A Beer Brewery Bonanza

Editor’s Note: In light of the recent hard alcohol ban on campus, The Dartmouth Review found it timely to explore the Upper Valley’s rich brewing culture as a means of illuminating alternatives for lower-risk drinking. Please drink responsibly and remember to get a freshman to drive you.

At 11:36 AM, Hodge Stanson ‘15, Ignatius J. Reilly ‘15, Oral Stanfield ‘15, Carl Earl Marlborough IV ‘15, and Pip Epiffany ‘18 depart Hanover one hour and thirty-six minutes behind schedule. The day’s mission is a purely academic exploration of Vermont’s beer brewing industry. The gang’s first stop will be the Magic Hat Brewery and Artifactory, a company based in Burlington, Vermont, which produces alcoholic beer.

The gang’s first stop is not, in fact, Magic Hat Brewery and Artifactory, but rather the Circle-K Irving gas station, home of Hanover’s local Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. After an initial round of miscommunication produces two Egg White Veggie Flatbreads, rather than the Turkey Sausage Flatbreads Hodge and Oral had ordered, the gang peruses the convenience store while the Dunkin’ staff rectifies their error. In the intervening seven minutes, the gang purchases gasoline, assorted tobacco products, and beef jerky.

Realizing that the initial drive to Burlington implies a long absence from the very beverages the gang initially sought to investigate, they are careful to stock the car with enough Redd’s Wicked Apple Ale and Twisted Tea to sate them for the duration of the trip. Pip kindly takes the car keys and volunteers to remain sober while the rest of the gang begins their investigative process. The Review cannot stress enough the importance of finding a freshman to remain sober and pilot your veritable Enterprise.

Carl and Oral enjoy Redd’s Wicked Apple Ale, a 24-ounce “refreshingly hard ale” with 6% alcohol-by-volume (ABV). The Redd’s Wicked Apple Ale offers strong notes of apple. Ignatius and Hodge try Twisted Tea’s Half & Half Hard Iced Tea, “with true iced tea taste.” The 24-ounce, 5% ABV “malt beverage with select teas and natural flavors” perfectly complements Dunkin’ Donuts’ Turkey Sausage Flatbread.

As Led Zeppelin plays on the radio, the gang cruises north on Vermont’s scenic I-91 and discusses a broad array of topics. Oral and Hodge debate various “finishing moves” they would like to employ on College President Phil Hanlon in the Mixed Martial Arts octagon. Hodge’s suggestion of ripping the moustache from President Hanlon’s face receives unanimous approval. The gang then bemoans the prevalence of prescription drug abuse in society, but all agree that they are open to the idea.

“GOT A LOG OF STARBUCKS LOVERS!!”

“GOT A LOG OF STARBUCKS LOVERS!!”

12:35 PM: The gang sings along to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.”

“GOT A LOG OF STARBUCKS LOVERS!!”

A commercial break necessitates a change of station; the next station is also playing “Blank Space.” The gang determines to stay for Round Two. The gang wonders why they hadn’t purchased a Blu E-Cigarette for the journey.

Ignatius tells a story about when he thought he might have accidentally used methamphetamine at an Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festival; the gang expresses incredulity, but slowly grows concerned that there is validity to the tale.

12:52 PM: Oral finishes his 24-ounce can of Redd’s Wicked Apple Ale.

12:53 PM: Unwilling to be one-upped, the rest of the gang follows suit; no Redd’s Wicked Apple Ale or Twisted Tea remains.

1:20 PM: The gang arrives in Burlington as Pip takes a sharp turn off the exit. The gang fear for their lives, then check Tinder.

1:27 PM: The gang arrives at the Magic Hat Brewery. First stop.

Ignatius finds the restroom spacious and accommodating, though the hand dryer is disappointingly weak. The interior of the tasting room is dank, cave-like, and lit with red and green hues. There is no place to sit. After some effort, the gang attracts the attention of the troupe of bearded, heavily pierced hipsters tending the bar. Three of the gang’s four drinkers are cleared through the brewery’s rigorous process of verifying drivers’ licenses. Ignatius is informed that his ID does not measure up to the brewery’s lofty standards. The gang vehemently protests, and offers to display Dartmouth Student IDs as “second forms.” The staff is unmoved. The experience sours more quickly than Magic Hat on one’s palate. Ignatius is placated with a free (empty) pint glass. The three remaining drinkers rate their free samples as follows:

Magic Hat HI.P.A.: 5.2/10. The drinkers find this dry-hopped spring seasonal to be drinkable yet unimpressive. It is medium-bodied and moderately hopped, but, like a Daily Dartmouth article, offers little substance.
Magic Hat Dream Machine I.P.A.: 6.45/10. This fruity, light-bodied ale elicits marginally better reviews, but again lacks complexity.
Magic Hat Single Chair: 4/10. The tap-handles of this seasonal offering are fun and quirky, unlike the beer.
Magic Hat Hop Drip Coffee IPA: 7/10. The best of the bunch. The coffee flavor entices without overpowering. 

