Plan a Beercation to Vermont and Maine

Hey, Lehigh Valley! Looking to take a beer-inspired vacation in Vermont and Maine? We have a plan for you to make the most of your trip, including where to stay, what to do, and of course, what to drink. We took a trip a couple weeks ago and whittled down our adventure to the perfect plan for a 5-7 day beercation in beautiful New England, home to the best of the ubiquitous NE-style IPA. If you time it right, you can also get some great hiking and fall foliage in, or you can hit the slopes at one of the many nearby ski resorts. Here’s your itinerary:

Day 1: Hit the road and head up to Woodstock, VT. Look for a historic New England-style bed and breakfast, a local ski resort, or even one of many campgrounds in the area. If you have enough time,  you’ll be able to hit some breweries on your way north. Newburgh Brewing Company and Keegan Ales are just a few minutes off 87, as well as a flurry of other breweries in New York State. Choose your pit stops wisely since you have to get back in your car and drive a few more hours. Don’t drink and drive, kids.

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Enjoying the Rock Art Brewing’s Ridge Runner at the top of Mt. Ascutney

Day 2: Enjoy the village of Woodstock! Woodstock is quaint, historic, and full of New England charm with a heavy dollop of artsy, free-range organic pottery types. They are also home to a noteworthy beer store that has lots of unique finds and a load of local Vermont beers – Woodstock Hops and Barley.  Once you’re stocked up on beer, cruise over to Mt. Ascutney and either hike the full climb or drive up the mountain and hike the 1 mile to the summit and observation tower for stunning 360 degree views. If you are interested in museums, the Billings Farm & Museum offers history on Vermont’s rural life, with farming demos and livestock. After your exercise and/or education, Head over to Harpoon Brewery Riverbend,, which is about 20 minutes southeast of Woodstock.

95f416ea-f7cd-46db-a8e5-5cb0c61beb7a-1This is an outpost from Harpoon’s main gig in Boston, MA. It sits right along the Connecticut River at the border of VT and NH. It is delightfully quiet and low-key during the mid-week, off-season time and has excellent beers and delicious house-made soft pretzels (mmmmbeercheese). Head back to Woodstock for dinner at Worthy Kitchen which focuses on farm food and craft beer. We sipped on some local New England beers and Vermont hard cider while munching on poutine and wings.

 

Another Vermont brew at the Quechee Gorge

Day 3: Head east and visit the Quechee Gorge, which sits along the Connecticut River at the divide between Vermont and New Hampshire. Pull over and walk onto the bridge that spans the gorge for a beautiful (and slightly terrifying) photo opportunity. The Quechee Gorge Village is adorably kitschy (and it’s fun to say “kitschy Quechee”) and houses a Cabot cheese store (yum!), alpaca store (with live alpacas you can pet), bakery, souvenir shops, and most importantly, Vermont Spirits distillery. We were impressed by the distillery’s unique gins and spirits infused with Vermont maple syrup and honey. Once you get your fill of kitsch, cruise a bit farther east to River Roost Brewery, which is a small brewery with free (!) samples of 4-5 beers on tap. They had a great selection of NE IPAs when we visited. They don’t pour full pints, but across the road at Big Fatty’s BBQ, you can grab a pint and some amazing barbecue – we recommend the brisket mac ‘n’ cheese.

Day 4: Time to make your way over to Ogunquit, Maine. We found a great bed and breakfast in the oldest building in Ogunquit and had a wonderful stay – Black Boar Inn. Heading east through New Hampshire, you can make a pit stop or two at some fantastic breweries on the way. Don’t miss Henniker Brewing Co. which was one of our favorites of the trip.  It is tucked away in rural NH and we loved its friendly staff, cozy and comfortable vibe, and delicious brews. You can also find a number of breweries in Manchester, NH — however note that many of them don’t open until 4pm, so you’ll have to time your visits accordingly. Once you’re settled into your room in Ogunquit, you can ditch your car and get around the town and beach on foot. It has a stunning walking path right along the water that takes you through Ogunquit and up to Perkins Cove, where you can find the ultimate lobster roll for a classic Maine meal.

