It's a small state, but Vermont has a big thirst for craft beer.
By the end of 2010, Vermont had 21 breweries for more than 625,000 residents. That's the most breweries per capita of any state in the country, according to the Brewers Association.
Even with such a high concentration, the state's premier breweries are spread pretty evenly and require seeing a whole lot of Vermont before taking a sip. When your location is as gorgeous as the Bridgewater Corners home of Long Trail Brewing, taking a little time to enjoy the elements isn't such a bad idea.Long Trail sits along the junction of Vermont's routes 4 and 100A between Rutland and Woodstock amid rolling hills and rustic homes, town squares and farmhouses. The lure of the brewery likely should involve its Blackberry Wheat, Double Bag strong ale and Belgian White witbier and the brewing and packing process behind them, but the brewery tour consists of a small catwalk over the brewing and bottling facility with signs spelling out each part of the process. It's minimal compared with the sprawling brewpub with each of Long Trail's offerings on tap and the large deck outside laden with picnic tables that overlook the Ottauquechee River just behind the brewery. The whole facility is based on the Hofbrau House in Munich,but adds distinct Vermont touches during the fall when the brewpub's cast-iron woodstove first heats up and the surrounding foliage wraps the area in a gold and copper quilt. The autumn trips are nice, but summer is an opportune time to head east from Long Trail on Route 4 through Woodstock, pull a quick right turn onto Interstate 91 South and stop into Harpoon Brewery's Windsor facility. The brewery has a location in Boston along the harbor, but it lacks the Windsor's guided tours, beer garden with outdoor views and live music during the summer and a roaring fire to complement the food during the winter. If you're dead set on seeing both breweries, the best way to do so is during the Harpoon-sponsored 140-mile brewery-to-brewery bike ride in June. That tall glass of Raspberry or White UFO hefeweizen or can of IPA tastes much better when you've earned it. If you're a bigger fan of one-stop shopping, head west and then just north on Route 7 to Middlebury for a minimalist tour and tasting at Otter Creek Brewery, where the Copper Ale, Solstice Ale, Stovepipe Porter and Wolaver's IPA and Witbiers steal the show. While you're in the western part of the state, you may as well head up Route 7 and drop in on Vermont brewing powerhouse Magic Hat in South Burlington. The tour itself is well worth the time for a peek at the manufacturing process and a growler full of apricot-laden No. 9, light Circus Boy hefeweizen, hop-heavy Blind Faith and its low-alcohol summer seasonal English ale Wacko. The tour and beer are great and all, but events including free beer and cheese nights, graffiti art festivals and jammy music fests help set Magic Hat apart and assure fans that their buyout by North American Brewing has done little to the brewery's indie spirit. It's admittedly challenging to hit every great brewery in Vermont when you're either driving or pedaling to each place, but Burlington makes it slightly easier by clustering great brewers such as Switchback Brewing, Three Needs Taproom and the Vermont Pub and Brewery around Magic Hat. That collection only gets broader in late July, when some of the state's more far-flung brewers, including Morrisville's Rock Art Brewery, Lyndonville's Trout River Brewing and Bennington's Madison and Northshire breweries descend on Burlington for the annual Vermont Brewers Festival. Lake Champlain is lovely, but the lake of craft beer beside it during a midsummer fest is just as beautiful.