The best beer in the world

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Heady Topper double IPA by The Alchemist Brewery in Vermont

Heady Topper double IPA by The Alchemist Brewery in Vermont (Josh Noel, Chicago Tribune)

As workers stacked cases for the masses to take home, I worked my way to the head of the line and scored a sample in a stemmed, rounded glass. Heady greeted me with a rich, hazy, pale golden hue and spicy, pungent nose that makes the mouth water as with the finest of meals. The beer itself is a complex web of genius: spicy warmth, bitter pine, juicy citrus and a remarkable dryness that makes the beer at once approachable and robust in its 8 percent alcohol kick.

So yes, it is that good.

But, yes, there also is its limited nature. Until recently, The Alchemist canned a mere 600 cases of Heady Topper weekly. At the start of 2013, it doubled that. This summer the brewers hope to up the figure to 1,800 cases.

I sipped a couple more samples — they're generous at The Alchemist — before pledging to come back Wednesday, their next canning day. It was even busier than Monday.

Two friends who had driven up from Manhattan walked out with a case — that's 24 cans — each. Three friends from New Jersey who had driven seven hours to visit The Alchemist and one other Vermont brewery loaded a half-dozen cases into the back of their car. Six guys from Philadelphia bought a staggering 25 cases to take home, totaling nearly $2,000.

"It's just a delicious beer," said Tim Gregan, one of the Philly guys. "The hops are just incredible, and it's not bitter at all. It's a pretty perfect IPA."

And then there were Denis and Jackie Laurendeau of Bedford, N.H., who were in the area to ski but were guided to the brewery by a friend's recommendation. Denis said he was more of a Labatt Blue man. But he was intrigued by his sample of Heady Topper.

"We'll take two of the four-packs," Jackie Laurendeau said.

Their restraint seemed positively quaint.

If you go

The Alchemist (35 Crossroad, Waterbury, Vt., 802-244-7744, is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Heady Topper costs $12 per four-pack or $72 per case. This summer the brewery also plans to launch a rotating series of monthly beer releases that will be available only in 64-ounce stainless steel growlers at the brewery (fills will cost $12, plus a one-time cost of $12 for the growler).

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