Tuesday, April 8, 2014

And the Vermont Brew Bracket Winner Is..

Posted By on Tue, Apr 8, 2014 at 1:56 PM

Three weeks, 64 beers, 714 votes. A contest that pitted some of Vermont's most beloved craft beers against each other. And when the smoke cleared last night, a surprising winner. 

For Seven Days' third annual Brew Bracket, we decided to split the contest into four regions, which energized lesser-known brewers to get out the vote. Their campaigns resulted in a few unexpected upsets — such as Lost Nation Brewing's Gose coming out ahead of both Abner and Everett from Hill Farmstead Brewery.

It was the "final pour," though, that brought the biggest rout: The Honey IPA from St. Albans' 14th Star Brewing Co. kicked the two-time winner, the Alchemist's Heady Topper, to the curb. The final tally? 169-113.

14th Star Brewing is barely 2 years old, but it has captured a lot of hearts. The Army vet who founded it, Steve Gagner, is working with his staff to renovate a former bowling alley in St. Albans for a vast expansion of their brewery and taproom.

Gagner seems dismayed by accusations of vote rigging that have cropped up on various websites. "We have worked very hard to get the word out about our beer and the brewery," he wrote in an email. "Our fans, especially our local fans, have shown us tremendous support in spreading the word. We're very proud of the beers that we are producing; they're solid and clean, and I think our scores on various rating websites reflect that."

Seven Days can confirm that the voting wasn't rigged. The Honey IPA clearly has it goin' on. Congrats, 14th Star!

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Two IPAs Locked in Battle During the Vermont Brew Bracket's Final Hours

Posted By on Mon, Apr 7, 2014 at 10:26 AM

It's been a rough-and-tumble few weeks in this year's Vermont Brew Bracket. Since the initial 64 craft beers charged into battle on March 19, the Alchemist's Heady Topper (last year's winner) has quashed every single comer.  But it is currently being handed its hat by an underdog, 14th Star Brewing's Honey IPA, which beat Lawson's Finest Liquids Double Sunshine IPA to make it to the finals.

Can the "new craft brew for the 802" quash BeerAdvocate's top-rated beer? It's up to the voters. The "final pour" ends tonight at 5 p.m. 

May the best IPA win.

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Grazing: Fish-and-Chips at the Knotty Shamrock

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2014 at 8:37 PM

The Knotty Shamrock - CORIN HIRSCH
  • Corin Hirsch
  • The Knotty Shamrock
The first time I crossed St. George's Channel from England into Ireland — aboard a ferry — I immediately noticed a shift in people's temperaments. While the English were crisply polite and helpful, the Irish seemed brusque, beleaguered and indirect yet poetic. I had the sense they didn't give a sh*te that I was visiting their country, and looked upon most tourists with bemused resignation. "Irish, are ya?" they'd ask, bored, convinced I was (like every other American) in search of my roots.

Their tartness didn't bother me — possibly because I have Irish blood, possibly because I don't mind being left alone, and possibly I appreciate obliqueness.

My experience with Northfield's Knotty Shamrock Irish Pub and Grill reminded me of all this. Since it opened more than two years ago — and I heard then pub owners John Lyon and Kevin Pecor had plans to brew their own beer — I've made little headway in writing about the place. I called a few times to find out more but never heard back. I waited a few months and called again. Then months flew by, and finally I made it to Northfield to check out the Shamrock in person.

Judging from the late Friday afternoon throng at the bar, the Knotty Shamrock is a beloved locals' hangout. Both without and within it resembles a typical Irish-American pub: lots of dark wood, green accents and a billowing Irish flag next to the front door. Everything seems neat, though — fresher and better kept than some of the Irish watering holes in which I have passed hundreds of Guinness-soaked hours.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The 2014 Vermont Brew Bracket Is Open!

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 4:54 PM

Will Bobcat Brewery's Baltic Porter quash Drop-In Brewing's Heart of Lothian? Will 14th Star Brewing's Honey IPA eliminate ...14th Star Brewing's Valor? And will the Alchemist's Heady Topper cut the nets again this year?

These are some of the miniature dramas that may play out during the third annual Seven Days Vermont Brew Bracket, which went live today. This "road to the final pour" pits 64 Vermont beers against each other, following some of the same complex bracket math used in the NCAA. 

