By Bill McKibben
It’s an utter myth that great craft beer is necessarily high in alcohol. Yes, an imperial IPA is going to knock you pretty hard. But the greatest brewer in the world is Shaun Hill of Greensboro Bend. And one of the genius things about his Hill Farmstead beer is that much of it is relatively low in alcohol.
For instance, the standby, Edward, clocks in at 5.2 percent alcohol by volume, Flora has an abv of 5, and Walden registers a 4. Each of them gets a rare 100 score from RateBeer, the planet’s crowd-sourced arbiter. (Pabst Blue Ribbon is 5% alcohol too, and it scores a 2.) So save that barleywine for drinking by the fire; if you’re going to have a pint at a bar, read the small numbers on the label and make it something from Shaun Hill’s house of wonders.
For the record, Edward is named for Hill’s grandfather. It’s a straight-on pale ale, maybe what we’d call a session ale these days. And it is marked, above all, by the immaculate clarity of the flavors. That’s been Hill’s trademark from the beginning: the malt and the hops are like individual notes that then harmonize in your throat on the way down. The Walden—available less often—is even lighter in alcohol, far lower than the standard American brews. It’s a pale ale but not a pallid one; the hop aroma is enchanting, which even a few years ago no brewer knew how to do with a beer like this.
If you want bottles of Hill’s beers, or to fill your growler, then you need to drive (or bike) to the brewery at Greensboro Bend—a trip that combines easily with a day at Craftsbury Outdoor Center for running, biking, skiing or sculling. The trip is worth it just to see the beer nuts from across the continent lining up, glassware in hand. But if all you want is a glass, the best place to try them is Parker Pie, not far away in West Glover. The pizza is remarkable, the music is damned good, and at last count 7 of their 10 beer taps were tuned to Hill Farmstead. —Bill McKibben