Monday, September 14, 2015

Solo Beer Roadtrip Thing

Solo Beer Roadtrip Thing
by Rob Cottignies

            Sixteen breweries in seven days. Some would call this a problem; others would call it a nice problem to have. Regardless, that's what I did on a recent solo road trip into New York and Vermont, two states with great beer scenes. Below, I recall each spot I visited and my experiences there. My original brewery number was thirteen. I skipped a few of those and ended up adding others I'd never heard of, some of which turned out to be the best ones. I hope you enjoy this writing and use it to help you plan a similar trip of your own. Enjoy!

Trout Town @ The Roscoe Beer Company
145 Rockland Road, Roscoe, NY
Founded: 2013

            Beers I tried: Amber, Mild Wild (sour), Tail Ale (blonde)
            Experience: My first stop was a random one. I had Trout Town Amber at a bar recently so it only made sense to stop at the brewery when I passed it. It's a very sharp-looking building- lots of wood. The inside is large with plenty of seating (including couches and stools made from kegs) and a self-serve beer station, a fairly-knew idea that I don't like because it's robotic and technology is evil. The bartenders were very knowledgeable, friendly, welcoming. The beers were solid. I'd definitely return.
            Favorite beer: Mild Wild
            Food: No food served.

Cooperstown Brewing Company
110 River Street, Milford, NY
Founded: 1995

            Beers I tried: Old Slugger (pale ale), Nine Man Ale (golden), Benchwarmer Porter, Bambino Amber, Induction Ale (witbier)
            Experience: As you can see above, this brewery is not in Cooperstown. It was supposed to be but the town gave the founder a hard time so he moved one town over but kept the name. Nice. Obviously, the beers have baseball-themed names. The Bambino Amber was made in collaboration with Babe Ruth's descendants so there's a neat little tidbit. It's located in a stand-alone warehouse with a really nice rustic feeling inside. They are very proud to brew their English-style ales on a Peter Austin system, which is known internationally for quality and tradition (and is awesome to look at). The brews were nice and the bartender I talked to was really friendly and cheerful, possibly because I was the only one in the place. I wouldn't go out of my way to return but it would be a definite if I'm in Cooperstown again.
            Favorite beer: Induction Ale
            Food: No food served.

Brewery Ommegang
656 Highway 33, Cooperstown, NY
Founded: 1997

            Beers I tried: Rare Vos (amber), Cuvée Brut (lambic)
            Experience: The facility is impressive on 125+ acres of land. Some is used for growing hops and there are three main buildings- production, storage, and serving/shop. This was the only brewery where I took a proper tour, which was pretty basic despite their grand scale. Their grain silo is cow-colored so that's a fun photo op. The serving room has a ton of seating where families and beer snobs gather for sampling. The only beer they had on tap that you can't find in stores was the Cuvée Brut, which was a nice treat. I would return but probably just for an event or with someone who's never been.
            Favorite beer: Cuvée Brut
            Food: Full food menu. I had a veggie burger which was very good.

Council Rock Brewery
4861 State Highway 28, Cooperstown, NY
Founded: 2012

            Beers I tried: Maude Flanders Brown (Flemish sour)
            Experience: I went at night so I couldn't tell much of the outside but it's in a barn-shaped building. Nice inside, clean, small front area leading to another room in the back. The bar was a bit cramped when full. The bartender was exceptionally courteous. The beer selection was pretty good. I only had one beer because it was in a 22-ounce bottle which I didn’t realize even though the chalkboard *blatantly* said so. It was nice though not as good as it was hyped up to be by the employees. I would return just to try some more beers.
            Favorite beer: Well…
            Food: It's a brewpub so full food menu. Many things looked great. I went with French onion soup and the Taste Of Tunisia chicken salad. The soup was mediocre but the salad was very good. I guess I'd return to try another dish too.

Otter Creek Brewing / The Shed Brewery / Wolaver's Fine Organic Ales
793 Exchange Street, Middlebury, VT
Founded: 1991, 1995, 1997

            Beers I tried: Otter Creek- Over Easy (session IPA), Couch Surfer (oatmeal stout), Fresh Slice (white IPA); The Shed- Mountain Ale (English strong), Profanity Ale (brown); Wolaver's- Organic Pumpkin Ale
            Experience: Three breweries in one building is certainly not a bad thing. The stand-alone building is surrounded by fermenting tanks. The inside is quite nice with windows allowing visitors to see the brewhaus and the brewing process. Because of the multiple breweries, there are many beers to pick from. I went with a flight that mixed all three well. I found The Shed's Mountain Ale to be the best of the bunch. I'd pop in for another visit.
            Favorite beer: Mountain Ale
            Food: Menu consists of appetizers and sandwiches. I went with a local goat cheese something or other plate with crackers which was quite enjoyable.

