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Fans make a run for Heady Topper beer as retail outlet is shuttered

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Cans of Heady Topper roll off the line at the Alchemist Cannery in Waterbury, Vt.AP

A popular Vermont beer is in such high demand that its makers are shuttering their retail operation to head off the trouble brewing with its neighbors.

Customers lined up at The Alchemist brewery on Tuesday to buy cases of Heady Topper, the double IPA that Beer Advocate magazine recently ranked No. 1 out of the top 250 beers in the world.

The hoppy concoction is so popular — sales have grown from 30 barrels a week to 180 a week in the two years since the brewery opened on the outskirts of Waterbury — that owners Jen and John Kimmich plan to close their retail operation on November 15 to appease nearby residents.

"We've had complaints from neighbors," Jen Kimmich said. "We would have had to fight to keep on going. ... We decided to close down before it turns into a large legal battle."

The couple plan to reopen the retail outlet as soon as possible and is looking for other locations in Waterbury, Kimmich said. While the retail end is closing for now, the brewery will continue operating and keep its staff of 25, she said.

Heady Topper's reputation exceeds its production levels. The brewery sells 180 barrels a week compared with the 30 it sold about two years ago — but either way, it's a drop in the bucket compared with the 200 million barrels of beer produced in the U.S. each year.

While grieving customers crashed the Heady Topper website Tuesday afternoon, it drew a big sigh of relief from Amy Kinsell, who owns the house next door to the brewery.

"The busier they've gotten, the more chaotic my life has gotten," she said on her front porch. She said other neighbors had complained as well.

Beer lovers can be more boisterous than considerate at times. The driveway at the Kimmichs' business is easy to miss, and Kinsell said there was one half-hour period last summer when 26 people turned around in her driveway.

When she parked a vehicle across the entrance to her driveway to slow that traffic down, people turned around on her grass, she said. Then there were the smoke and odors from the brewery's operations, and noise from the refrigerated trucks in its backyard.

There was no drowning her sorrows in her neighbor's product, Kinsell said.

"I'm not a beer drinker, not a fan of any beer."

The Alchemist has become a jewel in the frothy crown of Vermont microbreweries that had spawned a new sort of beer tourism, in which connoisseurs from around the world come to sample prize-winning brews of Lawson's Finest Liquids in Waitsfield, the Shed in Stowe, Hill Farmstead in Greensboro and others.

The notion of even a temporary closure disappointed fans stopping by the shop Tuesday.

"It's a sad situation, it really is," said Andy McLenithan, of Manchester in southern Vermont, who with his co-worker Scott Senecal had driven an hour out of his way on a trip home from building a baseball diamond in St. Johnsbury to stop at the Waterbury brewery.