Burlington’s not big, but it’s definitely beer-soaked. A college town with granola sensibility, here all kinds of craft—beer, cheese and more—flourish on the banks of Lake Champlain.
by Sarah L. Stewart
Vermont boasts more breweries per capita than any other state, combining nearly two dozen brewers with a population smaller than Alaska’s. Burlington—the largest city, with 39,000 residents—has been a brewing hub since the late beer pioneer Greg Noonan opened Vermont Pub & Brewery (Downtown, vermontbrewery.com) in 1988. Vermont’s oldest craft brewery debuted with Burly Irish Ale, a malty, easy-drinking red; it remains VPB’s most celebrated, followed by the floral, 77-IBU Bombay Grab IPA and Forbidden Fruit, a punch-color framboise brewed with 500 pounds of raspberries. Locals pack American Flatbread (Downtown, americanflatbread.com) for house-brewed Zero Gravity beers like TLA IPA and seasonal offerings like the hopless, herbal Solstice Gruit, served alongside crave-worthy organic pizzas made from local ingredients like homemade maple-fennel sausage and creamy goat cheese. The nation’s eighth-largest craft brewer, Magic Hat (South Burlington, magichat.net), offers free half-hour tours of its theatrical, colorfully lit “Artifactory,” complete with memorabilia from Magic Hat’s 16-year history and samples of lemongrass-wheat Circus Boy and the flagship No. 9. A $60 ticket on Burlington Brew Tours (Greater Burlington, burlingtonbrewtours.com) includes lunch, samples of two dozen beers and transportation to each of the above breweries with a self-described beer geek/homebrewer as your guide. The tour also visits Switchback Brewing Co. (South Burlington, 802.651.4114), made popular by both word-of-mouth and its unfiltered, reddish-amber Switchback Ale and the new Slow-Fermented Brown Ale, both available only on tap or in small kegs; free tours of the brewery take place every Saturday.
Home to the University of Vermont, Burlington starts thumping when the sun sets over Lake Champlain—most noticeably at Red Square Bar & Grill (Downtown, redsquarevt.com), where nightly live music and DJs can be heard throughout a several-block radius. Local draft selections include Switchback’s Roasted Red Ale and nearby Stowe’s Shed Mountain Ale. Next door, sports bar Akes’ Place (Downtown, akesplace.com) pours Vermont brews like Long Trail Blackberry Wheat and Rock Art IPA on tap, along with several Magic Hat varieties among its nearly three dozen bottle options. A Burlington fixture since 1975, funky bar/restaurant/music lounge Nectar’s (Downtown, liveatnectars.com) claims fame as the spot where a fledgling rock band took flight to become Phish.
Given Vermont’s übergranola vibe and plentitude of dairies and farms, it’s no surprise that organic, local and seasonal ingredients take center stage on Burlington plates. On the 100 percent recycled-paper menu at Magnolia Breakfast and Lunch Bistro (Downtown, magnoliabistro.com), fair-trade, organic bananas flavor the house-baked banana bread French toast, and marinated local beef anchors the steak and eggs. A half-hour outside town in a restored brick grist mill along a cascading stream, upscale Hen of the Wood (Waterbury, henofthewood.com) features local produce, meats and 13 artisan cheeses (see sidebar), as well as wild ingredients like its namesake mushroom on a bacon- and poached-egg-topped piece of griddled bread. Leunig’s Bistro & Café (Downtown, leunigsbistro.com) channels an authentic Parisian open-air bistro, offering local cheeses and a $15 prix-fixe late-night dinner menu that includes classic vegetable-and-white-bean soup and savory steak frites. Bove’s (Downtown, boves.com) is a family-run, hole-in-the-wall Italian café that opened in 1941; its signature all-natural pasta sauces like roasted garlic and vodka sell in grocery stores around the country.
Near the lakeshore, the Courtyard Burlington Harbor (Waterfront, marriott.com) and Hilton Burlington (Waterfront, hilton.com) breathe some of the city’s best views of the water and New York’s Adirondack Mountains on the opposite side of the lake. Both are a hop, skip and a jump from downtown’s restaurants, shops and bars. The quaint, former 19th-century boarding house Sunset House Bed and Breakfast (Downtown, sunsethousebb.com) features four distinct, antique-furnished rooms in the center of town. Walking distance from downtown and campus, the 11-room, 1880s-era Lang House on Main Street (Hill, langhouse.com) includes a gourmet breakfast, served with one of the state’s most famous exports: maple syrup (organic, of course).
The commercial and cultural center of Burlington is the historic brick-paved Church Street Marketplace (Downtown, churchstmarketplace.com) pedestrian mall. Bars, restaurants and more than 100 stores line its four blocks, including independent shops ideal for scoring unique holiday gifts. The nearby Flynn Center for the Performing Arts (Downtown, flynncenter.org) began as a vaudeville house in the 1930s and now presents an eclectic year-round lineup, from bluegrass musicians to “A Christmas Carol.” Less than an hour from Burlington, the Green Mountains’ 300-inch average annual snowfall gives snow bunnies some of the East’s best skiing at Stowe Mountain Resort (Stowe, stowe.com) and Smugglers’ Notch Resort (Smugglers’ Notch, smuggs.com). The Burton Flagship Store (South End, burton.com), in the global headquarters of the snowboard supply company, is a cavernous gear shop where you can stock up before hitting the slopes or lounge by the stone fireplace and pet one of the resident lab mixes. Tours of the Ben & Jerry’s Factory (Waterbury, benjerry.com) show visitors the manufacturing and packaging of the ice cream brand born in Burlington in 1978—and yes, samples are included. •
Cheese, please! Artisan cheeses are the microbrews of the dairy industry—and like craft brewers, Vermont has more than its fair share of cheesemakers. Better than 40 dot the state’s rolling rural landscape, producing 150-plus varieties of cow, goat and sheeps’ milk cheeses that are often only available locally or regionally. At Willow Hill Farm (Milton, sheepcheese.com), 15 miles northeast of Burlington, visitors can watch cheesemakers at work and purchase award-winning farmstead varieties like supple Butternut and creamy Autumn Oak in a self-service retail room. Just don’t ask Willow Smart, who in 1991 established the 500-acre sheep-and-cow farm with her husband, David Phinney, to pick a favorite. “It’s kind of like asking someone which is your favorite kid,” Smart says. Nine miles south of Burlington, Shelburne Farms (Shelburne, shelburnefarms.org) is known for its farmhouse Cheddar, made from its own Brown Swiss cows’ milk and aged six months to two years. Another 16 miles south sits Champlain Valley Creamery (Vergennes, cvcream.com), home to an organic, soft-ripened triple crème. The number of artisan cheesemakers in Vermont has grown rapidly since the ’90s, and so too has the state’s reputation for quality cheese: A 2006 estimate valued Vermont’s annual farmstead cheese industry at around $10 million and climbing.[Photo, top: Mary Lane]