Cold Brews, Hot Takes: The Campus Guide to Local Breweries

March 21, 2019

Last Thursday, I turned 21. Being in Vermont, I decided to celebrate the occasion not by throwing a Busch-fueled dorm room pregame, but with a local, authentic drinking experience: a craft brewery tour.

When I looked for places to visit, though, I found a lack of guidance. The Vermont Brewers Association puts out a map of the state’s 60 breweries, but it was sparse in detail. Online beer reviews were too technical and somewhat snobby. Even our very own Middlebury Campus had never published a guide.

As the Local section of The Campus, we took it upon ourselves to fill this void. So here it is, a rundown of local breweries from your average Middlebury Junior.

Red Clover Ale

My first stop of the day was Red Clover Ale located in Brandon, a half-hour drive along Route 7. It’s a recent addition to the brewery scene here in Addison County, started in November 2018 by three brothers-in-law.

At first glance, the space looks more like a trendy café than a brewery. Everything was in a single spacious room — including the brewing and fermentation tanks, cordoned off from the rest with only a small swinging door. The décor was simple, two long wooden tables flanked by beer barrels that doubled as tables. Metal stools, patterned aluminum ceiling and exposed bulbs hanging on cables completed the look. Perfect for Instagram.

And the beer? Clean, balanced and surprisingly accessible. Their hoppiest drink of the day, the Fly Agaric, a double IPA, had all the flavor and complexity you would want without an overpowering bitterness that you might expect in such a hop-forward beer.

“They’re not in your face,” explained Riker Wikoff, one of the owners of the brewery. He offered me another beer, this time a German Kolsch he called Edelweiss: with a much a lighter feel and a crisp finish, it felt almost like drinking a clean lager. “I don’t like to get slammed on super ABV beers. I like to be able to enjoy more than one,” he added.

When Riker and his other co-founders created the tasting room, they envisioned a space for people to linger and socialize, building a light-filled room with soft music playing in the background and a stack of board games on a foosball table by the corner. They also brewed beers that reflected that concept, with most drinks clocking in at less than 6 percent ABV.

It’s a recipe that seems to be working so far. As I was about to leave, a man walked up to the bar, ordered a glass, took a seat by the long tables and opened a book and began reading.

Hot Takes: A fancy café with beer, not coffee. Chill with friends, play games, even read. Just don’t forget to bring your own food.

Foley Brothers

I headed to Foley Brothers next, a more established player in Vermont located just a few minutes away from Red Clover Ale. It was slightly off the beaten path, down a windy road with more potholes than I could count.

Alyssa Zollman, the weeknight tasting room manager greeted me as I walked into the 18th century farmhouse-turned-brewery. She led me through an Irish/pirate themed main tasting room to a smaller room in the back usually used for wine tastings (Foley Brothers also owns a vineyard) but that acts as the winter tap room. “It’s easier to heat,” she explained.

One of the first beers I tried was Pieces of Eight, a double IPA made with eight different hops. With every sip I took, I tasted a different flavor — fruitiness, earthiness, citrus — the whole spectrum. It ended with a strong but balanced bitterness, a trait many of its beers shared. I could see why the brewery had won several accolades over the years, with its flagship brew, the Prospect, ranked alongside some of the top beers in Vermont.

The secret to their success? “Pride and quality,” said Paul Babick, the brewery cellarman. “Nobody takes more pride in the beers than the brothers do,” he emphasized.

There’s something in the water in Brandon. With two phenomenal breweries with totally different personalities, you could spend the day at Foley Brothers trying their IPAs, then grab a bite to eat at one of Brandon’s many local eateries and go over to Red Clover for some afternoon drinks and a round of boardgames.

Hot Takes: If you love IPAs, go to Foley Brothers. If you’re willing to tolerate a small space and the bumpy ride, you’ll be rewarded with phenomenal beer.

Drop-In

While Brandon is great, you don’t have to drive half an hour for a quality beer experience. Just down the road from Hannaford sits Drop-In brewery, a student favorite. It’s an eclectic place with a diverse range of beers on tap — from consistent hits like Sunshine & Hoppiness to occasional brews like Czech Your Ego.

Drop-In is also home to the American Brewers Guild, a brewing school run by Steve Parkes, owner and cofounder. “The brewery’s almost like a hobby for Steve,” explained Spencer Norland, who was working the tap that day.

The room really did feel like a hobby. A collection of what seemed like items from a British teenager’s dorm room covered the walls from floor to ceiling: soccer jerseys, band posters, even a random assortment of signs. “I’ve heard that the theme of this place is ‘get this crap out of the house,’” joked the man sitting next to me by the bar.

It’s the same creative, free-spiritedness at the source of its flavorful beers, a taste that’s worth the trip even if the brewery were a long drive away.

