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John Kimmich, Co-owner and Brewer, The Alchemist
Ten years ago, John Kimmich was brewing more than 60 recipes at The Alchemist brewpub in Waterbury, Vt. Among them, of course, was Heady Topper, now routinely ranked as one of the best IPAs in the world (often, as the best). After Hurricane Irene demolished the brewpub in 2011, Kimmich and his wife, Jen, have focused solely on tweaking Heady at their production brewery, where they’re at capacity brewing 9,000 barrels a year—all of which is sold within a 30-mile radius. But most importantly, says Kimmich, their success has allowed them to meet their top priority: “taking care of the people that have hooked their future onto our future.” (Plus, now they get weekends off.)
You mentioned that you’re going to start brewing some of your old recipes again?
I picked my 12 favorites, and the idea is that once a month, I’ll brew a different one, we’ll release it and that’ll be it. … Probably eight or nine of them are IPAs or variations thereof. But that is what I’m passionate about. … We’re always going to focus on Heady Topper. I mean, we’d be fools not to. That said, what we make right now is all we’re gonna. We’re not going to continue growing just for sake of growing. … We built that brewery entirely for one purpose, which was to make Heady Topper. I’m still not satisfied 100 percent with Heady. In another year, it’s going to be even better.
Can you tell me what will change?
No. [laughs] … Basically at this point, when you’re making one beer like that, the only thing that’s going to improve it is ingredients. So it’s my goal to be obtaining the very finest hops that I possibly can, and the barley. … I’m constantly messing around with dry hopping, what strains I use throughout the batch, what order I use them in, what quantities I use them in, and so it’s fun.
When do you expect those other beers will be online?
I try to not to place myself under those kinds of things anymore. When it happens, it’s gonna happen. We’re in the process, we’re really close. … The plan is that when I start making beers, we’re going to do them in growlers. We’ve got the new stainless-steel twin-top towers and a Gruber German-made growler filler.
What would surprise people to learn about you?
I love love love drinking stuff like Iron City and Pabst, Corona, anything cheap and light like that. … Sometimes I just really like to fall back on the beer I grew up on, which was Iron City. I’m from Pittsburgh. There’s just something comforting about drinking beer like that.
Does the success of Heady mean you’ll feel extra pressure when you start making other beers?
At the pub, every beer I ever brewed got 100 percent of my attention, and it’ll be the same way when I start brewing those beers again. But pressure? No. Pressure is walking into the business you poured your life into for nine years and seeing it all floating in a sea of filthy river mud. …
That day we went back to that pub—I mean yeah, you see everything you worked for totally destroyed, but the big thing that hit home with us was that 26 jobs overnight disappeared. … It’s one thing for Jen and I to want to advance The Alchemist and make everything great, but we recognize the chance that people have taken on us, to work for us, and the responsibility we have to provide for them and their families. That’s pressure. Whether or not some dude sitting in his mom’s basement thinks this is the greatest IPA he’s ever had or not? That doesn’t put the pressure on. ■