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Don't Worry, The Elusive Heady Topper May Soon Be Easier To Buy

Toby Talbot
Cans of Heady Topper roll off the line at the Alchemist Cannery in Waterbury. The company announced Tuesday that they're closing the retail portion of their business on Nov. 15 until they can find a better location for it.

Beer lovers throughout the state have a wealth of locally produced craft brews to choose from. But only one beer is notorious for consistently selling out within hours of hitting store shelves: Heady Topper.

The Alchemist in Waterbury has been making the double IPA for 10 years, and canning it for two. In a shocking move this week, the cannery’s owners announced it will be closing to the public as of Nov. 15.

Some beer enthusiasts are taking the news pretty hard, but the move could actually make the beer easier to find.

Chris Diorio is visiting from Massachusetts on his honeymoon. Friends from Vermont told him he had to try Heady Topper. It’s that word-of-mouth that has the brew topping national beer lists, even though it’s only available in Vermont. Diorio says he jumped at the opportunity to see the inner workings of the cannery.

“To see something like this is a tremendous experience. And to hear now that it’s not going to be letting the public in is a tragedy.”

As it turns out, the closure is due to the beer’s popularity.

"Everybody will get more beer." - Alchemist owner John Kimmich

After the Alchemist’s busy pub and brewery was hit by Tropical Storm Irene two years ago, its owners focused on canning the beer. Now, the cannery is just as popular as the pub was.

Owner John Kimmich says the property can’t withstand the constant stream of visitors.

“Lines of traffic out our driveway on the road,” said Kimmich. “It was causing trouble on Route 100 at times, and our parking lot was unmanageable. When it gets busy, it is way too busy.”

Like most places that sell Heady Topper, the Alchemist had to impose a limit on how much each customer could buy: one case.

Hauling beer to the parking lot is Chauncey McCarthy. He lives in Colchester, but often drives down to Waterbury to pick up a case of Heady Topper. Today, he was able to get two by bringing along his girlfriend.

McCarthy is used to stocking up. He works in Burlington, and even with numerous vendors there, he says he isn’t always able to find the beer.

“When I get out of work I try to sometime grab Heady Toppers on the days that it’s delivered,” said McCarthy. “But it’s usually sold out within a couple hours of the delivery.”

When the Alchemist announced the store closure to the public, Heady Topper fans took to social media, some panicking over where to find the brew.

Owner John Kimmich says the cannery’s closure will actually help vendors keep Heady Topper on shelves longer. He says that now the Alchemist sells 70 percent of its stock at the cannery.

After November 15, 100 percent of that beer will go to stores, bars, and restaurants. And Kimmich says that’s a good thing.

“Everybody will get more beer,” said Kimmich. “All the places that we used to have to limit drastically the amount of beer that they got every week, those limits will go up considerably.”

Even if the beer is easier to find, some consumers have raised concerns that putting all of the power with the vendors will result in higher prices.

Kimmich says the brewery regulates pricing, and doesn’t anticipate that will be an issue.

The Alchemist will still sell Heady Topper until Nov. 15. But don’t plan on making the trip this weekend.

The Alchemist announced on Facebook that Heady Topper is sold out until Monday.

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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