Friday, July 29, 2011
After undertaking our momentous cross-country road trip in 2006, my wife Heather and I decided to take a smaller, recreational (and thus less stressful!) jaunt up to Vermont in August of the same year. I had been to the state only a handful of times and, if my recollection serves me, Heather had never been there before. For those who are in the same position as Heather...it's an absolutely gorgeous place to visit any time of year, but it's especially verdant in the summer.
We had four destinations in mind for our trek: the state capitol buildings of both Vermont (in Montpelier) and New Hampshire (in Concord), the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory, and the Magic Hat Brewery. From a logistical standpoint, we decided that it made the most sense to go to Waterbury first to visit Ben & Jerry's (plus we really wanted to get our free ice cream!), then to Magic Hat in South Burlington, and then, ultimately, to double-back to Montpelier before heading southeast to Concord and then home. This worked out well for us but I would suggest doing whatever makes the most sense for you if you're interested in taking this trip.
As for the brewery, it resides in a seemingly nondescript warehouse that, upon closer inspection, is easily recognizable given Magic Hat's penchant for off-the-wall, bright decor. I remember the parking lot being somewhat small, which might be an issue if you go on a busy day. Once you get into the building...well, that's a completely different story. To begin with, it furthers Magic Hat's dark and wacky decorations to a mind-boggling degree. Unfortunately, because it was so dark, I was unable to take any pictures while we were on the tour but I remember the beginning point resembling a crazy haunted house/Halloween-esque location.
The tour was free and informative, covering the beer making process while giving a decent amount of information both about Magic Hat and the brews that it distributes. For a small location, it is consequently a relatively short tour that ends in a smallish but comfortable tasting room. Growlers are available for filling in the tasting room and six packs/mixed variety twelve packs/cases are available for purchase at the gift shop near the entrance.
What enticed us even to take the tour was the reputation of Magic Hat's best selling "#9" brew. If there is only one beer that you've heard of associated with the Magic Hat name, it's probably this one. I had heard about it from my first boss at Baruch, who was and is, herself, familiar with a variety of microbrews. Back in 2006, I was still starting out on my journey towards beer erudition, so I was quite interested in any beer that came so highly recommended. I've since come to find that #9 is more popular with women than men and it seems to serve as a gateway beer for the non-beer drinker, likely because of its smooth, fruity palate and lack of hoppy bitterness and pungent aftertaste.
All said, this was another free tour that was definitely worth taking but only if you're in the area or doing other things in Vermont/New York/New England.
I give the Magic Hat Brewery Tour a B+, mostly because of the poorer quality of the beers. Compared to powerhouses like Sam Adams, Anchor Brewing, and Dogfish Head, Magic Hat doesn't quite hold its own and, let's face it, part of the draw of any brewery tour is the beer awaiting you at the end. I would have to say that, though I recommend the tour, I do so with one caveat: if you're driving up from far away, make sure that this is a stop in your trip and not the ultimate destination. It's an interesting place to scope out but not worth a multi-hour drive in and of itself.
BEERS SAMPLED ON THE TOUR
Single Chair Ale
WHAT ELSE TO DO IN THE AREA
South Burlington is actually a really cool spot to visit, so if you have the time to spare, spend some time scoping it out. It's a great summer or winter location with plenty of great beer bars and restaurants. In terms of other attractions, here are my recommendations, in order of preference:
--Tour the Ben & Jerry's Factory in Waterbury, Vermont. The tour is phenomenal, you get to sample some amazing ice cream (assuming B&J's is your thing!), and there are a ton of cool things to see around the site including an ice cream hall of fame and their flavor graveyard, where all good things must come to an end:
--Visit and tour the Vermont Teddy Bear Company in Burlington, Vermont located only a few miles away from Magic Hat.
--If you're heading back south, DEFINITELY take some time to visit Montpelier. We had a great time having an impromptu picnic lunch on the capitol grounds and it looked like a REALLY nice little town. Highly recommend it.
--Beer Whisperer Matt
For further up-to-date information on the tour or about Magic Hat Brewing in general, follow this link:
Thursday, July 21, 2011
A few days after visiting the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado, my wife Heather and I were heading towards St. Louis, Missouri for our tour of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. Having already had an awesome experience at Coors, I found that my expectations for AB were quite high; I was relieved to find that the world's largest producer of beer did not disappoint.
From the moment we exited our car in the parking lot, I could tell that this was going to be a very different experience than the one that we had had at Coors. For one, the sheer quantity of buildings that comprised the facility dwarfed that of the previous brewer. Secondly, the gift shop and lobby were gigantic; the latter was a veritable museum of all-things-Budweiser in its own right. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s beloved #8 car sat amid countless exhibits of beer-oriented miscellany, including one of numerous collections of bottles on display as shown in the picture to the right.
|No joke--there was a PLANE in the lobby!|
We signed ourselves up for the next available tour (which was free) and then perused the multitude of exhibits. When the tour commenced, we were surprised to find that we actually had two tour guides. That should have been an indication of just how expansive the tour would ultimately prove to be! Needless to say, if you're not prepared to do a lot of walking (or motoring about), you might be in for a rude awakening!
The tour covered a huge amount of ground both indoors and out. One of the highlights of the trip was getting to see the world-famous Clydesdales out for a trot as well as their stables (NOTE: I believe this is available only at the St. Louis location and not the other ones).
In all honesty, there was A LOT of information to take in so recalling any great portion of it is proving to be difficult. I do remember, though, that it was all enjoyable and I never felt bored or restless. I was, in fact, quite blown away not only by the sheer size of the brewery overall but also of the individual buildings, both of which you will find illustrated in the photographs below.
|Taken INSIDE of the facility!|
|One of many buildings that towered above us|
|A brief sense of the scope of the place|
Ultimately, the tour culminated in the tasting room where a variety of beers were made available for sample. Every table had its own bowl of packaged snacks (Rold Gold pretzels were a perfect accompaniment to the beer!) and other snacks were available for purchase. I believe that three samples were provided, each of which was approximately 8-12 oz in size. Budweiser doesn't get any fresher than this:
Overall, a VERY affordable way to spend a few hours in St. Louis. Though I am admittedly not a fan of Anheuser-Busch beer, the experience of touring their brewery was unforgettable and is something I would recommend highly to anyone. Just like the Empire State Building, Disney World, and other such places of mega-coalescence of tourists, the original Anheuser-Busch brewery is worthy of the time and effort to visit it.
I give the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tour an A for many of the same reasons as Coors: it's free, it covers a lot of ground (even more than Coors), and you get plenty of free beer at the end. I can't give it an A+ simply because of the area that it's in and the lack of comparable activities available to the traveler. Still, though, this brewery comes HIGHLY recommended!
BEERS SAMPLED ON THE TOUR
Budweiser American Ale
WHAT ELSE TO DO IN THE AREA
St. Louis is similar to most metropolises in that it has a wide variety of things to do, few of which truly stand out. There are the standard museums and parks but, for the true gastrophile or music fan, St. Louis' greatest offerings are its restaurants (BBQ joints, in particular) and its spots offering live music. Aside from that, here are some things worth scoping out in the Gateway to the West:
--Visit the world-famous Arch
--Enjoy a Cardinals game at Busch Stadium.
--Visit the Schlafly Bottleworks and Tap Room
(Or, if you have a few hours to kill and enjoy a little United States history, take a trip up north to Springfield, Illinois and visit the State Capitol building, the State Museum, and a variety of Abraham Lincoln-oriented locations).
--Beer Whisperer Matt
For further up-to-date information on the tour or about Anheuser-Busch brewing in general, follow this link: