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Conehead by Zero Gravity: A standing Vermont classic that lives up to regional tradition
I really try my best to write reviews about the products I am judging, as opposed to about me. For as long as I can recall, I always hated critics who think readers give a damn about their personal relevant experience, but I guess sometimes you just have to break your own rules.
It was more than 20 years ago and I was 17 years old and touring colleges around New England. Already into drugs and alcohol at that point in my life (not an endorsement, just a fact), I knew that I was heading into special territory when my friends and I got to Vermont, not only for the outdoor weed that the Green Mountain State was well known for before people perfected indoor cultivation but more so for the things that small batch breweries were doing with suds.
I don’t remember every bottle and six-pack we copped using our fake IDs, but there was definitely some fantastic early batch Magic Hat, as well as seminal selections from Stone Brewing. Whatever flavors filled that cornucopia, I drove away from those few weeks with more than just a trunk full of beers that none of my uncles or friends had ever heard of; instead, I returned with a notion that whatever these places were doing with and to hops (a word I was unfamiliar with back then) was what everybody else should start doing as well.
Needless to say, I have major expectations when it comes to Vermont beer. That may be as silly as blindly adoring a professional sports team over the course of several years regardless of who plays for it; still, when I pour something as delicious as Conehead IPA from Zero Gravity down my alcohol hole, I don’t regret setting such an incredibly high bar. In this case, it’s a prize that stands out even among other greats, from those impressive Vermont pickings I first encountered as a teenager passing through to more contemporary tastes from the best breweries around New England or anyplace else.
I’m sure that some beer nerd will attempt to correct me on this next comment by pointing out ones that I’m overlooking, but in the stores I frequent it’s not very often that I find a wheat IPA worth imbibing. As someone who has a sensitive threshold for wheat taste—I can only stand so much clashing with the sharp-but-not-syrupy sweetness of my favorite IPAs—I have come to love Conehead in ways that were previously hard to imagine. It’s as simple as it’s perfect, and as a result easy to drink in large quantities—not in the same sense that makes Silver Bullets preferable for pounding, but rather in a way that the precision-focused Citra hops and light complexion make for something that won’t interrupt your dinner should your friend show up late and you end up sipping a few Coneheads before mealtime. I’d typically call this a summer beer, and in many ways I guess it is, but it warms the soul just fine in the cold months as well.
Finally, I want to shout out Burnt Out Beer Guy, whose recent blog post, “Is Craft Beer Burning Out,” provides a good explainer for people who want to know why we would review something like Conehead, which has been making appearances around here for more than a decade. “This insatiable need for new is robbing craft breweries of the time it takes to perfect their beers,” he rants. “Because the truth is that most of the world’s greatest beers didn’t taste that way after the first batch. Brewers would have spent months, and in some cases even years, tinkering and tweaking, raising a degree of temperature here, moving a hop addition another few minutes later in the boil there, in order to fine-tune and perfect their recipes.
“But now that craft is being compromised by the hashtag generation and some craft breweries are beginning to crack under the strain … there’s simply no time left over these days to refine. It’s corner-cutting, sloppy but inevitable as brewers come under increasing pressure to conjure up something different every week.”
And then there are the modern classics, like Conehead, that get better and better. If readers didn’t know about this particular pick already, now they do, and last time I checked, that’s what beer reviews are for.
Citizen Strain/Grain is an amalgamation of a bunch of us who, in addition to the hard and oftentimes depressing journalism we report for the Dig, also enjoy sampling and writing about the various beers, spirits, and cannabis products that vendors from near and far send our way. If you want us to check out your product, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.