Pull Up A Stool With John Kimmich
of the Alchemist Brewery
This interview appears in the September issue of All About Beer Magazine.
Call this the house that Heady Topper built. This July, the Alchemist Brewery was to open a new space in Stowe, Vermont, where enthusiasts and cult followers can once again pick up the famed double IPA (which is largely credited with spurring the current New England IPA movement) directly from the source. Fully funded by founders John and Jen Kimmich, the 30-barrel brew house, tasting room and gift shop are about 10 miles from where they got their start first with a Waterbury pub and, later, a cannery up the road. All About Beer caught up with John Kimmich at the new brewery days before beer was rolling off the canning line. Hip hop trio Naughty By Nature was blasting over the impressive sound system, because the brewer wanted to make sure that the music at his brewery is never overpowered by crowd noise.
All About Beer: After you closed the brewery and cannery in Waterbury to the public, there have been fans clamoring for this new space to open. What can visitors expect?
John Kimmich: We’re going to do things a little bit differently this time. We’re not a bar. This is for tasters only. Everyone will get three 2-ounce samples. Heady Topper, Focal Banger and Crusher. We’ll have an allotment of cans for each day, and we’ll make sure that every day that we’re open, the five days that we’re open, you’re guaranteed to get beer. A case for everyone. It’ll be mixed cases of Heady, Focal and Crusher. We recognize our impact on the local market, and the Heady Topper where it’s sold now will continue to be available there. It’s important to us that it helps these stores a lot. It drives customers into their stores, and it’s beneficial for all.
Heady is one of the most sought-after beers in the country, and people come from great lengths to get as much as they can. Right there on the lip of the can, it says to drink fresh. How fresh is fresh?
When you put it in a can, I swear that day I take it home it’s good, it’s really good. But the next day, the day after that, days five, seven, 14 days go by it has a chance to evolve and come into its own in the can. With it being unfiltered and unpasteurized, that’s essentially your 16-ounce little keg-conditioned beautiful beer that will evolve and change. Over time there’s all sorts of things that happen in that can. With that said, it’s also very volatile in the same sense. If you let it warm up, well, not all yeasts are the same, but I find that our yeast is very sensitive to temperature change. It doesn’t like to warm up and get cold again, and that changes the character of the beer. I can tell if a can of Heady has ever been warmed up and re-chilled.
With this new location, you’re still keeping the other location?
Oh, yeah. That’s going to make Heady Topper forever. That was the big draw about doing this project. We’re not going to consolidate and just make twice as much beer with the same amount of people. We’re building a totally new facility and creating 24 more jobs and adding vitality to the neighborhood, to the business community here, which is really exciting. We know the impact and what we’re going to give back when we open up. From the other business owners in Stowe we hear nothing but excitement.
You built this brewery empire on one beer. There’s not many other brewers that can say they built something like this or could get people to come to a town like this because of one beer. Did you think this was possible?
From pretty early on the status that Heady was attaining, even in the days of the pub, was well-documented. When we started it, we knew there was nothing like Heady Topper available anywhere around us. You weren’t going to get a 16-ounce dynamite can of a double IPA anywhere in Vermont. So we were pretty confident that we made great beer, and people agreed.
This new brewery can produce 9,000 barrels per year. Heady will continue to be made in Waterbury, so that leaves Focal and Crusher for here. Anything else?
We have the ability to make 15-barrel specialty batches in Waterbury. You never know what’s going to be on tap. When I feel like it, we’ll do random specialty beers pulling from all the dozens of beers that I made at the pub. We’re trying to create zero expectations. When it comes to beers like that, they will randomly show up. It’s a tricky thing. The way some people are taking advantage of craft beer, trying to make profits off it. So how do you kind of tamp that down and not have guys coming in with six grandmas to get their case each so he can take it and trade it for the moon? How do you eliminate that? Beer will just be on the menu and when it’s gone, it’s gone.
—This interview was conducted and edited by John Holl, editor of All About Beer Magazine.
The Alchemist Brewery
Stowe and Waterbury, Vermont
Annual Production: 9,000 barrels (2015)
John is the editor of All About Beer Magazine and the author of three books, including The American Craft Beer Cookbook. Find him on Twitter @John_Holl.