By Sue Halpern and Bill McKibben
Randolph is not known as Vermont’s culinary hub, but it’s convenient to several gap rides and Mt. Cushman’s killer 23-mile mountain bike ride. You’ll want to work up an appetite before stopping at One Main whose sweet potato fries will make you understand the meaning of ‘Platonic ideal.’ On a sunny evening you can sit outside along the sidewalk but the big bar inside is pleasantly dark and comfortable, and it boasts a beer list worthy of Montpelier. One local favorite is the Blood Orange Imperial IPA from Bent Hill Brewery in nearby Braintree. Wait for it to warm just a tiny bit for the citrus to really hit. It has an 8.2% alcohol content (abv) and is very much worth the try. Bent Hill is, in fact, slightly bent: they also brew beers using beets and coconut, and they’ve begun growing their own hops. They pretty much exemplify the adventurous small Vermont brewer.
On the other end of the state’s beer spectrum, at least in terms of size, is Otter Creek in Middlebury, now owned by Long Trail (or, by the private equity firm which owns Long Trail). Otter Creek has always been known for drinkable but unadventurous fare: a kind of junior Sam Adams, with the perfectly okay Copper Ale as its flagship. But new brewmaster Mike Gerhart has changed all that: Copper Ale and the brewery’s other regulars are gone, replaced this spring by a new lineup that centers on Over Easy and Backseat Berner. The first is a session pale ale, with an immense hop taste crammed into a beer with just 4.6% alcohol by volume. It’s the king of the weekdays; the Berner (named apparently for a dog, though it might become the unofficial brew of a presidential campaign) is even better. It has the powerful citrus notes of, say, a Heady Topper, but you don’t have to lurk outside a beer store waiting for a delivery on alternate Thursdays. At roughly $9 a sixpack, it’s likely to become one of New England’s absolute standards.