Alchemical transmutation and heady brews

If you’ve followed me on Twitter at all this week, you’ve seen I’ve been out and about a bit more. In fact, I’ve been primarily in Quebec. Let me tell you, gang, there are few better inventions than poutine, and I am aghast that the United States has not taken to this Canadian import with the same relish it has reserved for Molson, Mounties and Shatner.

But as we’ve slowly made our way south, pausing in the beautiful green mountains of Vermont, one attraction in particular caught my attention. Just down the road from the Ben & Jerry’s factory is a little brewery called The Alchemist. It even has the alchemical symbol for fermentation on the logo. So, yeah. I’m a novelist who’s written about 18th century alchemists. I’m also a homebrewer and a beer fanatic. Naturally, this was a stop that had to be made.

The Alchemist used to be a brewpub until last summer, when Hurricane Irene put much of Waterford, Vermont, under water. According to the brewery’s blog, the water completely flooded the basement of their place and there was hip-deep water in the kitchen. The pictures on their blog are tragic, really. What beer they could salvage was bottled with the help of other local brewers and sold as fundraisers. Even with these efforts, it was a bleak time.

But if you’re familiar with alchemy, you know that The Great Work requires dissolution and destruction prior to finding the gold. And as it happened, the brewery had been building its own canning plant nearby — well above flood level, too. Four days after Irene flooded the valley, there was Alchemist beer. While the pub ultimately had to be written off as a loss, the Alchemist today thrives as a craft brewer.

It’s nothing sort of divine alchemical transmutation, written in hops and barley.

Right now, they’re brewing just one beer — Heady Topper, a double IPA with 8% alcohol-by-volume and a healthy dose of hops. I’m not usually a hop-head, butI have to say Heady Topper is an outstanding beer. In fact, I have four 16 oz. cans in the fridge as we speak. They will be shared sparingly. If you get one, know that I like you above many others.

Other brews will come as the brewery continues down the path of transmutation — after all, as any alchemist will tell you, The Great Work never really ends. For now, they’re working on increasing production to meet demand. Most of their production sells out before it even leaves the state, but this spring they’re going to try to send some out to Boston and down to NYC and Philly.

So if you see silver cans of Heady Topper at your local establishments — or if you find yourself in Vermont at all — you really need to give it a shot. And if you don’t see it, ask for it. It’s more than just a really great beer. It’s a tiny bit of The Great Work in a can.

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Filed under Beer Snobbery, Books, Writing

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