Pro-tip: If you don’t have a car, you can take the ACTR Route 7 bus to get there. But before you board at ADK, ask the driver to drop you off in front of Drop-In (pun not intended). While it’s not an official stop, they often accommodate deviations of less than half a mile. If not, it’s only about a five-minute walk from either the stop before at Hannaford, or the stop after at Rosie’s.

Here’s another tip: If you don’t know what to order, many of these places will let you have a taste before you commit to a pint. Take advantage of it – it’ll save us all the embarrassment of pretending to know the difference between a piney IPA and a resinous ale.

Hot Takes: For times you want proper beer without committing to a half-hour drive. Also great for first-timers: it’s close to home, and its educational roots shine through with the most detailed drink menu I’ve seen and a helpful staff.

Otter Creek

As I pulled into the parking lot of Otter Creek, I was immediately hit with a scent of hops. They were coming from the towers jutting out of the brewery, housing the tanks that make up the industrial brewing operation. Only a few minutes from campus on Exchange Street, the craft brewery is one of the largest in the New England area, capable of producing more than 120 barrels at a time.

“We’ve got freshness and consistency,” said Robbie Leeds, the cellar supervisor, as he showed me the machinery. The high-tech operation spoke to the quality of one of the institutions that put Vermont craft beers on the map. Its flagship beer, the Free Flow IPA, with its iconic image of an orange van is distributed across the region.

The beer at the tap room was also great, from the Tiny Mountain Ale, a crisp, low-ABV drink to its chocolate stout, a heavy 11 percent dark beer with a hint of bourbon at the end.

With so many different drinks to choose from, some of them exclusive to the tap-room, it’s a worth a visit. But don’t plan on making new friends, with the music cranked up high and waiters bringing your drinks to the table, it’s lost a little bit of the personal touch of a local brewery.

Hot Takes: Friends from out of town? Picky drinker? Take them to Otter Creek. A recognizable brand, unparalleled variety of beer, and solid food options make OCB another great choice.

Hired Hand

My last destination was Hired Hand, a tap-room in Vergennes. By the time I arrived, I was exhausted from two days of drinking and driving (Not at the same time, of course).

But the bustling energy of the taproom quickly sobered me up. The room was packed, and waitresses shuffled around delivering plates of food. I wedged myself between a couple and a group of friends sitting at the bar.

The space was rustic but stylish. Instead of levers, the taps behind the bar was made of old equipment from Ian’s family farm: wrenches, springs, handles.

But the food is what really separates Hired Hand from all the other breweries in the area. Head chef and owner Ian Huizenga runs both the brewery and the restaurant downstairs, Bar Antidote. They focus on hyper local ingredients, with much of it coming from within a few miles in Addison County. The result is an authentic farm-to-table style with a creative menu.

For Huizenga, making his own beer was a project that grew out his love for cooking with local ingredients. “We want this to be for the community,” he said as he listed the different farms from which he sourced his hops and other ingredients.

Currently, Hired Hand collaborates with Bobcat Brewery in Bristol to brew custom beers, but will start its own operations on-premise in June.

Hot Takes: Perfect for a date or a nice meal away from town. Come for the beer but stay for the food.

My review isn’t comprehensive by any means. This is just the beginning to exploring all of what Vermont has to offer.

But one thing’s for sure: Busch isn’t gonna cut it anymore. So if you’re turning 21, grab a sober friend, pack your ID and hit the road. 55 breweries to go.

Bonus: Vermont Cider Company (Woodchuck Cider)

For all you non-beer-drinkers out there, there’s still plenty of alcohol to go around.

I decided to take a slight detour from my round up of local breweries to check out the Vermont Cider Company. Located just a mile or so past Otter Creek on Exchange Street, the maker of the familiar Woodchuck cider is another behemoth (at least for Vermont standards), producing enough cans daily to distribute to more than 40 states and a few countries abroad.

Alisa Bunin, the company’s Marketing Manager, greeted me by the door and led me towards the taproom. Woodchuck merchandise: shirts, cups, bottle openers, filled the room. At the back was a bar, with two rows of ciders on tap.

I tried the Amber first. A classic: it was the drink that converted hoards of beer drinkers to the cider world with its delicate sweetness and a slight tart finish.

Bunin offered me another glass, this time the Lil’ Dry from Woodchuck’s 802 collection. “It’s a love letter to our home state of Vermont,” she said. Sourced entirely from orchards around Vermont, the local apples laid a foundation for an elegant brew with a pale gold complexion. I cusped the glass in my hands and brought it up for a taste – warming the drink to bring out the flavors, as Bunin had explained. Dry and almost champagne-like, a sure hit.

Hot Takes: For non-beer-drinkers and beer-drinkers alike, go to see the source of cider goodness.

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