Northern Vermont Brews Cruise

Rena Perkins, dedicated beer drinker, tracks down some of her favorite local breweries for the inside scoop.

I have lived in the Smugglers’ Notch area for about 25 years now, and I am a dedicated beer drinker. I have watched Vermont breweries like Long Trail and Switchback grow into major forces in the craft brew industry, and as smaller breweries have opened in Lamoille County, I have enjoyed sampling their wares on tap at the pub in town or in bottles or cans from the local grocery store. But without seeing where these brews originated, I felt like something might be missing. So this spring, I decided I would track down my favorites and learn their origin stories.

The Bierhall at Trapp Family Lodge: Bavaria meets Vermont

The Trapp Family Lodge has made a name for itself many times over, with its founding by the famous von Trapp family and its reputation as a landmark and four-season outdoor recreation area. The latest and greatest venture associated with Trapp is their brewing operation. The Bierhall offers the well-known Trapp Brewing beers on draught, as well as seasonal brews and food in a spectacular setting. The bar and dining area boast exposed beams and cathedral ceilings, and the outdoor seating area overlooks hiking trails and a disc golf course.

I sit down at the bar and order a variety of beers in sample sizes. As I am deciding which to try first, a brewer comes out to educate me on the different beers and the process by which they are made. He tells me about the lab they use to test the various products, and I am surprised and delighted to hear the stories of how some of these beers came to be. For instance, the Helles Bock is a springtime beer that was originally created by monks who drank it during Lent when they were fasting. And their winter seasonal offering is called “Trösten,” which translates from German to “comfort.” And all of their hops, save those used for the Bohemian Pilsner, are imported from Germany. And, perhaps most importantly, the Bierhall hosts an Oktoberfest celebration with kegs, live music, and plenty of lederhosen.

I have partaken of several of the Trapp brews in local bars and restaurants, so I decide on three that will be new to me. The “Radler,” a shandy-like brew, is my top choice, especially for the warm summer months. I order a pretzel with bar cheese to snack on, and there is a full menu of German-style cuisine available as well. As I finish my beer, a manager advises me that the Trapp Highland cattle are out in the pasture with their calves, so on my way out, I take a left at the end of the driveway and head up to the main Lodge. Of course, the calves are adorable, and I marvel at the panoramic view from the top of the hill. The Trapp Family Lodge is a Stowe icon and is not to be missed.

“Amazing views, great service, and atmosphere. Get the lager cheese soup, you won’t regret it. Love the beers and food here.”— Mike W. Windham, NH

The Bierhall at Trapp Family Lodge
1333 Luce Hill Rd, Stowe, VT 802.253.5750

Brewster River Pub and Grill: The Après

The building that houses the Brewster River Pub and Grill has had several previous incarnations. Indeed, many who have spent time in the area still call it The Brewski. The interior has retained the feel of a ski town bar, with snowboards tacked to the ceiling and mountain memorabilia on the walls, and the crowd found at the bar dominating the space ebbs and flows with shifts and weather conditions at Smuggs.

These days, the business bears little resemblance to the former inhabitants of the building. It has expanded from a post-ski and sports hangout and barbeque spot to an established brewery providing both beers on tap in the restaurant and now in cans at an increasing list of bars and stores in Vermont. On my visit, I try each of the five beers on the menu today. The Amber and Munich Helles are classics, tasty and predictable, as is the English Style Bitter. I remember drinking Extra Special Bitter (ESB) in Australia and noting that it’s not really that bitter: not like a hoppy IPA, anyway. I haven’t seen this type of beer very often in the US, so it’s fun to sample this one.

The Aztec stout has a subtle heat to it, owing to the habanero and cinnamon used in the brewing process. The bartender comments that this batch is a little less spicy than others have been, but I can still taste the flavors. She adds that she is looking forward to a couple of summer beers coming on to the menu, the Honey Orange Blonde, and Sherbet IPA. I save the Free Lot 1 double IPA for last, and I am impressed by this one. Boasting the highest alcohol by volume at about 8%, Free Lot 1 is named after a local movement to preserve ski culture at Smuggs. It is crisp, fresh, and hoppy but not distractingly so. It’s the perfect brew to quaff after a long day of skiing, mountain biking, disc golf, or hiking.

And if you’ve worked up an appetite in your outdoor pursuits, the Brewster has a full menu plus daily specials, and can accommodate the whole family. Downstairs is a game area, complete with a giant Jenga game that delights kids and adults alike, especially when it falls with a spectacular crash. Brewster River Pub’s large outdoor seating area, proximity to the mountain, and laid-back ski bum vibe makes it a must-go for Smuggs guests and other visitors to the area alike.