Day 5: Depending on the length of your stay and willingness to drive around Maine, one option would be to spend the day in Ogunquit and enjoy the boutique shops, restaurants, and ice cream shops while relaxing on the beach. Another option would be to make the 50-minute drive up to Portland, ME, which is one of the meccas of craft beer in New England. There are loads of them — you could spend a whole weekend there and not run out of breweries to sample.  Prior to heading into Portland, we had chatted with some locals about their favorite breweries to visit in Portland, and Bissell Brothers was mentioned quite a bit. One local said that it will probably be mobbed, as it is the “hot brewery” this year. Portland apparently has one brewery every year that all the cool kids go to, and this is the year of Bissell. Well, sometimes we want to feel like cool kids, so we planned our first stop to be Bissell Brothers. We arrived five minutes after they opened, walked in the door, and immediately walked back out. It was a big, airy space that was positively swarming with customers. If you’re up for a long wait and crowds to get a killer pint, it may be worth it. We didn’t want to spend half the day waiting in line so instead headed into Old Portland. We grabbed a lobster melt (so good) at Eastender and imbibed from their small but mighty list of Maine brews, finally getting a pint of Bissell Brothers (it was delicious) and an IPA from Maine Beer Company (also delicious). We then made our way to Liquid Riot Bottling Co. in Old Portland along the waterfront and nabbed seats that overlook the wharf. They had an awesome DIPA – the Beer Has No Name (+1 for Game of Thrones reference) that went down perfectly with a bowl of New England mussels and cockels. You may run into signs for Sebago Brewing Company — this would be one to skip. It was impersonal and felt like the Applebee’s of craft beer, housed in a Comfort Suites in Portland. Driving home from Portland we’d recommend two pit stops – one for lobster rolls, and another at Barreled Souls Brewing Co.. We loved the atmosphere at Barreled Souls — cozy, dark interior and a lawn area outside with Adirondack chairs and cornhole. They boasted some of the most unique beers we saw on the trip, with lots of funky sours and barrel-aged monsters.  Finish up your evening with artisanal pizza and craft beer at Cornerstone, a walk on the gorgeous Ogunquit beach at sunset, and some hilarity at the local piano bar.

Day 6: Try to quell your state of depression when realizing it is time to head home after such an idyllic beercation. Heading back down to PA, you can make one or two more pit stops at breweries in NH. We visited the largest brewery of the trip, Smuttynose Brewing Company. It’s a great choice to stop if you are in the area and interested in checking out a larger production system and a range of high quality beers (and lots of cute merch with the Smuttynose seal logo). They have a great on-site restaurant which is perfect for lunch. If you have more time, you can also visit the fishing village town of Portsmouth, which is home to a few craft breweries and a lovely waterfront. Five hours later, you’ll arrive back in the Valley, ready to brag to your friends about your amazing beercation.

This trip is easily adjusted for length of stay/activities/time of year. We can’t wait to visit the area again, especially Portland, ME to check out more of their craft beer scene. Thinking of having your own NE beercation? Tell us about it below!

Local beer and beautiful beach. What more do you need?

Ommegang Barrel Aged Three Philosophers 

In the realm of Belgian-style beers, the quadrupel is king. I love the big roasty malt flavors, the dark stone fruit nose, and the port-like finish. They are not for everyone though, and for many, one goblet will probably make you wobble a little bit. But what exactly is a quadrupel? If you are already well versed in the lexicon surrounding Belgian beers then go ahead and skip on down a paragraph or two. If not, allow me to bore you with useless knowledge that I read about in pretentious, pseudo-academic books about my favorite beverage.

The taxonomy of Belgian beers, more specifically Trappist beers, is often obscure, sometimes perplexing, and frequently random, but the quadrupel name has a simple meaning as do the dubbel and the tripel. In short, they are so named based on the potential alcohol content which you may see measured in terms of “gravity.” A beer’s gravity is the measure of how much sugar is contained in the wort before fermentation. It is not an exact measure of final alcohol content by today’s standards and fairly rarely used for that purpose. Traditional monastic breweries used the Belgian degree system but a more contemporary measure of gravity is expressed using the unit “Plato” which is something you may see on beer cans or brewery chalk boards on occasion. The Belgian degree and the Plato are not equivalent, but you get the idea.

