I have oft been accused of trying to structure vacations around beer. While my wife does an amazing job with the more critical logistics of accommodation, transportation and cultural highlights, I tend to focus on locating breweries and opportunities to sample beer that I can’t get at home. My annual trip to see cousins in Vermont is no exception.
It’s no secret that Vermont boasts one heck of a beer scene. Names like Heady Topper, Lawson’s Liquids, Hill Farmstead and now Fiddlehead get geeks very excited. But with only 3 full days in state and the need to actually spend some time with family meant that there was no way I could hit them all. Looking over schedules and maps I determined I could hit the weekly Lawson’s release in relatively nearby Woodstock and then two days later make the two hour trip (each way) to Hill Farmstead. Fiddlehead would have to wait for next year.
Here’s the thing. Both trips meant waiting in line. Lawson’s went on sale at noon and when I arrived at 11:40 there were already 6 people in line ahead of me. Looking into the cooler I could see that I would definitely get some Sip of Sunshine but it was not clear that I would score some Super Session #2.
While my cousin held my place I browsed the bottle shop and loaded up with local brews. The line for Lawson’s kept on growing. At 11:55 the clerk took pity on us and started selling. My cousin helped me to double my score getting his own four pack of Sunshine and six pack of Session.
Wednesday came and I set out on my own with every intention of getting to Hill Farmstead well before the noon opening. My only other trip there had been two years before for a special bottle release of Genealogy of Morals and Phenomenology of Spirit. It was a total shit show with geeks flocking in for hundreds of miles. It took over two hours to get my bottles of these rarities and then get my growlers filled with IPA’s. But I figured that had to be the exception, not the rule. Today I imagined I could breeze in and out in 30 minutes or so.
Thanks to a closed bridge which did not show on my phone until I got there, my arrival was delayed until 11:50. I was greeted by a full parking lot and a line that stretched out the door. On entering the building an employee helped orient me to their system which meant I was given a checklist to fill out with how many bottles and growlers I planned to buy. Once filled out I turned it back in and was assigned an ignominious number “46.” Obviously this was going to take longer than I thought. But very soon my hoped for departure time of 1 pm became 1:30 and then 2.
Trying a tasting flight of four different drafts helped pass the time. The fact that beer geeks are also a pretty convivial bunch meant lots of conversation with people of Vermont, Boston and Connecticut. Even so, it was just after 2 pm by the time my order was filled and wheeled out to my car.
To their credit the staff was quite apologetic. I learned that Wednesday’s are usually their busiest day and I suspect that if I had arrived at 3 pm my wait would have been much shorter. Ah, the best laid plans.
It can be argued that no beer is worth waiting in line that long. But the truth is that most geeks have done exactly that at one time or another. The question is, Is that a practice we should ever repeat? In the case of my trip to Hill, given that I spent four hours driving just to be there, there was no way I was going home empty handed. But the question is, how much time and energy is a beer worth?
There is no doubt that these expeditions can be fun and thus have some intrinsic value that is independent of the liquid goal. But the investment of time, gas and energy does leave me wondering about the cost-benefit analysis. Just how much is that beer worth?
Without a doubt the fruits of my efforts are world class. Yet I can also get world class beers from local breweries via a five minute trip to the local distributor or bottle shop.
What do you think? What is the furthest you have traveled to get a specific beer? How long have you waited? Was it worth it? I’d love to know.