When I say ‘food’ and ‘Vermont’ in the same sentence, I’m guessing the first thing that comes to mind for many of you is maple syrup. It’s probably what Vermont is most known for, food wise. But I actually don’t like maple syrup – which, by the way, is pronounced “SEER-up” in New England – so that’s not the topic of today’s post.
Cheese might also have come to mind for some of you. After all, there’s nothing like a nice Cabot Vermont sharp cheddar… I hear. I’m not really a cheese person either. I love it when it’s melted all over my pizza or sandwich but I’m not the type to just sit there and eat pieces of cheese (I know, I know, the blasphemy!). So that’s also not today’s topic.
If chocolate came to mind, then you and I are on the same page! Lake Champlain Chocolates makes probably the best American-made chocolate I’ve ever eaten. If you haven’t tried it, you’re seriously missing out. I especially recommend their various dark chocolate bars. (I don’t do affiliate links; this is just me really wanting you all to experience the deliciousness!)
Despite the fact that I’ve never been in Vermont without buying some Lake Champlain chocolate bars, I don’t have any photos of them and I never had a chance to do a tour of their facility, so chocolate actually isn’t the main topic today either.
Today, we’re mostly going to talk about beer and ice cream!
Pat and I spent Labor Day weekend 2016 up in Underhill State Park, as I talked all about last week. But on the way there, we swung by the Windsor, Vermont location of Harpoon Brewery for a tour and tasting, and on the way home we celebrated our summit attempt with a tour and ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s!
If you’re a craft beer drinker, I assume you’ve probably heard of Harpoon; they distribute across much of the US. Harpoon Brewery was founded in 1986 in Massachusetts but expanded to a second location in middle-of-nowhere Vermont in 2000. They have a lot of regular beers, a series of UFO (unfiltered offering) beers, as well as seasonal flavors (the fall Octoberfest and the summer Camp Wannamango are my two favorites!) and various specialty batches offered as part of their ‘100 Barrel’ series. When we were there, they’d done a collaboration with Zildjian (the cymbal company) to brew the Secret Alloy Ale. It was only available on tap and in bombers for purchase on site.
Tours of the brewery are $5 per person, last about 30 minutes, and include free samples, plus you get to keep the little sampling glass. We had to wear safety glasses while we were back in the production area, and they walked us through the entire production process. Pat and I have been on a ton of brewery tours in Connecticut but this was by far the biggest place we’d ever toured. Their facilities and equipment were on a much larger scale than we’d ever seen before and they had an entire giant warehouse room of kegs and cases ready for sale. And this is the smaller of their two facilities.
(We’ve since visited their main facility in Boston and holy cow is it giant!)
Afterwards, we purchased sampler platters and a pretzel with beer cheese dip, which we enjoyed out in the beer garden with a game of corn hole!
On our way back from Underhill State Park a couple days later, we stopped at the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters in Waterbury, VT. Now for those of you not from New England, allow me to let you in on a little secret: Ben & Jerry’s is a way bigger deal out there than it is in the rest of the country. Ice cream in general, it seems, is a bigger deal out there.
Tours of the factory are $4 per person and include an ice cream sample. I forget which flavor they were serving as samples the day we were there; I want to say it was blackberry?
Anyway, tours last about 30 minutes and walk you through the company’s history (it started as a small scoop shop in a gas station in 1978) and their entire ice cream production process. In addition to being a neat thing to learn about, it was cool to hear all the good things the company is doing, from sourcing local and fair trade ingredients to partnering with numerous non-profits and supporting causes such as environmental sustainability and social justice. It’s a company I’m happy to support (admittedly, I’d support them even more if their pints of ice cream didn’t cost $6…)!
After the tour, we purchased our own scoops of ice cream (sorbet for me, actually, since I’m lactose intolerant), browsed the gift shop, and walked through the flavor graveyard, where all of their discontinued flavors are memorialized.
Full of ice cream, we hopped back in the car to continue our drive home, making one more brief stop along the way in Montpelier. With a population of around 5000, it’s the smallest state capital in the US. There’s not a lot to do in a town that size, especially on a holiday, but we really just wanted to see the capitol building.
So we did!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: Harpoon is located just off I-91 in Windsor; Ben & Jerry’s and Montpelier are each a few minutes off I-89 in north-central Vermont
- Hours: Harpoon is open 10am-6pm Sun-Weds and 10am-9pm Thurs-Sat; tours are available Fri 5-7 pm, Sat 11 am-5pm, and Sun 12-4pm. Ben & Jerry’s tours leave every 30 minutes; hours vary
- Fees & passes: both Harpoon and Ben & Jerry’s are free to visit. Tours are $5/person and $4/person, respectively