Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Vermont Loop: Beer Run and Review for Hill Farmstead

As we are currently staying at a cottage about 30 km North of the Vermont border, we had planned on a trip to Hill Farmstead (and a hopeful family picnic at a state park).  When the weather became rain, rain, rain, snow, and rain respectively for the 5 days we'd be here, we gave up on the picnic and my wonderful wife said, "why not drive while the little guy sleeps and make the loop you'd originally planned on and buy some Heady Topper too?"  (I know, she's pretty awesome!)

Vermont currently hosts the world's top brewery, according to ratebeer, and the best beer according to beeradvocate.  Thus, my motivation and a 3 hour-drive loop isn't too bad for the chance to procure them all - though the lonesome bored border staff at an empty crossing likely spelled "D-U-T-Y" upon my return even if I saved money on gas.

So we arrived in Morristown around 11:15 am.  The place we stopped, the Green Top Market which deserves a shout-out for their EXCELLENT food and super-friendly staff, assured me that their Friday delivery of Heady would be there anytime between 10am and 4pm but without any more specific predictability.

Thus, we headed South to Stowe, and I found myself picking up a four-pack (and some other niceties to be reviewed and consumed at some point in the not too distant future) under a strict "One-four-pack-per-person" policy at the State Liquor Store there.  I pondered trying another nearby retailer or stopping back into the Green Top Market, but decided I had better get in line at Hill Farmstead, still a good 45 minute drive North-East of my then present location.

Originally we had planned to be at Hill Farmstead by noon as I understand one can expect to wait in line for 1 to 1.5 hours to get their growlers filled if they arrive after the noon open.  With the prospect of procuring Heady, I figured "well, we'll line up for 1.5 hours and it'll be fine."

Had I known when I arrived and was told that it would be a 2 hour wait that it actually would have been nearly four hours before I'd get out with filled beers, I'd actually have gone home and come back in the summer, but upon waiting for 1.5 hours before getting samples and still thinking it would be faster, the samples and I-have-been-here-this-long-already feeling sustained me through to the painfully long finish.  Yes, my wife and child stuck it out (I know, she's pretty awesome!)

Alas, I tried 4 different HF brews and purchased three of them.  I won't say much about "What is Enlightenment?" since I only had the taste and found the Simcoe notes a bit overwhelming, but as I purchased the others I tried, I can say a bit more.

For those who don't know, Hill Farmstead is praised for having successes at everything they brew, while they focus on and specialize in unfiltered, dry-hopped, naturally-carbonated pale ale and IPA.  While there, they had four current beers continuing this trend: two pale ales and two DIPAs.

Edward (5.2% ABV, 85 IBUs American Pale Ale) is the brewery's flagship brand brewed in honour of Edward Hill, head brewer/genius Shaun Hill's grandfather.  It should probably be called an IPA and presents what I called upon my first taste "a million dollar nose" of citrus and sweet mango and papaya drifting out from a cloudy yellowish-orange body capped by a creamy white head of fair retention.  The taste presents orange, rind, and peach with a dry yet delectable finish and faint linger, while the mouth is fairly full yet nicely creamy due to the natural carbonation.  Grade: A

If Edward has a million dollar nose, Abner (8% ABV, 170 "Theoretical" IBUs Double IPA) wafts a cool billion!  It pours a cloudy orangish-amber with a bubbly white head that exudes these heavenly aromas of citrus through and through, dominated by sweet tangerine and orange, while the taste is similar but milder with some resin and a longer linger than Edward.  Again creamy and medium bodied, and just a wonderful DIPA for those with a sense of adventure in an IPA!  Grade: A

Ephraim (9.8% ABV, 280 "Theoretical" IBUs Imperial IPA) pours a similar appearance to Edward while the nose is more subdued with some piney grass and rind.  The taste, however, is stronger with that lingering Simcoe hops bitterness bordering on my personal astringency.  I still like it, in fact I would gladly drink it just about anytime, but it stands a shade below the others for me personally though many a true hophead may dream fondly of it.  One other slight criticism: this has the lightest body of the bunch and could truly be beefed up a bit.  Grade: A-

For some general comments on Hill Farmstead - without having tasted anything aside from these and a cask collaboration IPA with DDC that rocked my world - I would like to add the following:

  • It is noteworthy that by cloudy, I truly don't describe any of these unfiltered, hop-heavy beers as chunky.  Unlike Heady Topper, there is NO particulate here, just a haze.
  • Though I really enjoy every beer they make, I could name dozens I love more, but they are very consistently impressive; never receiving poor reviews for anything, brewing very balanced (or delectably imbalanced!) yet complex and crisp beers.
  • The focus on natural carbonation coupled with water from a local well dug by Edward Hill - the brewer's grandfather - is remarkable and fits well with the unfiltered, dry-hopped mastery he has nurtured.
  • Just what are their so-called theoretical IBUs?  Is this simply a statement of exaggeration (since human palates cannot discern this extreme) or are these calculated or measured numbers were this degree possible on the IBU scale?  Since they consistently use the phrase they should explain it!
  • Likewise, what is this distinction between Imperial IPA and Double IPA they make?  Everyone else simply chooses one term or the other for the same thing!  It seems semantic and pedantic to do otherwise, unless you are making a distinction, but if so it won't catch on in the beer world unless you clarify that too.
  • Finally, they need to speed up this process!  Primary suggestion (and I have many I won't get into): have filled 750s and growlers that can be exchanged for top-up-cash and empty HF bottles for those arriving with them.  Really, this is good beer, but I would never wait this long for it again.  If there is a next time, I will be there at five to twelve and if the line-up goes outside the building, I will leave!

And on my way back, I was asked one question on contents by the border guard, "Are you bringing back any tobacco?"  I was easily able to honestly say "No," and figured I should have brought twice the beer had I known I'd get that response!  I guess she didn't care if I brought back beer... or maybe she'd procured her daily quota of booze duty from those in front of me in the Hill Farmstead line.

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