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Stafford: Craft Brewing

Raise a pint glass. Homebrewing is now legal in all 50 states. Mississippi was the last hold out, clinging to its Prohibition-era law until it was finally nixed this summer. Of course, brewing beer in small batches on one’s own property has been going on for millennia. But now, no one 21 or older in America need fear the law for combining water, malt, hops and yeast in the basement.

I started homebrewing my senior year at Saint Michael’s College. My first batch was a copy-cat recipe of Otter Creek’s Copper Ale. Much to the surprise of my roommates, and I admit myself, the stuff actually tasted good. “Behold,” I boasted to my roommates, “I have harnessed the power of fermentation.”

Now I’d be lying if I said all of my batches turned out great; just ask my wife about the fermenting bucket of barley wine ale that exploded in our closet. And truthfully, my taste for excellent beer has outpaced my penchant for making it. So it’s lucky for me that I live in Vermont, the state with more craft breweries per capita than any other state in the Union.

Most everyone has heard of the veteran Vermont breweries like Long Trail, Magic Hat and Harpoon; they’ve been transforming water, barley and hops into frothy goodness for decades. But recently, brand new, world-class breweries have been bubbling up all over the Green Mountains. Lawson’s Finest Liquids in Warren, Drop-In Brewing in Middlebury, and Northshire Brewery in Bennington are just a few of the new guys serving up excellent beer. Here in Brattleboro, Whetstone Station poured its very first beer, a hoppy pale ale, just this spring.

So Vermont makes a lot of beer. But it also happens to be really good beer. Hill Farmstead is a fairly new brewery in the Northeast Kingdom that was recently awarded Best Brewery in the World by The Alchemist, a Waterbury-based brewery, makes an Imperial India Pale Ale called Heady Topper that sits atop Beer Advocate’s Top 250 beers in the world list. And since Heady Topper is almost impossible to find on store shelves, your best bet to sample it is to swing by the brewery, located just down the road from the Ben and Jerry’s factory.

And while finding these hand-crafted beers can be a challenge, it’s my belief that hunting down and trying new beers is the best part of the Vermont microbrew experience. Here’s a little tip: pubs with a wide selection of rare Vermont beers include the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier, Pizza Stone in Chester and Whetstone Station in Brattleboro.

One beer that I’ve been dying to try is Backacre Beermaker’s “Sour Golden Ale.” It’s brewed in Weston, but it’s not easy to come by. Once I find it, I’ll buy two: one to sample and one to save. Who knows - with Vermont’s track record it could become the next number one beer in the world.

Luke Q. Stafford is a writer living in Williamsville, Vermont. He owns Mondo Mediaworks, a video production company based in Brattleboro.
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