I’m not sure what it is. The locavore lifestyle. The forests. The farms. Cabin life? The beer? Wait, yes, it must be the beer. Vermont is home to dozens of breweries, hundreds of brew styles, and thousands of thirsty beer enthusiasts. It is one of those places, but you’ll never really notice after an icy Heady or two.
Arriving on an enormous white plate, with a sunken middle, the breaded, crispy fried medallions of local pork are looking back up at me, as if to say, really? You’re going to eat me? I’m too beautiful to be eaten. Gently the server positions the dish on the bar, the aroma of fried pork cheek drifting up to my nostrils.
Seconds later a crashing metal sound zeros me back to reality. Quickly glancing to the bar in front of me I see the barkeep setting down my beer. The condensation forms on the silver can. In a flash there’s a quick metal crunch. Then suddenly the sound of gases escaping from the can.
It’s a local beer. It’s infamous. People around here drink it. People around here love it. It’s Heady Topper, brewed by The Alchemist, in Waterbury, Vt.
Taking my first swig of the unfiltered double IPA, it’s very pleasing to my pallette. Not overly piney or citrusy, but just right, with a robust aroma of hops. Drinking it down, I go for another sip. I’m loving this beer, and all the while Vermont for what it is.
Dotting Vermont’s backroads are two Icelandic horse farms. Actually a high number for a state of this size, given there are just over 30 registered farms total in the US. One of the Vermont farms offers trail rides, and I’ve been dying to get back on a Icelandic horse.
Quickly registering with the guides, and after getting to know ny horse, Tigull, we started off down the gravel driveway of the farm, wandering onto the dirt road the farm sits along side.
While looking around on horseback, I was able to spy more and more of the Green Mountain State. The hidden Vermont. Little cabins, not more than 300 sq. ft., were hidding amongst the dense woods of Washington Co., Vt. Smoke slowly drifting out the chimneys, some cabins under construction were still being occupied. Feeling free, while on horseback through the wooded trail, I was noticing more and more I’m in love with Vermont.
On the dirt roads there was ample time to tolt, the Icelandic fifth gait that varies in speed up to a canter. Tigull is of a dark chocolate color, and I could feel his lust for speed, something we share. I cut him loose a couple times, only to get wide-eye stares back from the trail guides. So rather than making enemies with those in charge, I let Tigull amble along with Karen, our guide, also on horseback.
Chatting. Conversing. And having a good time. Though most importantly acquainting myself with Karen, a life-long Vermonter and frequent visitor of Iceland, and everything she knows about the food scene in Vermont.
And what’s the first thing she brought up? Yes, Heady Topper. The people in this region are obsessed with it. And rightly so, it’s one of the best beers I have ever drank.
With Heady Topper on the brain and Vermont in my soul. I was deciding to take a couple prisoners. Heady Topper is coming home with me.
The alarm sounded at 7 a.m., I wasn’t exactly springing from bed. But I was ready. The way the brewery delivers Heady Topper creates a high demand. It’s portioned out to retailers certain days, and those stores usually dont keep it in stock for long.
Rising from bed, and making my way to to a local bagel shop, I was nervous. Was I actually going to get my very own Heady Topper? Downing my cinnamon-raisin bagel with shmear, arriving at the liquor store and noticing I am the first one in the parking lot – I’m thinking my big Vermont dreams may come true.
The draw of Heady Topper is like a cult following, and people were descending on the liquor store like there was a massive black Friday sale. But hope was staring me eye to eye, and I was looking back confidently, my place in line was secure. Second! The line was continually forming and when 10 o’clock was rolling around it was 40 deep.
A store employee was looking at the line and knew the distribution of cases of the fine beer were going to be tight. Leading the line of thirsty men and women into the store and snaking us around expansive shelves of local beers and wines. He opened a walk-in cooler. And started doling out the prized beer.
That day I was one of five people who was able to take home the unfiltered double IPA. But I also brought something else home. A feeling of acceptance, where I was finding so many like minded and inspirational people in Vermont. Homesteaders, making their way in the woods cutting their own firewood. Farm to table restaurants, whose menu fluctuates with what’s in season. And many great local breweries that are doing what they love with passion, not just for profits, but to inspire people.