Aspiring beer connoisseur goes from plebeian to pretentious at Switchback

I’ve heard about beer tastings for years, but it’s only recently that I was able to go on one of my own. For my first excursion into this exciting new world, I went to the Switchback Brewing Company in Burlington.

On a nice fall day with sunshine all around, two of my friends and I pulled up to the factory. Hidden on the outskirts of the city past the train tracks, it was a little hard to locate. But we persevered in our search, and eventually found it at the end of the lane.

Pulling the door open, we entered the Tasting Room, which appeared to be about half bar and half gift shop, with windows looking out onto a beer tank. The room was pretty empty, with only a few patrons at the bar and some large bearded men drinking pints in the corner.

All of a sudden, there was a rustling noise coming from near our feet. A small black dog was apparently being employed as the greeter.

Taking a seat on the corner of the bar, we were immediately given a menu of sorts, listing all of the beer on tap for tasting by a rather friendly bartender. After looking through the choices, I decided on getting the sampler: a flight of four beers, which was apparently four tiny glass goblets arranged in a line on a tray shaped like Vermont.

Now I haven’t been drinking beer for very long, so I don’t really know what I’m supposed to taste. But the flagship ale of the company, Switchback Ale, is my favorite, so on the sampler it went. My other selections were a Märzen Fest Bier, Export Stout and Thai Lime Gose.

Other than the ale, I didn’t really know what these beers were supposed to look or taste like. But this setting in this brewery seemed like just the place to find out.

I first tried the Thai Lime Gose: a pale and cloudy yellow beverage, which was fizzing slightly more than the rest. The menu made the beer sound slightly more pretentious than other beers, describing it as “our Berliner Weisse brewed with Kaffir lime leaves and French sea salt.”

Whoever wrote that wasn’t lying about the lime taste. The drink tasted less like a beer and more like slightly bitter limeade, with a hint of salt. While I wouldn’t have known it was French salt I was tasting, it was nevertheless delicious.

Next up was the Export stout, resembling a large shot of espresso in a glass goblet, complete with caramel brown foam riding lightly on the top. The stout, which was a “smooth drinking stout with an early sweetness followed by a roasted chocolaty finish,” wasn’t quite what I was expecting. On first taste, I thought someone had handed me coffee, but the more time that I spent drinking it, the more I tasted.

At risk of sounding like a snob about this, it smelled like what I imagine burnt barley smells like, with a whiff of chocolate. There was taste of coffee, and obviously that of a distinctly beer-y flavor. Upon swirling it to feel fancy, it smelled of hops or, in more pedestrian terms, of pinecones.

Moving on, I went to the Märzen, which was brewed in the traditional fest beer style, and was “a wonderfully malty lager with a balanced and crisp hop character.” But honestly, it tasted like an upscale cheap beer. Like someone took a look at Budweiser and went Six-Million Dollar Man on it, saying, “We can rebuild it. We have the technology.” A clear amber, this is what a beer is really supposed to taste like, America.

My final goblet was filled with my standby, my fallback when all other beers are choices like Coors Light or PBR: Switchback Ale. Since turning 21, I have had this particular beer more times than I would care to count. But I find that it is always best from the tap, as it was at this tasting. A cloudy reddish-brown, it defies light to pass through the center. It smelled of that barley again, less burnt this time, with a hint of those hops again.

The brewery describes the ale as “our flagship – hop flavors and subtle impressions of fruit followed by a palate pleasing malty finish.” And I must say, they really nailed it with that description, although I think the subtle hints of fruit may have been wasted on me because I am still so inexperienced with this. Perhaps someone with more experience would be able to detect it better.

When I settled up at the end of my flight with the barman, my total came to an even $5, which seemed pretty cheap. I would have gladly paid more for beers of such quality, but thankfully the price was low.
I’m glad I got the chance to do this, as it has been a goal of mine for a while. With one adult activity done, it seems like it is time to find another to complete.