The Alchemist’s Heady Topper: Extreme beer with heady demand

Is Heady Topper from the Alchemist brewery all that the hype suggests? Read on.

1076943_10151716463748180_129518285_oThe Facebook come on from the Tap and Barrel, a specialty beer bar in Smithtown was irresistible:  “Come by Tap And Barrel tonight to watch the MLB All Star Game at 7 p.m. We will be receiving a fresh shipment of Heady Topper b4 the game  …”

I had planned watch the game at home, but was hooked by the opportunity to sample the rarely found, highly rated brew from the Alchemist, a small brewery in Waterbury, Vt.  Having read and heard so much about this highly sought after beer — it received a perfect 100-point score on BeerAdvocate.com — this would be a chance to determine what was behind all the hype.

I didn’t get to Tap and Barrel until the third-inning of the game, about 8:45 p.m., and propped myself on a bar stool. I asked for “The Beer.” Sorry, said owner Anthony Celentano. “It’s on its way down from Vermont.” Celentano had dispatched one of his crew to Waterbury to bring down cases of the canned beer for the occassion. I ordered another beer to hold me over until the celebrity beer made its appearance.  An hour later, Celentano said, “It’s on Long Island. It’ll be here in 20 minutes.”

Sadly, the sound on each of the four flat screens showing the All Star Game was off. I was losing patience and feared turning into a pumpkin before Heady Topper arrived.  Well, 20 minutes turned into another hour and 15 minutes. Finally, at 11:02 p.m. Celentano told me, “It’s here.  I’ll get you one right from the car.” And he did. On the house.

With an early morning wakeup call the next day, I slipped the shiny, silver can into my jeans pocket, and as I prepared to depart, Celentano offered me a taste from his own can.

Heady Topper, an unpasteurized, unfiltered, 8 percent abv, double, or imperial IPA, is the only beer produced by the Alchemist, which has been brewing since 2003. It’s a beer focused on the flavors and aromas of humulus lupulus. Alchemist brews 120 barrels a week in eight 15-barrel batches.

The brewery recommends sipping the beer directly from the can, less blasphemous today for a beer geek than perhaps a decade ago.

Opening the can releases a bouquet of fresh hops. Tasting through the ring-top hole imparts more of the same: pungent, earthy, citrusy hops with some malt sweetness. Medium bodied, it’s surprisingly drinkable.  Not a 100-point beer for me, since I’m not a hophead.

The brewery says pouring into a glass releases the essential hop aromas as well as lots of sediment. That proved true as it offered less intensity and looked a turbid gold with a soapy white head when poured into a sampling glass.

Heady Topper is well done and less extreme than one might be lead to believe. But I still don’t get the craziness—except that we all crave that rare thing that we can’t obtain.

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