Is there another brewery success story that has more ups and downs as The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont?
Let’s work our way back to 2011. Owners John and Jen Kimmich had operated The Alchemist Pub and Brewery in downtown Waterbury for eight years, brewing a range of locally celebrated styles. That spring, they opened up the Alchemist Cannery, which would be the hub for production of its first canned beer: Heady Topper, which the original brewpub had produced since 2003. Things were looking up. Then, two days after opening the Cannery, Hurricane Irene struck New England, hitting Vermont and the town of Waterbury especially hard. Floods engulfed the town, including the little brewpub. Here’s an expert from a Weather.com report, detailing John’s last moments inside the original brewpub.
“John closed the basement door, turned away, and walked to the bar. ‘I poured the last ‘Holy Cow IPA’ anyone would ever have,’ John said. ‘I didn’t know at the time it was the last one.’
As he stood there, he started to feel thudding below his feet. He knew it was the sound of 1400-pound brewing tanks, full of his beer, bobbing in the floodwater below, and hitting the basement ceiling. ‘I drank that beer extremely quickly, and went out,’ John recalled.
Five minutes later, the water was knee-deep inside the Alchemist.”
After the hurricane (see pictures of the damage here), the Alchemist closed the brewpub permanently and moved its entire operation to the Cannery, focusing primarily on production of Heady Topper. Over the next couple of years, word spread, beer geeks smuggled cans out of Vermont and, as you’re well aware, Heady Topper became known as one of the best double IPAs in the world. The Alchemist, along with names like Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest Liquids, helped make Vermont one of the most talked-about beer destinations in the country. Things were looking up.
Until last fall, when the Alchemist closed the Cannery to the public, citing traffic and congestion concerns. The brewery had simply outgrown its location. The official announcement was made—much to the dismay of traveling beer geeks—on the brewery’s blog, Nov. 5. The last official update from the brewery, suggesting a possible new retail location, was posted on Nov. 12. Since then: radio silence.
But this week, a new chapter for the brewery was announced: It plans to scrap the retail-only location and, instead, open a second brewery. According to the update, the new brewery will make beer exclusively for on-premise sales, and include a large tasting room and retail shop. Details are still being decided—location, size, opening date, etc.—so stay tuned.