Sixteen hours after leaving the Monterey Beer Festival, Merideth and I were in Burlington, Vermont in the parking lot of Magic Hat Brewing Company waiting for the tasting room to open. Despite the overnight flight from San Francisco and the stressful connection at JFK, we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. What had us most excited was that this was our first trip to Vermont and Magic Hat our first Vermont brewery.
I guess the tower should have been a clue, but the grayish, industrial exterior didn’t prepare us for what was inside. The “Artifactory,” which was dimly lit with strings of colored lights, was an ultra-hip mall store gone amok, complete with blaring music. Three quarters of the room was devoted to all manner of Magic Hat merchandise, from the normal logo clothing and glasses to golf balls and back packs. Amidst all this, we managed to locate the bar, which was over to the right.
The tasting room only pours samples and fills growlers, as their license does not allow them to pour pints. Seeing all the tap handles, I thought we were in for an epic 18 beer sample set to start the day. But then I realized there were three identical sets of taps. Phew! Only six beers.
The cheerful bartender started us with Single Chair, their golden ale. It was a pleasant, light beer to start the trip. The well-known #9 was the fourth beer we sampled and it was just too sweet for me. If I could have ordered a pint, Blind Faith IPA would have been my choice. While not the hop bomb I’m used to drinking on the West Coast, it was a really nice brew.
With no growler to fill and no pints to drink, our stop at Magic Hat lasted all of fifteen minutes. Even after leaving a tip for the bartender, I still felt odd not actually paying for anything, so we purchased a taster glass.
Vermont boasts the highest number of breweries per capita in the United States. Burlington, located on the shores of Lake Champlain, was a typical college town with a number of bars in its quaint downtown area. This included three brewpubs all within blocks of each other. We had our cab driver drop us off in front of the Vermont Pub & Brewery, the state’s very first brewpub.
Rain was falling liberally, so we passed on the patio seating out front. Inside, there was a smattering of customers around the two bars. For the sake of filming for beergeek.TV, we grabbed a couple of seats at the bar in the bright, airy atrium.
There were ten beers in Vermont’s sampler. Merideth and I tasted everything from an Apricot Ale to a Milk Stout; a pretty wide variety to say the least. Merideth really liked the Burly Irish Ale, a Red Ale, while I favored the Milk Stout and Tulach Leis, a Flemish-style Vermont Sour Red Ale. The Tulach Leis was wonderfully tart, my second favorite beer of the day.
The Dunkin’ Donuts we ate earlier in the day were starting to wear off so we ordered a plate of Vermont cheese. Merideth enjoyed pairing the delicious cheeses to our beers.
A half a block away from Vermont Pub & Brewery was American Flatbread/ Zero Gravity Brewing. American Flatbread is a chain of high-end pizza restaurants with the flatbreads cooked in a “primitive” wood-burning oven. Some of the locations have breweries.
The warm and cozy wood-toned space was divided into two areas. Most of the restaurant was devoted to the dining area where the customers could watch their pizza being made in the open oven. We arrived prior to the dinner hour so we sat in the smaller bar area and ordered a sample of all the beers.
We delved into a second ten beer sampler of the day. The beers were just as eclectic as the Vermont Pub, just in a different way. The beers ranged from German and Belgian-styles to American standards. Merideth’s favorite was Schoen Dorf, a delicious German-style light lager. Ever the hophead, I really liked the TLA IPA, with its delightfully piney hop flavor. It turned out to be my favorite beer of the day.
As 5pm approached, a line started developing for dinner. I felt like I had been transported to a Wiggles concert as all the adults had two or three kids in tow. Our name was already on the list, but Merideth went back to the hostess and requested that we be sat at one of the tables in the bar area thinking that would be the adult section. When we were finally sat for dinner, we cringed when a family sat next to us. Our dismay was complete when one of the kids threw a temper tantrum because she didn’t like their table. Despite the distractions, Merideth and I persevered and enjoyed our incredible pizza and beers. I guess if we returned in the future, we would wait until after family hour.
We were very curious about our last Burlington stop, Three Needs Brewery. Described as a ‘dive bar’ in many of it’s reviews, we wondered what a such an establishment would look like in Vermont. Walking in, we noticed it was a bit dingy and the white hip-hop music a bit loud. But as Merideth astutely observed, it was much too bright and clean to be a dive bar.
There were only four beers to try which was probably a good thing. We were starting to peter out, feeling the effects of two days on the go with little sleep. The beers were not spectacular, but competent. Merideth and I both chose the Schwarzbier as our last beer of the day.
Burlington was one of those fun towns that in hindsight, I wished I had planned more time there to explore. But we accomplished a lot in our one day visit and I am sure we will be back again. Most important, I learned that Burlington Coat Factory was founded in Burlington, New Jersey, not Vermont.