Vermont. Birthplace of the New England IPA, or as I like to call it, the “neepa.’ Home to Heady and Hill Farmstead. Perhaps the first part of the world the world in which the word “juicy” was used to describe a beer. And, in early March of this year, host of the Beer Marketing and Tourism Conference.
More about that last bit, the Conference, later on. For now, let’s focus on the beer.
I both sampled and drank – definitely not the same thing – several beers over the course of my four days in Burlington. Some were densely cloudy or even turbid and others were bright and clear as the proverbial bell; some boasted a muddled mix of tropical and citrus fruit flavours, some had a brilliant and balanced fruitiness and still others were crisp and breathtakingly straight-forward in their deft mix of malt and hops; and some were much-lauded labels familiar to anyone who has ever scanned the beer rating sites of the web while others were more obscure and conspicuously uncelebrated.
Most were also good to very good, occasionally veering towards excellent. And although I did very much enjoy the acknowledged superstars of Vermont beer, brews like Heady Topper and Lawson’s Liquid Sunshine and a handful of Hill Farmsteads, none of those figured into what I’d describe as the best of the trip.
Instead, the pair of beers that stand out in memory as the most remarkable I sampled were a dunkel lager and a 5.6% take on the Scottish 90 shilling style, the former from the von Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe and the latter from American Brewers Guild’s Middlebury production arm, Drop-In Brewing.
Each was remarkable for not its hoppiness or “juiciness,” but rather for its studious malt profile. The Dunkel by Von Trapp has near-perfect balance with a touch of raw chocolate sweetness up front seguing into a dry but not austere body with an earthy, cocoa-accented character, while Drop-In’s Heart of Lothian starts bit brown sugary, but in the mid-palate boasts a vaguely peaty character – although without the smokiness of a peated malt beer – that blends seamlessly with background notes of raisin and prune leading to a lightly mocha-ish finish.
Each stood as testament to the fact that malt can be just as exciting, flavourful and sexy as hops, even in Vermont.
Meanwhile, back at the DoubleTree hotel, beer tourism was enjoying a much deserved moment in the spotlight. As I tweeted at the time, the most remarkable thing about the Conference was the evidence it provided of the amazing growth of beer tourism, with attendees coming from as far away as Belgium and Australia, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild pouring member beers at one of the receptions and even a pair of Ontario distillery reps in attendance.
In only their second year of hosting the event, it seemed as if the conference organizers were still getting their feet on the ground with this one – too many breakout sessions had a distinct predictability to them – but that did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the attendees with whom I spoke. Even if some expressed disappointment with the program of seminars, they told me that the networking opportunities the Conference afforded more than compensated.
I expect this one to get bigger and better and more organized next year, and beer tourism to continue to grow apace. If you operate a beer tour company, are part of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of a beer-centric city or town of or manage events for a small or regional brewery, keep your eyes on bmtcon.com for news about next year’s edition.
A corner dedicated to bringing you insight from industry author and beer connoisseur, Stephen Beaumont.