In 1994, John Kimmich arrived in Vermont to learn about the craft beer industry from Greg Noonan, author, brewer and owner of the Vermont Pub and Brewery in Burlington, Vt.
During his time there, he met his future wife, Jen and together they went on to open The Alchemist, a brew pub in Waterbury, Vt. in late 2003. The Kimmichs started their production brewery in August 2011 and during that same month, lost their pub to Hurricane Irene, but that didn’t keep them from moving into the future.
The Alchemist brews a few seasonal and rotating beers, but focuses mainly on only one beer. How, do you say, a brewery can maintain, prosper and be so popular by spending most of their time and production on one beer? I have two words for you: Heady Topper.
When your beer is referred to often by a nickname—and has its own Wikipedia page—you know you’ve likely done something correct. Heady Topper is an 8 percent ABV unfiltered Double IPA. It consistently earns places on best beers list, notably sitting at the top of Beer Advocates list for quite some time.1 However, it’s not just ranking as the top beer in the world that’s so impressive, rather, it’s a regular production item produced by a brewery that only added its second distributed beer a few months ago.
Heady Topper is a regular item, although produced in small batches and only sold throughout the northeast because the beer is unpasteurized and as such must be kept cold. Pricing for the beer varies wildly. Kimmich has said the beer is sold to retailers at $10 per four-pack and The Alchemist has sold it for $12.50 per four-pack at various times, but that hasn’t stopped other retails from charging quadruple that.
A-16 ounce can holds this brew that I have been anticipating for years, with a freaky drawing of a bearded fellow with a head full of hops. I know, I know, the bold logo says “Drink from the can” three times around the upper rim of this brew, but I have to see this beer, study this beer, see what is in the intriguing silver and black can.
It is poured into a Teku glass and I shake with anticipation of what is about to happen. It’s done, it’s in the glass and now I need to observe this rare, elusive nectar.
The color is a beautiful, yet cloudy golden-orange with ample white, foamy head that releases small explosions of carbonation as it settles and prepares to be consumed.
Aromas are complex and my nose receives ruby red grapefruit, orange peel, mango, honey, candy and piney goodness.
Tastes are similar with notes of grapefruit, stonefruit, pineapple, honey, jolly ranchers and a touch, though very light, of sweet maltiness that tries to subdue the hops, but fails miserably. Carbonation is plentiful and the citrusy goodness remains for a short time before turning into quite a bit of bitterness, a hop bitterness that almost ruins the beautiful, previously mentioned flavors. Just a touch too much bitterness on the finish, even for a hophead like me! The finish is dry and seems to lose a bit of the celebration that I just had when I first indulged.