The Long and Winding Road

So Long Trail Brewing Co. has another new IPA, which shouldn’t surprise you.  Also shouldn’t surprise you that it’s really, really good — but falls short of being great.  OK, maybe it’s mildly great.  When the next one comes out, it shouldn’t surprise you if it’s also really, really good.

Long Trail is getting to be something of an elder statesman in the New England beer scene.  Like any elder worthy of the statesman title, they have many admirable qualities, as well as a couple of quirks.

The admirable is easy; just about everything they make is good.  The list of Long Trail’s regulars and regular seasonals is one of the few that has stood the test of time, and even casual beerfans can recite a few names.   The flagship altbier, the reliable Double Bag, the Harvest Ale, and a terrific witbier currently called Mostly Cloudy but sold for decades as Belgian White.  Others are trotted out every few years, Hibernator and Pollenator probably the most popular; Hit the Trail Ale also wonderful.  Less desirable is that Blackbeary Wheat stuff, but even that is well composed, I can always choke one down.

Long Trail is continuously developing new products and rotating them in to the regular line up, but they take a long and deliberate road to do it.  While their approach to new products may seem pedantic, the results are usually worth the wait.

Prime example is the new Cranberry Gose, another well-executed product.  They ought to start pushing this on all the twentysomething cuties who sip Blackbeary Wheat while their beered up boyfriends are thumbing away on Untappd.  It really is a better choice.

On top of the regulars, LT has the Brush and Barrel series at the high end, and for the real beer geeks, they’ve launched a series of SMaSH beers.  I expect the smash thing (single malt and single hops) will fizzle out after enough of them start gathering dust at pricey beer boutiques.

The other segment of their offering is the Farmhouse Series, which I originally thought was going  to be some experimental stuff and would only be sold in Vermont.  At this point it’s hard to say what it is; the mix continues to change.  Standard fare tends to rotate through, first an ESB, now a Vienna Lager, first an American Pale Ale, now a Session IPA, etc. Whatever, it’s always a delightful pack and a great alternative to the seasonal mix.

longtrailipaWhich brings us back to the aforementioned IPA.  If Long Trail had an Achilles’ heel, IPA would be it.  LT entered the IPA fray in the 2000s with the long running and reliable orange label (at right).  At the time it was one of the juicier, hoppier IPAs on the market, even though it was really a British style at heart.

As time passed and new, hopped-up and/or boozed-up IPAs came on the market, the Long Trail orange became less and less of a go-to.  Upstaged by trendier newcomers, it began to seem dull by comparison.

The most jarring blow came from upstart breweries located further north on the famous trail.  Lawson’s, the Alchemist, etc. were creating brews that actually had people waiting on line to buy it.  With the release of Limbo, Long Trail arrived at the party, but it was a little late, and a little under dressed.

Next came Space Juice, which graphically looked more like something launched out of Burlington.  This time Long Trail took a page from the upstarts, produced limited quantities, sold it in 4-pack 16 oz cans, and priced it high.  They held some kind of release party, got people to wait in line.  It sold out, but the beer was just very very good, and the hysteria was mild.

If Limbo didn’t prove that Long Trail isn’t great at super premium IPAs, Space Juice should have.  He ain’t Heady, he’s my Long Trail.

Earlier this year (or maybe it was late last year) the Bridgewater brain trust announced that the old reliable orange bottle stuff was being shelved and a new IPA would replace it.  The result is called Green Blaze,  and darn if it didn’t prove that although they haven’t figured out the premium stuff, there aren’t many breweries that can deliver a mid-priced craft beer as well as Long Trail.

A blend of four hops showcases Mosaic atop a Chinook and Columbus sleigh ride of hop bitterness, with all of the danky dankness you’d expect from that mix.  Fourth hop is something called Equinox, which is another big bitter aroma hop.    Not many brewers use this one, it’s gone through some sort of name change, first to “HBC 366.”  That might’ve been fine for hops farmers, but the rest of the brewing world shrugged. Now it’s been rebranded “Ekuanot” which sounds surprisingly like Equinox and makes you wonder what the heck they were thinking.


But I digress.

Back to Green Blaze. It is not a super premium New England IPA, but when you’re drinking a Green Blaze, you aren’t far from it. In fact, at less than ten bucks for a six pack in most places, you wonder why they aren’t charging more for it. And then you’ll wonder why you should bother to pay more for the other stuff.

Well ok we all want the super IPAs now and then, when events and the wallet permit.  Mostly to find out what all the fuss is about. But for a reliable go-to everyday drinker, this Green Blaze stuff is hard to beat. It’s not for everyone, as it definitely leans more to the dank than it does toward the citrus.  Reminds me a bit of a long-gone pale ale LT offered, but I can’t say for sure, might be because that also came in green packaging.

As for the lack of citrus, the long IPA trail continues.  Now the latest and greatest from Long Trail is a citrus-infused version of Limbo, all juicy nice with a new orange label.  Only it’s not that juicy…or is it…or isn’t it.  They’re using pressed infusion something, so it has the citrus thing going, but without the usual juicy qualities you’d expect.  It’s really really good — but just shy of great — also as you’d expect.


Side note to all of this, if you haven’t visited the Bridgewater VT headquarters, I highly recommend it.  Although the crowd is often overflowing and table wait can be up to 90 minutes, they’ve added a terrific Tiki bar on the deck with little or no lines even at peak capacity.  Add to that a new food tent down on the river bank, with culinary treats cooked to order, and you’ve got one of the best all-around brew houses going.

More information…

Long Trail Brewing Company