A winding 2,400-foot climb up a ragged dirt road made my car whine in protest and, eventually, delivered me to the trailhead atop a narrow mountain pass called Lincoln Gap. From there, I shouldered a pack for an hourlong hike through moss-carpeted forest and pine woods to Mount Abes exposed, windblown summit. To the west, Lake Champlain reflected the sun like mercury. I cracked open a can of 14th Star Brewing Co.s Tributea double IPA with a lingering bitternessand after a brief rest, made my way back down the mountain.
On the far side of Lincoln Gap, the Mad River crashes through waterfalls, soaking pools, and a natural waterslide, making Warren Falls the perfect post-hike spot for a cooling plunge. Rumbling over a covered bridge, I arrived at Warren Store, a historic country store with a potbellied woodstove and creaking floorboards, some installed in 1839. The store serves deli sandwiches, house-made breads, and pastries, and also has an outlandishly good beer selection. Inside, Sean Lawson, co-owner of the nearby brewery Lawsons Finest Liquids, was hawking samples of his latest beers. His maple stouts and hop-centric IPAs are highly coveted, and sell out far faster than he can brew them in his seven-barrel brewery.
That night, I collapsed into a balcony chair at Stowe Mountain Lodge, a modern, upscale hotel set at the base of Stowe Mountain Resort. I was content to sip from the days brew haul and breathe in the mountain air until the evening chill and the promise of a gas fireplace pulled me back indoors.
Day 3: Going Deeper
Onmywayout of town the next morning, I noticed a small crowd gathering outside an outwardly unassuming gas station. Stopping to investigate, I learned they were waiting to intercept a delivery of Heady Topper, the divine and supremely in-demand beer that had inspired my road trip in the first place. The trick to finding it is to study the delivery schedule posted on the Alchemists website, and arrive as soon as it is unloaded from the truck. Limits two four-packs per person, cash only! the cashier called out to the gathering fanatics, many of whom were following the truck along its delivery route, scooping up their limit at each stop. I celebrated my good fortune and, without hesitation, laid down my money.
Rolling through Morrisville, I followed my nose to Lost Nation Brewingthe next big thing in Vermont brewingwhere a smoker billowed mouthwatering smells into the air. In the sun-soaked beer garden, I wrestled with a Dagwood-size sandwich of smoked pork and pickled veggies, then sipped on a Gose, a salty-sour ale that was both thirst-inducing and -quenching at the same time.
For Vermonts beer pilgrims, the ultimate destination is Hill Farmstead Brewery, a small place run by Shaun Hill, a mad genius whos one of the most outspoken proponents of keeping Vermont beer fresh and local. For centuries, his family has owned a patch of land three miles past the middle-of-nowhere town of Greensboro (population 746). The beersnamed in many cases for Hills ancestors, like Edward, Mary, Abner, and Ephraim were indeed addictive, and the line to purchase them was filled with other travelers from across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
Afterward, on the road back to Burlington and its boutique Hotel Vermont, my trunk loaded with amazing beer, I thought about the treasures Id picked up and the people Id met. Its not about money here when the Alchemist opened its shiny 30-barrel brewery in Stowe this summer, owners John and Jen Kimmich vowed to keep their special beer local, so residents could enjoy it whenever they wantits about protecting quality and the Vermont way of life. Maybe thats why it tastes so good. The only way to be sure, though, is to keep going back for more.
Road-Trip Cheat Sheet
Shelburne Farms: A nonprofit farm thats open to visitors. shelburnefarms.org.
Fiddlehead Brewing Co.: This small Shelburne brewery is run by industry veteran Matt Cohen. fiddleheadbrewing.com.
Bobcat Cafe & Brewery: Bristol pub that serves comfort food and brews its own beer. thebobcatcafe.com; entrees $13$21.
Middlebury Inn: This historic inn overlooks the green in Middleburys vibrant downtown. middleburyinn.com; doubles from $169.
Downtown Middlebury: The town is home to Edgewater Gallery (edgewatergallery.co), the Vermont Book Shop (vermontbookshop.com), Clementine (clementinestore.com), and Middlebury Natural Foods Co-Op (middlebury.coop).
Orb Weaver Farm: Though this farm is not technically open to the public, the owners can accommodate visits if you call ahead. orbweaverfarm.com.
Lulu: An artisanal, small-batch ice cream spot in Bristol that sources many ingredients from within a dozen miles. luluvt.com.
Green Mountain National Forest: Activities here include hiking on Mount Abe and swimming in Warren Falls.
Warren Store: A country store serving sandwiches and beers from Lawsons Finest Liquids. warrenstore.com.
Stowe Mountain Lodge: Score the fifth-floor Alpine Studio for views of Vermonts highest peak. stowemountainlodge.com; doubles from $329.
The Alchemist: This summer, the beloved company opened its new brewery in Stowe, where you can taste hard-to-find brews. alchemistbeer.com.
Lost Nation Brewing: Grab a seat at this Morrisville brewery and beer garden for barbecue and Gose ale. lostnationbrewing.com.
Hill Farmstead Brewery: Shaun Hills Greensboro operation is considered the ultimate destination on a Vermont beer trip. hillfarmstead.com.
Hotel Vermont: This downtown Burlington hotel has a beer concierge (ask for the nearest Heady Topper availability). hotelvt.com; doubles from $339.