“This is a very chill place with a full bar, great service, friendly locals, delicious food, decent music, and good vibes.”— Alicia T. North Palm Beach, FL

Brewster River Pub & Grill
4087 VT Rte 108 S Jeffersonville, VT802.644.6366

Rock Art Brewery: The Mom and Pop Shop

A 23-year veteran of the Morrisville brewery scene, Rock Art Brewery is a family affair. As owner Renee Nadeau notes on the website, “(my husband) Matt started the brewery before our family even started. Now both of our sons are working with us.” Even walking into the building, I feel as if I am walking into someone’s home. There is a generous porch where a couple is enjoying beverages, their dog lying contentedly under the table. The downstairs tasting area consists of a walk-up bar, shelves of canned beers, seltzers, and other delights, and the work of over 50 local artists and artisans, one of whom is the owners’ son Dylan. The list of beers hangs on the wall, and beside it is the list of kombucha and hard seltzers that are the newest additions to their repertoire.

I order a flight of the eight beers available today on my visit as Renee educates me on the differences between Northeastern IPAs and West Coast IPAs: the latter have that hoppy bite that I associate with IPAs, and the former tend to be lighter tasting and more fruity. We discuss the various brews as I try them: she is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the brewing process, and clearly enjoys the science and art of brewing. After finishing my flight, I make my way upstairs to check out a second seating area that is perfect for settling in with a friend or two and a couple of beverages.

The stairwell, hallways, and rooms are lined with local art and Rock Art memorabilia: I pause to inspect a shelf showcasing bottles and cans from years past, the labels bearing the Kokopelli logo as well as original art created by Dylan. I pass a viewing area where I can see the brewing operation in action, and continue on to peruse the rooms that are arranged in seating areas. There are board games scattered about, inviting guests to sit down and spend some time there. My visit to Rock Art is something of a revelation. I have been partaking of their beers for years, but had no idea the breadth of knowledge and experience that goes into the making of these, nor the dedication that this family has to their craft and their community.

“Beers were delicious and the atmosphere was even better! Off the beaten path with amazing beers, beautiful art and incredible service! Will be taking home a 4 pack this time!”— Andrew J. North Smithfield, RI

Rock Art Brewery
632 Laporte Rd, Morrisville, VT 802.888.9400

Idletyme: The Classic Brewpub

As I walk through the door at Idletyme, I have a decision to make: ahead of me isan airy bar surrounded by comfy looking chairs, and to my right is a short hallway leading to the pub. I love a traditional pub, so I opt for the right turn. I am greeted by a friendly and knowledgeable bartender who admits wryly that there is some informal competition between the two bars; I am congratulated for my good taste in choosing this one. And I am not the only one to prefer this experience: there are mugs hanging behind the bar bearing the names of locals who frequent this establishment.

I order a full tasting, fully aware that it will be unsafe to finish this on my own: there are ten beers included. These arrive arranged from lighter to darker, starting with a Helles Bock and rounding out the ten with an oatmeal stout. My favorites are the “Pink and Pale,” a pale ale with hints of grapefruit, and the malty“Brown Ale.” As I work my way through the sampler, I turn to check out the brewing in process right here in the bar: all of the beers here are brewed onsite. A brewer is releasing malty steam from a large tank behind me, producing a delightful aroma that adds to the pub atmosphere. Idletyme is not just a brewpub, it’s also a busy restaurant with a menu full of hearty snacks and meals, including favorites such as French onion soup and poutine, and a Reuben made from house-smoked meat. The full menu is available in the pub. Idletyme is the perfect spot for a casual lunch or dinner, and is guaranteed to have a beer to please any palate.

“From local beers to giant pretzels, it’s always a great time. Fast and friendly service with foodie options as well as comfort food. We’ll be back soon!”— Lindsay W. Boston, MA

Idletyme Brewing Company
1859 Mountain Rd, Stowe, VT 802.253.4765

Lost Nation: The Local

During the winter months, the bar at Lost Nation seems lost by itself in the hulking building that houses the brewing operations. But in the summer the bar turns to barbeque, and the outdoor beer garden comes alive with revelers wandering in from the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, and a robust community of locals who come in to enjoy the large variety of beers here.

I arrive on an early spring day, and their outdoor living world is not quite ready yet. So I take a seat at the bar that I imagine would be a lovely cozy spot to hangout in the wintertime. An old Lou Reed song is playing, and when it ends a David Bowie track comes on. The manager advises me that this is The Clash channel on Pandora, and I decide that this is my kind of place.

The bartender gives me a rundown on each beer that I try: The Gose is a “crispy” summer beer; the Second Daughter, a “hop forward” IPA, was created as a school project of the second daughter of the owner; the Maibock is designed to accompany the seasonal transition between winter and spring.

