This blog has traditionally focused on beers brewed in the U.S. I love fresh, local beer and there are so many interesting and delicious beers in the states that I’ll have a hard time running out of beers to taste. Occasionally, I will try some international beers, especially if they are of styles that are harder to find in the US. Most American styles are derived from beers that have been brewed in Europe for centuries, and sometimes it’s fun to compare local versions with original classics. With my Fall focusing on malty lager styles, I thought it would be smart to start with a beer from Germany, the country that invented most malt forward lager styles. I’ve had multiple recommendations of beers from Ayinger, a brewery just outside of Munich that distributes many of their selections to the U.S. The beer I chose was a dunkel, a German style dark lager similar to a dopplebock but typically lower in alcohol.
Ayinger Albairisch Dunkel pours a clear cola brown with a moderate off-white head. The smell is mild, with some toasted and slightly sweet malt at the forefront. The taste is also malt forward, notes of chocolate, caramel and toasted bread. The German yeast strain is mild but evident, contributing a slight clove flavor. There are also touches of earthy noble hops which add a little flavor and bitterness, but this is clearly a malt forward beer. Ayinger Albairisch Dunkel has the clean finish and drinkability that you expect from a lager. At 5.0% ABV it is not a heavy beer at all, perfect for a cool Fall afternoon. Ayinger Albairisch Dunkel is a solid dark lager, full of flavor and still easy to drink. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
Since I started writing this blog I’ve noticed a few unexpected perks. A lot of my friends want to talk to me about beer and make/get recommendations. They also introduce me to others who are beer enthusiasts, and pass along word about the blog. Nights out at a craft beer bar are a lot of fun, giving advice on what to order and watching people enjoy beers they might have never tried otherwise. One of the greatest benefits though occurs when one of my friends comes across a beer that they enjoy and I haven’t reviewed it, and they decide to grab a bottle for me. I was recently out for a drink with my friend Rory and we were talking about our favorite beers. I suggested some porters and stouts knowing that he liked darker styles. He asked if I’d ever tried a black IPA from Lagunitas. When I admitted that I hadn’t he insisted that we swing by the beer store and grab a bottle. Turns out it was a good recommendation!
Lagunitas Night Time pours nearly pitch black with a moderate tan head. The smell is mostly foresty and floral hops, along with a little roasty dark malt. The hops lead the flavor too, notes of pine, grass, earth and a hint of lemon. This is complemented by a large dose of dark malt with significant chocolate and coffee along with a little plum and raisin. The beer has noticeable bitterness but it isn’t overly strong. Lagunitas Night Time is full bodied, but goes down pretty easy for a beer with 8.2% ABV. Overall this is a really well done black IPA. Sometimes the combination of dark malts and high levels of hops can lead to a muddled product with clashing flavors, but the flavors here work well together. If you are up in the air on the black IPA style I recommend giving this one a shot. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Lagunitas reviews:
It seems like most startup craft breweries nowadays are built in old warehouses or barns. This wasn’t always the case. When the American craft brewing industry started to grow again in the 1980’s and early 1990’s many of the breweries were started as brewpubs, restaurants that brewed and served their own beer. Some of these brewpubs gained popularity and eventually bottled and distributed their beers. While many brewpubs combine good food with fresh beer, I don’t know of very many that will also rent you a room. This is one thing that makes the Woodstock Inn and Brewery in North Woodstock, NH unique. The Woodstock Inn was founded in 1982 when a century old home was rebuilt as an inn and restaurant. In addition to the restaurant, they also started to brew and serve their own beers, which are now bottled and distributed into MA. One of Woodstock Inn’s signature beers is Red Rack Ale, an American amber/red ale. Red Rack Ale is sold on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Woodstock Inn Red Rack Ale pours a clear raspberry red with a massive cream colored head. The smell is a combination of nutty and sweet malt with a little earthy hops. The taste starts with the malt, grainy bread, caramel and a hint of sweetness. This is balanced with some subtle hops, grass and pine with some mild bitterness. The beer is clean and drinkable, at 5.5% ABV it’s not too heavy. Red Rack Ale is a very solid beer for the Fall – full flavored enough to hold up to hearty foods and brisk evenings, but light enough to drink on a pleasantly warm afternoon. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Woodstock Inn’s beers in the future. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
Today is officially the first day of Fall. It’s been obvious in the past week or so that the cooler weather is moving in. This weekend my lovely wife was out of town, so I took the opportunity to clean out the fridge. By that I mean I went through the beer in the fridge and drank anything summery that was left over to make room for a big purchase of fall beers. One of the beers was Illusive Traveler, the grapefruit flavored shandy from Traveler Beer Company in Burlington, VT. This summer was the first time I really gave the shandy style a shot and overall I had mixed opinions. When done well a shandy can be a light, refreshing and flavorful alternative to other beer styles. When done poorly they can be cloyingly sweet and unappealing. Traveler seems to understand the difference, infusing their beer with tons of fruit flavor without dumping in sugar that overwhelms the taste of the beer. Traveler makes a number of shandy flavors, Illusive Traveler is an American wheat ale brewed with real grapefruit juice.
