01 February 2011

KOTBR #121 - Lawson's Finest Liquids & The Alchemist: Proving Once Again That There's More Than Hippies in Vermont

Skiing. Maple syrup. Ben & Jerry's. The 45th Parallel. Phish. Bernie Sanders.

And yes, hippies.

These are things/people that Vermont is known for. But as we've discovered, the Green Mountain State is also home to some exceptional craft beer.

We gathered recently at Church's Chicken (a place that was once known as "Rod and Jess's house") to review three Vermont beers: two from Lawson's Finest Liquids of Warren and one from The Alchemist Pub and Brewery of Waterbury. All three beers are small-batch beers; the bottles from Lawson's were signed by the brewer and hand-labeled with the batch and bottle numbers, and the beer from The Alchemist is the only one bottled by the brewery (600 bottles in all) and was released at a Dark Lord Day-style event in December. I don't point all this out to pull a beer snob routine. I simply want to express how lucky we feel to have drunk these beers and how thankful we are to Brian, who resides in Vermont and was our beer benefactor for this roundtable.

Here are our findings--

Lawson's Finest Liquids Paradise Ale. To be quite honest, I had never heard of Lawson's Finest Liquids before this roundtable.  My first impression of Paradise Ale was not exactly a good one.  It smelled kind of foul, kind of like cat pee.  I stuck with it and started to get more out of the hops, some lemon, grapefruit and spruce aromas.  Not much malt at all in the nose, which was odd for an amber.  So I got my hop pants on and dove in.

An interesting combination of flavors in the hop varieties used.  The first thing I picked out was mint and a very dry bitterness.  The more I drank, the more the caramel started to peek out.  Dry grapefruit essence and pine were also present in the hops, which created a surprising and tasty balance against the mint.  Usually with a hoppy amber I'm expecting more malt, but this worked.  Tons of hoppy flavors and bitterness but just enough dark malt in there to make you think it's either a super hopped ESB or a well balanced IPA.  Tons of herbal and mint hop characteristics and overall just a great hoppy experience.  I'd definitely have a few of these if there were more.

I give it 3.9 Mugs.

Lawson's Finest Liquids Paradise Ale
Rod: 3.90 Mugs | Jess: 3.68 Mugs | Mike: 3.33 Mugs | Chris: 3.90 Mugs | Gina: 3.50 Mugs | Jim: 3.90 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 3.70 Mugs

Lawson's Finest Liquids Chinooker'd IPA. With first smell I'm put off - it's a mixture of cough drops and a funky possibly ranch dressing nose. I press on though (drinking beer is hard work) and the first taste is just as the label says - chock full of Chinook hops and bursting with citrusy goodness. This is a great example of a single hop beer and pours a golden orange-yellow with one finger of white fluffy head that dissipates quickly. The more I drink the more I get honey and malt in the nose along with hints of grassy, herbal pine.

There's big flavor in this single hop beer, but the beer almost comes out as more of an amber than an IPA. It has a lot of big hop flavors but then is also pretty balanced with a malty characteristic and a big malt nose. It's very enjoyable and I find myself wanting more and more of this beer. A shame they don't come to Indiana but with the bottles being hand numbered I can only imagine that they wouldn't be able to keep up with the hop wallop of a beer being brewed.

I give it 3.9 Mugs.

Lawson's Finest Liquids Chinooker'd IPA
Rod: 3.50 Mugs | Jess: 3.90 Mugs | Mike: 3.23 Mugs | Chris: 3.40 Mugs | Gina: 3.90 Mugs | Jim: 3.90 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 3.64 Mugs

The Alchemist Heady Topper.  If you spend just five minutes on the website for the Alchemist Pub and Brewery, you are certain to learn one thing - they are incredibly passionate about their beer. The brewery doesn't usually sell their beer in any other container except a glass. No growlers, no bottles, nothing. According to their website, "...the only beer to go is in your belly".

Then why are we talking about it? Well, it appears that patrons begged and pleaded for The Alchemist to release a small run of their Heady Topper, an 8% ABV Double IPA. They obliged with a small run of bottles. How small, you ask? Well, Jim was lucky to procure one of only 600 bottles and we were lucky to get to drink it with him.

I was excited to try this, as I am with all Double IPA's. I never seem to tire of the style. Heady Topper is a sweet and malty package all wrapped up with a nice hoppy bow. If I had been blindfolded when I inhaled its intoxicating scent, I would have sworn I was smelling a piece of pineapple upside-down cake sprinkled with some hops on top. As Heady Topper warms, its complexity deepens and offers a faint aroma of a sweet pepper. Somehow, the flavor was even better than the nose, like pulpy orange juice.

I can usually talk myself out of liking something that I will likely never get to try again, but I couldn't help it with this one. It was outstanding. I'm so happy the folks over at The Alchemist decided to give in and bottle this beer. Cheers to them for their passion and dedication to making great beer!

I give it 4.8 Mugs.

The Alchemist Heady Topper
Rod: 4.20 Mugs | Jess: 4.60 Mugs | Chris: 4.70 Mugs | Mike: 4.15 Mugs | Gina: 4.80 Mugs | Jim: 4.25 Mugs
KOTBR Score: 4.45 Mugs


  1. In the words of Monty Python, "you lucky bastards."

  2. I'm glad you guys liked the beers. The Alchemist is considering canning Heady Topper. The bartender at The Alchemist thought it would be available around the end of the year. I'll keep you updated.

    I polished off and thoroughly enjoyed the 3Floyd's brews that Jim sent me (Alpha King is the boss) but haven't had a chance to write up any reviews. And now, after reading your excellent reviews, I'm highly intimidated to do so. You guys do a great job.

    If you ever want to swap Hoosier for Green Mountain beers again, I have a special box under my desk that'll ship six bombers perfectly. Let me know.

  3. I've been fortunate to sample beers from The Alchemist and Lawson's Finest Liquids when vacationing in Vermont 3 of the past 4 years. They are both worth the effort to seek out. Both have won World Beer Cup medals in recent years too!