.

What to Drink:
Like Bissel Brothers, this is a brewrery you visit for cloudy juicy North East style IPAs.

Towards the end of my time in Maine I visited Trillium and picked up some cans in Boston. It is easy to add on a visit to pick up cans at the end of a trip if you are returning your rental car at the Boston airport. The store Trillium has in Boston doesn’t get very crowded and so you can quickly buy cans and get on your way.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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A Hard Look at Vermont Brewery Legends, Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist

World class breweres are understandably put on a pedistal because after a while average beer doesn’t satisfy you the same way it once did. But among world class breweries some, for various reasons, don’t allow you to drink much when you visit. Some people prefer to simply show up and buy legendary cans to enjoy at home. I generally travel and visit breweries to both buy their beer and try it first while I am there. At Hill Farmstead you do not have a chance to try their saisons before buying bottles. That isn’t to say that I doubt the quality of the beer but even among beers at world class breweries, individuals differ in their palate preferences. I may have chosen to buy a $30 bottle of the aged saison at Hill Farmstead for example if I had tasted it first.

I happened to visit Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist in the same trip as I visited the world class Montreal Canada brewery Dieu du Ciel and of the two I would sooner return to Dieu du Ciel because I really enjoyed hanging out there. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that I visited both of these breweries and will be enjoying the beers that I purchased from them but the experience of hanging out at a brewery and having a beer before I buy beer to go is something I generally value. And while Trillium’s boston location has similar limitations, one could also quickly stop for beer on the way through with much more ease because they are located in central Boston.

It can be hard for someone who lives in California to conceptualize just how far apart breweries in Vermont are or even just how spread out Vermont is in general. In parts of the North East United States you don’t have cities so much as you have towns. And these cities are sometimes 20 or 30 miles apart. So the drive from The Alchemist to Hill Farmstead takes 50 minutes not so much because the distance is so great but because the roads in between have such low speed limits that you can’t possibly drive that distance in what you would be used to in San Diego or Los Angeles. The closest thing to the roads in Vermont is some smaller roads in the rural outskirts of San Diego. To get out to Valley center you drive through a number of small two lane roads that by nature you can’t drive through very fast. Add to that an hour or so wait in line at The Alchemist at least when I visited and it is an experience I would prefer to not repeat again for a while despite really enjoying the beers I brought back.

The Alchemist

I was excited to visit the new brewery for The Alchemist once it opened because it is the first time that they have made available beers other than heady topper after their two years or so of brewing just the one beer. From what they indicated they have no plans to serve beer on site so if you want to buy the beers other than heady topper you must visit the brewery in Stowe and potentially wait in line for an hour for the opportunity to buy cans of their beer. The beers are fantastic. I enjoyed what I tasted. But I also value the experience of sitting around at a brewery chatting with the other people who made the same pilgrimidge and would rather not have those conversations only in line.

Massive line of people waiting in the sun to buy cans.
Massive line of people waiting in the sun to buy cans.

You get a few very small tastes of the beer while you are waiting in line, once they let you inside but before you get to purchase the beers. Right now they limit you to purchasing two four packs of each of the double IPAs per person per day. The amount they allow people to buy may fluctuate over time so check their web site to see what is for sale. Though I waited an hour in line it wasn’t a bad experience because I had a lot of great conversations with people I met in line. I would like it much better if they also added a room next door where you can stay and have some full size tasters and even potentially drink some beer on site and relax. Treehouse, in Massachusets, I am told has similar lines and waits for their cans and also doesn’t do tastings, if that is a consideration for you.

Taps from which you get your small tasters.
Taps from which you get your small tasters.

I wasn’t able to get any cans of Crusher, their other double IPA so I can’t comment on how it tastes. However, cans of Heady Topper and Focal Banger were all quite delicious. I prefer Focal Banger just slightly because you get to taste the English yeast a bit more prominently. Once you notice the flavor in Focal Banger, it becomes more apparent in Heady Topper. I did some experimentation to see if the beers really did taste better straight from the can and found that the bitter hop resins that sink to the bottom are best left in the can until the very end because they can overpower the rest of the beer. As with any beer, some cans in the four packs I got were better than others. Some showcased more prominently the hop aromas and others were more heavily bitter.

