To anyone unfamiliar, Hill Farmstead Brewery is considered by many to be “the best brewery in the world” (see RateBeer). Now, this is quite an accolade, and perhaps an exaggeration, but when you take into context what has become of the small upstart in tiny Greensboro Bend, Vermont, you may have inkling that this may, in some possible way be the case. The brewery recently celebrated its third anniversary in May and was met by both droves of pilgrims camping on brewery property and a typical impromptu Vermont blizzard. The tenacity of the beer devotees could not be quelled. Though unfortunately it resulted in a cancellation of the day’s festivities, the cause célèbre was still clear: true love and dedication can overpower adversity.
Their beer also fucking rocks, too.
I made my own pilgrimage with a couple of friends for the second week in a row recently. The drive from my own residence in Burlington, Vermont is still a good hour and a half away through the rugged, yet beautiful wilderness of the state’s Northeast Kingdom. Hill Farmstead always has 5 rotating taps, but this time around they also had a small batch of a collaboration beer, “la Vermontoise,” a rustic, yet classic saison brewed with spelt “and an abundance of Amarillo hops.” Shaun Hill, founder and master brewer at Hill Farmstead worked with Brasserie de Blaugies, which is based in Dour, Belgium. The beer is an homage to the classic Trappist style farmhouse ale that shaped beer brewing in European history. That being said, the beer has a lot to live up to considering the complexity of such an old style. Fortunately, this beer is very much alive!
I had made it home that hot summer evening just as a rain shower burst upon the land. I cranked up some music and popped the cork off my Vermontoise. It released with such veracity the mere vapors emitting from the bottle made it look like some sort of freakish mad scientific experiment. I poured it into the glass and I at once realized that I was dealing with a POWERFUL saison. It poured a monster of a head, which amounted to easily five fingers’ height. Bubbles streamed up like a cyclone of yeast. It was bright and golden as the Summer sun. “Hooray!” I exclaimed. The big, billowy white head rose like a cumulonimbus, mimicking the stormy sky outside. I found the beer retained its head amazingly.
I put my nose to the glass and the first thought it my mind was, “Dear God, it smells like weed!” I looked around suspiciously. Hints of banana and bubblegum rose from the glass, and dank marijuana continued, dissipating slightly. Spice, akin to coriander, essence of an oaked white wine, slight tannins emerged. Suddenly, I found myself thinking, “Toasted rice? Yes, I think so.” It was easily one of the more complex saisons I had ever smelled, yet at the same time it seemed so familiar.
There was spice instantly upon first taste. Then there was that classic bubblegum and banana, then pear, hop bitterness, barnyardy hay, and finished with an apple juicy aftertaste. It was a basket of fruit in my mouth. I was overwhelmed, joyously overwhelmed. I was in fact so enraptured that I ran out in the rain celebrating my very existence in that moment. I was so free, so inspired, and perhaps a little intoxicated. Well, who’s to say?
I calmed myself down and brought myself back to what I was tasting. I found the mouthfeel to be full bodied but refreshing, with the cleanest of finishes. There was sparkling carbonation on the way down similar to champagne.
Overall, “la Vermontoise” is an exceptional, outrageous beer. It’s sexy, intimidating, yet so charismatic and bubbly. It’s what beer is all about. It’s what is the beginning to these pilgrimages, these rites of passages. It’s what reminds me that success stories like Hill Farmstead come from can come from simple beginnings and have those shine through with simple yet powerful statements with a beer such as this. Shaun Hill was quoted in Vanity Fair in April of this year to have said, “A lot of brewers now go straight from home brewing into making a chili-chocolate-chipotle porter or whatever, and it’s like . . . well, just fucking make a good porter first, and understand what a porter is instead of trying to re-invent it.” This sentiment is so prevalent with a beer like this. It’s the kind of beer that the poet Horace would have wrote about. It boasts that sense of simplex munditiis that so many other writers of his time seemed to have forgotten about.
Let us take some time to appreciate those weekends, those pilgrimages, those small victories that add to our identity.
Vive la Vermontoise!
I give this beer a *9.6 out of 10*