Stylin’ & Profilin’ is a brief look at different beer styles that will help you learn whether they’re right for you. Ultimately, words can’t truly turn you on to a solid craft beer. You have to smell, taste, and savor each sip to truly discover if it’s one you’ll come back to in the future. But the background info obtained in this post won’t hurt anything either. In addition, Stylin’ & Profilin’ takes a glance at various elements of craft beer culture to further enhance your knowledge and know-how!
What is a Vermont Style IPA?
No matter where you turn, you’re likely to find an India Pale Ale, or IPA. This beer style has quickly risen to the top of the list for go-to beers among craft beer enthusiasts across the country. As drinkers transition from bland, fizzy beers to artisanal craft offerings from the over 4,000 breweries nationwide, a style that often starts off as “way too bitter” for most becomes their beer of choice once their palate evolves. Some still balk, but the IPA hasn’t become America’s most popular beer style by accident.
American craft brewers are known for taking traditional beer recipes and going against the grain to produce their own variations. Aggressive hop additions, increased maltiness, and introducing non-traditional ingredients such as chocolate, coffee, and fruit are just a few practices now commonplace in the creation of unique, high-quality craft beers. Brewers’ knack for playing “mad scientist” at the brew kettle has led to some wonderful libations that have contributed to redefining beer as the world once knew it.
An IPA style that has the beer world talking as of late is the Vermont Style IPA. This soft, hazy “subset” offers a different profile than other IPA subsets. The “East Coast Style” IPA is typically more amber in color and tend to be a bit more malt-forward with an herb-like hop character while “West Coast Style” IPAs are more golden in color and contain a piney, citrusy hop character. The Vermont Style, as mentioned before, is more on the soft side in mouthfeel with a bright gold color and hazy, cloudy, turbid appearance on the eyes. The hop flavor and aroma is slightly dense and the bitterness is dialed back somewhat, allowing for a balance between the malt and the hops. They present a refreshing, juicy flavor that’s very unique and incredibly drinkable.
Admittedly, my consumption of this style is limited as I have yet to cross a trip to the Vermont region off my to-do list. I’ve been fortunate that a few brewers in my native Pittsburgh have dabbled in this style and the results were exceptional given my limited frame of reference. In an effort to decrease sugar intake from my diet, orange juice was an item I reluctantly gave up. That said, capturing a juicy element in my beer made the lack of OJ in my life much more bearable.
The holy grail of the Vermont Style is Vermont’s own The Alchemist Heady Topper and I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy this beer on a few occasions (start with the best, right?). Heady is one of the highest-ranking beers on Beer Advocate and a beer that finds itself in conversations with Russian River’s Pliny the Elder and other whales of the beer universe. Heady became part of The Alchemist portfolio in 2003 with the intention of showcasing the complex flavors and aromas hops contain. It features six different hops, all six contributing their own flavor and aroma and taking your senses on a roller coaster ride well worth the long wait in line to experience. Hints of orange, tropical fruit, grapefruit, pine, and spice all balance with a malt character that plays its role strongly without stealing the spotlight from the hops.
My attraction to this beer style lays partially in its unknowns in my corner of the beer world. I’ve been part of or within earshot of conversations about the Vermont Style’s staying power. Is it a flash in the pan or is it something more brewers should build some experience on as popularity grows? As I mentioned, a few brewers in the Pittsburgh region have traveled down this path and have captured some remarkable results. A few that come to mind are The Brew Gentlemen’s juicy Double IPA Foshomo, and, while not defined in this style yet fitting the bill on many of the Vermont Style’s characteristics, Freemang from Spoonwood Brewing Company. Also, Spoonwood joined forces with Helltown Brewing, Dancing Gnome Brewing, and Helicon Brewing to brew a special one-off Vermont Style collaboration IPA known as Greenfield Bridge is Falling Down for Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week 2016. It was met with tremendous fanfare and has left many craft beer enthusiasts across the region asking for more.
The Vermont Style has been dubbed so by the masses, but even those responsible for beers fitting these characteristics hesitate to take credit for inventing a new subset. In an interview with Eater in November of 2015, Alchemist Brewmaster John Kimmich said, “That can be a touchy subject. There are people in the Vermont scene that really push the idea of Vermont-style IPA, but I am not one of them. Personally, I find it a little arrogant to try and claim that we do something so different that it deserves its own category.”
You can read the full article from Eater by clicking here.
So, what is the Vermont Style IPA? Perhaps the next big thing in craft beer. Perhaps just a style named by the people. Regardless of an official style slot in the guideline book or not, this style is certainly pushing the needle and getting enthusiasts talking. Will we see more of this style? For selfish reasons, I hope so. But time will tell. Until then, here’s a few of the top-ranked IPAs from the Vermont region (with a Saison snuck in there for good measure) on BeerAdvocate. If you can get your hands on these, give them a try and see if they’re for you.
Learn more about the IPA style in Stylin’ & Profilin: What is an IPA?