Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster

Representing the 2nd District of New Hampshire
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NECN: Too popular? Vt. brewery turns customers away

Nov 7, 2013
In The News

(NECN: Jack Thurston, Waterbury, Vt.) - The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vt., popular with beer lovers for its hoppy double IPA called Heady Topper, announced Tuesday it would close its retail space to the public next week, due to large crowds that made daily business difficult.

Outside the headquarters before Wednesday's 11 a.m. opening, the line of fans was mammoth. Several dozen customers snaked along to the register with beer samples in hand. Most were eager to spend nearly $80 on a case of Heady Topper. The lauded, small-batch, hard-to-find drink has beer lovers buzzing. Earlier this year, users of the popular beer rating website gave the beer a rare perfect "100" score, earning Heady Topper a description of "world class."

"I came here to get some Heady Topper for my husband," customer Heather Messina of Albany, N.Y. told New England Cable News. "He said this is his favorite beer so this is his Christmas present. He doesn't know I'm here and I came here and got him a case."

Passionate crowds may be enviable, but they've left the Alchemist facing traffic jams, complaints from neighbors over congestion, safety concerns, and trouble servicing its restaurant and retail accounts. The brewery announced online Tuesday that it will shut its tasting room and sales space at the headquarters November 15. "I would never complain and am very fortunate to be in this position, but with that said, it is still a problem nonetheless," said owner John Kimmich.

Kimmich's successful business is one of more than 30 craft beer makers in Vermont. The state famous for food production has seen incredible growth in the craft beer sector in recent years, and brags it is now home to more craft breweries per capita than anyplace else in the country. In Vermont alone, craft beer producers make an estimated 400,000 barrels of beer a year, and employ about 400 people, the Vermont Brewers Association told New England Cable News in May of this year.  

At an event in West Lebanon, N.H. Wednesday, Congresswoman Annie Kuster suggested the federal government could do more to help craft breweries grow. The first-term Democrat toured the Seven Barrel Brewery, talking about legislation she signed onto that would cut in half the current $7 per barrel federal excise tax small brewers pay.

A craft producer's first 60,000 barrels a year, which is more than many brands turn out, would qualify for the savings. "This is money that they can reinvest back into the brewery; they can invest in hiring," said Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H. "For the brewers I've talked to, this will make a difference for them."

Back at the Alchemist, if the legislation were to pass, a $3.50 federal excise tax instead of a $7 charge on what Kimmich said is his roughly 9,000 barrel output, would mean approximately $31,500 in tax relief. "We pay a lot more in state taxes," he noted. “It is a relatively small portion of our expense of making the beer, as it is. But every bit helps, and it’s great that [members of Congress] finally realize all the jobs we create.”

That money could help the Alchemist as the business plans what's next. Kimmich told NECN he is considering perhaps opening a retail space in a more easily-accessible area with better parking. More distribution of his signature beer is also eventually a possibility, Kimmich said.

Kimmich said he wanted to thank his customers and assure them that Heady Topper will stay in production. Current accounts will continue to be serviced, and 25 employees will keep their jobs, Kimmich added. But for now, the thirsty mobs will have look elsewhere for their Heady Topper.