Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
Over the years, I’ve had some extremely hard to find beer. From Dogfish Head Brewery’s 120 Minute IPA, to Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Elder, to Founders Brewing Company’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout, these brews have long been hyped up as just a few of the industry’s holy grails and, while each are tasty, they never quite lived up to the hype. One beer that has long eluded me was Heady Topper by The Alchemist Brewery – that is until a friend of mine and his wife brought some back for me to sample after visiting the Vermont-based company.
While I was a little skeptical Heady Topper was as good as I had heard for years, there’s a reason getting my hands on what some consider the greatest double IPA was difficult. The Alchemist seems to be smart when it comes to a business plan, releasing their beer all throughout Vermont but, for much of the east coast, only limited 16-ounce for packs are available sporadically and they’re often scooped up within minutes. Supply and demand. So, when they gave me two cans – along with some of the brewery’s other efforts – I was like a kid, excited to give this 8% alcohol by volume beer a try.
Founded in as a small brewpub in Waterbury, Vermont in 2003 by John and Jen Kimmich, The Alchemist has grown to two breweries and pumps out just over 20,000 barrels per year, 10,000 of which are Heady Topper. The company, of course, is well known in the New England area and sought out by people all over the county who often make long treks to try their signature beer. There are limits to how much you can purchase as well, like four four-packs of Heady Topper. So, is it just a point of bragging for beer snobs who can get their hands on it, or is Heady Topper really among the country’s elite beers?
Before I popped it open, I read the can. It took a minute. Aluminum with black writing, the can is pretty simply in its design, with a picture of a man with hops coming out of his head and the warning “Drink from the can!” around the top. If you’re not familiar with what’s often categorized as a New England-style double IPA, The Alchemist offers an extensive explanation of the beer by John Kimmich on the back, along with “Don’t be a d-bag, recycle this can!” Here’s how he explains it, along with drinking it from the can:
“Heady Topper is an American Double India Pale Ale. This beer is not intended to be the biggest or most bitter. It is meant to give you wave after wave of hoppy goodness on your palate. Tremendous amounts of American hops will creep up on you, and leave you with a dense hoppy finish in your mouth. So drinkable, it’s scary. Sometimes I wish I could crawl right into the can. Freshness and control have always been my main concern when it comes to our beer. We are committed to providing you with an unfiltered and unpasteurized hop experience. Why do I recommend drinking it from the can? Quite simply, to ensure a delightful, hop experience. The act of pouring it into a glass smells nice , but it releases the essential hop aromas that we have worked so hard to retain. If you MUST pour it into a glass, you may find that some of the hop resins have settled to the bottom – leave them in the can when pouring. This beer is perishable, and at its best when it is young, fresh and hazy. Keep it cold, but not ice cold. Drink this beer immediately, we are always making more.”
I must admit, while I tried the first sip from the can, I did pour Heady Topper into one of my favorite tulip glasses, mostly because I thought it was only fitting and I wanted to show the actual look of the beer in the photo above. When I popped the can, I immediately got a strong hop aroma filled with pine and citrus and almost no malt. It’s what you’d expect an upper-tier DIPA to smell like. As for the pouring, this medium-bodied effort poured a golden hazy color, with an unfiltered look, complete with a fluffy, white head. The head of this beer is one of the highlights. The carbonation is top notch and the head sticks around for the entire beer, so the first sip tastes just like the last.
As for the taste, Heady Topper lived up to the hype and then some.
It has a massive hoppy flavor, which comes across as a little boozy, and features a ton of bitterness thanks to the 75 IBUs – but that only adds to the enjoyable flavor. On the back-end, it’s one of the driest beers I have ever sipped, taking that dry piney flavor to a whole other level. It’s the definition of dank and that makes me happy. The best part is that Heady Topper is a very drinkable beer. After just a few minutes, it was gone and, like some sort of junkie, I really wanted another. There’s not a doubt in my mind I could drink two or three in one sitting – though I might not be functioning too well after three.
Oddly enough, I was told that the beer sells for just $12-$15 for a four-pack of pounders, which is great considering there are some local efforts I cannot even get for that price. When I looked Heady Topper on BeerAdvocate, it had an average score of 4.71. I think that’s a little low, as I would give it a 9.7 out of 10. It’s the closest thing I have ever had to a perfect beer and I’m not just blowing smoke here – it’s one of the best beers I’ve ever had. Finally, a beer that lived up to the hype and then some. I can’t wait to get my greedy little mitts on more. Go find some and see for yourself its awesomeness.
Stay tuned for next week, because I might just try something from your favorite brewery.