So when it comes to Trappist beers you may frequently see numbers prominently displayed on labels. For instance, one of my favorite beers, the St. Bernardus Abt 12, has a specific gravity of roughly 12 under the Belgian system. You may also be familiar with the Rochefort 10 which is another high gravity quad. La Trappe originally coined the term quadrupel to describe a strong, dark ale and other breweries have followed suit. In general, it is simple enough to think of dubbels, tripels, and quadrupels in terms of increasing gravity respectively. Curiously though, dubbels and quads tend to be dark beers while tripels are golden in color – which I often experience as more yeasty and spicy. There is no real reason for this other than simple stylistic tradition. There is no reason that there couldn’t be a dark tripel or a golden dubbel. Some American breweries have started brewing lighter colored quads such as the Victory V12 which is a gorgeous deep amber quad as smooth as it is potent.

With all of that said the original Ommegang Three Philosophers has a great deal in common with the Abt 12. It has an unmistakably luxurious, dark cherry character that melds beautifully with the sweet malts. It is vinous in an intoxicating and pleasing way. You will not need any silly numbers or plato units on the label to know that this is a high gravity beer.

The Barrel Aged version takes the Three Philosophers to a whole other level of smoothness that is uncharacteristic of traditional Belgian, or Belgian-style quads. It retains its deep color and the strength of a Belgian strong ale but it is mellowed and rounded out by the casks. The dark fruit abdicates to the warming subtle notes of bourbon and tobacco. The head is lacy, luxurious, and thick. It is a refined and complex enough to be loved by quad drinkers but smooth and drinkable enough to be enjoyed by less experienced palates

The Barrel Aged Three Philosophers is a very limited release that first hit the market in February of 2016.  We were fortunate enough to be in Cooperstown, NY, home of the Ommegang Brewery, around that time for a beer festival and just happened to find this poured in their taproom. I fell immediately in love. I bought a couple of bottles and determined that I would make another pilgrimage the next year. We watched for the release and spent a cold and snowy weekend in Cooperstown to stock up again. Except for some very limited distribution to select retailers in NYC, it is only available at their brewery in Cooperstown beginning in late winter/early spring (which is still pretty much just winter in Cooperstown). If you can find some, it is a great beer to age in your cellar. I am trying to retain a bottle from each year to age if I can resist drinking it all tonight.

If you want to try to find some this coming February you can check out Ommegang’s beerfinder on their web page. If you do, let us know what you think.

Lehigh Valley Brewer’ s Guild Beer Festival

 

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Lost Tavern’s Cloud 7 NE Style IPA. Yum!

Wow! The Lehigh Valley Brewers guild Brewfest was another smashing success. This year it was hosted by the awesome folks at Lost Tavern Brewing in our little home town of Hellertown, PA. For those of you who don’t know, this was the second annual brewfest held by the LVBG. All of the breweries in the Lehigh Valley join forces to put on an awesome festival with great music, food, and of course beer. The representative breweries were Yergey Brewing, Weyerbacher, Two Rivers, Hijinx, Sole, Hop Hill, Cave, Funk, Fegley’s, and Lost Tavern. (One of our favorites was unfortunately absent). Colony Meadery and Hardball Cider were also there with some great options just in case beer is not your thing. But beer should always be your thing.

The Lost Tavern crew: Kenny Rampola, head brewer Anthony Gangi, and cicerone Derek Lutz

The breweries turned out some of their flagship beers as well as a large sampling of some often surprising concoctions. Our favorite of the day was the Mosaic Dutchtown DIPA from Two Rivers Brewing in Easton, PA. While all the beers at the festival were great, this one was just a cut above the rest in terms of complexity and a full and rounded flavor profile. It is crisp with plenty of floral, citrus, and banana notes. The finish is predictably hoppy with just enough bitterness to round out the fruity, tropical, flavors from the Mosaic hops. The fun of this beer is that Two Rivers uses the same Dutchtown DIPA recipe and experiments with different hop variations. This one is triple hopped with exclusively mosaic hops. Two Rivers hit the mark on this one!