There is a limited but eclectic menu available in the off-season, before the small indoor kitchen gives way to the grilling operations of summertime. Today the specials include an Indian corn and coconut soup and a Banh Mi Burger, and I am treated to an order of deep-fried oyster mushrooms served with a delicious remoulade. During the summer season, the outdoor Biergarten boasts menu items grilled and pit smoked on site, and mindful of the finicky Vermont weather, the outdoor seating area is under cover and impervious to precipitation.

The mission of the brewers here at Lost Nation Brewing is simple: Produce Honest Beer. Everyone I meet here is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the business, and each beer that I try reflects the hard work and diligence that goes into its creation. Mission accomplished.

“Couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Chill vibe, excellent beer, and the BBQ (ribs on Thursday) was outstanding! — Joe S. Brooklyn, NY

Lost Nation Brewing
87 Creamery Rd, Morrisville, VT 802.851.8041

Stowe Cider: The Summertime Stop

While not a brewer of beer, Stowe Cider belongs on the list of must-visit local crafters of alcoholic beverages. I park in the spacious parking lot that abuts the Stowe bike path and enter the roomy yet inviting tasting room. My eyes are particularly drawn to the can lights on the ceiling that seem to be made of keg parts. Presented with seating available at high top tables or chrome trimmed bar stools, I opt for the latter and peruse the long list of offerings. I’m a dry cider girl, and Stowe Cider has plenty of options to tempt me. I choose four dry ciders to round out one flight, then another four that I would not ordinarily gravitate to.

While waiting for my drinks, I crane my neck to see the adjacent warehouse, packed with stacks of cans destined for restaurants and stores around the state and beyond. Cans are also available to buy in the tasting room, as are “crowlers.” I stop short at the mention of the crowler. “You mean growler?” I ask, thinking I must have heard wrong. The bartender shakes his head. Turns out, bottlers are moving away from using the 32- or 64-ounce glass containers in favor of large aluminum cans that are filled and sealed on-site.

My flight of cider arrives and I begin my research. Along with a couple of traditional ciders, I try the “Puff Puff Pineapple” which is subtly spicy owing to the applewood smoked chili peppers used, and the delicious “Gummy Bears” that tastes a lot like a Jolly Rancher, but without the cloying sweetness. The selection of ciders at Stowe Cider truly has something for everyone, from super dry to fruity and sweet; from smoky to mellow bourbon-barrel aged. For the summer and fall, look for food service and outdoor seating at Stowe Cider as you drift by on the Stowe Rec Path or drive by on your way through town.

“Run don’t walk to the Stowe Cider cidery. Even if you don’t think you like cider (I didn’t), you’ll be amazed.— Tara S. Washington, DC

Stowe Cider
17 Town Farm Ln, Stowe, VT 802.253.2065

Ten Bends Beer: The Sleeper

I have heard tell of Ten Bends Beer from locals whispering its praises in area villages and towns. But I had to actively seek out this hidden gem that is tucked behind several innocuous-looking warehouse buildings just off Route 15 in Hyde Park. The only indication that they are there is the logo trailer at the end of the driveway; because of Vermont’s strict zoning laws, they are not permitted to put up a sign. The small batch brewery is named in recognition of the ten bends that the nearby Lamoille River makes as it winds from Morrisville to Johnson, and thus the brewery has become a part of the fishing and boating community on the river.

Ten Bends Beer started in what the founders describe as a “roughly outfitted shed in the woods” and after winning several brewing competitions expanded to the current space. The tasting room is a true tasting room: there is no food or other entertainment distracting me from the exceptional beers that I am sampling. There are two Double IPAs today available during my visit, one being a Vermont-style IPA and the other more traditional, as well as an Imperial Stout. Every couple of weeks, there is a new seasonal or specialty beer available, and there are several I want to try today. Of these, my favorites are the Ruby Twist, which is fortified with house-made grapefruit juice, and the coconut stout called Split Seasonality. As I savor my picks, a guy I recognize from Smuggs walks in to buy a couple of 4-packs. He has made a special trip for IPA for himself, and Ruby Twist for his wife. With its surprising and intricately crafted brews and dreamy labels, Ten Bends is a clear favorite with area beer drinkers. With its proximity to the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, and partnerships with distributors and larger brewers, it is poised to become well known and loved by a wider audience as well.

“Good vibe, great beer, and nice staff. As far as breweries Ten Bends is a ten out of ten. Welcoming and laid back environment.”— Juliet J. Absecon, NJ

Ten Bends Beer
590 E Main St, Hyde Park, VT 802.521.7139

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