This summer my wife and I spent a week in New England driving around, camping, hiking in the mountains, seeing the sights, and, of course, sampling the fine beer that region has to offer. One of our stops was Waterbury, Vermont, in the northern half of the state smack dab between Montpelier and Burlington. Our first stop in town was the Ben & Jerry’s factory and headquarters, which is one of those places that is so unabashedly fun and happy and delicious that even the most road-hardened traveler can easily overlook how touristy it is. I mean, they have a graveyard for their retired flavors where visitors can pay their respects. Yeah, it’s a pretty neat place, and Ben & Jerry’s from the source is every bit as delicious as you can imagine.
Our other stop in Waterbury was The Alchemist brewery. If you’ve never heard of them, you may have heard of their legendary singular product: Heady Topper. It’s possible you’ve never even tried this beer and you’ve still heard of it – before our visit I was in that boat. Heady Topper is a double IPA that is loaded up with hop flavor that isn’t too overwhelmingly bitter. It was famously rated the #1 beer in the world by Beer Advocate. And just to take the mystique over the top, it is sold in 16 ounce cans that encourage you to drink directly from them (somewhere, a beer snob just felt a great disturbance in the force).
Did I mention THIS IS THE ONLY BEER THE ALCHEMIST MAKES? Long story short, they used to have a brewery in the basement of a pub where they made many beers, but it was destroyed by flooding from Hurricane Irene in 2011. Then they moved to their current production facility where they devote themselves to this one beer.
We visited on a Monday to find the canning line in full operation. We were treated to samples in mini-snifters from their small bar and gift shop. As we watched the crew working the canning line and sat enjoying what really is a delicious, world-class beer, we noticed a strange thing. People kept coming in, often forming a line, to buy Heady Topper by the case. Mind you, a case runs you $72, or $3 a can. Some purchased so many cases they needed hand-trucks to haul their spoils away. Yeah. I guess I don’t need to tell you that the black market for Heady Topper is beyond ridiculous.
Apparently the neighbors were none too happy about all the traffic and line-forming, because The Alchemist just announced they will close their retail operation at the brewery in order to “avoid a neighborhood dispute.” They’ll keep the brewery running and are exploring other options for retailing their beer, beyond their already extremely limited distribution network. Until they figure that out, the elusive Heady Topper just got a little harder to come by.