10 Questions For...

Chelsea Nolan

The Alchemist Brewery/Brewer

1) Hi Chelsea, it’s great to be speaking to you! Can you start by telling us about how you came to be working in the beer industry? Did you brew before The Alchemist?

Well, no. I was not brewing before I started at The Alchemist brewery! When I started at The Alchemist I was actually in the retail spot in Waterbury. Then it closed, but luckily we got to keep our jobs. I was kind of dabbling in everything, I ended up helping out the brewers and one of them got injured. So I started helping with mashing out and my curiosity took me further and further. Suddenly I was learning how to brew and then we were opening a new location and needed brewers and they asked me to just… be a brewer?! That was it! I’m so lucky!

That’s amazing! So were you interested in beer before your retail job?

Not like a crazy interest, not like ‘I must try every craft beer’ or anything! However growing up in Vermont we grew up with a great variety of craft beers, it wasn’t a new thing to us. But of course it has blown up since. You know, as far as I remember Long Trail has always been there, Otter Creek, The Shed in my town. So you know I definitely enjoyed beer but I wouldn’t say I was totally passionate about it until I started brewing, and then it just took on a life and now it is my whole life and now I’m so happy!

That’s crazy! We’re very jealous, what a story, ‘I like beer, oh look, I’m brewing at The Alchemist brewery!’

Haha I know! Sometimes I hesitate to tell the story, I don’t want to sound like ‘oh look, lucky me!’. But it is my story!

2) No, it’s great, it just goes to show that anything is possible! If we were to visit Vermont, where would you send us to drink beer?

Oh gosh! Everywhere, anywhere! Like I said before, we’re pretty lucky that even the dive-iest bars will have a great beer on draught, whether it’s just one or more. You can get really good local beers almost anywhere you go. My favourite place to drink is at home, with my own beer! But there’s a brewery in my town called Lost Nation, we really enjoy going there and drinking their beers. They have the best food and it’s a great atmosphere. Usually I pick places to go based on whether or not I know they have a great beer selection. A lot of places do, which is nice!

3) Outside of Vermont is there anywhere in the world that you’ve been that stood out as a great city for beer drinkers?

Honestly, I have to say I haven’t travelled a lot in my life. My trip to Leeds was probably the farthest I’ve ever been and I was very impressed with the scene there, and all the beers! Granted it was such a quick trip and I was at the Hop City festival at Northern Monk. But every beer I tried there was great, which lead me to believe that everywhere you go there is going to be pretty good! We walked around the city a little bit, we went to North Bar and had some great stuff there. And there was a cask place, I think it was Whitelocks, and we went to a couple of others but the weekend was a little blurry!

From what we’ve heard it sounds like most people were a little blurry by the end of that week! Quite a few beer folk we’ve met from The States have been pretty fascinated by cask beer and that whole style of serving and drinking beer. What’s the interest?!

I wouldn’t say it gets us excited so much, I mean, the views of cask beer differ so much. Some people will say ‘I don’t want warm beer!’ but obviously they don’t understand the whole thing around the cask. I get excited about it, but I get excited to try any beer really! Everyone I work with and hang out with share that opinion, that it’s exciting to try stuff!

Alchemist Brewery - Brewery
Alchemist Brewery - Chelsea
Alchemist Brewery - Brewing
4) Fair play! Tell us, what’s your average day? You must be really busy with the amount of beer that you’re putting out at the Alchemist brewery each week.

So in a week, the Alchemist brewery Stowe site brews *counts under breath!* 180 barrels. And so we brew twice a week and then cellar the other three days. There’s a team of three people here who do the cellaring and the brewing. Our system is a lot bigger at the Stowe Alchemist brewery so we are able to do just two brew days a week and still produce the same amount as Waterbury, which is a 15 barrel system. So obviously they’re only doing half of what we do in a brew. So they have to brew 4 days a week, so there’s a bigger crew there. They have a bigger team there because they don’t have the time that we do, as they have more days brewing.

It’s the most amazing job. It’s so much fun. I’m lucky too, to have amazing employers. They treat us so well, but I honestly think even if I was brewing at a place where the employers weren’t so generous, I still would love it, because it’s so mentally stimulating every day to brew and to move the beer and solve problems, things change day to day so we adjust to that. It’s fun and we’re always on the move, it’s a good workout too!

5) Something we’re interested in is wellbeing whilst working within the drinks industry. Sometimes it’s hard to live a healthy lifestyle when you’re working strange hours and drinking is often part of the job! Is there anything that you do yourself, or that the company does to make sure that everyone is living a good life?

Absolutely! Of course we do have moments where you say ‘oh my gosh, I’ve been drinking so much lately!’ but John and Jen are very active people and I would say the majority of people who work here are active. Me personally? I workout, I try to do that every day. I take a bootcamp that I love. And at the Alchemist brewery they offer bootcamp classes three times a week, right here for free!

And we have a fully stocked kitchen all the time, with healthy foods like vegetables, fruit, and meat. We are so spoilt! It’s almost like I’m lying, but I’m not! It’s because John and Jen are very health conscious and active and so they want us to be healthy and active too, of course while still enjoying beer as part of that lifestyle. Last weekend we actually hired a yoga instructor at the Alchemist brewery! She came in on Sunday and we did an hour and a half of yoga, it was so amazing!

6) You’re making us so jealous, what a dream job! So something that is so fascinating about beer culture in the US is taprooms. You do all your hosting of the public at the Stowe site don’t you, can you tell us a bit about the experience there?

