Words, Photos and Video - Matthew Curtis
Despite containing less than 50 breweries the US State of Vermont has more breweries per head than any other State in the country. This is because there are less than 700000 people that call Vermont their home but you can be sure that not one of them is short of a fridge full of world class beers. Vermont's roster of breweries includes Magic Hat, Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist, the latter being renowned for the double IPA I'm reviewing today, Heady Topper.
Based in the small town of Waterbury, The Alchemist use their 15 barrel brewery to brew and can only Heady Topper with their aim being to produce the freshest, most delicious IPA possible. This now legendary brew is only available to buy at selected outlets in Vermont and thirsty punters travel from all over to secure their case. Such is the hysteria this beer creates that The Alchemist had to close their brewery to the public due to the traffic chaos a release of Heady Topper would cause. Thankfully I didn't have to go through all that as I was offered a can by Leighton of the London Beer Guide in trade for the last bottle in my stash of Crooked Stave beer that I had brought back with me from Colorado.
I am an utter hop junkie, no beer does it for me quite like modern American style IPA and I was thrilled to be able to procure a can. When I got it home I immediately stashed it in the fridge in order to make sure those essential hop oils were being preserved as well as possible. I wasn't going to squirrel this away, it needed drinking immediately but I wanted to wait until I'd built up a proper thirst before getting it down me. A few days passed and then one Monday night after a particularly hectic day in the office I knew that the time had come. I grabbed the sixteen ounce can, it's simple yet effective silver and black livery glinting under the kitchen lights. A message on the container instructs the owner to drink straight from the can but I select a small glass anyway as I'm just as interested in its colour, aroma and head retention as I am in how it tastes. The reason The Alchemist ask you to do this is that although doing so will release those gorgeous hop aromas it will allegedly negatively effect the flavour due to the hop oils being so volatile, I was interested to see if this was actually the case.
As the can opens with a satisfying crack and hiss my nostrils are immediately filled with the scent of grapefruit, pine, mango and lime despite being nearly three feet away. Before I pour any into the glass I take a gulp, that pine resin and pink grapefruit aroma translate into the most dominant flavours but there's passion fruit, lemon zest and a slightly peppery, earthy note in there as well. There is zero detectable alcohol despite the 8% ABV and the malts are really dialled down so there is very little residual sweetness, this beer is all about the hops after all. Heady Topper is a delicious beer, make no mistake with the only negative being that the finish was a tiny bit astringent, it is incredibly hoppy but it isn't as bitter as say Stone's Ruination or Oskar Blues Deviant Dales, despite it being quite similar in flavour to the latter. It also reminded me of a few great IPA's that are much more available to us lot in the UK, Magic Rock's Cannonball being one and Kernel IPA in its pomp being another.
In the glass the light amber Heady is hazy thanks to the hop oils, perhaps it was psychological but the flavour profile seemed to shift towards the grapefruit with less of the pine but I don't really think pouring it into the glass took anything away from this beer. It was nice to see a decent, rocky white head that left a little lacing, it was nicely carbonated too. Many hopheads consider Heady Topper to be the best beer in it's class and I agree there's no doubt this is one superb beer but I didn't experience the moment of clarity that I did when I tried Pliny the Elder for the first time so it doesn't top my chart. At the end of the day this is just an IPA, an incredibly made beautiful tasting IPA but not one it's worth queueing in traffic for half a day for.
Thanks again to Leighton for trading a can and allowing me to experience this beer, in an effort to prove that I'm a blogger that doesn't shy away from new media, here's a vine I made of the moment I cracked it open.