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Sole is super serious about beer

One of my other favorites was the Blurred Lines, a Zwickelbier  from Sole Artisan Ales. If you’re anything like me, you have no idea what the hell a Zwickelbier is. (pronounce tzv-ick-el) Being a little bit of a beer nerd, I had to do some research on this one. According to that most reliable of sources, the internet, a Zwickelbier is a type of Kellerbier (although some sources use Zwickelbier and Kellerbier  interchangeably.) No idea what the hell a Kellerbier is either? You are not alone. A Kellerbier (‘cellar beer’ in German) is a traditional German lager from the Franconia region of Bavaria. It is aged unbunged in, you guessed it, a cellar.  This beer is on the lighter end of the spectrum and is a pleasant departure from the bold and biting IPA’s that tend to dominate a lot of craft beer lineups. It is very refreshing and sessionable at 5.0% ABV, but still incredibly complex. It’s light-bodied and pilsner-like but with a fruity, slightly tart middle. The finish is delicate and crisp with a pale ale level of hoppiness at the end. I loved this one and I really appreciated the nod to traditional German flavor profiles that do not lean so heavily on huge bold flavors and high ABV that American craft breweries seem to favor. The refined brewing skill that people have come to expect from Sole are boldly on display with this one. Not sure if they are selling this in at its taproom in Easton, but if they are it is a must-try.

Hijinx Brewing Co. from Allentown may have had the best overall lineup with three beers that were all very well executed.  The Far Darrig Irish Red Ale was dark amber with chewy caramel malts and a hint of bitterness at the end. The Imperial stout was exactly what you want and love about imperial stouts with a coffee/chocolately nose and alcohol finish. The Kung Fu Gnome was a Belgian blonde with a little sweetness and peach flavors. All three were very tasty and demonstrated that Hijinx can excel at a variety of styles.

Some other great beers that we had were the Funk Double Citrus Imperial IPA and the Lost Tavern Cloud 7. If it needs to be said the Funk Double Citrus is, well, citrusy! It’s a west coast style IPA, jammed with plenty of juicy hops! Lost Tavern’s Cloud 7 was more of a New England style IPA with a piney, aromatic nose and tropical notes. Both are awesome and absolutely warrant a trip to the brewery!

What we loved about this beerfest was that at 3 o’clock many of the breweries brought out new special beers. Unfortunately, we could not stay after three so you are going to have to visit the breweries if you want to try them. But we love the idea and hope that is a feature that continues in future fests.

Overall, we had an awesome time and had some awesome beers. The Lehigh Valley brewing community is a vibrant one and it continues to grow so keep supporting your local breweries!

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Whoa! Big bottles of Belgian style dark ale from Weyerbacher, D’Tango Unchained. If you like tart, black cherries smothered in malts, this beer is for you!

 

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Hampton Ave, Hellertown

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Poutine anyone?

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Yergey!!

Stoneface Brewing Co. Full Clip IPA

We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we walked into Un-Dun; your friendly neighborhood bottle shop/cigar shop/vape lounge/sex shop in Lebanon, NH. But we wound up finding a huge selection of unique New England beers. One in particular that the owner was raving about was the Full Clip IPA; a limited release from Stoneface Brewing Company in Newington, NH that he claimed was one of the best beers he’s had. Apparently distribution of this local favorite is so limited that he is only able to get one case at a time a couple of times per year. But you’re in luck if you live near Newington –   you can buy 4-packs of the good stuff right at the brewery.

After the glowing recommendation, we picked up a cold one and headed to a sunny lakeside picnic area in Pillsbury State Park to try out the Full Clip with a cigar and it definitely did not disappoint!  It is light and crisp with a pleasing aroma of grapefruit and pine which you can smell as soon as you pop the can. Stoneface added an English ale yeast to their flagship IPA recipe that brings a little peppery spice to the table.  The malts are very nicely balanced, not too sweet, and allow the hops to truly be the star of the show.

