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Delayed Gratification

Ben & Jerry's One of the things that kind of sucked about our tour of the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury, VT, was mint chocolate chip ice cream. It was almost like they intended to taunt us by putting a display in the tasting room exalting their new flavors for 2010: Mud Pie, Dulce Delish, Boston Cream Pie. Do you think they served any of those? Nope. Mint chocolate chip. They have all of those great-sounding ice creams and, to reward the folks who made an effort to come to their factory, they dish up a mediocre flavor that everyone has had dozens of times before. Not a brilliant marketing move, to be sure. I doubt anyone rushed to the store to pick up a pint of mint chocolate chip after the tasting. We sure didn’t.

Ben & Jerrys New Flavors 2010But when confronted with three of these new flavors in the freezer at Hannaford’s the other night, we forgot all about the transgression from a month earlier. Good ice cream trumps bad marketing every time. But maybe there is a method to their madness. Had we tried some of the flavors, we could have made an informed decision. But without any information we acted like the good little gluttons we are and bought a pint of each: Snickerdoodle Cookie, Dulce Delish, and Boston Cream Pie (image unavailable, heh, heh, heh). Well played, Ben & Jerry’s.

I don’t know about the other flavors yet, but I have to say they nailed Boston Cream Pie.

Ben & Jerrys Flavor Grave YardThe tour itself was pleasant enough. It consisted of a short but entertaining film about the company’s history, a look at the ice cream making process, and the infamous tasting. The grounds include a cleverly conceived graveyard for flavors that have gone to the great beyond. Some flavors obviously died because they blew, but it was interesting to learn that some were simply taken out of circulation to make room for new flavors, while others contained specific ingredients that are no longer available. It is good to know that Ben & Jerry’s is willing to axe popular flavors rather than pollute them with substitute ingredients. Good for them. That commitment to quality is likely the reason Ben & Jerry’s factory is Vermont’s number one tourist attraction. But for me, better tastings can be found at the supermarket.

For Love of Flora

Lake Champlain Ferry, Image

It was like Washington crossing the Delaware.

Except it was August instead of December. And we were going to retrieve a plant from relatives instead of launching a surprise attack against Hessian forces. And we had coffee.

So basically it was nothing like Washington crossing the Delaware. But we did ferry our car across Lake Champlain. Not heroic, but kind of neat.

An Interesting Trail

Sterling Pond Trail, Image

Shannon scales Sterling Pond Trail

That’s all it took. Shannon noticed an interesting-looking trail, and moments later we had parked the car and were scrambling up rocky steps to who knew what.

We actually had no intention of hiking that afternoon. Our plans only included a scenic drive through Smuggler’s Notch on our way back from a short stop in Stowe, Vermont. The Notch is a winding 2,16- foot crag cleaved in Sterling Mountain.  Breathtaking views of rocky cliff walls and mountain waterfalls can be seen while threading your car through the bolder-strewn switch backs of what is now Route 108.  But if you’re lucky enough to have an eagle-eyed girl in the passenger seat, you can also see the trail head to Sterling Pond leading up the mountainside.

Sterling Pond Trail Waterfall, VermontSterling Pond trail ended up being more of a climb than a hike, with a 1,500-foot elevation gain over the 1.1 mile path. That’s basically like walking a flight of stairs from 14th Street in New York City to the top of the Empire State Building on 34th Street, plus a couple hundred feet. We felt surprisingly good on the ascent, though. Maybe these hikes are starting to undo the years of entropy that had turned us into large bags of jelly. One can only hope.

The actual hike was the most interesting we’ve been on during this trip. Much of the trail is a shallow brook that bubbled around rocks and over our feet as we made our way up the mountain. Countless tiny waterfalls sprang from nearby rocks and cascaded across our path. At the top, a large flat rock at the tip of Sterling Pond offered a welcome place to take in the stunning views and catch some sun–and our breath.

Sterling Pond Image

This Isn’t Your Father’s Log Cabin

Hildene, Vermont

This is Hildene, the summer home of Robert Todd Lincoln, in Manchester, Vermont. He wasn’t the important Lincoln but apparently had enough cash to upgrade the old log cabin. We were just passing by, so we didn’t stop in for a house tour. But the grounds afforded us a nice stroll on a pleasant summer day.

Hildene Grounds

Number 9, Number 9

Magic Hat Brewery

It’s a shame that the only Magic Hat beer you typically see is their #9, Not Quite Pale Ale. #9 is reportedly the brewery’s best seller, but I don’t know if that is because it is the most popular or because it is the beer that is most widely distributed. It’s a little hard to buy the beers that aren’t on the shelf.  But maybe they’re not on the shelf because no one buys them.

This is clearly the kind of riddle that would confound Buddha; what is the taste of a beer not drank? We could meditate on this eternal puzzle, or we could take a pilgrimage to the Magic Hat brewery in South Burlington, Vermont and judge for ourselves. This was obviously a tough call: meditate in hope of enlightenment or drink beer.

Well, after indulging in a tasting of Magic Hat’s full lineup, we did indeed find enlightenment. We also learned that #9 isn’t their best beer.  It’s probably not even in the top three. That’s not to say #9 is a bad beer. We actually like it a lot. It’s certainly a far, far better beer for Magic Hat than it was a song for the Beatles (not exactly high praise, I know). But we just like some of their other offerings better.

The surprise standout was Circus Boy, their Hefeweizen. I say surprising because neither of us typically likes wheat beers, but this one struck us as just right. Blind Faith, one of their original IPAs, and Single Chair Ale were also extraordinarily good. A beer that we probably owe a second tasting to is Encore, an interesting blend of an American wheat beer and a traditional pale ale.  It has tons of flavor and a terrific mouth feel but just hit the wrong chord somehow.  It is a unique enough beer to warrant a tasting, or in our case, a second chance; so give it a try if you see it.

The brewery offers self-guided and guided tours free of charge. Beer tasting is also served up at the delicious price of zero dollars. They do ask you to kindly refrain from stealing their glasses.  If you want a souvenir, buy a growler. You’ll enjoy it more, anyway. And don’t forget to tip the bartender. Remember, you are drinking for free . . . cheapskate!

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