Touring the tasting rooms of Pine Street

DSC_0461-copyWords // Matt Keller
Photos // Craig Thomas

In the past two years, Pine Street, in the South End of Burlington, has seen an influx of on-site tasting rooms connected to popular breweries. Just in time for Art Hop, we toured them all and have the 411 on everything you need to know about Zero Gravity (716 Pine Street), Citizen Cider (316 Pine Street), Queen City (703 Pine Street), and Switchback (160 Flynn Ave – off of Pine).

If it weren’t for the eye-level windows behind the bar providing a sneak peak to the production facility at Zero Gravity Brewery, and the industrial size metal doors leading out back, we wouldn’t have the slightest idea we were at their home brewery while enjoying a few samples at their street-facing tasting room. We arrived on a recent picturesque Thursday morning to begin an afternoon of sampling some of the finest beer and cider in a city at the forefront of the craft brewing movement.

DSC_0381-copyThe goal: to enjoy the full experience of all four tasting rooms on Pine Street in a single afternoon. My designated driver and I walked into the Zero Gravity tasting room, the newest addition to the South End, and immediately agreed that the space was worth the time it took to build. Modern and unfussy, with an open floor plan and an inviting patio, the design is the brainchild of co-founder Matt Wilson, who worked with the South End firm Select Design to perfect the feel. “It is great to start with a blank canvas,” said Wilson.

The space is perfect for an afternoon meeting or an evening of revelry, with a brand new production facility out back, pumping out fresh beer for the tasting room and for consumption around Vermont and beyond. Led by the friendly and attentive staff, I tried a series of beers served in a flight of five 5-oz pours: the Gruit, the Green State Lager, the Bob White, the Conhead, and the Brethead. Expect the lineup of beers to change at Zero Gravity, but not the freshness, quality, or attentive service. Either the beer or the location would be worth a trip on its own – the combination makes Zero Gravity a must-see for anyone looking for the full Burlington beer experience.

Next we switched gears, away from beer and into the world of craft cider. We arrived at Citizen Cider at ten past one and were immediately greeted by co-founder and co-owner Kris Nelson, who led us on a tour of the facility. New, ultra-modern equipment dominated the space. It was down-to-earth, and impressively efficient. According to Nelson, the facility has ten production employees, will produce about 300,000 gallons of cider in 2015, and uses more apples than can be sourced in the entire state of Vermont. Citizen uses whole fruit in their cider, rather than concentrate, and occasionally will need to source fruit from New York State rather than lower their standards.

DVT-FALL-2015-CRAIG-THOMAS-9-copyI tried ten different ciders the tasting room keeps on rotation, served with a plate of to-die-for house cut French fries. At Citizen Cider tasting room, come for the cider and stay for the food. An underrated, bar-style menu is served day and night.

If you think you know what cider is supposed to taste like, this place will change your mind, like it did for me. The freshness and variety of the different ciders on rotation, especially Unified Press and The Dirty Mayor, was a pleasant surprise. Each of the ciders on tap offers a distinct taste profile. Come with an empty stomach and an open mind.

We headed south on Pine Street to Queen City Brewery. Set back from the street, Queen City is an upstart alternative to industry heavyweights Switchback and Citizen Cider, but their smaller size doesn’t mean a sacrifice in quality. Queen City combines their production facility and tasting room into one large space, so you can see the beer being brewed as you sip.

The U-shaped bar is complemented by several surrounding high-top tables. The beer is darker and richer than any other on the tour, mostly in the English style. From the vintage pickup truck suspended above the bar to the lengthy beard of the bartender, Queen City exudes a low-key, non-threatening atmosphere with a max capacity of 75. Don’t miss the unique, smoky Rauchbier or the relaxed, smooth Hefeweizen.

DVT-FALL-2015-CRAIG-THOMAS-4-copyLast but not least on our tour is a stop at Switchback, the granddaddy of South End brewing, for a tour with none other than Switchback founder Bill Cherry, a legend of Vermont craft brewing. After a tour of their extensive brewing and bottling facilities, the size of which dwarfs any other brewery on Pine Street, we take a seat at their busy, warm tap room.

The space is already full on Thursday at 4:30, with local workers and vacationers alike enjoying the beautiful afternoon. The bartenders swear there is no difference, but the beer poured into flights specially made by Burton trays tastes even fresher than the bottles found in local stores.

It is the perfect ending for day spent experiencing the forefront of the craft beer movement, but for Pine Street, it was just the beginning.