Overall, the beer was fine, but nothing special. Most of the offerings taste like slightly more boring variations of the brewery’s flagship #9 “Not Quite Pale Ale.” A bartender at the gang’s next stop, Switchback Brewery, sums up Magic Hat nicely: “We all drank #9 and loved it, maybe when we were in our early 20’s or late teens. But then you wake up one day and taste it, and ask yourself why you’ve been drinking so much of it, because it sucks.”

2:13 PM: After a five-minute drive, the gang arrives at Switchback Brewing Co., and enters the comfortable, well-lit taproom. The bartender gives the gang a short rundown of Switchback’s history, and notes that Magic Hat “dropped down a few pegs” in Vermont after selling out to Costa Rican-based Florida Ice & Farm Company. The bartenders at Switchback chuckle as the gang relates their unsatisfactory experience at Magic Hat–they are unsurprised, and refer to the brewery as “Magic Crap.” The gang and the broader crowd at Switchback all get a chuckle out of this. The sampling flight arrives on a Vermont-shaped platter made by Burton Snowboards, also based in Burlington. As the bartenders are quick to announce, Switchback is the best-selling beer in Vermont. One of the bartenders, Jon, describes Switchback’s brewing process: “All Switchback beers are unfiltered, because filtering strips beer of yeast proteins that add complexities to the brew. Filtering is usually done for appearance.”

Switchback Ale: 5.9/10. The company’s flagship brew is medium-bodied and drinkable but is nothing special.
Switchback Märzen Fest Bier: 6.6/10. This Bavarian-inspired lager is light without being flavorless. It would be good for a summer lunch on Lake Champlain.
Switchback Roasted Red Ale: 7.1/10. Lea Jae notes that the Roasted Red Ale is a “local favorite,” and the gang is of like mind. The beer derives its name and color from the process of roasting the barley, which lends the ale a malt-accented taste with a roasted finish.
Switchback Dooley’s Belated Porter: 6.8/10. This full-bodied porter is somehow lighter and more drinkable than its style would imply.

Overall, Switchback is a delight. With affordable $4 tasting flights, friendly and accommodating service, a lack of insufferable hipsters, and complimentary beer snacks (individual bags of Schneider’s of Hanover’s Bacon Cheddar-Flavored Pretzel Pieces), the gang is happy. Hodge notes that good tunes are being played.

2:57 PM: Upon recommendation of the Switchback bartenders, the gang drives two minutes to the Queen City Brewery. An unassuming warehouse facade belies the promising European-inspired craft brewery within. The gang enters the brewery alongside another patron and her dog, surely a sign that the atmosphere in Queen City will be a relaxed and enjoyable one. The brewing and tasting areas share a single, large room, lending the space an authentic smell and intimate ambiance. The brewery only opened this past June, and the passion of its entire ownership and staff is readily apparent. After grabbing stools at the U-shaped hardwood bar, the gang is approached by a cheerful and comely bierwench, who describes the nine European-style beers on tap.

Queen City South End Helles (German Helles-Style Lager): 7.8/10. The South End Helles is a light, crisp, and tasty lager. It stands out in a style that is otherwise quite bland.
Queen City Rauchbier (Smoked Märzen): 8/10. The gang was blown away by Queen City’s take on the German rauchbier–a style that is “notoriously hard to find in North America,” according to the brewery. The beer was almost Scotch-like in its smokiness, a product of German malt smoked over beechwood embers.
Queen City Landlady (Yorkshire E.S.B.): 6.3/10. This initially unassuming pale ale has a surprisingly pleasant finish.
Queen City 7 Oaks (Kentish Best Bitter): 6.3/10. This beer is very bitter, with strong notes of licorice and a watery body.
Queen City Yorkshire Porter: 7/10. This full-bodied porter playfully balances intensity with drinkability…
Queen City Munich Dunkel (Bavarian Dark Lager): 6.5/10. This dark beer is good, but not particularly memorable. Oral recommends the Hofbräu Dunkel for newcomers to the style, but feels like a bit of a hipster idiot in doing so.
Queen City Monk of Underhill (Belgian Tripel): 7/10. This heady Belgian strong ale was a hit with Hodge, Oral, and Ignatius, but not so with Carl, who prefers his beers darker and more full-bodied on the mouth.
Queen City The Saint (Belgian Amber): 6/10. The Saint is a standard, drinkable amber ale.
Queen City Dark Harvest (Seasonal Ale): 7.2/10. The Dark Harvest is a delightfully ominous beer that is reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials.

