To make a case for this bucolic little place, I’ll need the help of a Magic Hat. I pull out of the hat a map of Vermont, a state that is home to 18 microbreweries and brewpubs, almost all of them within 90 minutes of Burlington. Burlington is the capital of the state’s beer world.
Burlington is the home of artisans, with a deep respect for products locally grown and made. There is more than a little hippie culture here. Close your eyes sitting in front of a pint of one of Magic Hat’s beers and you might mistake the hops for another kind of bud, set aflame.
Magic Hat’s is a classic microbrewery story, the brewery cobbled together at first in an abandoned factory in 1994 and growing into a larger plant near Bartlett Bay in South Burlington. The names of their beers, #9 and Circus Boy, their Mardi Gras in the spring and their Night of the Living Dead in the fall, their sponsorship of and association with jam bands like Phish establish Magic Hat’s bonafides. “Magic Hat continues to inspire and amaze a grateful nation with their singular alchemy of unusual art and strange science,” says Magic Hat’s Susan Evans, with the brewery’s singular aplomb.
Magic Hat is joined by Switchback Brewery, which serves its beers only on tap. There are another four breweries within 45 minutes of Burlington (Vermont is an itty-bitty state). Among the three brewpubs is Vermont Pub & Brewery, the second oldest brewpub on the east coast. Brewmaster Greg Noonan says Burlington’s beer culture ought to be measured by its eclectic quality. His brewery was brewing sour Belgians years before Americans caught on. In April, Noonan tapped Blue Nile, a beer he brewed with lotus flower, rose petals, yarrow and ginseng.
Three Needs Brewery and Taproom, Zero Gravity and AmericanFlatBread are all part of a tight-knit beer community.
In 2006, MSNBC was sufficiently dazzled by it all to name Burlington the fourth best city in the world in which to enjoy beer, just behind Amsterdam, Berlin and Brugge.
Every year, the 5,000 tickets for the Great Taste of the Midwest beer festival here sell out in 45 minutes. Maybe it is because you almost have to know somebody to score a ducat that one of the best beer festivals in the country is so little known outside of the Midwest.
Not unlike the entire beer culture in this state capitol and university city. Greater Madison is home to Capital Brewing Co., one of the most honored lager breweries in the country, and is the principal market for the New Glarus Brewing Co. beers, brewed by Dan Carey, one of the most honored brewers in the country.
There are 17 microbreweries and brewpubs in the Madison area and the range of beers is limitless, says Fred Swanson, the brewery coordinator and past president of the Great Taste festival. In the next six months alone, four new bars are expected to open, none of them officering a single corporate beer on tap, Swanson says.
The pervasiveness of locally brewed craft beer is part of a culture of buying fresh and buying local. The area is dotted with dairies making award-winning cheeses. The Madison farmer’s market, held weekly around the Capitol Square, is justifiably known as one of the biggest and best markets in the Midwest.
The beer market benefits from the constant churn of a student population of 40,000 at the University of Wisconsin. At the students’ Memorial Union, most of the 18 taps are reserved for local craft beers and imports.
“By any measure, by the level of quality of the beers or our per capita rank, I think we compare favorably to Portland or Seattle or one of the big beer cities,’ Swanson says. “There is not a bar you can go into in Madison and not find at least one local beer on tap. Impossible.”