As workers stacked cases for the masses to take home, I worked my way to the head of the line and scored a sample in a stemmed, rounded glass. Heady greeted me with a rich, hazy, pale golden hue and spicy, pungent nose that makes the mouth water as with the finest of meals. The beer itself is a complex web of genius: spicy warmth, bitter pine, juicy citrus and a remarkable dryness that makes the beer at once approachable and robust in its 8 percent alcohol kick.
So yes, it is that good.
But, yes, there also is its limited nature. Until recently, The Alchemist canned a mere 600 cases of Heady Topper weekly. At the start of 2013, it doubled that. This summer the brewers hope to up the figure to 1,800 cases.
I sipped a couple more samples — they're generous at The Alchemist — before pledging to come back Wednesday, their next canning day. It was even busier than Monday.
Two friends who had driven up from Manhattan walked out with a case — that's 24 cans — each. Three friends from New Jersey who had driven seven hours to visit The Alchemist and one other Vermont brewery loaded a half-dozen cases into the back of their car. Six guys from Philadelphia bought a staggering 25 cases to take home, totaling nearly $2,000.
"It's just a delicious beer," said Tim Gregan, one of the Philly guys. "The hops are just incredible, and it's not bitter at all. It's a pretty perfect IPA."
And then there were Denis and Jackie Laurendeau of Bedford, N.H., who were in the area to ski but were guided to the brewery by a friend's recommendation. Denis said he was more of a Labatt Blue man. But he was intrigued by his sample of Heady Topper.
"We'll take two of the four-packs," Jackie Laurendeau said.
Their restraint seemed positively quaint.
If you go
The Alchemist (35 Crossroad, Waterbury, Vt., 802-244-7744, alchemistbeer.com) is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Heady Topper costs $12 per four-pack or $72 per case. This summer the brewery also plans to launch a rotating series of monthly beer releases that will be available only in 64-ounce stainless steel growlers at the brewery (fills will cost $12, plus a one-time cost of $12 for the growler).