A virtual (beer) tour through Vermont

Switchback IPA, out of Burlington, Vt., is a crisp, hoppy good time, even on a gloomy day stuck inside. Dennis O’Brien/Watertown Daily Times

Late last month, I was sitting in a fold out chair at the McVean Center Gymnasium at Jefferson Community College, freshly vaccinated twice over, holding a little 15-minute timer in my hand and thinking about sedentary objects.

Myself being one of them.

It’s been a year-plus of isolation for a lot of people since the COVID pandemic began last spring, and the frigid north country winter only exacerbated that isolation. Where as summer in Northern New York still offers plenty of hiking and beaches and a million ways to get outside and, frankly, away from other people and just enjoy a piece of the world that feels normal, the winter is a cage within the cage of pandemic.

Add to that the wet, gray and inexplicably snowy weather in recent weeks, again driving many people inside, it’s been long and it’s been lonely.

The cold is also, speaking of other sedentary objects, beginning to turn my home into a jungle. Christina, my wife, launched an ambitious plan this year to start our summer garden early and indoors, potting dozens of tomato, squash and watermelon plants, and I can’t even remember what half of them are. But with nighttime temperatures routinely dipping below 40 degrees, we can’t plant the damn things yet.

So while we wait to till the ground, the tomato vines are getting almost as tall as our giant 6-year-old and at least one squash plant is threatening to cross the room and obscure the TV.

So I’m sitting in McVean, watching that timer tick off and thinking about the promise of the summer, with vaccination numbers rising and hopefully temperatures following suit. And I start thinking about travel.

But John, the aforementioned 6-year-old, is still in school, and his brother, Ben, is still in pre-K and we’d still have a few weeks before our immune systems are as fortified as they can be against this damn plague. So instead of getting in the car and driving, I decided to take a virtual tour of lovely Vermont.

No, I’m not talking about Lake Champlain or the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, and I’m not even talking about hiking in the Green Mountain National Forest.

You know me, guys. I’m talking about beer.

So as I’ve sat around, building up that immune system and nursing what feels like a badly bruised arm and a second-day hangover, I’ve been exploring some of the best suds that the Green Mountain State has to offer. And as we wait for the weather to warm up, here’s a mixed 6-pack of Vermont beer that helped tide me over to vaccination.

1. Switchback IPA (Switchback Brewing Company, Burlington, Vt.) — At 5.9%, Switchback gives you a little something extra if you’re looking for day drinking on the weekend, but even at 74 IBU, it’s pretty mellow and drinkable. It has a nice amber color and even if I picked up a 4-pack of cans over at the little market on State Street instead of those neat little old timey medicine bottles Switchback is famous for, that crisp hoppy aroma and clean finish more than make up for the lost aesthetics.

2. Fiddlehead IPA (Fiddlehead Brewing Company, Shelburne, Vt.) — This was a new discovery for me, a hop-forward IPA that’s a little stronger at 6.2% and is appropriately dank and pours a kind of hazy orange glow. It’s strong and bitter and will wake you up a little if the cold weather threatens to make you sleepy.

3. Extra Stout (Zero Gravity Craft Brewery, Burlington, Vt.) — Probably one of my favorite recent discoveries, a nice, dry Irish stout that has aromas of chocolate and coffee and clocks in at about 5.9%. With the spring still lagging, I appreciated the warm, roasted barley notes … the kind of beer that warms you up a little without being too boozy to be productive cleaning out the garage.

4. Sip of Sunshine (Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Waitsfield, Vt.) — I thought a lot about Tom Waits while killing a few of these, nursing that sore arm over the weekend. A kick in the arm 8% ABV gives this imperial IPA, with its juicy, tropical profile, a kind of sly power … like the gravely voice coming from beneath the tilted fedora of my favorite musician (I can only assume the town is named after him). There’s a kind of summery joy to sip, and hope for what’s to come, but like some of Waits’ best work, there’s a good kick in the teeth waiting for you in that boozy finish.

5. Kölsch (Von Trapp Brewing, Stowe, Vt.) — A particular favorite of Christina, she of the springtime taste and green thumb. If you’re stuck rotating your tomato plants by the window sils, upstairs, downstairs, just trying to keep them bathed in sunshine while they wait for an appropriate home, you can pass some of that time pretty well with this 5% beauty. Bright, crisp, infinitely drinkable. I may or may not have killed a whole sixer of these one weekend this December watching a Giants game. Can neither confirm nor deny.

6. Vermont Double IPA (Long Trail Brewing Company, Bridgewater Corners, Vt.) — One of the icons of Vermont’s thriving craft beer industry hits a home run with this fruity, juicy 8.3% beauty. Available in tall pints of golden, hazy, goodness … if it’s ever warm enough to get out there and start hitting the trails this spring, you can bet you’ll find me packing away one of these bad boys for the trip. A light mouthfeel and a strong, boozy kick make this the perfect antidote to spring showers and whatever seasonal blues you’re trying to kick.

Stay safe out there. Get vaccinated. And I hope I see you guys out there soon.

Reach out to Dennis O’Brien on Instagram @beernerddennis.

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