I have been in a state of utter beer bliss the entire last week after receiving a package via FedEx last Tuesday. It was half of a beer trade between an SPT reader and myself. Reader John was from New England and expressed an interest in trying some Zombie Dust from 3Floyds. And I always wanted to see what all the fooferaw was over Vermont’s Heady Topper from Alchemist. The deal was made. One sixpack of ZD for one 4-pack of Heady. John was very generous with what he sent my way. I have submitted his name to Rome for consideration to be canonized a saint.
When I started researching Heady Topper, I found a few oddities and a few similarities to other beers and breweries. The Alchemist’s Heady Topper is only distributed where it’s made, in Waterbury, Vermont. No restaurant, just a few styles of beer sold to the folks in line every day. Like Westvleteren 12 in Belgium (and that one time here in the states) and Zombie Dust where people come from miles away to stand in line at the package store to score a case or two of the beer. They usually sell out in a few hours.
3Floyds’ Dark Lord and Surly Darkness are similar ideas taken to the next level, only the one single featured beer is sold that day and that day only.
It’s sad to think that this beer that everyone raves about so much is limited to a small area of Vermont. But if we look at the big picture, they have Heady in New England, midwesterners have 3Floyds and Bell’s, while southern California has Russian River and Pliny. It’s as if the happiness and hoppiness is spread evenly across the whole country.
Tonight we do the same thing we usually do on Saturday night, drink beer and write about the experience. But tonight we have a special guest all the way from Vermont, made possible through great effort and expense of all involved.
Enough with the folderol, let’s drink one of America’s best beers, Heady Topper.
The beer poured the color of pineapple-orange juice and the liquid was translucent. The white head was moderate as was the carbonation. The aroma was of tropical fruits but more like pineapple and maybe a bit of orange with some slightly dank grassiness way in the background.
The first sip was amazing and not what I was expecting. There is a balance immediately detectable between the malts and the hops but the whole flavor consisted of that delicious tropical fruitiness. For me, the bitterness was there, but was secondary to the massive fruit load the hops had produced. This was one hell of an amazing beer.
The sweetness that came in up front was pleasant and not cloying. It remained that way throughout the session. I’m not even going to try to decipher what hops were used in the recipe but I’d venture to guess that there were a shit-ton of them and they were all at the end of the boil and then in dry hopping.
I looked up a few clone recipes from various homebrewing websites and there are no two recipes that were quite the same. Many recipes were completely different from many others. One article recommended harvesting yeast from a spent can of Heady. But you have to be in possession of some Heady in the first place in order to do that. Check out HomeBrewTalk.com here.
I’d compare Heady Topper closely to Bell’s Hopslam. They share many of the same characteristics: a ton of mouthfeel, tropical fruitiness, honey-like sweetness and laid back bitterness. Founders Devil Dancer may be comparable but it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten the taste of it. Heady comes in at 8% alcohol which may be one of its selling points. Dynamite flavor without the dynamite alcohol.
Looking at BeerAdvocate’s list of top DIPAs, I can say that I’ve had 9 of the top 10 on the list. I find that surprising and amazing. Sometimes I actually scare myself. (Especially some mornings.) When you’ve had the best of the best, what’s next? That would be the next new undiscovered beer that will join the ranks of the legends. I’ll always be waiting to taste that one future beer that will pop my eyeballs out and make my palate do the chicken dance.
I truly feel like I’m one lucky SOB to be drinking this beer. I’d like to thank New England John again for bringing a smile to the face of this ol’ midwest Flatlander. Cheers, John.
The SixPackTech summary for Alchemist Heady Topper:
Style: Double/Imperial IPA
Taste: Over the top outstanding. Top notch beer in the style.
Smoothness: Real nice; like silk and satin.
Drinkability: Meant to be sipped to enjoy every molecule of flavor.
Bang for the buck: N/A. It’s all based on a trip to Vermont.
Amount paid: Trade for a sixpack of Zombie Dust plus shipping. I got the better of this deal and I’m happy I did it.
Get it again? Maybe down the road a ways, but I’ll certainly drink it again if offered.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: It’s a light yellow. (sniff) Citrusy. (sip) Grapefruity. Real grapefruity. It’s the yellow grapefruit not the sweet red one. (sip) I’m not a fan of that. (Her taster must need recalibrating. And she always looks at me funny afterwards. Like I’m nuts. [Maybe that’s why she married me.])
Alchemist FAQs answered by John Kimmich [6:33]
Leo G. Carroll starred in the title role of Topper, an early ’50s comedy with an eccentric businessman and 2 ghosts who were married. I remember watching Topper when I was in the early years of elementary school. Back before color was invented.