The Alchemist Heady Topper: What It Is, and Why It's So Popular

How far would you go for the perfect beer?

the alchemist heady topper
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Everything you need to know about the most iconic beers in history from grocery staples to cult favorites. This time: The Alchemist Heady Topper, a brew that every craft beer lover should experience at least once.

"[I] drove 400 miles to VT [...] just for your beer. It was worth it. And your brewery smells freaking amazing," one Youtuber comments on The Alchemist's Youtube video about its Heady Topper beer. Said commenter isn't the only person to make a trek to The Alchemist's brewery for Heady Topper. The beer has inspired legions of people to make miles-long journeys to the Vermont brewery for a taste of Heady Topper (and I guess a whiff of the amazing brewery). But why would anyone be crazy enough to go to such lengths for a beer? This is what you need to know about the cult-favorite Heady Topper.

What is Heady Topper?

Heady Topper is a double IPA-style beer with an 8-percent ABV. The beer is unpasteurized and unfiltered, giving it a hazy look and full-bodied mouthfeel. Those who have had Heady Topper praise its balanced flavors, which perfectly combines a bitter bite with bright, fruity notes. The beer has a citrus crispness to it that pairs well with an overwhelmingly "dank" flavor, a tasting note that's come to mean something tasting like pine or resin. It's a double IPA, so it's a boozy brew, but it goes down easy without feeling like you're drinking battery acid.

The Heady Topper can tells you to drink it straight from the can. John Kimmich, owner of The Alchemist, says that drinking the beer from the can helps retain its integrity once you crack the top. If you pour Heady Topper (or any beer, for that matter) into a glass, you're inundating the beer with oxygen, which will quickly degrade the flavor.

craft beer fans go to great lengths to buy top rated brew
Beer fans line up for The Alchemist’s Heady Topper at a local market in Vermont.
Boston GlobeGetty Images

Who makes Heady Topper?

Vermont-based The Alchemist is behind Heady Topper. Founded in Waterbury, Vermont, by husband-and-wife duo John and Jen Kimmich, The Alchemist started as a brewpub in 2003. It brewed beers from its basement, with Heady Topper only coming out twice a year before John upped the frequency, though maintaining its limited release. Because Heady Topper was only available at the pub, some would sneak their beers into the bathroom, fill up their own bottles then sneak them home either to drink for later, or more likely, to resell on the very-real beer black market.

In 2011, Hurricane Irene flooded The Alchemist's basement and destroyed the pub. Soon after the hurricane, the Kimmiches opened up a cannery, still in Waterbury, and for the first time ever, Heady Topper was available statewide. Word spread about the beer, and because the beer was only available in Vermont, people would make their way to the Green Mountain State to get in on the hype. At one point, the Kimmiches had to limit how many cases a customer could buy, and it's a practice that the brewery and other retailers still have to implement. Today, Alchemist has two breweries in Vermont — in Waterbury and Stowe — both of which are beacons for congregating beer lovers.

Where can you buy Heady Topper?

The Alchemist has very, very limited distribution for all its beers. Demand for Heady Topper far exceeds supply, so unless you live in Vermont, you'll have a hard time getting it. The brewery occasionally distributes its beers out of state, so if you build up a connection with someone at a craft beer shop near you, they may be able to hook it up if they ever get a shipment.

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Why is Heady Topper so popular?

Heady Topper is what some people refer to as a "unicorn." It's hard to find because of its limited distribution, but when you can find one, it's like discovering a mythical creature. Online craft beer forums and review sites are constantly giving praise to the beer. Even Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has been photographed with a can of Heady Topper. Whether someone has had Heady Topper multiple times or for the first time, the consensus is this: Heady Topper is one of the best beers ever.

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