Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Search for Heady Topper

The Alchemist's Heady Topper was just recently listed as the 6th best craft beer by Zymurgy and at the time of writing, this still holds the number one spot on Beer Advocates top 250 beer list.  There is a lot of hype surrounding this coveted beer which is always in short supply and high demand.  The tale below is my journey on obtaining some of this rarity.

Does it live up to the high expectations?  

Read on to find out...

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The Search for Heady Topper

I woke up at 7:28am, just a mere two minutes prior to my phones planned alarm.  Even though I am on vacation I don't feel the need to sleep in anymore.  My mind quickly reminds me that today's vacation itinerary has only one item listed:
  • Obtain Heady Topper
As I roll out of bed the slight ache in my hamstrings reminds me of how out of shape I am.  The pain was caused by the beautiful, yet strenuous, hike up Mt. Mansfield via the Hazelton trail we had made just two days earlier.  I stretch out and decidedly make my way down the hallway and straight into the kitchen.  I methodically open up the coffee pot, place in a new filter and proceed to fill the basket with some wonderfully aromatic dark roast from the Vermont Coffee Company.  I know today is going to be a good day as no coffee grounds fall onto the counter top.  I set the machine to brew and head back to my room to get dressed. 

I quickly throw on my jeans and a shirt and check the weather on my phone.  Just as yesterday predicted, today will be cool and cloudy with intermittent rain showers.  I grab my raincoat and put it on inside since I am already a little cold - the low 60s in Vermont is quite a bit different then the mid 80s I just came from back home - and walk back into the kitchen to grab my freshly brewed cup of coffee.  I slowly take my first sip of coffee and look out at the cloud-covered mountains and smile. Even a gross day up here is better than a pretty one at home.  But then again, everything is better on vacation.  As I am halfway through today's morning joe the other members of my squad groggily stumble out of their rooms and utter "Ooo coffee!" as I think to myself "You're welcome!  It doesn't brew itself ya know?"

After everyone has poured their coffee I go back to the pot to top mine up.  I finish it and quickly brush my teeth, its a little after 8:30 and I am ready to go.  We pile into the car and plug the address for the Beverage Warehouse in Winooski into the GPS.  We are off on our way.

About a forty-five minutes after leaving the lodge in Stowe we roll up to the store where my family voices their surprise to see a line which is already about fifteen people deep.  I on the contrary am not surprised.  It is 9:32am and Heady Topper is distributed in just a mere twenty-eight minutes.  I am hoping we have arrived early enough!  We jump out of the car and secure our spots in the back of the line.  

waiting in line
(Me on the left waiting in line)


I spend my time eyeing up my fellow beer nerds and talking with my wife.  She poses me for a picture reminding me I will want it for my blog - I do.  My sister-in-law states "this better be worth it!" Her boyfriend, who only just recently found out about this beer and is already captivated by the exclusivity (we will forgive him for not knowing about it sooner), assures her it will be.  I smile and nod in agreement.

Waiting in line 2
(Waiting in line)


As we kill time, which goes by very fast, I had to explain to everyone the reason for the line is because this is the only location which tells customers what time and day the beer will be available.  10am and 6pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

At 10 am the line starts moving.  I follow in suit like herded cattle, everyone is suspiciously quiet and moves with certainty blindly trusting the first person in line.  I send my wife off on her own side mission - to see if any of their Sip of Sunshine shipment from Friday is still available.  As I am serpentining through the well-stocked liquor store, admiring their vast selection, an employee quickly moves by while quietly counting.  I am number 17 while my sister-in-law's boyfriend is 18.  The guy in front of me, who hadn't spoken to anyone for the past half hour, turns around and asks "What number did he say I was?"

I tell him "16. Do you know what that means?"

He is in a world of his own and answers with "We should be okay" as he turns back around - eyes on the prize.

As we get to the walk-in cooler I watch line numbers 14 and 15, a twenty-something couple who appear to be doing the exact same thing we are, grab a case and debate getting another.  They ask how much it is per a case and move on, content with one.  I reach the attendant and and he states "A Case?"

receiving heady topper
(Receiving my case)


I reply "Yes, please!" and and move towards the cashier with case in hand.  My sister-in-law's boyfriend gets a case as well and as he joins me in line. We then hear the employee state that no more cases are being handed out and that he got the last full case.  The remaining line members receive three 4-packs of beer.  As I am waiting to pay I see a lady walk in and ask the gentleman at the cash registers "Where is it?"  

They point to the walk-in, but she is too late.  

10:05am and they are sold out.

I pay for the beer at the tune of $80 a case, and tack on two bags of ice.  I then make my way back to the car.  I have an internal struggle on cracking one open right there, but I hold firm and decide wait. The hard part is over, I can enjoy the liquid at the comfort of the lodge later.  

Today's mission has been accomplished!

Happy Heady Hunters
(Happy Heady Hunters)

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I hope that little story was an enjoyable change of pace from my usual muttering.  I am not much of a writer, so hopefully it wasn't unbearable from a grammatical standpoint.  It was an exciting leg of my trip to say the least.

It ended up being rainy so later that afternoon I found out that the Craft Beer Cellar in Waterburry had that Sip of Sunshine so the wife and  I headed down there to grab some.  This store had a one person, one 4-pack, rule.  So the wife and I each bought a 4-pack.  They also had Lost Nations Gose which I had heard good things of and purchased that too.  After locking these precious items in the car we walked across the street to Prohibition Pig for a few samples.

My Thoughts (Finally) on Heady Topper

But enough is enough.  I have to tell you my thoughts on Heady Topper...

I had the Sip of Sunshine first before actually drinking a Heady Topper later that night and the Sip of Sunshine wasn't as good as I was expecting.  This is because I tend to dislike the oniony/dank note that some hops can put off and the Sip of Sunshine had that character.  [Reminded me a bit of Ballast Point's Sculpin.  So if that your jam then Sip of Sunshine won't disappoint you.]  I also had very high hopes since another friend had told me he thought Sip of Sunshine was better than Heady Topper. 

This made me worried for my first sip of Heady Topper as maybe I was putting these beers too much on a pedestal...so I cracked the The Alchemist's beer with a little bit of trepidation...

Rest assured as I tell you that it DID live up to the HYPE!  The beer is just amazingly balanced.  The hop flavor and aroma is up there with all of the best IPAs out there, but the drink-ability is what takes it to the top of the list. 

I have been trying to disseminate my stash to fellow beer connoisseurs.  One of them, who is a BJCP judge, told me after having Heady topper for the first time that he has had fresh Pliny the Elder and he thought Heady Topper was better!

Total Vermont Beer Haul and/or Samplings

I probably wont give any full beer reviews cause commercial beer reviews really aren't my thing, but be on the lookout for some tasting notes via my Homebrew Wednesday videos.

(Vermont Beer Haul)


Oh you aren't subscribed to the youtube channel?  HERE go fix that :)

One last thing...

I knew Heady Topper was hard to get, but I was a little shocked when I kindly asked employees at various stores if they had any left (day after delivery) and they looked at me as if I was an alien.  Its not as if I was expecting them to have it, but they could have been nicer in their response.  The same went for when my wife she asked about Sip of Sunshine.  So if you have to ask, then they don't have it.

I wonder if these beers would/will have as much hype when they increase their production capabilities to meet or exceed the demand.

Cheers!

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