Vermont’s famed focus on sustainability has a downside for beer geeks: A lot of Vermont’s beer never makes it out of the state. The unofficial “Vermonters First” policy has people
driving from surrounding states—sometimes across the country—on the hunt for The Alchemist’s Heady Topper or a chance at tasting Hill Farmstead’s newest. At the center of it all is Burlington—not the capital, but the city with the broadest cross-section of what the state has to offer. The Queen City is where late beer pioneer Greg Noonan opened the doors in 1988 to the Vermont Pub & Brewery, after a three-year battle to legalize brewpubs. Last year, Vermont took another step in growing the beer industry by allowing flights in bars and restaurants, making it a little easier to work through all the amazing beers this small state has to offer.
Four Quarters Brewing
Brewer Brian Eckert still has a day job on the web team at Ben & Jerry’s; after hours, he’s quickly risen through Vermont’s beer ranks by focusing on Belgians—sours, wits, abbey ales and saisons. At his tiny brewery/taproom, he’s cycled through 20 recipes and is still composing a permanent lineup, but safe bets are Opus Dei, a Trappist-style patersbier, and Janus, a farmhouse ale brewed with Vermont-grown white grapes and chamomile, aged in red wine barrels. 150 W. Canal St., Winooski, fourquartersbrewing.com
The Farmhouse Tap & Grill
With a 20-page beer menu (two pages of sours alone!), this acclaimed gastropub has the most extensive and well-cared-for beer offerings in Burlington. When the wait for a table is long (and it probably will be), take advantage of the cozy librarylike bar downstairs, which serves all the same beer plus a limited food menu. 160 Bank St., farmhousetg.com
Burlington Beer Co.
Dogfish Head alum Joe Lemnah returned to his native Vermont to open a brewery committed to “local first.” He’s not afraid to experiment with unexpected ingredients as well as his business model—Lemnah opened with a community-supported brewery membership program, much like a CSA. At the brewery/taproom, try the lineup’s four staples and rotating specialties, keeping in mind the Mason Jar Mild brown ale is too good not to go back for seconds. 25 Omega Dr. #150, Williston, burlingtonbeercompany.com
For its first 10 years, Switchback was focused on just one beer, a five-malt, reddish amber ale. Co-owner Bill Cherry has since added five more flagships, which you can sip in the new taproom alongside seasonals across eight draft lines. Fill a growler, or pick up a bomber to go. 1600 Flynn Ave., switchbackvt.com
The Growler Garage
This craft beer filling station bucks the woodsy Vermont vibe in favor of an industrial tasting bar pouring 21 mostly local brews. There’s also an impressive offering of growler paraphernalia you never knew you needed, including a three-growler baby seat to keep your beer safe on the ride home. 10 Dorset St., South Burlington, growlergaragevt.com
Craft beer taste, dive bar sensibility: Finnigan’s is where a Lawson’s Finest Liquids pint sits on the bar next to a Pabst, and nobody thinks twice about it. Tip: The elusive Heady Topper is always available. 205 College St., finnigansvt.com
Former Magic Hat head brewer Matt Cohen opened his own brewery in 2012 solely focused on his signature Fiddlehead IPA found in more than 400 Vermont bars and restaurants. Now with a cult following that sometimes translates into long lines of fans waiting for the place to open (especially on can release days), Cohen cycles in a new recipe every two weeks. Luckily, you’ll never miss out on the IPA. 6305 Shelburne Rd., Shelburne, fiddleheadbrewing.com
With 10 rotating ciders on tap and an impressive menu of cider cocktails, Citizen Cider serves up the very best of what the craft cider movement has to offer. The Full Nelson, for example, is hopped; others are made with Belgian beer yeast or aged in bourbon barrels. Try them all in two flights in the new tasting room as you chow down on inventive grub like cider-braised brisket sandwiches. 316 Pine St. Suite 114, citizencider.com
The Burlington arm of American Flatbread is home to both the best un-pizza in the state (thanks to a house-built wood-fired earthen hearth) and Zero Gravity Brewing’s tanks. A dozen house drafts and casks rotate constantly, but one thing’s for sure: There is always a gose on tap, and it is not to be missed. Watch for a standalone Zero Gravity taproom to open on Pine Street at some point in spring 2015. 115 St. Paul St., zerogravitybeer.com
Queen City Brewery
Sit around the bar (reclaimed from the exclusive Ethan Allen Club) and quaff Euro-style beers made by four friends who have known each other for 20 years through Burlington’s homebrewing community. Traditional porters, lagers and ESBs make up the majority of the menu, but keep your eye open for the steinbier, a historic alpine beer style brewed on heated rock. 703 Pine St., queencitybrewery.com
This South Burlington newcomer only serves five beers at a time for now, but its name hints at larger ambitions. Sip them all at the tasting room, but linger on the flagship Belgian Saison Golden Ale, and tip big: 100 percent of tips are donated to a different charity each month. 80 Ethan Allen Dr., South Burlington, infinitybrewing.com
Manhattan Pizza & Pub
What used to be the college kids’ place for game-day, late-night pizza and cheap pitchers is now a revamped bar with an elevated menu of twists on pub classics to match its 20 crafty taps. They kept plenty of TVs though, so you can catch nearly any game you want. 167 Main St., manhattanpizzaandpubvt.com
WHERE TO BEER-SHOP: So many VT beers don’t cross state lines, but you can find all the rare releases at Pearl Street Beverage (240 Pearl St., Burlington, pearlstreetbeverage.com). Or, hit Beverage Warehouse (1 East St., Winooski, beveragewarehousevt.com), which has a global collection upward of a thousand beers. From there, walk across the parking lot to Vermont Homebrew Supply (147 E. Allen St., Winooski, vermonthomebrew.com) to shop where virtually every Vermont brewer got their start; maybe you’ll get yours, too.