As of a couple months ago, every Thursday we get a delivery from The Alchemist of their Heady Topper and Focal Banger beers, two starlets of the booming craft brewing industry. So now, instead of the old answer to the questions that arose when customers wondered where to buy Heady Topper (“Can I get Heady Topper at the Brattleboro Co-op? Where can I get it?”) which Tony used to have to say about 500 times a day (youcan’tgetitinthispartofVermontyouhavetogotoMontpelier) we can all now say “YES. It’s delivered every Thursday. Limit 3- four-packs per person for each beer, Focal Banger and Heady Topper. Come early, it goes fast.” The first time we got a delivery of the stuff, one of our local newspapers was here with a camera, and a photo of a mega beer geek with a four-pack in his hands landed on the cover. It was newsworthy.
Tony has worked in the Beer & Wine department at the Co-op for about fourteen years, so I picked his brain about what he’s observed in regards to this craft brewing brouhaha which has grown so much over the last decade. He told me that back in the old store (we moved into our current building in 2012) wine used to outsell beer 2:1. Not so anymore. It seems they’re usually neck and neck, and when a delivery comes on Thursday from Alchemist, beer wins. Same has been true of our Monday Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine IPA deliveries. And if you’re wondering where to buy the Upper Pass Cloud Drop beer? Yep, we’ve got that, too. But I highly recommend calling to see if we have any in stock! Apparently that stuff is flyin’ off the shelves, too.
Tony says he’s heard that Vermont is known as the “Napa Valley of beer”- high praise, and not undeserved I daresay. Ever heard of the IPA Highway? Neither had I, until I did a little research. According to the Brewing in Vermont Wikipedia page, “The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, and Lawson’s Finest Liquids have become so popular that the route that leads between the three breweries is called the IPA Highway and is a popular destination for beer enthusiasts.” Vermont has been a big player in the other-than-Budweiser category for some time, with Harpoon, Long Trail, Magic Hat, Otter Creek, and Switchback all in our little state. In fact, according to the Brewers Association, Vermont has the highest number of breweries per capita of all 50 states (13.5 breweries for every 100,00 people 21+ yrs), and the most gallons of beer brewed per 21+ adult (21.3 gallons). (Is it a coincidence that Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by two Vermonters?…) But nowadays it seems the more boutique the better, and those brands previously perceived as the alternatives now seem like behemoths. Folks are looking for the rare and hard to find, almost like they want to have to drive for two hours and wait in line for three to get their beer. Don’t make it too easy! It takes all the fun out of it.
Even if you’re not a beer fiend, it’s still fun to check out the craftsmanship of the labels and the names. Brands like Foley Brothers, Frost Beer Works, Rock Art Brewery, Fiddlehead Brewing, Lost Nation Brewing, Shed Brewery, and Brattleboro’s own Hermit Thrush Brewery all create cans that are like little works of art. Burlington Beer Co. is like a country in and of itself in the world of craft beer. Their stylized labels and bizarro names are smattered all over the craft beer section of the department. We carry many of their varieties, like Orbital Elevator, Peasant King, Uncanny Valley… Tony particularly likes their Elaborate Metaphor pale ale, which you can “almost drink with impunity” (his words), as it has a lower alcohol content than an IPA. Most of the craft brews are IPA’s, which are heavy-handed with the hops. And don’t even think about putting it in a glass bottle – apparently one of beer’s main enemies is light. That’s why most of the new brews come in cans, and the ones that don’t are in glass that’s so dark you can’t barely see nothin’ inside.
There’s so, so much more to learn about the wide world of craft brewing – the Vermont Brewers Association website is a great place to start if you’re curious to learn more. But if you’re just looking for a four-pack of craft beer near you (or an amazingly cool and knowledgeable guy named Tony), the Brattleboro Food Co-op is the place to come.
by Ruth in Shareholder Services