The best Vermont beers aren’t challenging to find if you know what to look out for and where to look.
Yet, visiting every brewery in Vermont while preparing for a weekend getaway is out of the question.
We asked several beer experts sommeliers about the best five Vermont beers, and these are their top recommendations: Frost Beer Pale ale, Otter Creek Copper Ale, Switchback Ridge Runner Double IPA, Alchemist Heady Topper and Sassamanash Burlington Beer. Read on as we explore each one of these top Vermont Beers.
Best Beer From Vermont: Top Five Beers To Buy
Whichever season it is when you find yourself in the Green Mountain State— fall, summer, winter or spring — these top five beers are a must-try. Several professional beer sommeliers have handpicked this list of Vermont beers because of their unique taste, flavorous ingredients and rich aroma.
Otter Creek Copper Ale: Ale Worth Waiting For
- Smooth texture
- Citrusy taste
- Balanced bitterness
- Brilliant copper color
- Distinctive, nutty aroma
- Not available outside New England
Vermont brewery Otter Creek has been crafting some of Vermont’s favorite ale for years. Their Copper Ale is a smooth beer perfect for sipping at your next cookout. Otter creek owns its slogan, “ale worth waiting for,” from start to finish.
Otter Creek Brew is a complex amber ale made with six malts and three hops by Otter Creek. A unique house yeast strain is used to make the amber ale, complementing a nice, citrusy hop spiciness. As it warms, it develops hints of mildly sweet malts, with a flare of apricot, all balanced by a bit of bitterness of 25 IBU.
Copper Ale is an essential experience when visiting Otter Creek. At $5 per bottle, you’ll be happy you bought two or three cases on your trip. Otter Creek doesn’t distribute outside New England, however multiple locations carry its great brews, such as Notch 9 Barleywine and 2 Degree Plato.
Switchback Ridge Runner Double IPA: Hoppy and Tasty
- Hoppy bitterness
- Citrusy, malty flavor
- Spicy undertones
- Free samples
- In-brewery sampling only
Switchback IPA clocks in at 5.9 percent ABV and 74 IBU. It was created to maximize fresh-hop character and taste throughout its shelf life. It is an excellent example of what you should expect from a double IPA; hoppy bitterness rather than alcohol burn.
Switchback doesn’t bottle or distribute any beers yet, so to sample their product, you have to visit their pub or buy kegs from your local bar or restaurant that may carry Switchback. They do, however, give out free samples of their canned beer on Saturdays and Sundays.
Switchback was created as a flavor concept rather than following specific stylistic requirements. The Vermont IPA beer is brewed with Centennial, Amarillo, Cascade, Chinook and Simcoe hops. The beer has a well-balanced, mild malt flavor with a citrus and floral flavor followed by a smooth malty aftertaste.
If you see cans or kegs labeled Ridge Runner, be sure to give it a try. This incredibly smooth and refreshing character could be an exciting experience for you.
Their seasonal Rye Brown Ale is also fantastic; an unfiltered, reddish ale with hop flavors and rye malt. The blend gives it a distinct spicy undertone that keeps things interesting compared to other brown ales.
Alchemist Heady Topper: Locals’ Top Choice
- Hop flavor stays with you
- Six unique flavors
- Great for anti-IPA folks
- Hazy, citrusy appeal
- Hop resins settles at the bottom
- Bitter for some drinkers
When mentioning iconic beers, the Alchemist Heady Topper beer must be top on your list. This award-winning beer was recently named the world’s best beer — a well-deserved title — and a favorite for beer lovers. Alchemist Heady Topper changed the game in the craft beer industry with its one-of-a-kind packaging and style.
The hazy and unfiltered nature of Alchemist Heady Topper gives it the unique taste loved by many. It combines six distinct hops flavors from various tropical fruits, which gives it a bitter-sweet taste. Its International Bitterness Units (IBU) value is over 120, but it’s not overbearing.
Spices, pine, grapefruit, orange, malt and tropical fruits are individually smelled and tasted, despite its hazy nature, hops remain the star. Heady Topper is usually packed with four cans and is also very high in ABV. Over the years, many brands have tried to imitate its style, starting a trend in the craft beer industry.
Sassamanash Burlington Beer: The Perfect Blend of Flavors
- Well-balanced taste
- Light, fine head
- Dark, fruit flavor
- Rugged sweetness
- Woody undertones
The Sassamanash beer created by Burlington Beer Co. contains 10 percent ABV and 15 percent IBU. It is one of the most outstanding imperial stout beers we tasted in Vermont.
