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John and Jen Kimmich of the Alchemist

interview // Lesley Snyder
photo // Greg Forber

After their Waterbury  brew pub was swallowed by Tropical Storm Irene, John and Jen Kimmich rebuilt what has become a pale ale empire. One sip of the highly-acclaimed Heady Topper Double IPA, and it’s no wonder they dubbed their brewery “The Alchemist”; from six different types of hops, John has created liquid gold. Since ranking number one on BeerAdvocate, Heady Topper transitioned from a delicious, small-town secret to one of the highest rated beers in the world.

It’s no secret that extreme consumers have sold Heady Topper on the black market. Out-of-staters travel to Vermont just to stock up on cases. What do you make of this fanaticism?

Jen: “John has created a beer that he loves to drink (and so do I) … Fortunately, lots of other people enjoy the same flavors as us.

“[Heady Topper] is rated number one on several user-supported websites … This means we are doing a great job with consistency, and Heady Topper tastes just the way it is intended to taste. It is extremely difficult to find an unfiltered IPA that is brewed year-round; especially one that hits the shelf and sells out within three weeks of being brewed … The day it comes off the canning line, it goes directly into our refrigerated truck. It is usually delivered that very day to the retailer. That is unique.”

What advice do you have for homebrewers?

John: “The number one advice I give to homebrewers is always the same: get to know your water … Every beer has its unique needs in a water profile. If you don’t test your hardness, alkalinity, chlorides, and pH—you should.”

You initially set out to perfect one brew; why did you expand?

Jen: “We originally built this packaging brewery to complement our brew pub. After the pub was lost in Irene flooding, we quickly switched gears and increased capacity at the brewery. We had to create new jobs and increase revenue…

“We did build this brewery to produce and package one beer perfectly; we will continue to do this … and distribute Heady Topper from here … We do make specialty beer as well, but this is a very small amount of our annual production, and we don’t distribute them outside of Waterbury.

“When we build our second brewery, we will brew and package our second label, Focal Banger. There will be a visitor center as well as a tasting room, retail shop, and enhanced self-guided tour area.”

If you could have a beer with anyone, who would it be?

John: “Not famous: my grandfather. He was a German immigrant baker who came to this country not speaking a word of English. He ended up raising eight children while being the owner and operator of a few bakeries. I still remember the cookies in his display case, and the smells are burned into my brain. I’d like to drink some Headys with him.

“Famous: Frank Zappa. Now that would be fun.”

You want us to drink from the can. What if we don’t want to drink from the can?

John: “Once you buy it, you can drink it out of whatever the hell you want! Drink it out of your shoe if you want! However, if you’d like to drink it in the manner that its creator does, then drink it out of the can.

“Try it; you’ll love it. It’s a way of life.”