The first time I tried Heady Topper, I was holed up in a Waterbury, Vt., hotel room at what must have been 11:30 in the morning.
A few minutes earlier, I had completed the 3½-hour trek from Boston to the brewery, greedily picking up an entire case of one of the world’s most sought-after beers. On each tallboy can, in black and silver, was a drawing of what looked like a mad scientist whose brain was bubbling over with hops. The drink was intense, piney, and somehow smooth. After I’d waited in line for more than an hour, it tasted like victory.
The second time I tried Heady Topper was an hour later, down the hill at the Prohibition Pig, a pub that replaced the original Alchemist pub and brewery in downtown Waterbury after the Alchemist flooded in 2011. Having secured our cases of Heady, a friend and I decided it was time to celebrate and drink as much of it — as well as standout beers from nearby Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest Liquids — as we could before crashing up the hill for the night.
I think back to those early days of the Heady Topper craze (this was 2013) because the beer landscape has changed immensely since then. Heady Topper still ranks very highly on user-review websites, and lots of people still wait in line. But beers from Monson’s Tree House, Maine’s Bissell Brothers, and others are crowding IPA lists and attracting lines of their own.
It’s only natural to wonder how these brews compare to the original hazy, juicy IPA.
It had been a while since I’d had a Heady Topper, and I was curious to see how my palate had changed in the interim, a time period when I’d been swallowing cans from Treehouse and Trillium on the regular. When my brother-in-law brought over a can of week-old Heady recently, an impromptu taste test was born. There was already a can of Trillium’s Scaled Up double IPA in my fridge.
First the Heady, dutifully drunk from the can and as wonderful as I remembered. As we sipped, we smelled pine needles and grass clippings and tasted grapefruit rind. We took a swig of the Trillium (both beers are 8 percent ABV) and got something akin to an orange creamsicle. Back to the Heady and the pine seemed even more pronounced. Was it always this piney? While some sips of Trillium produced a back-of-the-throat thing that’s hard to characterize — is it grainy? — the Heady maintained its balance throughout. We decided that picking a winner came down to taste preference, then quickly made another executive decision: Why choose when we could have both?Gary Dzen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GaryDzen