So today, on the eve of a long Easter weekend, one of my wife’s college students came to our house for cocktail hour to talk beer and to share some Heady Topper that he had picked up on a recent visit to Alchemist Brewing in Waterbury/Stowe, Vermont.
This is a beer that almost always crops up on a list of “beers you have to try” or “beers that are hard to find” or any other category that indicates a truly special beer. At least one publication consistently rates Heady Topper as “Best Beer in the World,” but my curiosity was also piqued by a college student, only recently of legal drinking age, who had taken the trouble to drive from Southern New England all the way to Vermont to stand in line and buy this beer from the brewery, so not only did I enjoy the opportunity to share this special beer, but we also got to enjoy a wide-ranging conversation about beer and some of the other finer things in life.
First things first—the beer is deserving of any and all accolades it has received. Though declaring it absolutely the best is clearly a subjective matter, there is no questioning the commitment to quality and the wonderfully balanced flavor profile. Since it is double IPA style, there is naturally plenty of hops, but no single dominant flavor note, and there is enough body to allow the drinker to proceed slowly and enjoy the many different sensations on the palate. Even though the packaging demands “Drink from the Can,” we poured ours into glasses in order to appreciate the hazy yellow color and the lacy head.
As we enjoyed our beer, Dr. Mrs. Dr. Dave and I interrogated Aaron about how he came to be interested in craft beers. Unlike the majority (I assume) of college students, Aaron had not been an enthusiastic underage party-goer. Upon turning 21, however, he celebrated during a trip to Maine by visiting the Allagash brewery. As he described it, this was in the spirit of sampling local culture and appreciating craftsmanship, but he has become drawn into the spirit of discerning subtle differences and learning about different styles of beer. In the intervening months, he has clearly been educating himself about beer in general and the local beer scene in particular. Aaron was familiar with many of my favorite breweries (by name if not having always sampled the product), and probably knew more about local brewers than I did, particularly those outside our immediate metro area, reminding me that when I have the chance I should round up a group of like-minded beer lovers for a local brewery tour.
The Heady Topper does feed into one of my current quests, which is for readily available, slightly indulgent beers that are fun for special occasions without breaking the bank. In the double IPA category, some consistent favorites of mine are the Road 2 Ruin from Two Roads (Connecticut) and Double Jack from Firestone Walker (California). (This article from firstwefeast.com identified the Double Jack as a more readily available alternative to Heady Topper, though it was interesting that some of the “replacements” in this list were also considered hard to find in articles from other publications.) I’m still undecided about the 2XIPA from Southern Tier (western New York) and The Calling from Boulevard Brewing (Kansas City), the former part of the current rotation here at home and the latter a Christmas present from my beer-, wine-, whiskey-, and music-loving buddy Mark.
In talking with Aaron, we came to recognize that we agreed on the importance of supporting the concept of craftsmanship over quantity and of being willing to pay a little extra for a better quality product, be it an alcoholic beverage or an automobile. (Aaron is also interested in cars, and is in the process of trying to figure out how to turn his chemistry major into a career direction that might involve one or the other of his passions.) I’m reminded again that the world has changed in many ways since I was in college, and though I sometimes get discouraged about the general state of our popular culture, there are enough instances where things truly are better than they were forty years ago that I haven’t given up hope for an even better future. Hope that you have an occasion sometime soon to spend a little bit extra on something you think is worth it. Cheers!