While most people sought out sun and sand over Memorial Day weekend, I beelined for Vermont to get into the woods and sit by a fireplace while it rained outside. The foul weather was not an issue—it actually offered a fine excuse to just sit around drinking beer, which if I’m honest (and not speaking to my ladyfriend, who had been systematically convinced of the trip’s romantic motivations), was my main draw to Green Mountain State, where the craft-beer evolution is in full swing.
There’s been no shortage of beer-nerd mouth breathing recently on the topic of Hill Farmstead, Shaun Hill’s fantastic farmhouse-style brewery out of Greensboro. And East Coasters are used to seeing Magic Hat, Otter Creek, and Long Trail in the mix at beer bars and package stores. But to stop there would be a mistake—Vermont is currently home to a vibrant, hyperlocal craft-beer scene, with plenty of tiny operations selling their suds exclusively within state lines.
The true mecca is up north between Greensboro and Burlington, where you can find coveted breweries like Lawon’s Finest Liquids, Switchback, and Alchemist, plus destination-worthy beer bars such as Three Penny Tap Room in Montpelier. But there’s plenty to discover in southern Vermont as well, and this weekend I found two great places to mainline some Vermont brew culture: Meulemans’ Craft Draughts, a tiny bottle shop off Route 30 in Rawonsville (near Stratton Mountain), and the Pizza Stone, a funky locals hangout in Chester boasting creative pies and an excellent tap list. (You can also find good local options at SoLo Farm & Table, the region’s best farm-to-table restaurant, run by two vets of the NYC dining world.)
The carbonation is so vigorous, you can hear it from 30 paces.
At Meuleman’s, I found treasures like a deep stash of Rock Art Brewery beers and rarities such as the Hill Farmstead-Fantôme collaboration. And the list at Pizza Stone was packed with in-state newcomers, including Fiddlehead Brewery (maker of a fine IPA) and Lost Nation, which had an interesting sour-wheat gose.
But at both stops, I was most intrigued by gorgeous 750mL bottles bearing a woodcut-style label that said “Backacre Sour Golden Ale.” This is the inaugural release from a small outfit out of Weston that’s doing something very unusual for an American brewery: making gueuze, a traditional Belgian beer style made my blending different ages of lambic. Newcomers to the gueuze-blending ranks are few and far between anywhere in the world, particularly the U.S., so it’s exciting to see Vermonters taking up the challenge.
The outfit goes by the name of Backacre Beermakers because they are not brewers in the traditional sense. Instead, they get wort (unfermented beer) from other local breweries, then create lambics by adding different yeast strains and aging the resulting ales in oak barrels. The contents of various barrels are then blended together to create the final product, which is a knockout.
Most beers catch you first with the aroma, but with this it’s all about the sound—when you pour out the hazy yellow liquid, the carbonation is so vigorous, you can hear it from 30 paces. Put it up to your ear, and it’s like you’re standing at the base of a woodland waterfall—sort of the Vermont equivalent of listening to a seashell. Once you get your head closer, the nose will hit you with a notes of peaches, earthiness, and all that other good farmhouse business. There are slight hints of funk, but this isn’t one of those dirty gym sock beers that sends most sour newbs running for the hills. It’s actually the type of beer you can deploy to convert non-beer drinkers.
As for the taste, the Sour Golden is the real champagne of beers—forget Miller High Life. It’s tart and mildly oaky, and any sweetness from the malts is balanced beautifully by the dry, crisp finish. It happened to be pissing down rain while I drank this in front of roaring flames (I know, tough life), but it’s definitely refreshing enough to be a summertime replacement for rosé on the roof deck.
If you’re not in Vermont, coming across a bottle of Backacre is going to be pretty tough at the moment—even within the state, it’s available only at a handful of spots. Thankfully, there are plenty of other good reasons to visit the area (not least of which is the ridiculously fun Bromley Alpine Slide). In the meantime, pick up a bottle of Oude Gueuze Tilquin à L’Ancienne, one of my other favorite takes on the ancient gueuze style.