Rebuilding the Alchemist: John Kimmich

In 2011, Hurricane Irene had disastrous consequences for The Alchemist, its co-owner, and brewer John Kimmich, and his wife. But, in the aftermath of such a destructive storm, Kimmich used it as an opportunity to focus effort on creating Heady Topper - the notorious craft beer brewed at The Alchemist's production brewery. The result? An incredible 9,000 barrels of beer produced annually, all to be sold within a 30-mile radius. With John Kimmich at the helm, this is the story of how one small brewpub is taking the craft beer world by storm!

John Kimmich is the co-owner and brewer of The Alchemist, a production brewery in Waterbury, Vermont, renowned for its sought-after beer, Heady Topper. After Hurricane Irene heavily damaged their brewpub in 2011, John and his wife, Jen, have set their energy into refining Heady Topper, producing 9,000 barrels of it a year – all of which is sold within a 30-mile radius.

A Brewing Career Started in the Kitchen

John Kimmich's brewing career began in New Hampshire in the early 2000s. While teaching high school science, he found that he enjoyed brewing beer with his family as a hobby. Within a few months, he was devoting more time to beer than his job, so he decided to pursue brewing as a full-time career. While still continuing to teach part-time, John consulted for different breweries to gain experience.

John and his wife Jen moved to Vermont in 2003 and established the Alchemist Pub and Brewery in Waterbury. To diversify the beers, John brewed American and English ales, Belgians, and some India pale ales. During that time, Jen ran the pub and their distribution business, of which John would contribute on the marketing side.

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The Alchemist & Heady Topper

A year after opening the Alchemist Pub, John and his family launched their production brewery, The Alchemist. Here, they’d release their flagship beer: Heady Topper – an 8% ABV double IPA full of flavorful and aromatic hop characteristics, making it highly sought after. Following their success with Heady Topper, they released their second beer, Focal Banger, which has gained a following of its own.

Heady Topper has been widely praised and has even been named the "best beer in America" by the New York Times in 2014. It has achieved a near mythic status and is widely sought by craft beer lovers from all over the country.

Hurricane Irene

In 2011, Hurricane Irene caused major damage to the Alchemist Pub, leading to its closure. As such, floods of people made their way to the production brewery, leading to long lines for small allotments of Heady Topper. This is when John and his wife made the decision to focus solely on the production brewery, where the popularity of Heady Topper has only increased.

The demand for Heady Topper keeps growing, and it’s become a must-have beer for many craft beer connoisseurs. However, the production brewery is still at full capacity, handling 9,000 barrels a year and selling them within a 30-mile radius. This radius covers the whole state of Vermont, and some of the nearby parts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Focal Banger

Focal Banger is the Alchemist's second beer, brewed even after the Hurricane Irene incident. This unique ale's main ingredients are Simcoe and Cascade, which both provide floral and tropical fruit flavors. Focal Banger also has a reduced bitterness, making it a great beer for all occasions.

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Brewed and distributed completely separate from Heady Topper, Focal Banger has just as many loyal fans. This beer has a softer hop character, and its smoothness that gives it a nice all-round balance. Focal Banger can be drunk fresh, and it will also age very well.


John Kimmich, co-owner and brewer at The Alchemist, has accomplished a great deal since Hurricane Irene demolished their brewpub in 2011. With all their focus on Heady Topper at their limited-capacity production brewery, they’re able to produce and distribute 9,000 barrels of this sought-after beer a year within a 30-mile radius of their brewery.

Focal Banger, the Alchemist's second beer, has also gained a cult following of its own. It has a softer hop character than its sister beer, making it a great beer for a variety of occasions. Whether you prefer Heady Topper's hop-forward flavor or Focal Banger's smoothness, be sure to try these beers – if you can find them.

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