Tiny Vermont a giant of American craft beer: Leafy hills host some of the world's best breweries

Vermont even serves critically acclaimed beers from the Von Trapp family of 'Sound of Music' fame

Tiny Vermont boasts a giant thirst for beer. 

Autumn foliage has long made the rural, rugged state an idyllic destination for leaf peepers. They find brilliant New England images of fiery red, orange and yellow mountainside forests punctuated by covered wooden bridges passing over rippling creeks. 

They also find today one of the best and most beautiful places on the planet to drink world-class beer

"Being remote means having to do things yourself," John Holl, the editor of All About Beer magazine, told Fox News Digital. "There’s no room for doing things half-a**ed, and that includes brewing a quality pint. There is a can-do spirit in Vermont you don’t find in other states."

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That can-do small-town spirit makes for an artisanal culture of farmhouse cheese makers, barnyard woodworkers and, yes, boutique brewers.

The Green Mountain State boasts 59 breweries, according to the Vermont Brewers Association, among a population of just 643,000 residents. 

Von Trapp Brewing in Stowe, Vermont, was founded by the Von Trapp family of "Sound of Music" fame. It's owned today by Johannes Von Trapp, the youngest son of Maria and Baron Von Trapp.

Von Trapp Brewing in Stowe, Vermont, was founded by the Von Trapp family of "Sound of Music" fame. It's owned today by Johannes Von Trapp, the youngest son of Maria and Baron Von Trapp. (Courtesy Von Trapp Brewing)

Only wide-open wild west Wyoming has fewer people.

That’s one brewery for every 10,900 Vermonters — the most beer makers per capita of any state in the union. 

It’s as if New York City was home to 800 breweries. The Big Apple boasts only 24. 

Vermont enjoys not just an abundance of breweries but a unique cluster of quality.

Vermont boasts one brewery for every 10,900 residents — the most beer makers per capita of any state in the union.

The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead and Lawson's Finest Liquids, to name just three, all rank among the best brewers in the nation, according to beer-rating sites such as BeerAdvocate.com. 

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The Alchemist's Heady Topper, a hazy, pungent double India pale — now known as New England-style IPA — inspired a worldwide "cult beer" phenomenon a decade ago. 

Typical New England scene: Stowe Church in a landscape of fall foliage colors in Stowe, Vermont. The ski resort town is a powerhouse of American beer making as the home of critically acclaimed The Alchemist and Von Trapp Brewing.

Typical New England scene: Stowe Church in a landscape of fall foliage colors in Stowe, Vermont. The ski resort town is a powerhouse of American beer making as the home of critically acclaimed The Alchemist and Von Trapp Brewing. (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

Beer enthusiasts waited hours in line to spend $75 on a case of Heady Topper, offered only in limited release each day at the height of its popularity in 2013. 

Those out of the daily allotment offered up to $1,000 to people lucky enough to score a stash of 24 cans of the coveted suds. A resale market for individual cans exploded online. 

In the small town of Waterbury, lines of autos outside the brewery created a traffic nightmare. The Alchemist opened a larger brewery in Stowe in 2016. 

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"If India pale ale were rock ’n’ roll, Heady Topper would be the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ or ‘Hey Jude’ of the genre," raved The Boston Herald at the time, calling it "a layered atmospheric anthem that defines an art form."

Hill Farmstead enjoyed similar cult status. It inspired urban hipsters from the trendiest neighborhoods of Boston, Brooklyn and Manhattan to drive hours to Vermont's most remote "Northeast Kingdom."

There, they enjoyed the honor of standing in line amid the reek of manure at the 18th-century Hill family farm and brewery in Greensboro. 

Its rustic, full-flavored American farmhouse beers are among the most celebrated in the world.

Cans of Heady Topper are filled at The Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, Vermont, on Jan. 21, 2015. The beer inspired a cult phenomenon that elevated the global profile of Vermont-brewed beer.

Cans of Heady Topper are filled at The Alchemist brewery in Waterbury, Vermont, on Jan. 21, 2015. The beer inspired a cult phenomenon that elevated the global profile of Vermont-brewed beer. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The critical acclaim brought global attention to Vermont's unique beer and its curious cultural paradox. 

Vermont is largely rural and isolated. It leans left politically but boasts small-town values.

Beer enthusiasts offered to pay up to $1,000 for a case of cult-favorite Vermont beer Heady Topper.

Its voters elected a socialist senator, Bernie Sanders in 2006, and a Republican governor, Phil Scott, amid the Donald Trump ascendancy of 2016. 

Scott was reelected in a 2020 landslide with 68.5% of the popular vote. 

One observer described Vermont as a state of "gun-toting hippies."

Vermont paradox

The beer scene reflects the Vermont paradox. It's a European culture of farmhouse and village breweries. But, in the American craft-beer style, it brazenly challenges centuries-old continental brewing tradition. 