Burlington’s prestigious beer is made with cranberry juice and red oak, giving it a light tart flavor and notes of red berries, toasted marshmallows and baked bread. It also provides a remarkable balance of a bitter taste with chocolate, black fruit and somewhat restrained sweetness.
The barrel-aged preservation method employed by Sassamanash beer magnified its uniqueness. A slight wood flavor blends impeccably with every other flavor present. This Burlington beer also has higher acidity than most beers, amplifying the dark fruit flavor.
Frost Beer: Rich Belgian Pale Ale
- Sweet beer
- Fewer calorie beers
- Nice golden appearance
- Creamy taste
- Not bitter enough for some
Frost brews its famous Vermont beer using a carefully cultivated microbe that eats sugar and produces alcohol without the need for extra yeasts. The result is a light, sweet-tasting brew that goes down easy. It also has less than half of your average alcoholic beverage’s calories; the equivalent of wine and only two or three more than a cup of green tea.
If you haven’t tried it chilled with a touch of honey, now’s your chance. Your standard pale ale will have more alcohol than a lager but less than an IPA and share its flavor profile. The bitterness in Frost is also typically lower than IPAs.
Due to the high amount of wheat malt in the beer, Frost has a light amber golden color that gives it a unique appearance. Frost beer also has a distinct aroma of citrus and tangerine without overpowering the other. It is notably sweeter than most pale ales, while the wheat malt flavor gives the beer a foamy and creamy feel in the mouth.
How Do Vermont Beers Taste? Hoppy or Sour?
Different brewing ingredients aren’t the root cause of Vermont beer’s unique taste to a beer sommelier. It’s not like Vermont-brewed beer is inherently hopper or heavier. Instead, it has more to do with what goes into brewing beer. From top to bottom, breweries in Vermont use quality ingredients in every step of production.
There isn’t a single word to describe how Vermont beers taste because no two breweries are precisely alike. If you visit Vermont and enjoy a pint at one brewery and then try a similar offering at another brewery down the road, chances are you won’t get the same experience.
Sometimes, the process involves pickling vegetables for sauerkraut and using local hops for an intense aroma. The uniqueness of Vermont brews makes it stand apart from other American beers and many international favorites. The same philosophy that makes Vermont artisan cheeses so incredible applies to Vermont beer.
From farmhouse ales made from homegrown grains and spices to a pale ale brewed by looking at centuries-old production techniques for inspiration, the brewing of beer in Vermont is unique.
What Makes Vermont Beers Popular?
Vermont’s high concentration of quality hops makes it an ideal place to create hoppy IPAs, which is one of the most popular styles out there right now. Hence, the increasing popularity of Vermont beers.
Vermont’s status as a craft beer haven is a relatively recent phenomenon. Before 2010, there were only two breweries in Vermont — Fiddlehead Brewing Company in Shelburne and The Alchemist Pub & Brewery in Waterbury. However, this does not mean Vermont hasn’t had its fair of good beer over the years.
Nowadays, you can find locally-made barley pops at virtually every bar or liquor store in Vermont, as they’ve grown exponentially in popularity among both Vermonters and tourists alike. More than 50 percent of today’s production comes from small-batch microbreweries, giving Vermont one of the highest concentrations per capita for those brewing companies anywhere on earth.
Where To Get Vermont Beer: Exploring the Beer City
There are plenty of bars and restaurants in Vermont that offer delicious craft beer, however you can also find some great options in stores. Many grocery stores carry beers from Magic Hat, Switchback and Long Trail. Some convenience stores also sell craft beers from Otter Creek Brewing Company.
These locations even allow customers to fill growlers with brews for later consumption. Stores like The Stowe Food Co-op and Total Wine & More typically have several Vermont IPA varieties available. You can get the beer straight from the breweries and pubs if you want a more exotic option.
When someone says Vermont beer, one almost immediately thinks of either Long Trail or Magic Hat. The two breweries have always been go-to examples for those with no experience in Vermont beers; however, several other breweries and brewpubs have made their mark on an industry that is still relatively new.
Most Popular Vermont Craft Beers
According to The Beverage Information Group, Magic Hat is one of the top ten popular craft beers in America and was once voted Best Beer in America. With its broad appeal and presence on menus around New England, the Magic Hat remains popular with Vermonters to date.
Nevertheless, other craft breweries have been cropping up in New England and across America, leaving consumers with a wealth of new beer options. Nonetheless, Magic Hat still has some of the best craft beers found in Vermont.
