October 28, 2016 by Cody
14 years ago I moved to Burlington, VT to start college. Also 14 years ago, a little Vermont brewery by the name of Switchback Brewing opened. This coincidence would eventually spawn some of my fondest memories of friends and beer.
I was actually a late bloomer when it came to drinking. I never grew up around alcohol, so it simply wasn’t something that seemed alluring to me for years. It wasn’t until I turned 21 that I began dabbling in alcohol with friends at college parties and bars. Somewhere in my venturing into the world of beer, I discovered Switchback Ale. Now keep in mind, at this time craft beer hadn’t yet hit it’s explosive stride we are seeing today; The Alchemist was still a small brewpub, and Hill Farmstead as well as Lawson’s weren’t around. The primary players in Vermont at this time were Otter Creek, Magic Hat, and Long Trail, all being major players in beer, even back then. When Switchback hit the scene though, it quickly became a local favorite in Burlington, despite relatively stiff competition.
This beer is more than just the numbers of pints sold though, it’s about the connection it has to my college experience. When I discovered Switchback, it was like a revelation. It wasn’t a flavor bomb that I’d come to appreciate in later years, nor was it the dollar draft swill at What Ales You. I had experienced #9 from Magic Hat too, and some Long Trail, so craft beer was not a foreign concept to me, but Switchback was different. This was my first experience with unfiltered beer, and despite Switchback Ale (their flagship beer, and the only one they brewed for awhile) being wholly sessionable, it seemed to get more tasty, and rich, the more pints I had. Now mind you I haven’t had a good pint of Switchback in years, but back then, this stuff was gold.
Because of this alluring flavor that I still can’t really put into sensible words, my friends and I would often order up a few glasses of these suds whenever we’d hit the town. And because Switchback was served only on tap for years, our experience with our favorite beer was all that more special, because we had to go out to get it. Labatt and Molson was reserved for hanging out and house parties, while Switchback was our beverage of choice when we demanded something special and memorable.
I know it might seem silly now to think of traditional Switchback Ale as something groundbreaking, but back then Switchback really made a name for themselves as something of a renegade outfit with their refusal to dive into the endless varieties of beer and wide distribution from Magic Hat and Long Trail. Switchback was made in Burlington FOR Burlington, and everyone in the city appreciated it. Hell, it wasn’t until 2007 when Switchback decided to release only their second beer! That is pretty impressive.
I could go down memory lane, and talk about karaoke nights at Frannie-O’s, happy hours at Church Street Tavern, or attempting to white guy dance at Rasputin’s, but everyone who went to college has their stories, and I won’t bore everyone with them. I will however, conclude my ode by saying that every last one of my close college friends still talk about how much Switchback meant to us back in the day. A few years ago, a couple of those friends got married, and they made sure that there was a keg of Switchback, not for their family, but for their Switchback cohorts.
Cheers Switchback, and thanks for the memories.