By Emily Kaminsky.
I recently became aware of a peculiar phenomenon among craft-beer lovers in central Vermont that involves standing for long hours in line to purchase the Waterbury-brewed double IPA Heady Topper. While I had heard of the beer in the distinctive silver can, I’d never tried it. But my cousin Suzie Small, who lives just outside of Philadelphia, pleaded with me to bring a case to the Jersey shore where we are sharing a family vacation this week—and that’s when I learned just how difficult it is to get your hands on Heady Topper. Last week 60 people lined up at Barre’s Beverage Baron to await the weekly delivery of the prized elixir. In less than a half-hour, the store’s supply was sold out and people were leaving empty-handed. Casey Harrington, Beverage Baron’s vice president, described the experience. “It’s basically crazy. Our parking lot … you can’t even park. We’ve had people come in as early as 6:30 in the morning, with kids even, and start waiting in line.” The truck arrives between one and three in the afternoon.
While the Heady Topper craze has hit central and northern Vermont hard—Barre is as far south as the beer’s distribution goes–the excitement has traveled well past Vermont’s borders thanks to word of mouth and the fact that BeerAdvocate magazine gave it a nearly unheard-of rating of 100 last year. Friends, family and co-workers of Vermonters beg and plead for a case of the elusive brew. Others drive to Vermont to purchase the maximum ration, one case, on a regular basis. Harrington is accustomed to seeing his parking lot crammed with the cars of both locals and pilgrims from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and even Texas. “Four or five guys from New Hampshire come up every week,” he said. “They take turns. One of them comes up to buy a case and they split it. Then, the next week, another guy comes.”
My cousin Suzie says her love affair with Heady Topper began a year ago when she overheard a co-worker discussing a beer that carried BeerAdvocate’s exceptional rating Through other Vermont connections, she managed to get a case for Christmas. “I’m not super into craft beer, but I wanted to know what the fuss was about, so I made sure I kept a few for myself after delivering what I’d promised to my co-workers,” she puts it. She appreciates that Heady Topper doesn’t taste too hoppy (“It didn’t have that dandelion taste,” she says), and she loves its high alcohol content—but her obsession with scoring a case was based on hype and the possibility of procuring something that was supposed to taste so good and was so hard to get. “I love a challenge!” she says.
The economics of supply and demand are certainly helping out the Alchemist, the Waterbury-based company that brews Heady Topper. And it’s likewise helping out the retailers. Beverage Baron’s craft beer sales as a whole have increased since they began selling Heady Topper. And the folks waiting around for the Heady Topper truck to deliver its precious cargo to Beverage Baron often buy other items while they’re waiting.
Luckily for my cousin and thankfully for me, when I told Harrington over the phonethat I’d promised to bring her a case of Heady Topper, he took pity on me. Since I had missed the Monday delivery and couldn’t have managed five hours in line with my three young boys anyway, he offered me three of his four-packs at the regular retail price. “Really?” I squealed, surprised at my own elation. Suddenly I got the adrenaline rush that Heady Topper gives Suzie. And I was off in my car to grab me some quality suds. Cheers!
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