Crazy cool wall art outside.
Crazy cool wall art outside.

I also bought a few cans of their double wit beer while I was there and enjoyed one while I was still in Vermont. It was quite tasty and blended nicely the flavors of added spice usually found in a wit and the spice notes generally associated with Belgian yeast. At 7% alcohol, it was sweet without being cloying and is a nice alternative for someone who isn’t so much into hops.

Hill Farmstead

Hill Farmstead has been named the greatest brewery in the world on a number of occasions. They are a long 50 minute drive from where you can visit The Alchemist in Stowe. There is nothing else in the area and only a handfull of shops in the area sell their beers. This means people in surrounding areas must make the drive pretty regularly to refill their growlers if they want to drink Hill Farmstead IPAs. They have a small area where they serve half pours of a small number of their beers and sell bottles to take away with you, which are generally priced very reasonably, $10 for most bottles and more for barrel aged ones. They also have a main area where they fill growlers and offer half ounce tastes of the different beers on tap.

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Also keep in mind that though I found the experience somewhat lacking, it is still much better than it used to be before they renovated the facility. Though admittedly if I had known I would end up just buying bottles there I would have driven myself out there two years ago when I was staying in Burlington rather than skipping it because my husband was busy with other things and unable to drive me as he usually does for the safety of myself and others on the road.

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You are going to find the hop forward beers on tap and for growler fills while the farmhouse style ales are served in bottles either for on site consumption or take away. Though I could have tasted a bottle while I was there, I would have ended up sharing with strangers to avoid drinking a whole bottle myself, though it seemed most people there were stopping by for quick growler fills. Growler pricing is also reasonable with $3 for an empty 750ml growler. IPAs are served in growlers and not bottles for freshness reasons. I misread the price of empty growlers when I visited and didn’t realize that only the 2L empty growlers were $10.

For the full list of growlers they fill you can read their growler policy here. Otherwise if buying their growlers when you visit (much easier if you are flying in rather than driving) you can expect to pay a total price of $13 for 750ml of double IPA (factoring in the empty growler). I could tell many locals were coming by with multiple empty growlers to re-fill so they must love those hoppy beers.

Enjoying a bottle of Arthur at home.
Enjoying a bottle of Arthur at home.

I left the brewery with four bottles of their farmhouse ales and am quite looking forward to trying them but I did not buy the double IPA growlers I had considered buying because I misread the prices they charge for an empty growler. I didn’t find the hoppy beers that I sampled while I was there to be drastically different from anything else I have ever tasted in the same style. If anything the lighter hoppy pales were a bit light on the hops for my tastes. Considering that your only option for buying their beer is to drive out into the middle of no where in Vermont you are better off connecting with friends who can give you tastes of their beers. You may find some of the farmhouse ales at certain restaurants in the area but if you want a growler of IPA you have to go to the source. I have been quite impressed by the quality of the farmhouse ales I brought back with me after opening them and they were absolutely worth the cost for bottles.

Enjoying a bottle of Dorothy at home.
Enjoying a bottle of Dorothy at home.

If you do take the trip out to the brewery despite everything mentioned above I have a few suggestions for you. Take advantage of the area you are driving through and do some hiking or grab some local cheese and farm fresh vegetables around the area and enjoy the experience. We picked up a loaf of bread nearby, some local soft cheese, and some current jelly that we enjoyed really nicely together. Also consider borrowing a growler from a friend if you know someone who has made the trip and takes proper care of their growlers. In that case, the prices for the hoppy beers are quite reasonable. If you are there for farmhouse ales, consider buying in bulk if you have the space and interest in cellaring them.

Corrections:
9-11-16 – This post has been updated to correct an earlier version of the post which inaccurately indicated that empty 750ml growlers are $10 at Hill Farmstead. The post now correctly indicates that empty 750ml growlers are $3 and empty 2L growlers are $10.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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