Ski towns in America tend to have good beer, but Vermont might be the state to pair powder and brews best. The Green Mountain State has more than 60 operating breweries and approximately two dozen ski areas — the most per capita for each category.
Naturally, that makes Vermont’s après-ski beer scene one of the most impressive in the country, especially near Canada. Upon crossing the 44th parallel north latitude — roughly the midpoint of Vermont — you’ve entered one of the world’s most highly concentrated collections of delicious beer and incredible mountains.
While Matt Wilson, co-founder of Zero Gravity Craft Brewery, admits there’s no secret ingredients in the northern half of the state, he ascribes all the incredible beer in the region to a secret recipe. “The communities [in northern Vermont] draw creative types,” Wilson says, which is something he attributes to the state’s abundant opportunities for outdoor activities.
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Stowe is Vermont’s archetype of the best of both worlds. The ski mountain, divided by Stowe Mountain Road, keeps beginners on the Spruce Peak side while more advanced riders ski Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak. Regardless of their skill levels, skiers pour into the village at Spruce Peak when the lifts close at 4:00 p.m. While the on-site WhistlePig Pavilion serves its award-winning whiskeys, the beer menu is just as celebrated. In fact, all across the Spruce Peak village — from the hidden speakeasy to the small convenience store — skiers can grab Vermont’s best beers. Most unique, however, is the newly released Ten Bends’ Spruce Peak, a New England IPA brewed exclusively for the resort and made with a hop combination that elicits notes of pine and spruce.
Leaving the mountain, quality beer options abound. For anything IPA, the Alchemist Brewery a few miles down the road awaits. Many of its hoppy beers are packed famously into those prolific silver and black cans. (At present, the brewery is undergoing renovations, but Heady Topper, Focal Banger, and a few other choices are available for curbside pickup.) Stowe also pours many great European-style beers. Nearby Idyltime Brewing Company features dunkels and marzens, while the von Trapp Bierhall serves Austrian-style lagers, delicious bratwursts, and tales of the famed family. Grab a seat at the bar, and maybe you’ll chat with one of Maria and the baron’s offspring. Or, for a more guaranteed telling, join a walking tour to hear the story of the von Trapps, from singing on Austrian hills to making beer in the Vermont mountains. While getting tipsy before alpine skiing is inadvisable, cross-country skiing back to your accommodations at the Trapp Family Lodge, which sits on 2,500 acres, could be a more responsible option — as long as you’re a competent Nordic skier and are only planning on sipping a pint or two.
But you don’t have to head to a brewery to enjoy great beer in Stowe. Delicious options are so ubiquitous across town that Topnotch Resort spa offers a massage complete with hops-infused oil and a beer to follow. Even the town’s diners and burrito joints have beer menus that look like long-lists for best beers of the year. The Bench might have Stowe’s most solid offerings, pouring or cracking open all the nearby favorites, including five creations from Hill Farmstead, which is often regarded as Vermont’s (and perhaps even the world’s) best brewery. Tucked into the far corner of the state, the Hill Farmstead Brewery, however, sits a bit too far from its nearest ski mountain to call it an après-ski spot.
There are so many breweries in Burlington, Vt., that residents of the state’s most populous town could probably unite to break a Guinness record and squeeze themselves into the city’s breweries all at once. Though Burlington isn’t a ski town, it’s only 30 minutes from Bolton Valley, a ski mountain that offers solid backcountry terrain and possesses that Vermonter independent spirit, as it’s one of the few family-owned ski mountains left in the state. Bolton Valley also serves Spillway, a new IPA from Zero Gravity that’s named for a Bolton Valley trail and brewed exclusively for the resort. A portion of the proceeds goes to Unlikely Riders, a nonprofit dedicated to breaking down barriers that have often prevented riders of color from enjoying full access to the slopes.
After sipping Spillways at Bolton, visit Zero Gravity’s newly expanded taproom back in the city on Pine Street to sample its core IPAs or constantly rotating seasonal offerings, from solid sours to Irish stouts.
After visiting Zero Gravity, float across the street to find more creative types at the Queen City Brewery. Its beers pay tribute to styles from across the pond. It’s also the space where Freak Folk Bier created some of its wild and farmhouse ales before moving to Waterbury, another strong beer town that sits between Stowe and Burlington. It’s also where Alchemist got its start before water buried its operation during a hurricane. In Waterbury, you’ll also find Prohibition Pig, a solid brewery that pairs its beverages with delectable smoked meats and exceptional tacos.
After exploring the South End of Burlington — both the Burlington Beer Company and Switchback Brewing Company are a five-minute walk from Zero Gravity and Queen City — head north to the downtown area for a few spots that have later hours than the early-to-close South End joints. Foam Brewers produces solid New England IPAs, and Hotel Vermont’s Juniper Bar has a menu with some harder-to-find beers from Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Most regal are the mixed culture ales from Wunderkammer, brewed by Hill Farmstead alumnus Vasilios Gletsos. The menu also has a constant rotation of Hill Farmsteads and a rotating lager poured from a Lukr tap, a side-pull faucet that allows bartenders to better control the head on draft beer.
In the Mad River Valley, things are appropriately bizarre. Unlike Vermont’s other ski areas, where one mountain is surrounded by many solid breweries, the valley comprises two side-by-side ski resorts and two nearby breweries for after-slopes suds.
“One of the perfect après-ski activities,” says Sean Lawson, CEO and founding brewer of Lawson’s Finest Liquids, “is heading into the pub or lodge after a day on the mountain.” From the very beginning, Lawson has been pairing his beer with the sport. On Saint Patrick’s Day in 2008, Lawson sold his first keg of beer at his local mountain, Mad River Glen. Since then, he’s created a beer for each mountain in the Mad River Valley. For Sugarbush, Lawson’s Finest produced an IPA called Castlerock, named for the legendary terrain at the mountain. Mad River Glen serves Lawson’s Still Single, a more fruit-forward IPA. Still Single cans feature a skier riding up the mountain’s famed single-rider chairlift. Both beers can only be found at their respective resorts and are part of Lawson’s Good Brews for a Cause program, one of six social impact programs the brewery runs. Most of the proceeds from each sale support charities that protect the climate and local mountain ecosystem.
While a beer and ski story about a state out West, like Colorado or Oregon, would force visitors to drive for many hours or days just to sample the vast array of premier slopes and brews each state has to offer, every Vermont ski mountain named above is just a short drive from the next one. Theoretically, a dedicated beer lover could ski and sip at all of these top mountains and breweries, respectively, in a single day — though they’d need a driver and plenty of athletic prowess.