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By Andy Crouch
Zero Gravity is quietly confident, a brewery run by long-tenured and well-respected founder, Paul Sayler. It’s not flashy or chasing trends. Instead, the Burlington, Vermont based brewery produces a line of excellent takes on classic styles. The packaging is sleek, capturing an unusual mix of retro nostalgia and crisp modern stylishness. Absent are any cartoonish characters or imagery, gone any attempt at bad hop puns. Left is only clean, flavorful beer in striking cans, beckoning to be opened.

Sayler has one of the most impressive resumes in New England brewing. After homebrewing for six years, Sayler worked for the legendary Catamount Brewing before moving on to Back Bay Brewing Company in Boston, the Commonwealth Brewing Company in Rockefeller Center, and the Colorado Brewing Company in Connecticut, before partnering with a local businessman to bring beer to the delightful Bobcat Café in nearby Bristol, Vermont.

In 2005, Sayler teamed with Rob Downey, an environmental lawyer and green business consultant, to develop a brewpub in Burlington. When the historic Carbur’s Restaurant closed, the pair scored a choice location right on the main square in downtown Burlington, a hundred feet or so from the long-time home of the Vermont Pub and Brewery. They opened American Flatbread Burlington Hearth, which welcomed in the community to enjoy great beer from around Vermont, including some brewed on a system in the back of the restaurant. But even as American Flatbread opened, Sayler had an idea for a farmhouse brewery that he planned to call Zero Gravity.

Skip ahead almost twenty years and Zero Gravity is a reality, though the farmhouse vision didn’t stick. Instead, Sayler manages two locations. The first is a sleek, warm, and attractive pub and restaurant on Pine Street near downtown. In 2021, Zero Gravity also took over the space long held Magic Hat Brewing Company before it was sold. This brewery serves as a production operation for Zero Gravity’s distribution efforts. Sayler is calm, quiet, and even-keeled, with a clear vision of what the company’s beers should be. He is smart, dedicated, and after 30 years in the business, still has passion for classic styles. Let’s take a look at one of New England’s best breweries.

alcohol by volume 4.9%
Zero Gravity’s Green State Lager is simply put a classic. Clearly in the frame of a German-style pilsner, the beer is brewed with German pilsner malt and accented by classic noble hops, including Hallertau Mittelfruh and Saaz. The can is minimalist in design, with striking green and gold lettering and imagery played starkly against an off-white to silver background. It stands out and serves as a deserving vessel for the excellent beer inside. Green State Lager hits the glass with a slightly off-straw hue, a light cap of tight foam, some slight haziness as if to suggest some measure of being unfiltered and continues with lacing down the sides of the glass. The aroma is a classic take on this traditional style, with notes of sweeter European malts, including bread and dough, and a mild, zesty, and grassy hop character. The pilsner’s flavor is welcoming, with a mix of classic German pilsner flavors but with a special level of mastery not often found in the United States. Green State Lager remains straightforward and engaging, with a light bready and grainy quality to the sizable malt base over an addition of solid herbal bitterness.

Balanced from start to finish and beckoning for another sip or glass, Green State Lager is one of the best lagers made in America today.

alcohol by volume 5.7%
Say the three letters “IPA” to anyone, and you’ll likely get a strong response. People love them, they hate them, they lament what they’ve become, or adore the new wave of flavors and aromas. As beer trends come and go, Zero Gravity stays focused on making classic beers with modern influences and its Conehead IPA is no different. The beer balances a bit between the modern hazy IPA craze while still maintaining a strong tie to traditional IPA styles. In contrast to modern hazes, Conehead maintains a strong base of malt character and a solid foundation of body while keeping sweetness in check. Brewed with a single hop, this Citra-focused IPA pours a mildly cloudy and deep golden to orange hue under a dollop of stark white foam. Conehead’s aroma is bright and citrus forward, with all the classic fruit notes of Citra, including orange, grapefruit, and some lightly tropical notes, including mango. That malt backbone, however, remains present and is a point of differentiation among modern New England IPAs. Its flavor continues with a smart balance of lightly juicy fruits over a long, lingering bitterness that finishes on the drier side. For those interested in a more substantial style take on modern hazy IPAs, Zero Gravity does offer a Conehead Haze version of the beer, which amps up the alcohol level to 6.3 percent and the tropical hop aromas and flavors.

alcohol by volume 4.7
Little Wolf is trying to be a lot of things for many different people and somehow managing to get the job done. At less than five percent alcohol by volume, it fits neatly into the American take on so-called session beers, or lower alcohol offerings that can be enjoyed for a few rounds. With its hazy presentation and modern American hop varieties, it has the smell and appearance of a hazy IPA. Hidden below the surface, however, is yet another play for a worthy audience: those with a sensitivity to gluten. For a long time, I couldn’t quite understand Little Wolf. The beer is very enjoyable, with a nice hazy appearance, tight bind of white foam, that lays over an aroma of sweet malt and pleasant tropical and floral notes. The beer is surprisingly medium-bodied for a lower alcohol beer and the flavors largely mimic the aroma. But something deeper was going on. Only recently did I learn that the beer is actually gluten-reduced, with levels below the FDA standard for such a designation (less than 20 parts per million). Most gluten-free or even gluten-reduced beers loudly announce their presence before you even take your first sip. The aromas are often off in some noticeable manner, with some grainier or otherwise unusual notes. Not with Little Wolf. There is some hint, lodged deep within its base, that something else is going on here. But without knowing it, you’ll just go on thinking this is just another pale ale, albeit a tasty one. That’s exactly how it should be for our beer-loving friends with some manner of gluten sensitivity. Zero Gravity tests every batch to make sure it falls below the FDA levels and qualifies as gluten-reduced. As a final note, if you thought the packaging for Zero Gravity’s other beers was sharp, the deep blue hues and offset gold, red, and turquoise make Little Wolf’s can one of the prettiest you’ll ever see.

Beyond its core lineup, which also includes its Madonna Double IPA, Zero Gravity also produces a wide range of specialty beers, ranging from its Pisolino Italian-style Pilsner to its powerful Mungo Beery, a barrel aged sour ale. In addition, Zero Gravity also makes several solid non-alcoholic beers under its Rescue Club label and a light beer, a 90-calorie beauty called McLighty’s Light Lager, which weighs in at only 3.2 percent alcohol.

Burlington, Vermont
Zero Gravity beers are available from Atlantic Beverage Distributors