Vermont Food and Wine

Vermont Food & Wine

Pouring Pleasures:
Microbrews in the Spotlight

by Clara Rose Thornton

pumpkinaleThere’s an unmistakable, rejuvenating zest that occupies the mouth when a good craft beer takes residence. A prickle and an earthy effervescence reign. In appreciation, this installment of Pouring Pleasures takes a detour from its usual focus on vinifera’s gifts to the world and explores the wide realm of small-batch beer brewing.

Autumn plays host to worldwide Oktoberfests, sophisticated beer festivals and robust, seasonal harvest ales from brewing companies that care about the nuance and unconventionality of flavor that keeps enthusiasts coming back for more. And in winter, many pubs and restaurants pepper their drink list with heartier international selections. It is, truly, the time of the “beer geek.”

A pair of such aficionados, Tim and Amy Brady, owners of 40 Putney Road Bed & Break-fast in Brattleboro, are spearheading the effort to educate southern Vermont and the public at large about their favorite malt, hops and barley creations, while working to banish stereotypes in the “foodie” world that beer lovers are more debaucherous and less refined than their oenophile counterparts. Last winter they began a weekly beer tasting to draw visitors to the comfortable, old-world-style pub situated on the property. They offer Tim’s rotating selection of eight mostly local microbrews with one or two international choices, paired with Amy’s home-cooked, locally sourced finger foods.

A recent 40 Putney Road beer tasting gave a tantalizing tease as to what may be in store. The sampling—conducted amidst a lively, conversational, casual atmosphere—was a slow creep from a light and fruity hefeweizen to amber-colored lagers and pale ales, to a stinging IPA, a caramelesque barleywine, and finally, to a rich, meaty stout. Throughout the two-hour session, Tim offered a flowing elocution on the intricacies of not only beer manufacture and brewery statistics, but also the doddering politics surrounding small-batch beer production.

rockartOne of the most unusual offerings was Rock Art’s Ridge Runner Barleywine Ale. Based in Morrisville, the small brewery, run by a couple, produces an impressive 19 brews of distinctive variety. The beers often have fanciful names like “Infusco” (Belgian black ale), Magnumus Ete Tomahawkus (double ESB) and Midnight Madness (smoked porter). Barleywine is a strong, hoppy ale originating in England in the early nineteenth century, with an alcohol content reaching 8–12%; its high alcohol lends the “wine” association. Rock Art Barleywine’s appearance is a dark, cloudy, almost completely opaque amber. On the nose it owns a heavy spice with unmistakable caramel. Its full-bodied, smooth mouthfeel is undercut with a definite sour undertone, attaching a fruity bitterness to the finish.

Three other highlights emerged. Otter Creek, based in Middlebury, produces a line of certified organic ales under the moniker Wolaver’s. Wolaver’s Brown Ale, with a nose of frosted caramel cake, unleashes a spicy stone quality on the palate, while their Will Stevens Pumpkin Ale (named for the organic farmer growing the pumpkins in question) is a seasonal brew with a warm, reddish glow preempting its mellow, yet sweet, autumn essence. An international selection from Carlow, Ireland—the deep black O’Hara’s Irish Stout–leeches its roasted cashew, chocolate-infused chewiness all over the senses.

A drinkable education is a fine one, indeed.

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