24 August, 2015

Burlington Brewery Crawl

As promised in my previous post, I will now regale you with tales of breweries and beer tasting! Two weeks ago I went to visit my sister Lindsay in northern Vermont, and one day we decided to do our own self-guided brewery tour in Burlington. This required some careful planning on our part. Because we were heading into the "big city" to consume alcoholic beverages, driving ourselves there was out of the question. That left us with the bus, which only runs at sporadic intervals and requires three and a half miles of walking to reach. Despite the hardships, we set out bright and early at 7:30 in the morning, and after more than an hour of walking we hopped on the bus in time to arrive in the city... two hours before the first brewery opened. But it was worth it! Here's where we ended up going:

Citizen Cider

OK, so it's not beer, but hard cider is close enough for me!

While it's not much to look at from the outside...

...there is a whole lot of wonderful going on inside. We showed up at the door promptly at 10:59am, technically a minute before they opened, but the very friendly bartender let us in anyway. After sitting down at the bar and briefly pondering the extensive cider selection, it became obvious that we would just have to try them all. We ordered two tasting flights of five ciders each, which gave us a taste of all ten of the ciders that they had on tap.

For those of you who don't know what a "flight" is, you are looking at two of them. A flight consists of sample sizes of a variety of beers/drinks, usually four or five, presented on some type of tray or board.

We couldn't wait to start tasting them, so this picture shows our two flights when we were about halfway through drinking them (sorry about the towels in the background, should have staged this photo better). If you visit Citizen Cider be aware that you do get more cider than this in each tasting glass.

My favorites (if I can remember correctly) were the one on the far left, which is their signature cider called Unified Press, and all three of the ones farthest to the right. The second and third ones from the right are both brewed with hops, which gave them a very interesting and unique flavor. I expected the hops to give them a bitter taste like hops does in beer, but these were two of the sweetest ciders and they also smelled really good, sort of like flowers. I don't remember what they were all called (each cider variety has a fun name) but the one I liked the best, the second one from the right, was called The Full Nelson. Finally, the one all the way to the right, called The Dirty Mayor, is the sweetest cider and is brewed with ginger, which gives it a taste sort of like a cross between cider and ginger ale.

I really wanted to take some cider home with me, but since we were going to be on foot the whole day I asked if I could order online later. Unfortunately, due to very strict Vermont liquor laws the brewery is not allowed to sell directly to consumers outside of their brewery and tasting room. That means, sadly for me, I probably won't get to have this cider again until the next time I come to Vermont.

Zero Gravity Brewery

Zero Gravity, which is just down the street from Citizen Cider, has one of the only IPAs (India pale ale) I've ever liked. That alone would rank it high in my book, but their other beers were delicious as well.

When we visited the tasting room they only had four beers on tap, so we naturally got a tasting flight of all four. The bartender told us that they have a larger selection of beers at their other location, the Brewpub at American Flatbread in downtown Burlington, which we didn't know about before she told us about it. I would have loved to taste their entire selection, but I guess that will just have to wait until next time.

This picture was also taken after we had already started sipping on the delicious beers. We just can't seem to wait long enough to document the moment properly! From left to right they are called: Green State Lager, a pilsner; Bob White, a Belgian wit (wit = white in Dutch); Little Wolf, an American pale ale; and Conehead, the surprisingly good IPA. Shockingly, the IPA was my favorite, which is saying something because I tend to shy away from very hoppy beers. The other ones were also very good, but after tasting the IPA the other ones seemed just a little bit bland in comparison.

Switchback Brewing Company

After another slightly longer walk we came to Switchback Brewing Company. The brewery/tasting room is in a slightly industrial-looking area, as you can see from the picture, but don't let that scare you away.

Maybe because it's slightly better known than the previous two, or maybe because it was later in the day, it was more crowded here than the other two breweries had been. But we still found a place at the bar and soon had another beautiful flight of locally brewed beers in front of us.

This was very exciting for me because it was the first and only place on our tour to have a dark beer on tap. I finally got my taste of stout and I was so happy! Needless to say the stout was my favorite one of the Switchback beers. (They also had my favorite tasting glasses and board of the day. Aren't they cute?) Aside from the stout, which to those who know beer is clearly the darkest one second from the left, we tried the Switchback ale (far left), one called SwitchBOCK, which was something like a red ale, and the Thai lime gose (far right), which tasted like lime and a bit salty and reminded me more of white wine than beer. That one was Lindsay's favorite, as far as I can remember, but it was my least favorite because of the similarity to wine. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't what I was expecting.

There were two other beers on the menu that we didn't try, another pale ale and an IPA, which I now wish we'd tried. Unfortunately, the beers wouldn't all fit on one flight so we chose to taste the ones we would probably like the best. Well, just another reason to come back!

Magic Hat Brewing Company

Our last brewery of the day, the one requiring the longest walk and the one Lindsay was looking forward to the most, was Magic Hat. Lindsay has been a fan of their beer known as #9 for quite a while and was curious to see the brewery in person. We certainly had to work for this one, since it was 45 minutes on foot from the previous brewery.

Me standing triumphantly at the door after our long trek.

Magic Hat was by far the quirkiest of the breweries we visited. They call their tasting room the Artifactory, and the space is a combination of bar and gift shop with subdued lighting and almost haunted house-quality decorations. Out of all the breweries we visited it was also the only one holding tours that day and the only one with free beer tasting. Each person was allowed four free samples, which allowed us to try eight of the nine choices.

Interestingly, despite the hype, the beers at Magic Hat were some of my least favorites of the ones we tried that day. The #9 that Lindsay drinks regularly was really good and had a very complex flavor, but other than that I wasn't impressed by any of the others. There was a grapefruit IPA called Electric Peel that I almost liked, but the delicious grapefruit flavor was overpowered by an extremely bitter hoppy aftertaste. I wouldn't have been able to drink much more than the small sample glass before it got to be too much.

Something I can say for Magic Hat, though, is that they are very creative with their beer flavors. They are constantly pushing the boundaries of what can go in beer, as the grapefruit IPA demonstrates. (The tour guide also told us about an infamously terrible batch of garlic beer they once brewed.) The presentation of their beers is also very creative and quirky and it's a very memorable brand. A quick look at their website will give you an idea of what I mean.


Going through these pictures and writing about the experience is making me want to do this all over again! Beer tasting is really fun, and ordering tasting flights is a nice way to taste a bunch of different beers without spending a ton of money. The flights at Citizen Cider, Zero Gravity and Switchback were $7, $8 and $5 respectively and the samples at Magic Hat were free, so we were able to keep the afternoon well under $20 each (including tip) and got to sample 16 different beers and 10 different ciders.

Our whirlwind brewery tour also reminded me about America's obsession with IPAs. I've never come across an IPA in Germany, but in the U.S. they are everywhere and they are adored! This obsession has always baffled me, because to me having too much of the bitter flavor of hops in a beer ruins it. I was therefore surprised that I actually liked the IPA from Zero Gravity a lot and that my favorite ciders were the ones brewed with hops. I also tried another IPA several days after our tour and I liked that one pretty well too. Maybe that means I'm starting to like IPA...

I hope you've enjoyed following along on our "brewery crawl"! If anyone has any suggestions for local breweries in the Orlando, Florida area, which is where I am now, let me know!

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