Burlington brews artistry

It is no secret that the people of Burlington love beer. Anyone happening to take a stroll down Pearl Street at 9 p.m. on a Friday can see the happy hordes exiting the beverage store, six, 12 and, yes, 30-packs in hand. However, this scene is common in college towns across the country. What makes Burlington unique is the abundance of the local beer selection and the abiding passion residents have for craft brewing.In 2006, Sherman’s Travel magazine rated Burlington the fourth best city in the world for beer lovers. This little hamlet beat out the likes of Portland, Prague and Dublin. The online travel guide cited the popularity of hometown brewing favorite Magic Hat, along with Otter Creek and Long Trail as justification for the ranking. While it’s true that population-challenged Vermont boasts an incredible 18 microbreweries, the site fails to include perhaps the most important aspect of Burlington’s beer culture: the brew pub.Until the 1980s, American beer was in a sorry state, in?deed. According to www.EH.net, an economic history Web site, 75 percent of the brewing market was controlled by only five companies. These companies were pumping out the familiar pale yellow lager that came to be known as “American Beer.” With no selection and nowhere to find a decent pint, the American Beer-lover was forced to look within. What came out was an explosion both in quality and quantity. From the end of the 1970s to the end of the 1990s the number of breweries in America skyrocketed from 44 to 1,392, according to the Brewer’s Association of?ficial Web site.These new small-scale microbreweries brought tra?dition, passion and experimentation to the American brewing industry, and the driving forces behind this were the home brewers and brew pub proprietors. Vermont has always had a love affair with cottage industry, especially when it comes to food. Whether it be cheese, maple syrup, apples or anything else, Vermonters are avid consumers of the products that come from their own soil. This, coupled with an intense passion for quality and a fiercely independent streak, made Vermont a perfect cradle for the fledgling craft-brewing industry.One of the pioneer home brewers at this time was Anne Whyte, owner of Vermont Homebrew Supply in Winooski. She learned the trade at a community education center in Burlington, which offered courses in home brewing.After over 12 years of brewing experience, Whyte now offers all the supplies necessary for the prospective brewer as well as a vast knowl?edge of all things fermented.The benefits of home brewing are numer?ous. When brewing at home, one can control almost all of the aspects of the process – nature decides the rest. The home brewer can decide what kind of beer to make based on ingredients, temperature and fermentation style. Whyte maintains that a good ale or lager is best enjoyed as close to the source as pos?sible. “Beer is something that doesn’t usually age well,” she said. “Brew?ing and drinking on premises is definitely the kindest treatment any beer can expect.” While home brewing is the closest you can get to the source, “a brew pub,” Whyte said, “is the closest thing you can get to having a home-brewed beer.”Through the ages, brewing and enjoying beer has always been a communal activity. A brew pub provides a synthesis of individual brewing and communal enjoyment and Burlington is blessed with three of them, each with a unique character. The Vermont Pub and Brewery, located on the corner of St. Paul and College Street, is a Burlington beer institution. The establishment will celebrate its 20-year anniversary this November. Two decades of experience have created a sense of com?fort both within the city and in its products. Under the guidance of head brewer Greg Noonan, the Pub and Brewery has responded to expanding customer knowl?edge and sophistication by offering increasingly playful and challenging new tastes. The VPB offers beers flavored with such unusual ingredi?ents as lotus flowers and chile peppers. As founder Steve Polewacyk put it, “we allow our brew?ers creative license to experiment,” to match the palates of the Burlington community, which he described as “col?lectively eclectic.”However, the Pub and Brewery strives not only to match their beer to the tastes of its customers but also to the flavors of their food. The fare, Polewacyk said, is “loosely designed to fol?low the beer.” In February, the VPB will host a beer and cheese pairing to allow its patrons to see the full range of flavor possibilities offered by a hand-crafted brew.Just yards away from the Pub and Brewery is Ameri?can Flatbread, which houses Zero Gravity Craft Brewery. Considering Flatbread’s commitment to using local and organic ingredients in its food whenever possible, it is not surprising that this spirit would carry over to the liquid portion of the meal. The brewery offers seven beers, spanning a range of styles to suit the drinking needs of any pizza lover who walks in the door.The Three Needs, located on College Street, might look like one of many typical college town bars, covered in well-worn wood and beer advertisements dating from the early ’50s, but it serves up its own unique beer brewed just downstairs.The different types, made by brewer Jon Mc?Cracken, change based on customer consumption. The batches are made small, and usually last for three to four weeks. McCracken has free reign to decide which styles of beers to brew but keeps an open dialogue with the customers. “It’s whatever I feel that week,” he said. “But I try to talk with people drinking the beer here and make decisions based on that. I’m pretty open to suggestions.” McCracken is a firm believer in the communal power of beer. All of the brew pubs around town communicate openly and try to help each other out whenever possible, whether it be with equip?ment or brewing advice. Despite this laidback atmosphere, brewers in Burlington care passionately for the quality of their products and their shared profession. “I’ve finally found a job I love,” McCracken said. “When you brew beer it just brings people out to enjoy it.”