Yes, Waterbury is closed to the public, we just brew and can Heady and do some experimental stuff there. The public can come to visit us at the Alchemist brewery Stowe. You’ll always be greeted kindly, we’re all very happy employees, I mean why wouldn’t we be, with everything we have! We keep it simple, you come in, we have three beers to taste, we don’t do full pints, just tasters. No food or anything like that.

You can see all the way to the back of the Alchemist brewery, so you can watch the team brewing and moving the beer and stuff. We don’t do tours but you can see everything that’s going on through the retail shop. So yeah, you buy your beer, and then you leave! We try to keep it a very simple but pleasant experience. Easy, nothing difficult!

The best way. Do you have to limit how much people can purchase when they visit?

Yes, we do, just so we can have it for everybody. Some for everyone instead of lots for very few!

Alchemist Brewery - Hops
Alchemist Brewery - Chelsea
Alchemist Brewery - Brewing
7) We were lucky enough to drink Alchemist beers at two events this year, Hop City and MBCC. So much care went into transporting the beer for these festivals, and people were so lucky to have the opportunity to drink it. How do you choose, on those rare occasions when you send it abroad, where to send it, and how to transport it from the Alchemist brewery?

I’m not 100% sure of that process, that’s very much down to John and Jen. It’s up to them where they send it. If they feel that you’re going to take care of the beer and treat it the way it needs to be treated then they will oblige and send it. If it is travelling, a lot of effort goes into making sure that it’s stored correctly, refrigerated and such. It needs to arrive and be stored at its destination in the best condition possible.

8) You distribute within quite a small radius around your sites but people all around the world are clamouring to get their hands on it! Do you think the demand for the beer has been quite an organic process, is there anything in your marketing of it that you think has really made a difference?

We don’t really do much in that respect. We basically brew as much as we can, and distribute carefully. It is really popular, which is fortunate because it sells out. We don’t want beer sitting around. If we were to expand and start brewing more and be able to have Heady everywhere all the time, it’d end up just sitting there.

I guess it’s planned in a way because of that quality control, but we just want to know that whoever gets it is getting the freshest beer. Passion and love and pride go into every beer, and I think you can tell that when you drink it. As a team, we are a big family and it’s awesome. We all care so much about the product, which helps in any situation!

9) Well, we were pretty chuffed that we got to get our hands on some! Now a very obvious question, but what’s next for The Alchemist brewery? Your rep is so outstanding, do you think it’d be risky for you to go for more experimental things?

What’s so great about this place, there is a willingness to experiment. If John tastes it and doesn’t like it, we won’t release it. There are so many people here with such an extensive knowledge that it seems like almost anything can be fixed and made to taste phenomenal. If you have the knowledge then you can experiment. John started very young and has brewed everywhere and anywhere! He is so passionate about it. He went in headfirst when he decided that this is what he’s doing, and now he’s where he is! He’s very smart, it’s impressive!

For the time being I think we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. We have been producing these APA’s that are experimenting with lupulin powder and pellets. It’s a single hop APA that we’ve been putting out which has been exciting. But basically yeah, keep cracking and chugging along!

Well if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Do you have a pilot kit at the Alchemist brewery for trying things out?

No, we don’t actually have one here. I took a tour of the brewery at Hill Farmstead recently and they have one. When they do collaborations they use that, so it’s small batches. I’m also super interested in Koelschip beers, but I don’t know how we could do that! It sounds so fascinating, to let the elements of nature and things around you impact on the brew process. You have to have the right spot for it though, you can’t just be on the highway or something!

10) Tasty roadside beer! This might be an odd one, but do you have any gripes with trends in beer at the moment? If you could say ‘this is the next big thing’ and then everyone would go mad for it, what beer style would you pick?

Umm, that’s tough, I wouldn’t say anything is bugging me so much. Oh gosh, I guess if I had to choose anything it’d be this trend right now for super super hazy beers, big juicy IPAs. I enjoy them of course, but I want to taste the bitterness in hops. Everyone has their own taste, people are really enjoying them and good for you! Do what you do!

IPAs are always going to be a big focus. I feel like more and more people have been doing Gose, which is amazing, I really enjoy a Gose. So maybe that could take off, the uprising of the Gose! But I think there’s so much playing around that you can do with IPAs and APAs that that will continue to develop, maybe straying away from the juice bomb thing. It did used to be the bitterer the better, and now it’s like juicy fruit juice! I’d like to go back a bit, maybe find a happy medium.

Yeah, agreed on the fruit juice. Sometimes you have a few really juicy beers and they go down too easy… then you think ‘I am absolutely bladdered!’

Yup! It shouldn’t be too easy to drink!

11) And lastly, I’m adding a bonus question because I don’t want our chat to end! if you could go to any brewery in the world to learn something new and broaden your knowledge as a brewer, which brewery would you go to?

Oh man! That’s hard. I think maybe I would go more towards German breweries. Lager, I’ve never brewed a lager. I don’t think I could pinpoint a specific one but I think either Germany or Belgium. There are a lot of good lagers out there, though personally I’m not a huge lager fan?! I don’t care so much for malt forwardness, I much prefer hop forward beers. But there are a lot of breweries out there who brew lager to taste the way it is supposed to taste. So when I taste lagers and pilsners, I’m thinking about it and knowing that they taste as they should. It’s about appreciating that something is what it’s meant to be, that it’s a good example of a style.

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Anja M
ANJA M Small human with a penchant for all things beer. Can usually be found in a taproom or sweating off a hangover at Bikram Yoga.

Fan of aviation, motorbikes, climbing, music and eating. Professional dog botherer.

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