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words // Ben Sarle & Sarah McCall   |   photos // Ben Sarle

Of the many ways to intro a piece of casual narrative beer journalism, this simply needs to be stated — the 2013 SIPtemberfest was as close to perfect as a brewfest can get.

No matter what direction you headed towards Mad River Glen on Saturday, your drive (or walk, for those lucky few sauntering down rt. 17 with a half empty glass) was overwhelmed with a saturated array of maple, birch, beech, elm, and ash.

As Lowell Thompson quipped during his set, “The only bummer about today is the weather.” Bummer indeed, it was an absurdly perfect late September day in Fayston, VT, with temperatures in the 70’s and only a few clouds that seemed to be purely ornamental for those taking photos from Mad’s single-chair foliage chairlift rides. The crowd, like the weather, was jovial. Between sips, every Vermonter you wanted to run into seemed to be inexplicably right next you, accompanied by their endearing four-legged companions. Our buds from Three Penny were there with some of the tastiest and spiciest sausages this side of Frankfurt, along with Skinny Pancake and a few others keeping the masses fed. It also needs to be mentioned that the event coordinator, Meg Schultz, absolutely killed it and everything went off without a hitch.

On to the beer. The following goes without saying, except for right now because we are going to say it: the bar for craft beer in Vermont is unbelievably high, and every taste at a festival like this in our little 14th state is an adventure for the palate. That said, we’re just going to focus on some of our favorites that were new to us and what we saw as the highlights worth mentioning.

All of the usual suspects were there, both the larger and smaller of the local craft operations. This was an all Vermont brewer’s festival, with the exception of Tree House Brewing, which certainly held it’s own alongside their neighbors from the North. The Alchemist was of course present, pouring Heady Topper’s from the can creating barrels worth of gleaming silver & black  graveyards. That was our first obligatory stop, just to set the standard of amazingness for the day.

One of the first lesser known brewers we approached was Grateful Hands Brewing from Cabot, VT. Their Town Meeting Day Double IPA needs a mention. First, the name, awesome – if there’s one day of the year that is reminiscent of Vermont’s strong community as well as heavy beer consumption, that’s it. This was a solid 9.2% double IPA made from Columbus, Centennial, Simcoe, and Chinook hops that we absolutely loved.

The next that stuck out for us was at Bobcat Cafe’s booth, a Bristol staple. They produced a surprisingly unique Oktoberfest that was much less sweet than an American Oktober but more a reflection of the beer’s authentic German ‘Marzen’ cousin, meaning ‘March’, produced in the spring to be consumed in the fall. Bobcat’s ‘Dennis Hop’rd’ is also worth a mention.

Middlebury’s Drop-In Brewery had one that was interesting too, ‘The Pitcher in the Rye’, a 6.5%’er made with malted rye, caramel rye, and red barley. If you see this at the bar, order it.

Now on to one of SIPtemberfest’s crown jewels (and tied as our fav of the day) – the Lawson’s/Otter Creek Collaboration. The ‘Double Dose IPA’ was made as a (hopefully not) one time release that they put out only a few days prior. Produced with exclusively Vermont hops, they went as far as to split the water used from both breweries from which they produced it. Mike, the brewmaster from OC who was serving the beers on Saturday, is also featured on the tap itself in a strikingly accurate depiction of him driving his bus. This is one of the most seriously badass double IPA’s we’ve tried in a long time. You can find it in bottles as well as at your favorite bars.

Whetstone, out of Brattleboro, had their ‘Sweet. A Stout.’ that we loved. It’s a sweet and creamy unfiltered stout that is worth the trip to their waterfront beer garden before the warm season is over. Unfortunately it’s pretty hard to find these beers outside of Brattleboro.

Our pals at Citizen Cider from Essex need a mention too. Not only were they topping off your pours of bourbon from Smugglers’ Notch Distillery (which was amazing in itself) with their ciders, but they also had their Dry-Hopped with them. If you haven’t experienced CC’s dry-hopped, you are missing out. This is without a doubt the most perfectly balanced, complex yet drinkable, cider you can put to your face.

And last, but certainly not least, we have Lawson’s Finest Liquids from Warren. First, the Maple Wheat, rad. Second, and this was tied with the Double Dose IPA as our favorite of the day, was the Kiwi Double IPA. This is a completely spectacular 8% double IPA made from New Zealand’s Nelson Sauvin and Pacific Jade hops. An intricate exhibition of flavors from start to finish that would appeal to the hardiest IPA lover as well as a more delicate palate, this beer even has subtle notes of New Zealand’s feijoa fruit for those who may have spent any time down under. Lawson’s, if you’re reading this, please tell us where we can find more of this.

We called it a day with Switchback, Burlington’s tried-and-true that will never ever let you down, and that was that! Stellar day, killer beers, amazing people. SIPtemberfest, we will see you in 2014.