Drop-In Brewing Company
610 Route 7 South, Middlebury, VT
Founded: 2012

            Beers I tried: Red Dwarf (amber), Parklife (ESB), Heart Of Lothian (Scotch Ale)
            Experience: The first thing I noticed after… wait for it… dropping in was the wall filled with bottles of all sorts of beer from all sorts of places. The serving room/shop is a good size. They can't sell pints so I just went with some samples. The bartender was really nice and knowledgeable. I would… wait once more… drop in again for sure.
            Favorite beer: Parklife
            Food: No food served but there's a café next door, which I did not visit.

Vermont Pub & Brewery
144 College Street, Burlington, VT
Founded: 1988

            Beers I tried: VT Heritage Saison
            Experience: The location right in the middle of Burlington is awesome but I only saw this brewpub get a moderate crowd. There is outdoor seating and plenty of room inside, including stools on both sides of the large bar. You can read up on the founder, Greg Noonan, and see some pictures and drawings of him. He was among the earliest craft brewers so his reputation is impressive. There is a lot of history to this place. They brew many styles so everyone will find something to enjoy. This was my second time there and I'd certainly go back for a third.
            Favorite beer: The only one I had this time. I had to enter it on Untappd, which showed me that they rotate pretty regularly.
            Food: Full-service brewpub menu. I snacked on jalapeño poppers and a spinach salad. Both were tasty, especially the sweet and sour sauce with the poppers.

Lost Nation Brewing
87b Old Creamery Street, Morristown, VT
Founded: 2009

            Beers I tried: Gose
            Experience: I first drove past this brewery because the road to get to it is about ¼ mile before. This minor error was quickly forgotten upon arrival. Pull up and all you'll smell is smoke from their large outdoor grills. There is a proper bar inside along with seating but the covered outside was the place to be. Picnic tables led up to the secondary bar, where you can get any of their beers and order some delicious barbecue. Well-run, well-presented, an excellent place. I wish I had more time to spend there.
            Favorite beer: Their gose is one of the best I've had so I didn't try anything else.
            Food: The brisket tacos were so good though the tortillas were covered in grease. I ate it like a salad.

Hill Farmstead Brewery
403 Hill Road, Greensboro, VT
Founded: 2010

            Beers I tried: Song Of Joy (IPL), Mary (Pilsner), What Is Enlightenment? (pale ale), Sankt Hans (saison by Grassroots Brewing)
            Experience: I was very excited for this brewery and its beers but left disappointed. First, it's in the middle of nowhere. A succession of bumpy dirt roads leads to the farmstead. The property itself is quite large and nice. I quickly found out there is a rule- only two beers or one flight and a beer per customer. After waiting thirty minutes on a not-very-long line, I had my flight of mostly uninteresting beers. There were five on tap so I saved the one that appealed to me most (George, the brown) for my actual glassful. The outside porch was nice and that's where I sampled. I returned the glasses and was told I'd have to wait on the line (which was longer now) again to get George, if it hadn't just kicked with no sign of another replacing it. So I got my license back (yes, they kept my license so I didn't run off with a glass) and went to the gift shop. A friend had given me a growler, which I was told I'd have to wait 2.5 hours to get filled. They're busy and I get it but that's just ridiculous. And had I decided to wait, what would I have done? Gotten my one more permitted beer then stood around for two hours? The property is gorgeous and I really wanted the experience to be as well but it fell very flat. I think their reputation has gotten to their heads and those of their customers.
            So it's not all bad, a nice note: While looking at their website before my trip, I saw they have two beers named Flora and Florence. These were my grandmothers' names so I certainly wanted to try the beers. I e-mailed and was told by a Phil they wouldn't be available when I visited so I asked him to hold any spare empty bottles that may have been around. He said he would look. To my surprise, I actually left with an empty bottle of Florence. This was a nice treat after what was otherwise a sub-par experience.
            I would hesitate to go back but I'm certain that anyone I'd be traveling with would insist on it. Hopefully that time will be better.
            Favorite beer: Sankt Hans. Tip- having a guest tap is great but you should probably make sure it's not more interesting than your offerings.
            Food: There was a ramen noodle stand on-site but I didn't get anything.

Rock Art Brewery
632 Laporte Road, Morrisville, VT
Founded: 2010

            Beers I tried: Bohemian Pilsner, Saison Black Currant, Ridge Runner (barleywine), Vermonster (Ridge Runner's big brother), barrel-aged Vermonster
            Experience: I knew Rock Art was in Vermont but didn't know where until I passed it after Hill Farmstead. It's very close to Lost Nation in a nice building with a large sampling room/shop. The brewery viewing area was good and the bartender was great, though she didn't work in the actual brewing part. She offered me a flight (no pint sales) and answered my questions about the beer styles. Overall, a good experience and I would like to spend more time there in the future.
            Favorite beer: barrel-aged Vermonster
            Food: No food served.

