Bonafide Farm

Dog-friendly Stowe, Rock Art and Hill Farmstead Breweries

October 24th, 2012 § 0

I left the Topnotch Resort in Stowe and drove in to town for breakfast. I picked up a bag of Tucker’s hard-to-find hippie natural dog food at a great little store, the Dog and Cat, and then continued to the Green Goddess for breakfast. A grilled tofu wrap and freshly squeezed carrot/beet/kale/ginger juice in hand, I headed toward the Quiet Path, where the Topnotch concierge had recommended I take Tucker.


We found a great open field where Tuck enjoyed a few rounds of fetch before joining in play with a couple of local dogs. Then we pressed on to the West Branch River, where my dog got his fill of fresh spring Vermont water.


From Stowe, I began to head east toward Maine on Route 100. I had to pull off, however, when I passed the Rock Art Brewery. Here I had the friendliest tasting of my Vermont brewery tour, and I really enjoyed their Jasmine Pale Ale.


But I had my eyes on a bigger prize, one to be found way off in rural Greensboro, Vermont up a rutted gravel road in an area that looked so desolate I was sure I was lost: Hill Farmstead Brewery, home of what some consider to be the best craft beer now being made in the United States. Once again, thanks to Brad for the hot tip! I knew not of the brewery before I arrived, which I believe led to less tasting bias than more knowledgeable beer freaks may possess.


Any Google search will fill you in on the Hill Farmstead backstory, so here’s my experience. The brewery is basically a converted garage attached to a ramshackle homestead on the top of a hill surrounded by wild Vermont mountains. When I arrived, the parking lot was full and people were queued four or five deep at the taps set up in the corner of the garage. All were there for tastings or growler refills or a glimpse of Shaun E. Hill, American craft brew wunderkind, as he washed glasses and worked the taps. Some of the stories I’ve read have even gone so far as to dub Shaun the best brewer on the planet. High praise for a brewer in his early thirties, but would the beer live up to the hype?


I had four samples of the six on tap, and couldn’t find fault. The two that I liked best were Abner, the double IPA, and Holger Danske, a smoked brown ale. Hill Farmstead has neither of these beers in bottles, and very, very limited distribution outside of Vermont for a few of their other offerings, so the best and often only way to enjoy these beers is from the source.

Abner and Holger Danske were two of the best beers I’ve ever had, and exhibited taste profiles that were complex and changing yet perfectly smooth, with a range of flavors that were beautifully balanced. I won’t go into more beer geek descriptions, which are widely available online if you’re interested. However, I encourage you to head up that hill and taste for yourself. You won’t regret the trip, but be forewarned that once you taste Hill Farmstead’s offerings you may be left with a craving that’s hard to fill with whatever you’ve got available in your local supermarket. I know I’m ruined.

It was with a sadness that I pointed my car toward New Hampshire, assuaged only by a couple of 750 ml. growlers of Abner and Holger Danske keeping company with the Heady Topper in my cooler. As the Hill Farmstead beers were fresh and not bottled, I knew I had just a couple of days to enjoy them—an event to which I looked forward even as I mourned finding beers so delicious and yet so unattainable once I returned to my life in Virginia.

A rainy detour turns Topnotch

October 23rd, 2012 § 0

I pulled up to the Topnotch Resort in Stowe in, you guessed it, driving rain. Though the valets were incredibly sweet and well-intentioned, when one is living from one’s car, with a dog, it’s not the easiest thing to just toss my designer hand luggage to the bellman and allow someone to whisk my car away. With a bit of negotiation I managed to retain my keys so I could visit my car for dog food and to check on the well-being of my Heady.

Topnotch is a truly pet-friendly resort, and I was encouraged to take Tucker with me to the check-in desk. He was keyed up from a rainy day spent in the car, and wanted to greet everyone who walked by. I was relieved when we got to our room and I could finally unsnap his leash.


There I found a nice bag of dog treats and a card addressed to Tucker from the resort’s concierge, as well as a dog bowl and plush shearling dog bed, which he tried out right away. Pretty swank for this soaking-wet pooch who’s rejected the three dog beds he has at home!


The best part of Topnotch to me, other than the wonderfully decorated and comfortable room, was the water complex. I quickly changed in to my bathing suit and hit the indoor hot tub, which had a waterfall feature that beat my driving-tired shoulders in to relaxation. I took a dip in the indoor pool, read a bit of a magazine, and then headed outside in the rain to swim in the heated outdoor pool.

It was dark, and cool above the water. But as I dove I could see the silvery undersides of myriad raindrops shattering the water’s surface. I swam laps and then dove, flipping over and over in handstands. It was the first time I’d relaxed in the water in years. I was in a pool only once this summer and it was to pull tree branches out of my parents’ pool after the June 29 derecho. Not exactly a recreational dip. And so, on this rainy night in Stowe, I played.

When I’d worn myself out, I headed back to my room and snuggled in to a hotel robe. I ordered room service, and Tucker got his first taste of the sweet life when I gave him the leftover broth from my mussels. Then I turned on a t.v. that seemed almost as large as I, snuggled in to one of the comfiest beds I’d ever experienced, and relaxed…until it was time to take Tucker out for his before-bed walk, which we did in the rain and both ended up soaking. Nothing like a dog for keeping it real.

Nonetheless, wonderful sleep followed, and I started the next morning by taking my tea while soaking in the outdoor hot tub.


The rain had cleared, and mountains that were shrouded in fog the day before sprang in to view all around the outdoor pool complex.


After a few laps in the indoor pool to cool off, it was back to pack up the room and hit the road. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to leave!