The powerful New England-style IPAs pioneered by breweries like The Alchemist bore little resemblance to the traditional and more genteel English India pale ales that inspired them.

Julie Andrews portrays Maria von Trapp in a scene from the popular movie of 1965, "The Sound of Music." The real-life Maria and Baron Von Trapp escaped Nazi Austria and landed in Stowe, Vermont, because the mountain climate reminded them of the Alps. Their son Johannes Von Trapp today runs Von Trapp Brewing in Stowe.

Julie Andrews portrays Maria von Trapp in a scene from the popular movie of 1965, "The Sound of Music." The real-life Maria and Baron Von Trapp escaped Nazi Austria and landed in Stowe, Vermont, because the mountain climate reminded them of the Alps. Their son Johannes Von Trapp today runs Von Trapp Brewing in Stowe. (Getty Images)

Vermont feels much like rural Bavaria, where remote villages and Alpine valleys hide cozy hunting lodge beer halls and some of the world’s best breweries. 

"There is a focus on agriculture, artisanal foods and creativity in Vermont." — Sam Von Trapp

The Bavarian vibe is what attracted the real-life Maria Von Trapp — the heroine played by Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music" — to the Green Mountains, her grandson Sam Von Trapp told Fox News Digital.

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"There is a focus on agriculture, artisanal foods and creativity in Vermont," said Von Trapp, who today helps run Von Trapp Brewing with his father, Johannes, the youngest son of Maria and Baron Von Trapp.

The Von Trapps first landed in Philadelphia, the grandson said, after escaping Nazi Austria. 

They found it too hot and humid. They visited Vermont and instantly felt at home among its rugged mountains and cooler climate.

Skiers take a break at The Trapp Family Lodge beer hall on March 1, 2020, in Stowe, Vermont. The brewery boasts an Alpine beer hall vibe.

Skiers take a break at The Trapp Family Lodge beer hall on March 1, 2020, in Stowe, Vermont. The brewery boasts an Alpine beer hall vibe. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

"They realized how beautiful it was and that it reminded them of Austria, so they decided to stay," said Von Trapp.

The bought a farm in the ski resort two of Stowe in 1942 and turned it into a hotel, the Von Trapp Family Lodge, in 1950. Johannes — Maria was carrying him when the Von Trapp's escaped Austria — opened the brewery at the Lodge serving mostly European-style lagers in 2010. 

Von Trapp Brewing has brought renewed international attention to Vermont's robust beer scene. 

Von Trapp Brewing specializes in European-style lagers. It's brought renewed international attention to Vermont's robust beer scene. 

It earned first-place honors in the Bohemian pilsner and strong beer categories last autumn at the Great International Beer, Cider Mead and Sake Competition, while Von Trapp Dunkel was named the world's best dark lager at the 2022 World Beer Awards. 

Alchemist brewery owners John and Jen Kimmich pose for a portrait while sitting on stacks of Heady Topper in Waterbury, Vermont. Heady Topper, a hazy "double IPA" in the New England style, became a cult phenomenon around 2012 and helped elevate the profile of the Vermont beer scene.

Alchemist brewery owners John and Jen Kimmich pose for a portrait while sitting on stacks of Heady Topper in Waterbury, Vermont. Heady Topper, a hazy "double IPA" in the New England style, became a cult phenomenon around 2012 and helped elevate the profile of the Vermont beer scene. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Vermont established itself as a craft-brew powerhouse in the early days of the movement. 

Homebrewer Greg Noonan opened Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington near the shores of Lake Champlain in 1988. It was the first craft brewery in Vermont and among the earliest in the nation. 

Noonan became one of the most influential figures in the history of American craft brewing. 

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He opened his Burlington brewery "after spending three years lobbying the Vermont legislature to legalize brewpubs," the pub notes today on its website. 

"Because there was little literature available for small-scale brewers, he literally ended up writing what was the book."

Aerial view of colorful fall foliage in Newark, Vermont, on Oct. 12, 2021.

Aerial view of colorful fall foliage in Newark, Vermont, on Oct. 12, 2021. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Noonan's technical tome "Brewing Lager Beer: The Most Comprehensive Book for Home and Microbrewers," passed along his knowledge to a generation of budding beer-makers around the country. 

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Noonan opened additional breweries in New Hampshire in Massachusetts. He died in 2009, but his original "Brewing Lager Beer" book is still in print today.

"Vermont is pretty and peaceful and attracts a lot of quirky creative people from big cites like Boston and New York," Great International Beer competition founder Gregg Glaser told Fox News Digital. 

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"It's a great place to drink beer, but also a great place to find potters, glass makers, woodworkers and cheese makers. They all require the same artisanal creativity."