Beer fans find their mecca at The Alchemist
By Neal P. Goswami
STaff Writer | February 16,2014
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Hundreds of people line up in Waterbury to buy a special one-day release of new ales Focal Banger and Petit Mutant from The Alchemist brewery.
WATERBURY — Newly canned offerings from The Alchemist on Saturday attracted hundreds of beer enthusiasts who wanted to be among the first to obtain the popular brewery’s latest efforts.
A long line snaked through an icy parking lot adjacent to the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters visitors center as the faithful waited to purchase Petit Mutant, an American Brett ale with cherries, and Focal Banger, an American double India Pale Ale, or IPA.
Both offerings were first brewed at the original brew pub location that flooded during Tropical Storm Irene.
The brewery has grown a cult following with Heady Topper, an unfiltered IPA, that was also first brewed at the former brew pub in downtown Waterbury. It has consistently been chosen among the top beers in the world by online beer rating sites.
A cannery location in Waterbury, opened in 2011, quickly became a destination for fans, some of whom were driving hours to purchase beer from a small retail room at the brewery. But the heavy traffic — and permit issues — forced owners John and Jen Kimmich to close it to the public.
The couple is seeking a new location for a second, smaller brewery and retail spot where fans can again purchase beer on a regular basis.
Saturday’s cash-only popup sale is expected to be repeated in the coming weeks and months, John Kimmich said Saturday.
“This today is going super smooth, so we’re going to be planning more of these. With new Vermont legislation, we can have 36 special events a year, and that’s what this is,” he said.
“So we’re going to be doing specialties,” he said. “We’re going to have another one of these in two weeks.”
The atmosphere Saturday was festive. One group cooked up breakfast sandwiches on a portable grill, while others discreetly sipped from a variety of beers — even at 10 in the morning.
For now, Focal Banger, which is expected to soon be canned regularly, will be sold exclusively at future popup sales until the second brewery location is ready. The second location will be exclusively brew Focal Banger, he said.
“This is how we’re going to be selling Focal Banger until we have a brick-and-mortar retail space. This is our only option,” Kimmich said.
Those in line Saturday were excited to purchase alternatives to Heady Topper. Many drove great distances to stand in line.
Marek, who declined to provide a last name, said he came from New Jersey for the weekend to purchase beer from The Alchemist, as well as from Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest Liquids, two other Vermont craft breweries with strong followings.
Marek said he often trades beer with other enthusiasts, and could not pass up a chance to grab coveted beer.
“It’s just quality beer. It’s great that you can trade for it, but it’s close enough to drive for,” he said. “It’s a really great product and people here are obviously very proud of it.”
Nick Bonfatti said he left Boston early Saturday morning to grab a case of each beer — the limit set by The Alchemist.
“The last time I had Petit Mutant was in the Alchemist Brew Pub like five years ago, before it got washed away, and it was delicious,” he said. “And I like Heady Topper, but I can barely get that. So, why not?”
Bonfatti and his friends were toward the end of the line Saturday, and it was unclear if there would be any left for them. They planned to wait, nonetheless.
“I brought my guns, so it’s fine,” he joked. “We’re getting beer.”
Kimmich said he was happy with the turnout and looks forward to holding more sales in the future.
“It’s always amazing. We’re just in our brewery doing our thing, so when we actually have these moments — now that we don’t have our retail room and we don’t have the pub — when we get these moments where we get to interact with people at large it’s always surprising, but gosh, reassuring that we’re doing the right things,” he said.
Fans can look for two more beers in cans in the near future — The Crusher, an American IPA, and Beezlebub, an American stout, according to Kimmich.