I never considered myself a beer geek until Heady Topper turned me into one.
As soon as you crack open the silver and black can and lift it to your lips, your senses begin to get excited. Just the name Heady Topper and artwork of the bearded man getting his wig blown suggest you’re in for an extreme experience. And yes, I said can. Heady only comes in 16 oz cans with directions urging you not to pour it into a glass, with DRINK FROM THE CAN! printed right on them.
The aroma alone is intoxicating and that magical first sip literally turned me giddy with excitement and scratching my head in amazement. I had to put the can down for a second to compose myself. I’m not exaggerating. The crazy amount of hops paired with an extreme burst of citrus and tropical fruits is out of this world and hard to even comprehend at first. I don’t know how to explain it without sounding like some self-indulgent TV food judge. Simply put, this shit is absolutely amazing.
You don’t have to take my word for it though. Heady Topper has reached mythical cult status over the past few years thanks to its perfect 100 rating from Beer Advocate and super limited production of only 1,600 cases per week. Many of those who’ve had the pleasure of tasting Heady consider it to be the best Double IPA (India Pale Ale) in the world. I would suggest that you go out and try some, but unfortunately it is rarely ever seen more than twenty five miles beyond The Alchemist Cannery in Waterbury, Vermont. In fact, even if you are within their delivery radius, you must know when your local shop is receiving a shipment, because the odds are it won’t be there tomorrow.
This may sound crazy to any of you reading this while drinking a beer that has traveled five thousand miles, but I’m talking about an unpasteurized IPA that should be refrigerated and enjoyed within a week or two of brewing. Is it worth the effort it takes to get it? YES. For my New York readers, the experience is comparable to Katz’s Pastrami, Doughnut Plant or Russ and Daughters. After one tasting, it becomes the standard by which everything else is judged.
Until recently, The Alchemist cannery also served as a retail space to purchase Heady Topper, but the location and neighborhood couldn’t support the amount of traffic and crowds that were making this beer pilgrimage. It was common for lines of cars and people to stretch down the block and last all day long. In some instances the cannery sold out of a week’s supply of beer in just one day, and that was while imposing a one case limit per visitor.
This past weekend The Alchemist introduced very limited batches of two ‘new’ beers out of the back of a truck in a Vermont park. Focal Banger is a re-introduced classic from The Alchemist’s days as a restaurant in downtown Waterbury, before Hurricane Irene came through and destroyed it. It is described as being another American IPA that is tropical and fruity like Heady, but more dry. This beer will soon be produced and canned regularly, along with Heady Topper. The other limited batch is a rustic cherry lambic style ale named Petit Mutant. Both were produced in limited quantities of 200 cases each for this special release.
I recently made the trek from New York City to The Green Mountain State to meet with the team at The Alchemist and tour the facilities (which are now closed to the public). Enjoy these photos offering some insider access into the brewery during the canning process. Big thanks to Chrissy Flynn and John Kimmich for inviting me in for this exclusive look.