Brewery: The Alchemist Brewery
Drink from the can! Drink from the can! Drink from the can!
As for the unfiltered Heady Topper, what can you say that hasn't been said? It is Beer Advocate's #1 NEIPA. It appears in RateBeer's top 50 craft beers - though the Stowe brewery does not.
Forget Massachusetts or New York, Alchemist beers are the type of beer that beer geeks will drive from Wyoming to acquire, and Heady Topper takes center stage. This (now) year-round American Double IPA is the flagship of flagship beers. For years, it was hard to find it around New England, almost impossible. Some retailers around Vermont had it, but which, and when?
Your best bet toward enjoying this 8% ABV hazy IPA was to visit the Vermont pub and brewery in Waterbury. The Alchemist Pub and Brewery was where the first cans of Heady Topper were produced in 2003. Clearly this was prior to The Alchemist opening up shop in Stowe. For fun, should you make it up to Stowe for a few pints of Heady Topper and Focal Bangers, COVID allowing, you should take a brewery tour. The Alchemist offers brewery tours at 5pm daily, so keep that in mind.
Back to the beer. It was, and by some, is, considered the best beer in the world. Not a high IBU, bitter DIPA, Heady Topper displays some notes of tropical fruit (and grapefruit?) and possesses quite the mouthfeel. You'll remember the first time you had it, and how you cannot possibly understand your youthful preference for mass-produced pilsners from the Big Beverage folks (hint: targeted advertising).
With regard to the beer itself, Kimmich has stated that his brewing mentor, Greg Noonan, gave him permission to use special yeast. We'd like to imagine that it's the combination of that yeast, along with a proprietary blend of hops and just enough malt, as well as the dedicated labor (and sweat) involved in the brewing process that give Heady Topper its own unique flavor.
The Alchemist Heady Topper History
Heady Topper was first brewed in their Waterbury brewpub (we believe). This was over a decade ago at this point. Mondays and Thursdays were among the best days to get the freshest cans of the beer.
It's also hard to discuss the history of Heady Topper without talking about the history of Vermont breweries. For instance, Heady Topper isn't the only world class beer being produced in the state. Brewer Sean Lawson of Lawson's Finest Liquids is almost as well known for his Sip of Sunshine as Kimmich is for Heady. Almost.
We remember when these fellas were cutting their brewing teeth and pouring glass dixie cup tasting samples at the annual Vermont Brewers Festival. This was at the start of the craft beer explosion in the United States. The Burlington beer fest is/was immensely popular and we hope to return when they host it again in 2022. Speaking of Burlington, Kimmich first plied his trade at the Vermont Pub & Brewery downtown. That's where the foundation of this beer began to be laid in his mind.
Then there's Hill Farmstead. Hill is right there with The Alchemist at the top of the brewing game. There's also Zero Gravity, Lost Nation, and a ton of other great brewers in VT.
As for Heady, in the early days, the canning line couldn't produce fast enough. Either that or the Kimmichs and team couldn't physically sell the beer fast enough to customers. In the early days, it put Waterbury on the map as a craft beer destination and did it single-handedly. Further, he practically wrote the book on how to brew IPAs in New England.
Heady Topper Quotes
Food & Wine quoted Kimmich saying, “All that carbonation is coming out, the CO2 is escaping, the aroma, the hop essence, and oils. When you drink it out of the can, the beer is perfectly preserved. There’s a layer of CO2 riding through that can, and when you pour the beer into an empty glass, you’re immediately accelerating the expulsion of all that goodness.”
Beer & Brewing states that the brewers said this about the beer, "Heady Topper is not intended to be the strongest or most bitter DIPA. It is brewed to give you wave after wave of hop flavor without any astringent bitterness. We brew Heady Topper with a proprietary blend of six hops—each imparting its own unique flavor and aroma. There is just enough malt to give this beer some backbone, but not enough to take the hops away from the center stage."
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The Alchemist Brewery Beer Description (on can)
Heady Topper® is an American Double India Pale Ale. This beer is not intended to be the biggest or most bitter. It is meant to give you wave after wave of hoppy goodness on your palate. Tremendous amounts of American hops will creep up on you, and leave you with a dense hoppy finish in your mouth.
So drinkable, it's scary.
Sometimes I wish I could crawl right into the can.
Freshness and control have always been my main concern when it comes to our beer. We are committed to providing you with an unfiltered and unpasteurized hop experience.
Why do I recommend that you drink it from the can?
Quite simply, to ensure a delightful hop experience. The act of pouring it in a glass smells nice, but it releases the essential hop aromas that we have worked so hard to retain.
If you MUST pour it into a glass, you may find that some of the hop resins have settled to the bottom - leave them in the can while pouring. This beer is perishable, and at its best when it is young, fresh and hazy.
Keep it cold, but not ice cold.
Drink this beer immediately, we are always making more.
- John Kimmich
Hops & Malts used in the Heady Topper brewing recipe
Final thoughts on Heady Topper
Dude John could write. Wow. The Alchemist Heady Topper description is intense. He also goes on to advise you recycle the can when you are done, lest you be a d-bag.
We're for sure sippin' on a Heady Topper again, whether that's from a can in a four pack or at the brewery's tasting room itself. To conclude with a quote from a friend, "Heady Topper is a helluva pour"
Heady Topper FAQs
Where can I find/buy Heady Topper in Vermont?
You can find Heady Topper in restaurants and craft beer stores in and around Barre, Burlington, Essex, Jericho, Middlesex, Montpelier, Morrisville, Richmond, S Burlington, Shelburne, South Burlington, Stowe, Waitsfield, Warren, Waterbury, Williston, Winooski and more.
And of course, at the Alchemist Brewery itself. The Alchemist has been branching out their distribution to areas outside of Vermont in recent years.
How much does Heady Topper cost?
According to online beer delivery service, Drizly, a four pack of Heady Topper costs $19.99. A single 16oz can costs $6.89. If you don't know about Drizly, it's one of the best sites to buy beer online.
PS - If you're in the North Country and looking for a beer that's almost as popular, cross the border and check out Puppers Beer made in Canada. It's a premium lager that just isn't available to get in the U.S.