by Tony Meneo
Hello Bob- Thought you might enjoy my recent adventure when I
went on a mission to get Heady Hopper made by The Alchemist
Brewery. Some say it's the world’s best beer and after having my first
one I can understand why it's become such a phenomenon. Anyway,
I showed up at Hunger Mountain Coop beer store in Montpelier,
Vermont on a freezing Thursday morning and got in line. Yes, I said
line. I started talking to a few people ahead of me and, well, you judge
their sanity. One of them drove all night from South Carolina and slept
in a parking lot, the other left Natick, Mass., at the crack of dawn so he
could be in line by 8 AM.
The Alchemist brewery churns out 45,600 16-ounce cans of Heady, a
double India Pale, ale each week, the only beer it produces regularly.
It’s distributed only within a 20-mile radius of its tiny Waterbury
brewery, and if the 5,000 or so residents of the town had all the
Heady Topper to themselves, they’d still be lucky to land a case
every other week. Every can sells — most within a few hours of
hitting store shelves.
Heady Topper has spurred a demand that causes beer-lovers to drive
hundreds of miles and pay hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to
crack a signature black-and-silver can. On Craigslist in Boston, a case
was selling for $250 — each four-pack of cans costing nearly as much
as a barrel of crude oil. One guy was caught trying to smuggle the
beer out of the brewpub where it was born by pouring it into bottles
and affixing ersatz labels.
Most weeks, the line at Hunger Mountain Coop stretches out into the
parking lot; on the day I went it was 17 below zero, so the store
manager, passed out numbers and let people wander around inside.
Online, The Alchemist lists the day each store, bar, and restaurant
offers Heady Topper. Hunger Mountain is one of a handful of stores
that sell the beer by the 24-can case, for about $80.
I heard that John Kimmich, co-owner and head brewer at The
Alchemist, never dreamed the beer he created would be so sought
after. After working several jobs to save the money to start their own
business, John and Jen Kimmich finally opened their brewpub in 2003.
They made good beer, and word got out. When they caught a guy
stealing and reselling Heady Topper, they realized this could turn into
something really big.
How's this for a story Bob - the thief was buying pints at the bar and
pouring the beer into bottles in the men’s room, carefully capping
each with a special tool. He affixed labels he had made using art from
the Alchemist’s website.
It is very scarce. Consider that the roughly 100,000 cases sold every
year are matched by Bud Light sales every three hours! Still, if your
looking for the beer around Waterbury you'll be surprised how many
bars and restaurants seem to have it for about $8 a can.
By the way, I'm really lucky living in the area since The Alchemist is
hardly the only famous brew in this corner of Vermont. In Greensboro,
people stand in line for hours for a few gallons of Hill Farmstead’s famed
creations. Special releases from Lawson’s Finest Liquids, in nearby
Warren, can be even harder to find.
That's it. Hope you found it interesting and consider publishing it.
Many thanks for your article, Tony. I agree Heady is a great beer
well worth the hype. You are indeed lucky to be in an area of such
great brews. Now if you ever want to send me some......
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