VERMONT —For just about a decade now, Vermont potables have been becoming more and more available in Pennsylvania. Hard Ciders, most notably Woodchuck (Middlebury), pioneered the way around the turn of the century.

Not long thereafter, a steady stream of suds began making its way south. Since then brands such as Otter Creek (Middlebury); Long Trail (Bridgewater Corners) and Magic Hat (South Burlington) have become easy to find on tap and on the shelves in the Keystone State.

The State of Beer

There are 31 breweries in the Vermont Brewers Association. There are 626,630 people in Vermont.

Given not all of the residents of the state are of legal drinking age, that’s a lot of beer per capita!

Even more astounding is the fact that most of the breweries don’t ship out of state. If you want it, you have to go get it.

Long known for attracting visitors to ski the mountains and watch the fall foliage, beer tourism is quickly joining the ranks of staple reasons why people visit Vermont.

Two such breweries are The Alchemist (Waterbury) and Hill Farmstead (Greensboro Bend.) Ten years ago The Alchemist had a brewpub that pushed out a wide variety of English and Northwest US style ales.

When the town was flooded out by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, the owners closed the pub and opened a cannery up the road focusing on just one thing, Heady Topper, an 8.5% Double India Pale Ale that since its inception has been lauded as perhaps the best example of the style ever produced.

Similarly, Hill Farmstead’s beers have also been hailed globally. They offer a bit more variety but have an IPA and Saison focus.

In business for just about five years, Hill Farmstead was recently named as the Best Brewery in the World by RateBeer, arguably the most recognized source for beer information on the planets.

Seven of Hill Farmstead’s beers were listed in RateBeer’s top 100 for 2014.

Hoppy History

Two years ago, The Alchemist stopped selling beer directly from the cannery. On any given day, throngs of people would be going in and out of the parking lot, which the cannery shared with other businesses and the small driveway just couldn’t handle the traffic volume.

The only way to score the beer now is to buy it by 4-pack at local stores. While a few places sell by the case, most retailers opt for 4-pack sales, which many limit to two per visit. Nonetheless, sales are brisk in the handful of North Central stores where it’s available.

Hill Farmstead’s distribution is even more limited. Some styles are bottled and available in very limited quantities in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom but most of what they pour goes into growlers filled at the small brewery. Getting some takes effort and travel over windy two-lane highways and gravel country roads.

On to the Beer

The Heady is supposed to be drank from the can, as per the brewers.

Doing so is not a bad idea once you’ve poured at least a bit into a glass if it’s the first one you’ve ever had.

There is something to be said about the wonderful orange color of the beer. Coincidentally, official Heady glasses sold at the cannery can hold exactly 16 ounces…the same amount of beer in the can. Go figure. What hops varieties go into Heady are a secret The Alchemist won’t give up.

Given the high citrus flavor, most likely it contains a goodly amount of Amarillo, Cascade, and/or Citra.

Centennial is also a probable variety as it is spicy, floral, and citric in nature. Pine notes in the beer most likely are attributed to Simcoe. It’s bitter but not palate wrecking, and has a nice tea-like finish.

At 8.5% ABV it’s a heavy hitter and drinking it requires some restraint because, in spite of the hops and alcohol, it’s rather smooth.

Hill Farmstead, by contrast, announces (somewhat) the varieties of hops and malts that go into their beer. Society and Solitude #5 is part of their Philosophical Series and is named in honor of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s collection of essays by the same name.

Other beers in the series are named after the works of Henry David Thoreau and Friedrich Nietzsche.

It too is an Imperial IPA, slightly less potent than The Heady at 8.1% but also leaning towards the citrusy side. They impart it is made with US and New Zealand hops, so in this case probably Riwaka or New Zealand Cascade along with Centennial and/or Amarillo. It has an orangey-yellow color and leaves a smooth, but dry taste at the end.

There are hundreds of small batch breweries and brewpubs across the country that have limited distribution or require a visit to obtain their beers.

Most aren’t worth back roads drives or stalking a delivery truck, but these two were, so head north and get some.