This Is The Best Beer In The World Right Now
So powerful is the peoples’ need for the Heady Topper that there’s a per-customer limit at most retail outlets.
This past spring, the Beer Advocate, one of the global authorities on beer quality ratings, gave The Alchemist brewing company’s Heady Topper Double IPA a perfect score. It’s a rare distinction indeed, and Heady Topper’s been nearly impossible to find ever since. In fact, it’s only available for retail sale within about 25 miles of where it’s brewed, in Waterbury, Vt.
Lucky for us, one of the editors from our Montreal office happened to be passing through Vermont last weekend. Heady Topper sells out every week within hours of its delivery everywhere it’s sold, so just being in Vermont isn’t a guarantee you’ll get your hands on some. But our editor called ahead to a store in Montpelier and determined the exact time of this week’s delivery. Within an hour of delivery, she was there, along with a steady line of fellow seekers. Yes, the demand is still that strong, months after the perfect score was awarded. So powerful is the peoples’ need for the Topper that there’s a per-customer limit of two four-packs at most retail outlets.
Needless to say, the anachronistic scarcity of this tasty beer has created deafening buzz. The Heady Topper black market is robust. In a typical scenario, a guy in Brooklyn posts an ad on the Burlington Craigslist seeking a local to ship him a case for a couple hundred bucks. If you do find it for sale outside of Vermont, it’s probably being sold by an unauthorized vendor for a huge markup.
So why is it so hard to find? And is it worth the effort?
The Kimmich family has been brewing Heady Topper at their family-run brewery since 2003, and until 2011 their on-site brewpub was the only place they sold it. Heady Topper was just one of a selection on tap, and it was quaffed in obscurity for years. Its ticket to the top came hand-in-hand with hardship.
In 2011 the Kimmiches built a cannery, with plans to start distributing their beers beyond their backyard. When the brewpub was severely damaged by Hurricane Irene in August of that year, they decided to focus their rebuilding efforts on the cannery, and the first beer they made when they were back on the grid was Heady Topper. Right away, they had a runaway hit on their hands. They couldn’t keep it in stock, so they decided to focus all their brewing on making everybody’s favorite. That’s the way it’s remained — the Alchemist only brews one beer, and they only brew 120 barrels of the hazy golden goodness per week. Every last drop is sold every week, because it’s not pasteurized, so it should be consumed fresh.
So that explains the scarcity. How about the taste?
The first extraordinary thing about Heady Topper is the powerfully fresh aroma of citrus — grapefruit, really — that wafts from the can. Yes, it’s highly recommended (It’s printed on the can!) that you sip straight from the tallboy.
Immediately, you get the full barrage of hops power on your palate, but this is such a well-balanced beer that the finish is clean and refreshing. Don’t mistake this for an overwrought American IPA that’s a borderline stunt in hoppiness. It’s an absolute pleasure to sip, from start to finish — really meant for savoring. Hops-lovers will love it, but people who are new to IPAs or who aren’t huge fans of in-your-face hops will find the fresh citrus notes a wonderful surprise.
At our staff tasting, we agreed that this beer absolutely lives up to its reputation. Heady Topper is a meaningful commodity — if you get your hands on some, give a couple cans to a friend who’s done right by you recently, and they’ll understand how much you appreciate them.
Stay tuned for Greg Zeschuk‘s more in-depth review of Heady Topper, which we’ll be publishing next week.
In the mean time, we’re trying to figure out an excuse to send someone back to Vermont.