Vermont Beer Flavors: All Natural Selection
If you are a fan of Vermont beer, you would agree that their complex flavors make Vermont beers unique. Unlike many more prominent commercial brands, the average Vermont craft beer is usually unfiltered, so they have more decadent and sometimes earthier tastes. The unique flavors include adding oats, pumpkins, wildflowers or even an old family recipe.
What Makes Vermont Beer Ingredients Unique?
While it’s possible to grow hops anywhere in New England, only Vermont has perfect conditions to grow barley. The barleys grown in Vermont are usually lighter and less oily than those from other places in the country.
The water supply is nothing short of pristine — brewers say Vermont water makes for a more drinkable product when combined with excellent local ingredients! It is impossible to talk about Vermont beer without its unique ingredients. Although each Vermont beer contains similar ingredients as other country breweries, their unique flavors set them apart.
A day in any brewery in Vermont will show you just how different the region is, and beer is no exception to that. Finally, Vermont breweries get wildly different weather depending on their location within the state, which means they have room to experiment and brew according to their climate. No two Vermont beers are alike.
What Is the Secret of Vermont’s Great Beers? Effect of Seasonal Changes
The secret is in their cold winters (long and frigid, even for the locals) and year-round access to freshwater. The long winters make it possible to brew seasonal beers. These styles will never stale because of seasonally changing ingredients such as local berries (blueberries and raspberries), pumpkins, apples and brewed alongside.
Many breweries in Vermont are built around a new water source and only use it for their beer. Although their beers are great during winter time, however they are also excellent in summer. Every season comes with its unique beer taste and trends.
Many Vermonters enjoy session beers year-round, light on alcohol but full-on flavor. The most famous Vermont beer may be Heady Topper from The Alchemist brewery.
What Kinds of Beers Are in Vermont?
There are three significant types of beer produced in Vermont: ale, stout, porter and IPA. In a nutshell, ale is fermented at higher temperatures (59-73° F), increasing carbonation but reducing flavor.
Stouts are similar to ales, except for the addition of roasted barley. Porters are dark brown ales that originated in London. The golden color and hoppy taste are sure signs that you’re drinking an IPA.
Some Vermont-specific beer styles have their nicknames:
- Red Ales are called scotch ales.
- IPA is called amber ale.
- Wheat Beers are known as Belgian Whites.
Hill Farmstead Brewery is the perfect example of a Vermont brewery that combines elements from these beer types. Their craft beers usually have the characteristics of all three styles. There are many other kinds of beers you can find.
Where To Drink Vermont Beer: All the Best Spots in Town
Local craft beer is a booming business in Vermont, that is why as long as you are up to the legal age, you can drink it at pretty much any bar or restaurant in Vermont.
However, if you’re looking for more options and a more immersive drinking experience, here are some suggestions:
– Brew Pubs in Vermont
While there are only a handful of breweries in Vermont, many of them are worth visiting—so be sure to hit one or two before you leave the city.
In terms of brewpubs, five stand out above all others as must-visits:
- The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury
- Frost Beer Works in South Burlington
- Switchback Brewing Company
- 3 Penny Taproom
- Long Trail Brewing Company in Bridgewater Corners.
Each of these brewpubs has an exciting collection of beers to try out.
– Vermont Breweries
Vermont produces nearly 500 different types of beer every year. At the same time, most small breweries sell to distributors who will then distribute (often locally). You can find craft brews and meals on-site at Mountain Meadows Farm in Woodstock and House of Fermentology in Burlington.
Magic Hat and Switchback are probably the most famous breweries, but Otter Creek and Long Trail are notable. Magic Hat has a gigantic brewery in South Burlington, Vermont, making them visible in a state that doesn’t have many breweries overall. You can find Long Trail beers almost anywhere across the city, and it’s a massive favorite amongst craft beer fans.
In addition to all of these beers being available locally, several microbreweries now inhabit Vermont.
- Lawsons Finest Liquids out of Warren
- Fiddlehead Brewing Company
- Queen City Brewery in Burlington
- Lost Nation Brewing Company
- Rock Art Brewery in Morrisville
- Whetstone Station brewpub just outside Brattleboro
Other notable breweries include:
- Middlebury Union Brewery, which is arguably Vermont’s most famous farmhouse brewery
- Otter Creek Brewing
- Magic Hat Brewery
- Switchback Brewing Company
- The Alchemist Brewery just outside Montpelier
- Rock Art Brewery, located in Highgate Springs.
Although Vermont’s craft-beer industry is still in its infancy, however it is snowballing. As evidenced by recent developments, such as several new breweries, there seems to be no end in sight.
If you’re passing through Vermont anytime soon, take a pit stop and enjoy a pint or bottle of their top local beers. There’s really no good excuse not to.
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