Zero Gravity Brewery
716 Pine Street, Burlington, VT (brewery)
115 St. Paul Street, Burlington, VT (brewpub @ American Flatbread)
Founded: 2004

            Beers I tried: Altstadt (amber), Mungo Berry (fruit/Summer), Bob White (witbier)
            Experience: I first went to American Flatbread, which was great and busy even in the early afternoon. There were a bunch of ZG's beers on tap, the bartender was great, and the food was really good. About a mile away is the brewery itself with its own taproom. It was airy, welcoming, and it offered beers not on tap at the brewpub. Everything but the witbier was hoppy so I didn't stay very long.
            Favorite beer: Mungo Berry
            Food: American Flatbread has a menu of salads, snacks, and of course flatbread pizzas. I had the Medicine Wheel flatbread which was very tasty and fresh. No food served at the brewery.

Queen City Brewery
703 Pine Street, Burlington, VT
Founded: 2013

            Beers I tried: Munich Dunkel, Rauchbier, Landlady Ale (ESB), Gregarious (Scotch ale), Hefeweizen
            Experience: While at Zero Gravity, I noticed a Queen City Brewery sign across the street. Since I was already on a brewery tour, my arm was twisted. It's awesome, certainly one of my favorite stops of the trip. Their German-style beers are all excellent, as shown by it being very busy. Three quarters of the big rectangular bar have stools. In the background is the brewing section and the beers are presented and explained well. I stopped in the next day when they opened and chatted with the owner's son, who was bartending, and to fill a growler. This place was great and I wish I'd known about it during my planning so I could have spent more time.
            Favorite beer: Rauchbier
            Food: No food served.

Switchback Brewing Company
160 Flynn Avenue, Burlington, VT
Founded: 2002

            Beers I tried: Switchback Ale (pale ale), Marzen, Switchbock (maibock), Export Stout
            Experience: Just a block down from Zero Gravity and Queen City is Switchback, a nice little brewery with a great taproom and outdoor area. I would call the brews fairly standard but my time there was enjoyable. Not much else to say for some reason. I would go back, especially with its close proximity to those other two.
            Favorite beer: Switchback Ale
            Food: No food served.

Long Trail Brewing Company
5520 US Route 4, Bridgewater Corners, VT
Founded: 1989

            Beers I tried: Long Trail Ale (amber), Summer Ale, BIG Stout, Double Bag (altbier)
            Experience: One of the major players in the Vermont beer scene, Long Trail has expanded to a rather large plot of land. You can indulge at a table or barstool inside, a table outside, or just sit out back along the Ottauquechee River. I was there on a busy Labor Day but the staff was very attentive. The beers were good and in addition to the widely-available releases, they had two pilot brews- Imperial Pumpkin and BIG Stout. I was told the stout was in its second wave of production with the third and final one coming out soon. Climbing the stairs and viewing the production part is definitely worth a look. I'll go back to Long Trail for sure. It's a great place to grab a beer or lunch or even spend half a day just hanging out.
            Favorite beer: Double Bag
            Food: Full menu. I went with the chili which is cooked using Double Bag. Quite tasty.

Harpoon Brewery
336 Ruth Carney Drive, Windsor, VT
Founded: 1986

            Beers I tried: UFO White (witbier), Octoberfest, Saison Forte Rouge
            Experience: Comparable to Long Trail in quality and presentation, Harpoon has a beer garden feel to it. The brewing equipment is in view from the restaurant area but tours are reserved for weekends. The bartenders were friendly and the selection of beers was great- everything you've heard of and a few small batches. A great place for lunch.
            Favorite beer: UFO White
            Food: Full menu. I had the Rachel sandwich, which is a Reuben with turkey instead of weird corned beef. Very nice.

Hermit Thrush Brewery
29 High Street, Brattleboro, VT
Founded: 2014

            Beers I tried: All of them.
            Experience: Brattleboro was on my way to Massachusetts. I'd never heard of the town so I looked to see if there was anything interesting to do there. Of course there was a brewery. And they specialize in Belgian-style sours. So I stopped in for probably my favorite beers of the trip. The facility is small but big enough for their needs. Everything inside is wooden, including a stove in the back which distills and recycles brewing water, possibly unique in the industry. The employees were all laid-back and really cool but I could tell they're very serious about their beer. They offered two distinct flights and three one-off samples. They were all very good. I've been recommending Hermit Thrush since I visited and would absolutely go back. I hope they continue to do well and expand without compromising their excellent style.
            Favorite beer: Party Guy Session Sour
            Food: No food served.

            So that's that! I hope this wasn't unbearable to read. Hopefully you learned something and have added a few breweries to your wish list. My only gripe with the trip was so much driving. When I next do something similar I'll bring a friend or two for sure so the stops can be enjoyed more. Other than that, just keep exploring the beer world and be safe doing so.

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