Hiking and Lager in Stowe

Fall Palette near Smuggler's notch

Still searching for colorful leaves that had withstood the big storm, we drove west toward Montpelier, Vermont’s charming capital. Our destination was Ben and Jerry’s on the outskirts of town. The factory tour is a major destination, Disneyland for ice cream lovers. Instead of the Jungle Cruise, the tour guides offer up ice-cream related puns like this one on the website: “stop in at our Flavor Graveyard to pay your respects to our dearly de-pinted retired flavors.” Unlike Disneyland, the attraction ends with something free – a sample of the ice cream they are currently packaging on the production line. At the ice cream café, visitors are often able to sample flavors not made for mass production, such as maple, which is considered too expensive as an ingredient to make the basis of an ice cream flavor.

After the tour, we pushed on to Stowe and walked to the Green Goddess Café on the outskirts of town. As we ambled south down the main street, many of the town’s charming buildings were marked with brass plaques noting their construction date. The soups, wraps and sandwiches at the café were delicious, some of the best of the trip. The baked goods – muffins and cookies – were also stellar. While Lisa stayed back to explore the H.E. Shaw Company General Store, family owned since 1895, Todd, Jon and I drove up 108 to Smuggler’s Notch. At the summit, the road narrows to one lane that threads past gigantic boulders that look as if they were tossed there by warring giants. Todd and I took off on foot up the Sterling Pond Trail, rated as easy, while Jon descended the far side of the mountains toward Jeffersonville, still in search of “peak.”

By this point in the vacation, we should have expected understatement. The Sterling Pond Trail wasn’t long, but it consisted almost entirely of oversized granite steps and tricky tree roots. Although the rain had stopped, water continued to drain off the rocky mountain. Muddy bogs and slick rock surfaces made for slow going. We watched the locals bounding by in their practical hiking boots. Since the trail was “easy,” we had left our boots behind. Almost at the end, as we descended to Sterling Pond itself, I slipped and bruised my tailbone. Felt that for days!

Grinning and bearing it at Sterling Pond

Jon’s research into the area’s “IPA Highway” sent us in search of Trapp Lager, a brew house that is part of the Trapp Family enterprises. As in von Trapp Family. Though we didn’t see any sign of caroling family members, the Austrian family of “Sound of Music” fame settled here after touring the U.S. in the 1940s. We were the only customers sidled up to the bar that late afternoon as the bartender and sous chef, Nate Clouthier, introduced us to their lineup – all lagers. Nate explained that the brew meister’s goal is something lighter, fresher and different from ales. I admit to being lost by his explanation of the brewing process (it’s longer and more complicated than that for ales) but I liked the result: less bitter, better to pair with food. The Durkel, Vienna Amber and Oktoberfest were all good. After sampling the meat and cheese plate, we all tried the “one plate” they were offering for dinner, following Austrian tradition, which was okay but not exciting. Still, it didn’t require us getting off our bar stools to find someplace else. Non-beer fans should try the flights of an Austrian pinot they have in stock – surprisingly good!

Nate Clouthier at Trapp Lager

Approach Stowe from the north the next day (still searching for peak!), we passed typical rural Vermont scenes: white steeples, green fields, covered bridges, barns topped with cupolas and weather vanes, silos and yards all dressed up for Halloween. If visiting Jeffersonville and Waterville in search of the many covered bridges in the area, as we were, don’t expect to find a bathroom you can use. The natives aren’t friendly to “leaf peepers.” In Stowe, we ate outside in the cool sun at Crop, another bistro and brewery (very good), then returned through Montpelier.

Montpelier, the nation’s smallest capitol (population 7,855), lives up to its hype as a charming town. It’s an artsy-foodie town that is home to Vermont College of Fine Arts and the New England Culinary Academy. Students in white chef’s coats were loitering outside the old brick building of the culinary academy while on break. Behind them the Winooski River wound between buildings and underneath short bridges. Over it all presided the golden dome of the Gothic and Greek revival statehouse.

According to the NY Times, Montpelier is the capital of the first state to abolish slavery, in 1777, and the first to allow civil unions for gay couples. Although it was closed when we passed through, on a future trip I’d love to try “That’s Life Soup” for dinner, which has great ratings and promises, “traditionally prepared, nutrient dense, SLOW FOOD soups” among other menu items.

The village’s Bohemian personality shines through its busy retail Main Street shops; Rivendell Books, The Quirky Pet and the Capitol Kitchen were just a few we browsed. Montpelier’s most unique resident must be Aria, the Bergamasco Sheepdog who resides at The Quirky Pet:

Aria the Rasta Dog!

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