Mardi Gras on New England's Left Coast - Page 2
By Bruce Northam

Magic Hat costume

Magic Hatfuls of Indulgence
Although Magic Hat's hand–crafted Lucky Kat can spawn a nuclear buzz, it has nothing to do with Vermont having the highest percentage of nuclear generated power in the nation—74%. One result of this makes Vermont one of only two states without any coal–fired power plants. In a comparable vein, you get the sense that recycling was invented here. Proof positive that progressive energy and true environmentalism can coexist.

Alan Newman, Magic Hat's founder—and parade leader—carries the fanciful (though official) title of Conductor of Cosmic Symphonies. Interviewing him reminded me that it's easiest to bounce ideas off of flexible surfaces. He's a quirky, interesting guy; a serial entrepreneur who describes himself as an "unemployable insubordinate." He wears round, bright yellow glasses, a bushy gray beard, and a shaved head. A character partly defined, even before he gets chatty. He's started and sold several successful businesses, including Seventh Generation and Gardner's Supply Company. More telling, he prefers to remains shoeless, year–round.

The Magic Hat Brewery tour starts with an information super–hallway with relics from the past, and a cardboard sign brought in by an actual hitchhiker pleading, "Going to Magic Hat Brewing Company, Please Help." Dimly lit inside to save energy and create ambiance, you can enjoy limited release beer samples while theatrical tour guides won't bore you with the standard "here's dah mash tun" run–of–the–mill blather. Welcome to one of the world's epicenters for craft beer—inside a building that's a continuous energy efficiency experiment, including "free air" refrigeration, which cools beer naturally all winter long using nothing more than air from the big, natural freezer called Vermont.

Lucky Kat label

Magic Hat currently brews three year–round beers and four seasonals, and frequently produces one–off, limited release batches called Odd Notions. So it's not just about maple syrup up here (though Vermont is the leading U.S. producer). It's not just a beer, it's a community. Inside the Artifactory, featuring the Growler Bar and a retail store, visitors get to the bottom of their brews, including #9, Circus Boy, hI.P.A., and Lucky Kat, and are introduced to fermentation terms like Yeast Wrangler (an actual job title). Their beet–red beer, Wacko, redefines the classic summer cocktail…and it matches certain handbags? Hello trendy urban women!

Every now and then, a business is emblematic of the community in which it thrives. Magic Hat's current employment ad reveals their extraterrestrial, 1960s spirit:

"Do You Have What It Takes To Work For Beer? … That means people who not only think outside the box, but have taken the box out behind the barn, pounded it to splinters with a blunt yard implement, doused what's left in gasoline, and torched the whole thing in an incendiary blaze of non–conformist glory. That means people who will dance to their own drummer while grooving to our company's own unique communal beat … Send resume and cover letter to: Zookeeper."

I'm betting that those employment qualifications are a bit different from the ones required to join the Army.

Vermont Magic Hat bus

Roaming out of bounds isn't always a bad thing. Magic Hat's influence on local culture inspires social causes, including working closely with the music and arts scene. It's about maintaining an eternal fountain of youth …(remember?) having as much fun as when two elementary school buses pulled alongside each other at a red light. Older and wiser, my Mardi Gras 2.0 foray blended decadence with activism, and tapped both brain lobes.

Magic Hat is known for including thought–provoking short phrases on the underside of their bottle caps and on their website. The subject matter of these mini billboards range from humorous to insightful to nonsensical. There are even caps with a phone number that, when called, wins the drinker merchandise. As a Lower East Side New Yorker with severe allergies to horn honking and elitism, the bottle cap suggesting "Find a Solution to Mind Pollution" struck a chord. More evidence that you can fit a lot into a small space.

If I were chosen to invent Burlington's official tourism slogan, an option would be:

If you don't fit inside the box, climb on top of it and have a good look around.

But that's not fitting underneath a bottle cap, so I'm not applying for a job here. Instead, I'm heading 30 minutes east to ski at Bolton Valley. Old–style Led Zeppelin fans don't snowboard.

If you go:
Follow these links to Magic Hat Brewery, the Lake Champlain region, and Vermont Tourism.

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Bruce Northam is the author of Globetrotter Dogma. See his American Detour videos related to this story here: Magic Hatfuls of Indulgence or Mardi Gras in Vermont?

Related articles:

New Yorker Accepts Vermont Green Challenge by David Lee Drotar
Travel by the Glass by Chris Epting
Do More With Less: Survival, Then Surviving Scotch by Bruce Northam
The Mysterious Stone Chambers of New England by Brad Olsen

Other United States travel stories from the archives

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