Those on the hunt for the tall silver cans that have dominated the craft beer scene in recent years are in luck — The Alchemist announced last week it’s now distributing its coveted staples Heady Topper and Focal Banger statewide.
The Alchemist is partnering with Craft Beer Guild, a Colchester, Vt.-based beer distribution company, to get the two brews to more than 200 stores and restaurants across Vermont, said Jen Kimmich, co-owner of the Alchemist.
The brewery’s former distribution zone included Lamoille County, the Mad River Valley and Burlington stores and restaurants within a 30-mile radius. Two beers are made year-round at the Alchemist’s facilities in Waterbury and Stowe; Heady Topper is a hazy, hoppy 8 percent ABV American double IPA, and Focal Banger is a 7 percent ABV American IPA.
Kimmich said she and her husband, John Kimmich, had planned to distribute statewide when they first began canning their brews in 2011, but it took them until now to build their business to a point at which they felt confident it could keep up with statewide demand.
“It’s always been our goal to have it all over Vermont,” Kimmich said, but “it’s a big commitment.”
The original Alchemist, a brewpub that opened in 2003 on South Main Street in Waterbury, was destroyed in a flood in 2011. The brand-new canning facility was ready to go in Waterbury Center, and Heady Topper production stayed strong for the next five years.
Since the Alchemist began canning, its founders have learned more about the market’s demands.
“When we started our production brewery in Waterbury in 2011, we were making 1,500 barrels of Heady Topper a year. We thought that would be enough to have our own retail shop, distribute in the Burlington area, and then still have enough” for local clients, Kimmich said.
Now, the Alchemist produces 9,000 barrels of Heady Topper a year, and 6,000 barrels of Focal Banger, selling about 3,000 cases per week.
For the last few years, the Alchemist has sent its brews out of state during slower seasons, which helps keep employment steady.
Kimmich says the brewery won’t be increasing its production to handle its expanded distribution network.
Impact on beer tourism
In 2017, a year after the Alchemist’s futuristic Stowe brewery opened to the public, tourism organizations and business owners reported beer tourism hitting a fever pitch, bringing suds-starving travelers to Stowe from all over the U.S.
That year, alchemistbeer.com was responsible for half of the inbound traffic from other sites to the website of Stowe Area Association, Stowe’s destination marketing organization, said marketing manager Sharon Harper.
Kimmich said as craft breweries have popped up around the nation, beer tourism has plateaued, since people are just as keen to frequent their new home breweries.
She doesn’t think the Alchemist’s distribution expansion will decrease beer tourism to Stowe.
“We have a lot of great customers in New York state and Massachusetts and New Hampshire who come visit the brewery maybe once or twice a year now. (Those with) shorter drives come every other week if they want to,” she said.
The brewery will likely continue to be a draw.
John Decker, owner of Stowe Public House, thinks beer tourism will stay alive and well.
“They come to Stowe to go to the brewery, and I don’t think that will change,” Decker said.
“They’re not flooding the market. There’s a want for it. As we call it, it’s the OG. It’s the original. People are still going to come to Stowe to come to the Alchemist.”
Decker also thinks giving people a more readily available taste of Heady Topper and Focal Banger will encourage them to give other craft beers a try.
“When they come up to Vermont, they’re still going to get some stuff that they’ve never gotten down there. People are still going to come for it. It also opens the door for other delicious beers in Vermont to get recognition and grow as well,” Decker said.
“It helps bring visibility to the quality of craft beverages in the area,” Harper said.
She said Vermont has the most breweries per capita than any other state, and with many local breweries, wineries, cideries and distilleries within a few miles of the Stowe, it’s “the perfect place for beer enthusiasts to explore Vermont’s craft beverage scene.”
“Along with the beverage makers, there are local businesses such as 4 Points VT brew tours that support the demand for, and interest in, Vermont craft beverages,” Harper said.
Kimmich said border-town beverage sellers — near the state lines of Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire — are particularly excited to get their hands on the celebrated silver silos.
“They’re really happy. We’ve been telling them to hang on, we’re working on it for several years,” she said.
Decker said a friend of his who runs a beverage stop in Pownal, a tiny town tucked into the southwestern corner of Vermont, got three cases of Heady Topper last week, and it all sold “within five minutes of being in the store.”
“At the end of the day, if we can sell more cases of Heady Topper and Focal Banger in Vermont, versus having to send it out of state, that’s ideal,” Kimmich said. “It’s still keeping money in the state of Vermont, and that’s always best.