Toward the end of the gang’s visit, a mustachioed, middle aged man steps behind the bar and begins washing glasses. The bartenders address him as “Pops.” The gang engages the stranger in conversation, and learns that he is called Paul, and is one of the founders of the brewery. Paul holds a PhD in molecular biology, and has been a homebrewer for over twenty years. He still has a day job at a biotech firm, cheekily titled BioTek, but he and three longtime friends decided last year to open Queen City and make their collective dream a reality. “The best part about owning a brewery,” Paul responds to the gang’s open-ended and poorly formulated question, “is drinking beer whenever you want.” The gang agrees.

At this point, the gang has worked up an appetite, and Paul suggests they drive to Flatbread Restaurant, which specializes in brick oven pizzas and shares a building with Zero Gravity Brewery.

4:06 PM: The gang descends upon Zero Gravity Brewery, located on Burlington’s central green. A sign on the front door informs guests that cell phone use is prohibited inside. The gang sits next to the large wood-fired pizza oven, and orders beer and pizza.

Zero Gravity Conehead IPA: 9/10. Carl reports: “This fruity and flowery IPA is lovely, soft, and sweet. It’s like cotton candy to a child or heroin to Robert Downey, Jr. You raise the glass and the inviting aromas waft into your nose and beckon you to take another sip. You can’t say no to its rich flavor and smooth, golden body. This beer is beautiful.”
Zero Gravity Winter Gruit (Medieval-Style Ale): 7/10. Oral reports: “The Winter Gruit is described as a medieval-style ale, bittered with ‘locally grown sweet gale, yarrow, and mugwort from Hallow Herb Farm, as well as sweet woodruff and labrador tea.’ Obviously I’m ordering the Winter Gruit. With the candlelit table and wood fire at my back, I feel like I’m in Game of Thrones. Just drinking my f*****g Winter Gruit. Love this ambiance–10/10. The Winter Gruit is 7/10 (concept better than taste). Getting a buzz on.”
Zero Gravity A Beer Named Sue (Belgian Farmhouse Ale): 8/10. Ignatius reports: “This golden farmhouse ale is playful on the palate and reminds the drinker of simpler times when rolling around in hay bales and sleeping in mangers were social norms.”

The pizza from Flatbread is delicious. The gang decides to try the buffalo chicken pizza, which they suspect is an homage to the Everything But Anchovies “BuffChick” cult favorite. They also order a large meat lovers’ pizza, at Carl’s request. Both are outstanding, and fill the gang up to the brim.

5:32 PM: Lo, the gang finds room for more beer. They wander across the street to the Vermont Pub & Brewery, one of the oldest microbreweries in the Upper Valley. The gang orders a round of the pub’s signature Burly Irish Ale; Oral and Carl dissent, and opt for the Dogbite Bitter and Vermont IPA, respectively.

Vermont Pub & Brewery Burly Irish Ale (Irish Red): 7/10. This bold, unapologetically forward-thinking ale is challenging the status quo on Burlington’s College Street. We expect great things from this up-and-coming brew.
Vermont Pub & Brewery Dogbite Bitter (E.S.B.): 7/10. Like a swift but well-balanced kick to the sternum, Dogbite Bitter wakes you up like a punch to the pelvis. It’s bold–but don’t be scared off. This traditional, New Age brew is unrepentant in its audacity.
Vermont Pub & Brewery Vermont IPA: 8/10. Carl calls this IPA “heavenly. The head is like soft clouds and the taste is supple and sweet like a young woman discovering her sexuality. A bold, hoppy bitterness audaciously counters these sensations to provide a mature drinking experience.”

7:01 PM: The gang arrives at the sixth and final stop on their brewery crawl: the miniscule but celebrated Fiddlehead Brewing Company. This one-room operation is the pride of the greater South Burlington region. With Pip eager to get home already, the gang buys a growler of the brewery’s signature Fiddlehead IPA for the road.

The ride home is a raucous experience. The gang is unable to review the Fiddlehead IPA, but has a feeling it was a bold and hop-forward addition to the craft brewing milieu. Pip guides the craft home safely, as he had not enjoyed any of the craft brews. The Review would like to stress again that finding a freshman to drive you to Burlington is a necessary prerequisite to an adventure in this bold, unremittingly progressive town.