Bottom line: This is a great beer that left me wanting even more of those juicy, citrusy hops. If you love IPAs, this one will definitely not let you down.

Smuttynose Brewing Company

Heading home from vacation sucks. But drinking Smuttynose does not. Fortunately for us, their brewery is tucked in the woods of Hampton, NH which happened to be right on our route home. This one huge brewery handles all of the brewery’s production and distribution.  Additionally, visitors can head over to the Hayseed restaurant adjacent to the brewery. A historic home with outdoor seating, it offers the perfect setting to get pints of a ton of Smutty beers and well as some guest taps while enjoying a bowl of smoked New England seafood chowder.

Where are we? Smuttynose Brewing Co. Hampton, NH

What are we drinking? We tasted everything that they currently have in their taproom: the Finest Kind IPA, Octoberfest, Really Old Dog brown ale, Rhye IPA, Pumpkin Ale, Robust Porter, Weizenbock, and the Orville farmhouse ale.

Standout brews: You can never go wrong with their flagship Finest Kind IPA, but two of our other favorites were the Orville and the Wiezenbock. Both are productions of the Smuttlab, an experimental branch of Smuttynose that focuses on unique, small-batch beers. The Orville is a farmhouse saison with a rich complexity of sweet, tart, and peppery notes. The Weizenbock is a pretty traditional dark wheat beer with a pleasing yeast-y backbone. We also had the DIPA #4 at the Hayseed which was a hoppy, piney double IPA well worth a try.

How’s the vibe? This is a big, regional brewery with highly refined beers. The tasting room area is a little small and gets packed, so time your visit to be during off-peak hours. The outdoor seating at the Hayseed is a great place to hang out for lunch or just a few pints.  Overall, an excellent brewery to visit if you’re in the area!

Henniker Brewing Co.

Deep in south central New Hampshire is Henniker Brewing Company, in the town of Henniker, west of Concord and right by Pat’s Peak ski resort. At five years old, the brews reflect maturity and complexity, with accolades from local and national competitions. While staying classic with New England style hoppy beers, they also offer some more malt forward options, including a porter, tripel, and quad.

  • Where are we? Henniker, NH at the Henniker Brewing Co.
  • Why are we here? Cruising through NH on our fall getaway

  • What are we drinking? Miles and miles dry-hopped IPA. Hop Slinger IPA. The Only Way IPA. Working Man’s Porter.
  • Standout brews – Damn Sure IPA was excellent – strong and hoppy with a lightly malty character. The Flap Jack maple double brown is set to be released next week. We got a sneak preview today and loved the subtle maple flavor from Vermont maple syrup (from the Henniker Brewing’s accountant’s tree farm!) without the cloying sweetness usually associated with maple syrup.

  • How’s the vibe? Despite being in an industrial building, the wooden bar and family-style tables lend a cozy charm. The open garage bay lets it lots of fresh NH air and light.
  • Bottom line? Perfect spot for awesome brews and relaxed atmosphere. Staff are quite knowledgeable and make you feel welcome from the start. A great NH gem!

River Roost Brewery

If you ever find yourself tucked along the border of Vermont and New Hampshire, this little spot offers a great sampling of classic New England hoppy beers. Open since February 2016, pales and IPAs are clearly their specialty, and today they had five hoppy varieties for us to try.

  • Where are we? White River Junction, VT at River Roost Brewery
  • Why are we here? Cruising around central Vermont as part of our fall getaway

  • What are we drinking? Samples of their five beers on tap – Swamp Monster in Love pale ale, Front Porch Pickin’ IPA with local malt, Mo’rilla IPA, Mas Verde IPA, and Feet First: Idaho 7 single hop IPA
  • Standout brews? Our favorite was the Swamp Monster pale ale due to its classic northeastern hoppy bite but complex flavor profile.
  • How’s the vibe? Relaxed and small, standing room only. They serve free samples and growler fills only, but you can grab a pint of their stuff at Big Fatty’s BBQ across the street. Staff was friendly and knowledgeable.
  • Bottom line? A great spot to try some high quality local brews and grab a cold growler to go.