(And with a new brewery opening seemingly every week, we employed these basic rules: To be included, a brewery needs to be six months or older, and each qualifying brew should have been available to the public for at least three months.)

The first round of voting will last until Friday and can be found here. You'll need to sign in to participate. Just be sure to click on (and vote in) all four regions — Northwest, Southwest, Northeast and Southeast.

Let the madness begin.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Midweek Swig: Vermont Maple Wheat Ale From Rock Art Brewery

Posted By on Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 11:55 AM

Vermont Maple Wheat Ale - CORIN HIRSCH
  • Corin Hirsch
  • Vermont Maple Wheat Ale
Cost: $6.49 for a 22-ounce bottle at Price Chopper in South Burlington

Strength: 5.4 percent abv

The pour: Frothy, cloudy, coppery. The ale smells faintly of biscuits and moves languidly in the glass, as if it's going to be a full-bodied swig.

The taste: Given its looks, the beer's brightness is surprising at first — but the mid-palate carries custardy flavors laced with hints of lemon. The sweetness is subtle and seamlessly interwoven; if I was blindfolded, I'm not sure I would call this a maple anything. Vanilla and butterscotch spill over the tongue with nary a hint of hoppiness. 

Drink it with: Totally randomly, I sipped this with some pork chops sautéed with gochojang, and the ale's ample body softened the dish's spicy edges. But I'd also drink it with savory, flaky tarts and pies (such as chicken pot pie) or ... vanilla ice cream.

Backstory: Rock Art's Matt Nadeau first brewed this wheat ale more than a decade ago, according to the label, and this most recent release was bottled in late February. It was brewed with maple syrup from Dodge's Mansion House in Johnson.

Verdict: It's hard to believe that sugaring is upon us, given the buckets of snow falling outside. Yet the Vermont Maple Wheat Ale bridges both kinds of days — the snow-whipped afternoons and the crisp, sunny, 50-degree days when the sap flows. It's like a beer-butterscotch sundae, albeit an elegant one. But don't let it linger in the glass: I drink beer slowly, and this loses its head (and zing) quickly.

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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Grazing at Burlington Beer Company

Posted By on Sat, Mar 8, 2014 at 8:42 AM

Joe Lemnah at Burlington Beer Company - CORIN HIRSCH
  • Corin Hirsch
  • Joe Lemnah at Burlington Beer Company

It's been a long road for brewer Joseph Lemnah. Two years ago he began sniffing out a location for the microbrewery he envisioned, Burlington Beer Company. In spring 2012, when Lemnah held his first tasting at Chef's Corner in the South End, he hoped to soon set up shop somewhere in that neighborhood — perhaps on Pine Street.

Lemnah looked and looked, but didn't see anything that fit his needs. In the meantime, he and his wife, Beth, moved from Delaware — where Lemnah had worked at the venerable Dogfish Head Brewery, among others — back to his native Vermont. In a Jericho barn, Lemnah honed the locavore beers he hoped to eventually sell; beers that drew inspiration from what he found at the farmers market, or hanging from trees or growing in a field. He also built a model for a community-supported brewery — a sort of "beer CSA" that would offer members either 12 growler fills a year (for $100) or a series of special bottlings (for $150).

CSB memberships were challenging sells without a brewery to back them up, says Lemnah, but he kept holding informal tastings. He also continued to scout locations. Turns out, the perfect space for Burlington Beer Company wasn't in Burlington at all, but in a 4,700-square-foot warehouse in Williston. He signed the lease last July and planned to open by November. In the meantime, Lemnah also launched a Kickstarter campaign for barrels and kegs, ordered and began assembling his brewing system ... and, with his wife, welcomed a baby boy to the family. (Life happens.)

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Friday, February 14, 2014

(Late) Midweek Swig: The Shed Brewery Nosedive

Posted By on Fri, Feb 14, 2014 at 2:38 PM

On the food desk, we've been busy planning the newest edition of our annual dining guide, 7Nights, as well as plotting events for a smashing Vermont Restaurant Week. Hence, this late-week edition of the Midweek Swig — I finally got to the "swig" last night.

