New Hampshire and Vermont are beautiful states with picturesque mountains and some of America’s oldest and most charming towns. Both states are a relatively short drive from Boston and New York City and over the past few decades have been culturally reshaped by the migration of Bostonians and New Yorkers who wanted a temporary or permanent break from city life. We loved the friendly, chatty, patient and laid back nature of many people we spoke to extensively and we’d be lying if we didn’t say our recent five day road trip didn’t make us question living in the “rat race” of city life. Another thing we enjoyed about these two beautiful states: wonderful craft beer in imaginative settings!
At Woodstock Brewery we drank Pemi Pale Ale (which placed 2nd overall at the United States Beer Tasting Championship), 4000 Footer IPA (exceptionally hoppy at a whopping 82 IBU’s), and Fellowship Ale, a citrusy IPA that was the most complex and our favorite of the bunch. What equally stood out was Woodstock Brewery’s food. I ordered the barbequed quarter chicken meal with rice and vegetables, a similar meal to what I ate at a brewpub in Boston on New Year’s Eve. The food was better at the Woodstock Brewery compared to Rock Bottom Brewery in Boston. The quality of the chicken was the best we’d tasted since living in Ireland and the rice was nicely seasoned brown rice rather than the plain white rice served at Rock Bottom Brewery (I don’t want to totally bash Rock Bottom Brewery though because the restaurant is lively, has good beer and the food is decent. And we had a fun time there on New Year’s Eve). But the Woodstock Brewery was special- sitting in front of the huge fireplace at the end of the evening added a rare touch of romance to a brewpub!
But while the Woodstock Breweries beers have won awards, they weren’t our favorite beers of this trip. In a nearby convenience store in Woodstock, a friendly sales assistant spoke to us extensively about quality New England beers and recommended Covered Bridge Pale Ale by a New Hampshire Brewery called Squam Brewing. What also sold us on purchasing this beer was that the artwork on the cover was designed by the mother of the two brothers who run this brewery- and it’s a painting of a covered wooden bridge, which is quintessential New Hampshire and Vermont. We drank this beer in our hotel room and found it smoother and more balanced than most pale ales.
We learned about a rare beer that has recently been named the world’s best beer with a 100% rating on Beer Advocate. The Alchemist brewery is located in the town of Waterbury, Vermont, which is also home to the Ben & Jerry’s factory (which you can tour for just $4)). For several years the Alchemist has focused solely on producing one excellent beer, their signature American Double IPA, Heady Topper, featuring a blend of six hop varieties. If you’re in this area and are lucky to find this beer on a store shelve (we did not), don’t pass up the opportunity to buy it. We saw an empty shelve in one shop with a sign limiting the purchase of Heady Topper to one 4 pack per person. It’s usually sold out by the weekend so your best bet is to find it in an area specialty pub (we didn’t look hard enough). The brewery only sells Heady Topper to breweries and shops within a 30 mile (50 km) radius of Waterbury- so you might find this beer in certain pubs from Montpelier, Vermont’s capital to Burlington, the state’s largest town.
In Winooski, Vermont, just outside Burlington, we visited Four Quarters Brewing, where we drank the best beer of our road trip through New Hampshire and Vermont. Founder and brewmaster, Brian Eckert, recently opened Four Quarters in March, 2014 after home brewing for 14 years. It’s a small operation but because Brian is excellently skilled in his craft and produces small batches, his beers are very high quality. We sampled two wonderful Belgian Trappist influenced beers called Opus Dei (“the work of God”) and Opus Ferum (“the work of the wild”) which are Belgium style tripels and lambics respectively. We also tasted an excellent oatmeal brown ale called The Great Bear, named after his son, and Red Eye, a coffee red ale (which is one of the best red ales we’ve ever drank).
During our five day road trip we stayed in four different towns- Woodstock and North Conway, New Hampshire and Montpelier and Burlington, Vermont. We drove as far north as the Canadian border, along Lake Champlain on U.S. Route 2, and seeing one of America’s largest lakes frozen over, with remote cars parked atop and ice fisherman in certain spots, was beautiful, thought provoking and something we’ve never experienced. We’re excited to return to the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont during the summer or for the fall foliage, as each season offers a different dimension to the landscape, and additional food for thought over well crafted beers.