So I’ve had The Alchemist’s Heady Topper a number of times now, but with a four-pack enclosed in a recent shipment from Doc, I figured it was high time I actually paid enough attention to the beer to write a tasting note.*
*I actually sent Doc a reciprocal beer package as well, but thanks to Massachusetts having THE strictest alcohol shipping laws in the nation, it’s currently sitting in a UPS warehouse and can’t be delivered or returned. In Alabama, I’ve had dripping packages of completely shattered beer bottles delivered to my doorstep without the delivery-person giving so much as half a shit.
In my experience, when you’re the ONLY state restricting something in a particular way, there’s a fairly good chance that you’re doing it wrong. In my current home state of Alabama, we didn’t allow beer to be sold in containers larger than 16 ounces for some ridiculous reason. Then, finally, the powers-that-be realized that, “Hey…we’re the only state that does this. That’s kind of stupid.” So they changed the law.
My point is, when you go to UPS’s web-page concerning shipments of alcohol and you’re the ONLY state listed by name, your laws could probably use some updating.
The Heady Topper currently sits as the 3rd best beer in the world according to BeerAdvocate (#35 on the more internationally-focused RateBeer). A fairly tame, canned DIPA made by a tiny Vermont ale factory is ranked ahead of every beer on Earth save Pliny the Younger and Westy 12? How is that possible?
I’m sure there are some “homer” and “rarity” issues at play in those ratings (as is often the case when it comes to on-line reviews). But ignoring the all-but-guaranteed likelihood of “grade inflation”, the truth is, the Heady Topper is just a damn tasty beer. Is it the 3rd best beer ever made? Who gives a shit? It’s awesome!
The Heady pours a very cloudy gold with a tight, long-lasting white cap. It’s very well-carbonated and maintains its head and some intricate, delicate lacing throughout the session. While most on-line reviewers note a veritable citrus bowl of aromas and flavors, I find the Heady Topper to be firmly and completely on the “pine resin” side of the hop spectrum. This beer smells like a big bag of pungent weed and shredded pine needles. And I have absolutely no problem with that.*
*One very odd thing to note is that The Alchemist STRONGLY encourages you to drink the Heady Topper straight from the can. Here’s the text from the back of the label:
“Why do I recommend that you drink it from the can? Quite simply, to ensure a delightful, hop experience. The act of pouring it in a glass smells nice, but it releases the essential hop aromas that we have worked so hard to retain. If you MUST pour it into a glass, you may find that some of the hop resins have settled to the bottom – leave them in the can when pouring.”
I’m of the belief that bottled and canned beer should ALWAYS be poured into a glass before consuming. I like to look at my beer. I like to produce a proper head. And I like to be able to breathe in the aroma via the larger mouth of a glass rather than the limited opening on a can or bottle. So I was understandably confused by the suggestion on the back of the Heady Topper that I was doing a disservice to the beer by pouring it into a beer glass. How does Alehead Nation feel about this? Blasphemy? Or reasonable request from an artisan who wants you to experience their creation in a certain way?
The Heady Topper’s flavor is outrageously well-balanced. This is NOT an astringent hop-bomb, but neither is it one of those massive DIPAs where the hops and malt seem to be engaged in an epic battle for supremacy. At 8%, this is closer to a straight-up American IPA than a lot of the big Imperials on the market. It’s delicate and delicious. There’s an ample malt backbone that tastes faintly of honey-soaked biscuits which plays beautifully with the bold, pine resin flavors of the hops. The Alchemist’s goal is not to blow you away with huge flavors. It’s to give you a beer that is indescribably drinkable, refreshing, and complex. In that sense, the Heady Topper is an unparalleled success…one of the best I’ve ever tasted.
The excellent carbonation keeps the beer dancing across your tongue. It drinks light and easy, but is by no means thin or watery. The finish is exquisite with that bracing hop flavor sitting on your tongue for long moments after the swallow. Four Hops for a beer I would drink every day if I could. Congrats to the Alchemist on creating what is truly one of the great American craft beers. And thanks to my good friend Doc for sending some down to me in ‘Bama. I’ll try to return the favor just as soon as UPS removes me from their “Most Wanted” list.