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Vermont

July, 2000

By Bobby Bush

My first trip to Vermont will not be my last. What a beautiful state- rolling green hills, rainy summers with mild temperatures, lakes, rivers, mountains, friendly people; a tourist destination if there ever was one. Beautiful Lake Champlain (not quite a Great Lake) skirts the western line, New Hampshire the east, this elongated, trapezoid-shaped state has a population of only 600,000 people. Brewpub demographics number about ten with another half dozen or so microbreweries, all crammed into a relatively tiny area just 80 miles wide and 160 long, or thereabouts.

Tourism - summer sun and winter skiing - is the Green Mountain State’s number one business. That’s what keeps Vermont restaurants, hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and, of course, brewpubs, so vibrant. And that, along with a state-wide beer festival, is why we chose to tour Vermont, my 27th state of brewpubs visited.

Burlington rests in the northwest corner of Vermont on the shores of Lake Champlain. Just 50 miles from the Canadian border, the University of Vermont calls Burlington home. The city’s downtown section, a few blocks uphill from the harbor, is well-prepared for college kids and tourists alike. Live music and other entertainment is regularly performed on a small outdoor stage. Gifts shops, galleries, bars and restaurants beckon. And nearby is the place where it all started in Vermont.

It took three years for the Vermont legislature to address a petition from Greg and Nancy Noonan to permit pub brewing. Legislation finally passed in May, 1988. On November 11 of that same year, The Vermont Pub & Brewery opened on College Street. Honored by internationally recognized beer scribe Michael Jackson, in his 1997 book “America’s Best Brews,” as one of the nation’s 25 Best Craft Breweries, we stopped in to see what all of the fuss was about.

The courtyard was full on a Friday afternoon. The smokers’ bar was too, but the barroom was partitioned into a smoke-free area where seats were plentiful. Twelve taps and two cask pumps yielded only seven beers, one cask and one guest cider this day. Small sampler-size mugs were delivered promptly. No tricycle beer here, the lightest it got was Burly Irish Ale, a medium-bodied, low hopped session brew. The Silk Ale tap was dry. Sharp copper in hue, Dogbite Bitter was surprisingly more hoppy than Bombay Grab IPA, which was golden and bitter to style. Vermont Smoked Porter, which Jackson called “one of the ten best beers on the east coast,” presented apple and maple notes within its deep roasted malt flavor. Hickory-smoked malt was obvious in nose and taste in this near hop-less ale.

Two seasonals were available. Handsome Mick’s Irish Stout was extremely malty, though somewhat harsh with gritty mouthfeel, while Champlain Monster Trippel was a Belgian-style, clear gold ale, strong in flavor and alcohol with a sour-bitter finish. Upon questioning we learned that there was one other beer. Not usually part of the sampler line-up, five-month-old Wee Heavy Scotch Ale was full-bodied, sweet and malty, smoothness in strength. The cask, almost an oversight on our part, was the bitter Dogbite, which was rendered smoother in its natural state, though served too cold for a cask-conditioned ale.

When asked the brewer’s name, the chaotically busy bartendress said, “well, we’re suppose to say [founder] Greg Noonan, but Andre Blais is the head brewer.” Not surprisingly so, Noonan stays busy with lectures at brewing conferences and has penned many periodical articles as well as three brewing books. He also serves as consultant for several other brewpubs and microbreweries. In addition, Greg and Nancy founded and run The Seven Barrel Brewery in West Lebanon, New Hampshire, about 80 miles southeast.

This little excursion will take Suds through the heart of Vermont and into six brewpubs, two micros and one New Hampshire brewpub. So jump on board. Admission is one beer.

(Next installment: Three Needs)

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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