This week: the Shed Brewery Nosedive, a "robust vanilla porter" (according to the brewery)

Cost: $4.99 for a 22-ounce bottle at Richmond Market & Beverage

Strength: 6.75 percent abv.

The pour: a rich, opaque, cocoa brown with a thumb-width, creamy head that evaporates to a thin lace. It smells like dark-chocolate mocha with a fistful of coffee grounds thrown in, and it appears almost syrupy.

The taste: Though there's barely any bitterness, this tastes bright for a porter — an electric porter? The espresso and cacao flavors are spiked with a noticeable vein of vanilla that somehow doesn't feel integrated, as if it's floating on top. The beer has a subtle cola-like quality, both in texture and taste, as if it were a blend of Coke, Guinness and Rookie's Root Beer, sans sugar.

Drink it with: a snowy night, a chocolate ganache tart, or both.

Backstory: The Shed Brewery (which is housed at Middlebury's Otter Creek Brewing) announced this porter last month as a limited, Vermont-only release. It gains some of its flavor from aging with Madagascar vanilla beans. The folks at Richmond Beverage had only received it a day or so earlier.

Verdict: I wouldn't necessarily call this "robust" — rather, it's sprightly, as if a porter was ambling down the street in bright-yellow rain boots. Still, it's also toasty, malty and don't-think-too-hard-about-it delicious.

Midweek Swig tackles a new liquid release (almost) each week. If you have suggestions for something to sample, send them to

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Alchemist to Expand With New Tasting Room

Posted By on Thu, Jan 23, 2014 at 3:51 PM


On November 5, 2013, the owners of Vermont cult brewery the Alchemist announced they were closing their tasting room to the public. Now, Jen Kimmich, who runs the company with brewer husband John, has announced the plan to add a new property that will hold a second brewery, a tasting room and a retail shop.

Jen Kimmich says she has been looking at properties in the Waterbury area, and down the Route 100 corridor into Stowe. "We've had tons of people contact us who want us to go to Rutland or Barre or Colchester, but we don't want to drive that far," she says.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Kimmich described finding what she and her husband thought would be the perfect addition, before learning it wasn't zoned for retail. After a busy day hunting on Wednesday, she tells Seven Days she still hasn't found the perfect complement to their small brewery, which turns out 9,000 barrels of Heady Topper each year. "We have a few options," Kimmich says.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

14th Star Brewing Takes Over St. Albans Bowling Alley

Posted By on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 5:42 PM


Just 18 months after opening, the owners of St. Albans' 14th Star Brewing are moving from their cozy Lower Newton Street digs into a far vaster space — the former St. Albans Bowling Center.

Co-owner Steve Gagner and his partners have signed a 20-year lease (from Pomerleau Real Estate) on the bowling alley at 133 North Main Street, which opened in 1958 and closed last July. The 14th Star crew plans to open a 2500-square-foot taproom and a 13,000-square-foot brewery in the space by next summer. "The plan is to have a place where people can come and enjoy some of the world's best beers," says Gagner, who will devote a few of the pub's 24 or so taps to other beers from around the state.

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Midweek Swig: Steven Sour

Posted By on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 4:06 PM


This week: Steven Sour, a "sour IPA" collaboration of Magic Hat Brewing Co. and Vermont Pub & Brewery.

Cost: Sample provided by Magic Hat, but 22-ounce bottles are for sale for $4.99 throughout Vermont (the beer is also on tap throughout the state).

Strength: 5.6 percent abv.

The pour: A murky, burnt orange with a faint head that quickly dissipates. The beer has little to no aroma, but if you try hard you might smell apricots.

The taste: There's zestier carbonation than its appearance suggests, and each sip bristles and roughs up the tip of your tongue before rolling across the middle with the slightest hint of sourness. It's quenching, with dry, lingering wisps of grapefruit — but it's also ever so chalky.

Drink it with: This made me want to start whipping up a chicken curry with almonds and apricots — or maybe just a plate of Comté, sliced baguette and quince paste.

Backstory: Two Vermont brewing heavyweights got together to brew this beer in celebration of VPB's 25th anniversary, and it's only for sale (in bottles and on tap) in Vermont.

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