Traveler Beer Company Illusive Traveler pours a cloudy orange tinted yellow with a mild white head. The smell is all grapefruit, but real grapefruit not the fake grapefruit flavoring. The grapefruit leads the flavor but it isn’t overwhelming. The malts are noticeable, some notes of cracker and spicy wheat. The hops aren’t very apparent, but the tart flavor of the grapefruit juice acts as a reasonable substitute. Illusive Traveler is light, easy to drink, finishes clean and is very sessionable at 4.4% ABV. This is another solid example of a shandy from a company that specializes in the style. I personally prefer their lemon shandy Curious Traveler by a slight margin, but if you like grapefruit flavor more you should try this. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
Previous Traveler Beer reviews:
Traveler Beer Curious Traveler
Some of the most interesting and popular styles of beer in the world were originally developed by monks living in monasteries in Western Europe. The most famous brewers amongst these monks were the Trappist order, and making beer soon became a major source of income for the abbeys. Brewers the world over now make Dubbels, Tripels and other abbey style ales, but only a select few gain the Trappist label. Anything labeled as a certified Trappist beer must be brewed/supervised by monks, brewing must be of secondary importance within the monastery, and the beers must not be brewed for profit, any income generated beyond the needs of the monastery must be donated to charity. There are currently ten Trappist breweries in the world, and now one is in the US. Spencer brewery was started at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA in 2013. They currently produce a single beer, Spencer Trappist Ale, a Belgian style blonde ale. Spencer Trappist Ale is sold on draft and in 11.2 oz. bottles.
Spencer Trappist Ale pours a deep orange, slightly hazy with a moderate off-white head. The smell is all Belgian yeast, significant fruit with a little spice. The taste also starts with the yeast, notes of pepper, green apple, and coriander along with a little pear, pineapple and bubblegum. There is a solid malt backbone to complement the expressive yeast character, touches of toasted bread and crackers. While the yeast and malts are the predominant flavors you also get just a hint of hops that contribute to a crisp finish on the tongue. Spencer Trappist Ale is easy to drink, with a little bit of a spicy finish that keeps you coming back. At 6.5% ABV this is a full strength beer without going overboard. I am ready to call the first American Trappist beer a success, I am hoping they eventually branch out to other Abbey inspired styles. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
I know it isn’t the most original or unique stance, but IPAs are my favorite style of beer. It was the bold flavors of American hops that converted me from someone who dabbled in craft beer into a connoisseur. That being said, I have a mixed opinion on double IPAs (DIPAs). For one thing, the line is very blurry. For example, many beers that are now “single” IPAs would have been considered double IPAs not too long ago. When they are made correctly double IPAs can be great, highlighting the hop flavors and balancing the extreme bitterness with a substantial dose of malt. Unfortunately many double IPAs miss the mark, either the malts and the booze overwhelm the hops or the hop flavor and bitterness go completely overboard. Despite this, I can’t help but try more DIPAs. They can be great beers when they are done correctly and the only way to know is to keep tasting. I recently tried Larry, the double IPA from Wachusett Brewing Company. Larry is brewed with a slew of American hop varieties including Amarillo, Chinook, Simcoe, Magnum and Centennial. It is available year round on draft, in 22 oz. bombers, and in 12 oz. bottles and cans.
Wachusett Larry DIPA pours a deep copper with a moderate cream-colored head. The smell is solidly hoppy, favoring earthy and foresty scents. The hops lead the flavor too, notes of pine, grass, forest floor and a hint of lemon. This hop flavor is accompanied by substantial and lingering bitterness. There is a significant amount of malt to combat some of this bitterness, including some touches of caramel and cracker. Despite this, it is still a true hop-bomb beer. The booze comes through a little in the flavor, but the beer drinks pretty easy for 8.5% ABV. Overall this is a solid example of a double IPA, just enough malt to keep the hops in line. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Wachusett reviews:
Wachusett Green Monsta IPA
The last stop on my birthday brewery tour was Mystic Brewery in Chelsea, MA. I am kind of embarrassed to admit that this was my first visit to Mystic, kind of surprising since I am a big fan of their creative and flavorful Belgian style ales. The brewery itself was very impressive, a big open tasting room with a sizeable bar and plenty of seating. The décor ranges from old brewery equipment to a sizeable collection of craft beer bottles from around the world. The bar serves a selection of Mystic brews, available in full pours, tasting flights, and growler fills. They also sell a selection of bottled beers. We tasted a number of Mystic brews (Mary of the Gael is always a favorite), and then I grabbed a few things to bring home. One of the beers I purchased was Day of Doom, Mystic’s big and boozy quadruple ale. Day of Doom is nicknamed an “ale for the end of the world”, and named after an epic poem that depicts the fate of the un-pious.
Mystic Day of Doom pours the color of molasses with a large off-white head. The smell is a mixture of dark fruit and cocoa followed by a solid whiff of alcohol. The taste starts with the malts, notes of plum, raisin, currant and a nice hit of chocolate. The malt flavors are much stronger than the Belgian yeast, but you get some touches of spice and must. The yeast starts to assert itself a little more as the beer warms. There is no hoppiness to speak of in the flavor (typical for the style), just malt, yeast and booze. The alcohol is actually pretty mild in the flavor for a beer that weighs in at 12% ABV, but you feel the effects if you sip the beer too fast. Notice I said “sip” not “drink”, the full mouthfeel helps encourage you to drink this nice and slow. This is a really well done version of the style, some brewers overdo their quads and all you taste is alcohol, but Mystic gives this beer great balance. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Mystic reviews:
Mystic Hazy Jane, Mystic Mary of the Gael, Mystic Vinland Two, Mystic Table Beer