From Magic Hat to Alchemist

October 23rd, 2012 § 0

After more than three hours of wandering the Shelburne Museum, my feet were tired and my mind was buzzing with everything I’d seen. Though I wished I had the stamina to return for a second day, I pressed on toward Burlington, Vermont. I soon came across the Magic Hat brewery, and even though I think their beers are mediocre—and a six pack of their Oktoberfest I bought before my trip was the first beer I’ve every purchased that was skunked—I couldn’t resist a tour.

Once inside I was immediately overwhelmed by what felt like very forced “arty” kitch. The tasting bar area was decorated in neon and graffiti and steampunk mechanical madness. There were a bunch of frat boys standing around, and I had to fight my way through them to be noticed. I zeroed in on the only female bartender, who was very nice as she poured my samples. As I was drinking a boy, a economics student from the University of Vermont, took it upon himself to educate me about beer. His opening gambit was that he recommends lighter beers “for women.” No sooner was it out of his mouth than I was ordering the smoked porter. He looked suitable chagrined and beat a hasty retreat, but I was sickly comforted that, at more than a decade older than he, I was worthy of being looked after at a beer tasting.

I went ahead with the guided tour, and what struck me most was that the founder of Magic Hat, Alan Newman, definitely appears to be a pretty cool counterculture freak and yet has created not only a successful brewery but also several other companies, including Gardner’s Supply and Seventh Generation, which should ring a bell for anyone who’s ever searched for eco-friendly dish or laundry detergent. But none of his original passion came through in my tour. My experience at Magic Hat demonstrated to me that it was a company at at tipping point…in theory they espouse the artistic and personal freedom of their founder and yet have very much played into a corporate mindset pushing “fun” as their commodity (my bartender told me that the best way to make sure a trial beer makes it to bottling is to make a ruckus their Web site and social media).


I left feeling a bit like I’d been run through an amusement park, the most interesting part of which was not the beers, but the production line.

I continued up the road, rolling in to Burlington as the sun was setting. I saw the makings of a good photo op and dodged this way and that through their town center to the waterfront. It was truly beautiful…a colorful sunset over broad water ringed with purple mountains.


As the light faded from the sky, I headed back up the hill and picked up a chicken curry falafel from a storefront near the center of town. I found a bench on the Burlington pedestrian mall, which reminded me a lot of Charlottesville’s, and ate while watching a live band. I strolled the mall, stopping in to a neat bookstore where the proprietor looked like a hotter Jason Bateman, and then it was time to find a place for sleep for the night.

Friday dawned showery and with a full rainbow over my motel. It didn’t look like good weather for exploring Burlington, so decided to hit the road. By the time I’d gotten the car packed, it was starting to rain. I stopped in to a liquor store near the hotel looking for Heady Topper, a local beer made by Alchemist and recommended by my friend Brad. They were sold out. So I figured why not head up to the brewery and pick it up from the source? I merged on to I89 headed toward Waterbury with the intention of stopping at Alchemist and then heading toward Maine.

Immediately it started to pour buckets. The rain was sheeting across the highway, and my SUV was being blown too and fro. I couldn’t see a carlength in front of me. I don’t normally mind driving in bad weather, but I was on vacation with no timetable or set destination and wanted to avoid stress at all costs. So I made it to Route 100 and pulled off, ducking in to the Alchemist Brewery just before 11:00 a.m.


Alchemist is a brewery that focuses on one beer, the Heady Topper IPA. It’s a beer that’s heavily hyped and has its own cult following, so much so that even locals acknowledge it’s hard-to-come-by. With a Beer Advocate score of 100, it’s known for waves of smooth hops flavor. I had a taste, looked in on their small brewery, and walked out with a case. It was a Friday morning—the brewery isn’t open on weekends—and traffic was steady in and out of the place with massive amounts of money and silver cans changing hands. The woman who poured my tasting told me that they would sell out for the weekend in a couple of hours on a Friday morning, and that Heady Topper lasts only between 16 and 24 hours on the shelves in a few Burlington stores before it’s gone.

Case secured, I promptly went to the nearest supermarket and bought a bag of ice and loaded the beer in to my cooler. I felt like I was transporting an organ—this beer is so fresh and nonpreserved that it had to remain cool all time. And then I tasked my trained guard dog with protecting our haul.


It was still pouring rain, and the Ben and Jerry’s factory was nearby. Though I am not a huge ice cream fan, I needed something to do other than drive, so I took their tour. It was interesting only in so much as our guide was forced to elongate every “o” she said to sound like a cow. For example, “Let’s all moooove over to the production area, where you will see we are packaging a heath bar ice cream today.” Poor girl. We had samples of Late Night Snack at the end of the tour, and it wasn’t bad for an ice cream that features chocolate-covered potato chips.


Just as at Magic Hat, I was struck by the starting visions of Ben and Jerry’s founders, who got their start dabbling in something they found interesting. They learned how to make ice cream from a Penn State correspondence course, and now they have a thriving corporation that was acquired by Unilever. To hear stories such as theirs gives me hope that pursuing my interests may one day lead to the career of my lifetime.

It was still raining after the tour, and I didn’t want to waste my drive through the White Mountains if I couldn’t see anything. I started calling around for hotels. The Topnotch Resort and Spa was pet-friendly, so I booked a room there and decide to hole up and wait out the weather. While my room was being prepared, I had a great smoked turkey sandwich at the Prohibition Pig in Waterbury, along with a half of Heady Topper and another of Lawson’s Finest Maple Nipple Ale. Then I wandered into a lovely little bookstore nearby, Bridgeside Books, where I picked up a few cards and a 2013 calendar and had a nice chat with the proprietor.

By then it was time to head up to Stowe and check in to Topnotch and get out of the rain!

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