Friday, January 27, 2012 Highlights Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, VT

Brewery Finds New Way to Serve Community After Irene
by Jess Baker,

2011 was supposed to be a year of celebration for John and Jennifer Kimmich. Fall would mark eight years since the couple opened the Alchemist Pub and Brewery in downtown Waterbury, Vermont.

The Alchemist was housed in a 160-year-old building on Waterbury's Main Street. They transformed the space from a florist shop into a brewpub. Jon brewed his creative, award-winning beers in the basement, and then served them upstairs in the pub. We're not just talking six or seven brews. The website lists more than four dozen beers the Kimmichs have concocted over the last eight years. The Alchemist was an instant hit.

"Through the years you learn just how much you mean to everyone in the community," John said.

The Alchemist also meant a lot to people outside Waterbury. The inventive beers were earning John and the Alchemist attention in the craft beer industry. Beer enthusiasts were making Waterbury a destination so they could try John's beer firsthand.

But August 28, 2011, Hurricane Irene lashed parts of the Northeast and New England with relentless rain and high winds. Waterbury, and the Alchemist Pub and Brewery, were in its soggy path.

"It was raining all day Sunday. We had closed the pub just in case," John said. "It was a reasonably steady rain all day long. I started thinking maybe it would head east and we wouldn't get hit."

But by 8 o'clock that night, the heavy rain was too much. John heard that the neighborhood right behind the Alchemist was being evacuated. John went against the advice of his wife, and drove downtown to check on the brewpub.

"As soon as I came around the corner, there it was. The water was in the back of the building. The neighborhood behind us was already under five feet of water."

What he found inside the building broke his heart. Even though the main restaurant and pub area were still dry, water filled the entire basement stairwell.

"I opened the door and the water was all the way up," John said.

The basement was the Alchemist's nerve center. The brewing equipment was in the basement. The ingredients were stored in the basement. The tanks holding John's special brews were in the basement. The office and all the paperwork was down there, too.

John closed the basement door, turned away, and walked to the bar. "I poured the last 'Holy Cow IPA' anyone would ever have," John said. "I didn't know at the time it was the last one."

As he stood there, he started to feel thudding below his feet. He knew it was the sound of 1400-pound brewing tanks, full of his beer, bobbing in the floodwater below, and hitting the basement ceiling.

"I drank that beer extremely quickly, and went out," John recalled.

Five minutes later, the water was knee-deep inside the Alchemist.

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