There were no more brewery visits left on our Vermont Beercation, but we made one more stop that delighted us. A modest little bar, called the Blackback Pub in Waterbury VT, made a fitting end to our tour. Appropriately fitting because they serve highlights from breweries in the area, like Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s. Having drinks at the Blackback is like taking a victory lap back around to some of the breweries you just saw, all from the comfort of one barstool.
Oh, and Blackback isn’t just a pub. It’s also a flyshop. Of course! The owner is a fly fishing guide who sells – as I’m told – top quality flies for local streams as well as new Hardy rods and reels and classic bamboo fly rods.”
How quintessential Vermont is that? I know zero about bamboo fly rods, Hardy thingamajiggers, or fishing in general, so I’ll stick to the beer.
But the quirkiness doesn’t end there. While they’ve never had a full menu, and historically only served plates of local cheeses, or pizzas from a local bakery, they have started to serve up some pretty satisfying sushi every Tuesday through Friday. Random? Yes. Tasty? Surprisingly, yes! More on that later.
The Blackback’s tap list is said to vary in size from maybe ten to twenty-five beers depending on the day. They don’t always carry twenty-five beers on tap because, as they put it, “sometimes there aren’t twenty-five beers available that are good enough.” You have to love the standard they set for themselves.
Many quality beer bars will state that they carry no “fizzy yellow stuff”, “filler”, or “swill”. And you know the mass-produced beers they’re referring to. However, Blackback goes a step further and claims to not only refrain from offering “filler,” but also no “garbage craft beer.” I love them more for that. Because let’s face it, some breweries get a free ride into our craft-loving hearts only because their operation is small. When we step back and look at what they’re making, we realize they’re merely riding the craft beer wave with a mediocre product. That product may still be something we want to support over a mass produced beer from a bullying conglomerate, but with so many options on the shelves today, mediocrity doesn’t deserve too many of our dollars.
During our visit, Blackback’s tap selection offered approximately twelve selections. You can tell each beer is hand selected with reason. I much prefer this approach from a beer bar, rather than throwing 100 taps at me with a mix of good, bad, and pedestrian offerings that sit too long.
Allow me to illustrate how divine Blackback’s tap list is. One of my absolute favorite beers is Double Trouble from Founders Brewing. It’s a seasonal beer only on shelves during a few months out of the year. So I can’t get it whenever I want it. I’ve seen it on tap maybe once in my life. Well, the fine folks at the Blackback had it on tap, and my eyes lit up. But I didn’t order it. Because the other tap offerings were even more attractive.
When I see multiple offerings on tap from Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s, knowing that I can’t find those back home (not even in bottles, let alone on tap), even a beer like Double Trouble has to take a back seat. Other beers you can generally depend on Blackback to have at any point in time include a quality Belgian sour, a couple choice German offerings, something from Mikkeller, perhaps a barleywine, a benchmark west coast ipa, you get the idea.
The Hill Farmstead offerings on tap during our visit included Edward (the best pale ale I’ve ever had), Harlan (their solid flagship IPA), and their Imperial Galaxy double IPA. Having never tried the latter, we got that and savored every drop. Unsurprisingly, it was an amazing brew that showcased the power of Galaxy hops wonderfully. It also proved that the IPAs coming out of Hill Farmstead consistently draw new lines in the sand.
On tap from Lawson’s Finest Liquids was Big Hapi India Black Ale and the Permagrin Rye Pale Ale. We already had Permagrin, so we tried Big Hapi. Earthy citric hops and roasty chocolate malts shined and mingled perfectly to make this a winner.
So I mentioned sushi. Yes it’s worth mentioning again. Tuesdays through Fridays you can order surprisingly yummy sushi from a guy named Steve. Turns out, the Blackback (already a small place) was once half its current size. The newer half originally belonged to a sushi restaurant. Blackback bought out the sushi place but hired their chef to cook for bar patrons on weekdays. It seems the deal works out swimmingly for both parties.
The sushi, coupled with the excellent beers in hand, oddly made for a very tasty and fun meal. We would not for a second hesitate to have it again when back in the area.
The one unfortunate thing about the Blackback is their habit of serving short pours. I did see other patrons with full pint glasses of some beers, but anyone who ordered Hill Farmstead or Lawson’s did not have a full pour. It’s possible that beers higher in alcohol (i.e. double IPA such as Hill Farmstead Imperial Galaxy) are not served in full pours here, while the other beers are. This lead me to believe Vermont had a law regarding pour sizes for beverages above a certain alcohol level, but a quick web search turns up no mention of this. Perhaps Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s are simply too popular at the Blackback to allow for full pours. It’s a big gripe I had, but we looked past it to not let it undermine our evening. But if you go, be forewarned. Despite the short pour, everything else about the Blackback is loveable.
Side note: Directly across the street from the Blackback is Prohibition Pig; the new restaurant that inhabits the old location of the Alchemist – brewer of the mind-blowingly good "Heady Topper" double IPA. Prohibition Pig was not completely open yet during our visit, but I believe it is now. A premier beer list still lives there, so it’s worth checking out.
We say aur revoir to our Vermont beercation. If you haven’t been to the “Northeast Kingdom” of Vermont, start making plans. The fact that it’s out of the way just provides good reason to make an entire trip out of visiting its breweries. And one thing is for certain – we learned they’re too good to not ever visit again. And again...and...
Blackback Pub1 Stowe St. (corner Of Stowe And Main)Waterbury, VT 05676
ph: (802) 505-5115