The Alchemist

Hundreds of people waited in line to grab a case or two of Heady Topper or Focal Banger at The Alchemist at its grand opening in July of last year.

The Alchemist’s brainchild brewery has splashed top-notch beer and economic prosper all over the region. In January, when the futuristic Stowe location was just six months old, businesses in the area reported shrapnel hitting them in the form of hordes of beer-craving, cash-wielding tourists, hungry for the rest of the Stowe experience after loading their allotted brews into their coolers.

Now, the Alchemist’s sudsy cathedral of hops and malt has been open for just about a year, having joined a thriving family of craft beer producers and enthusiasts.

“It’s been a huge boost for us. We couldn’t be happier that they’re in town. We have a lot of people that head to the Alchemist and stand in line on the weekends and purchase their beer and come here for lunch after,” said Ani Petrolito, marketing manager at Idletyme Brewing Co. “We are so much smaller than the Alchemist, but they drive by, and these are craft beer fans. They see another sign and they definitely come here. It’s been nothing but a help.”

Stowe Public House on Main Street doesn’t carry Heady Topper, the Alchemist’s most famous beer, but manager John Decker said people ask about it “all the time.

“It’s phenomenal. I can’t stress that enough. Without The Alchemist, I think we lose a large number of tourists. Just being in the field and on blogs and on sites, people still talk about The Alchemist being the best,” Decker said.

In his view, Heady Topper draws people to town, giving them the opportunity to sample other beers and discover new things they might like just as much. In fact, those who come on a pilgrimage for Heady Topper often don’t know where to find it, or the story behind the beer — they don’t know much beyond the name.

Decker directs people to the “big silver-domed building, that’s The Alchemist. People are like, ‘No, we want the Heady Topper building.’ People just know Heady Topper because it’s been the best beer in the world,” but once they’re in Decker’s store, they start looking around.

“They’re great for this community.”

There is “no question, The Alchemist with their legendary Heady Topper, that that is known far and wide in this country, and that certainly helps to draw people to this area,” said Sam von Trapp, director and executive vice president at Trapp Family Lodge, which opened its von Trapp Brewery and Bierhall almost a year ago.

Von Trapp’s brewery makes lagers like its Golden Helles Dunkel lager, not putting its stamp on IPAs.

“That was my dad’s original idea. He wanted to make lagers. You could really say that with Alchemist and the unbelievable following they have, we’ve got one of the best and most popular IPA breweries in the country right here in Stowe, and I firmly believe we have one of the best lager breweries,” von Trapp said.

The von Trapp Brewery, Alchemist, Idletyme and the myriad of other craft beer geek meccas in the area are a product of the burgeoning craft beer industry flourishing worldwide.

“It’s evolved from quantity into quality. It’s brought a lot of interested palates into the game. It’s evolved from how many Bud Lights can you drink at a party, to how many delicious small craft beers can we bring that we’ll enjoy,” Decker said. “It’s become fun. It’s become art. …There are more choices, and it’s crafted, just like the name says. The beers are definitely crafted better.”

For von Trapp, the beer boom means more collaboration, and the opportunity for new partnerships.

“One of the nice things in Stowe is how well the breweries and ciders work together and support each other. There’s a lot of support within; if someone’s in a pinch, other breweries are willing to help out,” von Trapp said, from lending out key parts to offering advice. “There’s a real sense of camaraderie within these breweries in Stowe.”

Bikes, beer and tourists

Beer tourists come from far and wide to sample the area’s beer offerings. Rachel Vandenberg, who owns Sun & Ski Inn and Suites, says she sees them staying at her inn year-round.

“We noticed, for example, last November, which is normally pretty slow, we saw specifically people packing coolers in their car. The Alchemist was still pretty new at that point, so they might have still been getting people who had never been to the brewery yet,” Vandenberg said.

“Beer tourism doesn’t have a season, which is the nice thing about it,” unlike Stowe’s recreational pursuits, like mountain biking or skiing, Vandenberg said.

“The growth in the craft beverage industry is representative of a shift in consumer preferences towards more artisanal products. Stowe’s strong craft beverage industry has had a positive impact on our local economy, and our award-winning craft beverage producers are experiencing positive growth and leveraging their reputation to attract tourists,” said Amy Morrison, executive director of Stowe Area Association.

In January, 13 percent of the organization’s website visits had come from links on other sites, and at the time, alchemistbeer.com was responsible for more than half those referrals — 7.7 percent of total traffic. Now, that traffic is further diversified, said Sharon Harper, the organization’s marketing manager.

Petrolito touched on the relationship between craft beer and mountain biking, in particular.

“It’s not just about the beer flourishing on its own,” she said. “The followers tend to be very outdoorsy and enthusiastic people, so it’s not just about drinking beer, it’s about mountain biking, or hiking, or swimming, floating down the river and then just having these additionally amazing craft beer places to go. … I think it’s a good excuse, after you go and hike a mountain, or mountain bike down these trails, to reward yourself with a tasty beer.”

Vandenberg has also noticed the connection between craft beer enthusiasm and love of getting outside.

“Craft beer people also seem to be pretty recreational. I don’t know what that link is. Take the Craft Brew Races in May,” Vandenberger said. “It’s a very funny relation between the two, but it works.”

As Evan Chismark, executive director of Stowe Trails Partnership, formerly known as Stowe Mountain Bike Club, put it, “Beer just tastes really good after a mountain bike ride. There’s maybe a deeper answer hidden somewhere, but some beer companies, their slogan is ‘Enjoy responsibly.’ Craft beer and mountain biking is the most responsible way to enjoy,” Chismark said.

Exercise, followed by the ability to “enjoy the artful crafting” of beer, makes for a great Vermont experience — local beer, to Chismark, has the same grassroots feeling to it as hand-built trails, with their roots and rocks and rugged souls.

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