Sixpoint Sensi Harvest

One of the reasons I love IPAs and other hop forward beers is the smell, that huge burst of succulent hops the smacks you right in the nose as you drink. Most of the aroma in hoppy beers comes from dry hopping, where dried hops are added as the beer ferments and conditions. Dry hopping adds little to no bitterness but does add some flavor and tons of aroma. A complementary technique is wet hopping, where freshly picked hops are used during brewing and/or conditioning. Hops need to be used or dried immediately after the harvest, so wet hopped beers can only be brewed in the fall. The volatile compounds in hops that add flavor and aroma to beer change during the hop drying process, so wet hopping and dry hopping can give very different flavors even when the same variety of hops are used. One wet hopped beer to try this fall is Sensi Harvest from Sixpoint Brewing Company in Brooklyn, NY. Sensi Harvest is an American pale ale brewed with hops that were harvested less than 24 hours before being added to the beer. Sensi Harvest is available in the fall on draft and in 12 oz. cans.

Sixpoint Sensi HarvestSixpoint Sensi Harvest pours a clear pumpkin orange with a mild white head. The smell is hoppy but not overpowering, scents of citrus and tropical fruit. The hops come on stronger in the flavor, notes of guava, grapefruit, pine and lemon. This is balanced by a little light malt, hint of cereal and toffee, but this is a vehicle to help the hops sing. The beer is very light in body and sessionable at 4.7% ABV. The finish is clean with a pleasant hoppy bite. I really enjoyed this, it was a nice display of fresh hoppiness in an easy to drink beer. Great way to mix it up a little with all the malty lagers I’ve been drinking this fall. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest

I started reading beer blogs as a way to pick up suggestions of tasty new beers to try. When I decided to write this blog I hoped it would be a great way to get more recommendations, and my readers have complied! I love it when I get a tweet, comment or facebook message either endorsing a beer or asking if I’ve tried a new release and hoping for my thoughts. This fall I asked my readers for help identifying some good malty lagers, and I got some impassioned responses. One was from Deadspin beer writer Will Gordon, who heaped praise on Firestone Walker’s fall seasonal, Oaktoberfest. Will later called this the best beer of fall, his full review can be found HERE. Deadspin now has a regular feature called Drunkspin with beer/booze reviews, it is definitely worth following. Oaktoberfest is Firestone Walker’s take on the German marzen style. Despite the name the beer isn’t aged with oak, instead it is a tribute to the brewery’s hometown of Paso Robles, Spanish for “Pass of the Oaks”. Oaktoberfest is available in the fall on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.

Firestone Walker OaktoberfestFirestone Walker Oaktoberfest pours a clear copper with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of earthy hops and some semi-sweet malt. I was surprised by the flavor of the first sip, I expected the full bodied malt flavor typical to the marzen style and instead got a solid kick of hops. For an American craft beer drinker with an IPA-every-day palate this isn’t a hoppy beer, but you get some solid notes of grass, pine and lemon. The malts are also present, crackers, grain and a little toffee, but subdued for the style. The beer is crisp and drinkable at 5.0% ABV, followed by a clean finish . Overall I enjoyed Firestone Walker Oaktoberfest, although it was very different from what I expected from a traditional marzen. When I drink a beer in the Octoberfest style I am usually looking for a drinkable malt-forward lager. That being said, this is a good beer for hop heads looking to start to branch out from IPAs. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Firestone Walker Reviews:

Firestone Walker Opal Saison, Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA


Harpoon Rich and Dan’s Rye IPA

This post is big #200 for Hoppy Boston. Considering the fact that I started this blog on a bit of a whim I never really thought I would get to this point, but here I am. Two hundred posts in and I am still having a blast writing the blog and interacting with my readers and fellow craft beer enthusiasts. I would like to pretend that I had a big plan for post #200, but it kind of snuck up on me. I figure it is appropriate that this post is another beer review since I started this blog as an excuse to try any and every craft beer and share my thoughts. Other blogs had been great resources in helping me find great local beer, and I hoped to do the same for my readers. I guess it’s fitting that this review is of a beer that is common in Boston, but flies under the radar a little, Harpoon Brewery’s Rich and Dan’s Rye IPA. Harpoon founders Rich and Dan brewed this beer to celebrate the brewery’s 25th anniversary, and it quickly became a fan favorite. This beer was brewed to be complex, with complicated but still complementary malt and hop flavors. Rich and Dan’s Rye IPA is brewed with Pale, Caramel, Vienna and Rye malts along with Chinook, Centennial and Falconer’s Flight hops. It is available year round in 12 oz. bottles and on draft.

Harpoon Rich and Dan's Rye IPAHarpoon Rich and Dan’s Rye IPA pours a clear deep amber with a moderate cream colored head. The smell is mostly earthy and floral hops with some muted malty notes. The hops are the first thing you taste too, touches of pine, cut grass and a little lemon. The malts meld well with the hoppiness contributing a bold and spicy rye flavor and just a hint of caramel. The flavor is accompanied by a solid but not mouth puckering bitterness. This is the right combination of malt and hops. It is challenging to find the right hop profile to complement the spiciness of rye, but when done right I love rye IPAs. The beer is medium bodied and drinkable, but packs a little punch at 6.9% ABV. This is a really good beer, Harpoon’s flagship IPA is one of the beers that introduced me to the style, but I like this beer significantly more. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Harpoon Reviews:

Harpoon Citra Victorious, Harpoon The Long Thaw, Harpoon Beer Hall/First Frost Ale, Harpoon Saison Various

Element Beer Altoberfest

My dorkiness comes on many levels, it isn’t just limited to beer. I have mentioned before that I am a chemist in the “real world”, and I have many science-nerd tendencies. If I started my own brewery there would definitely be a tie-in to chemistry, and most likely some molecular structures or element symbols incorporated into the logo and artwork. Since I have no plans to be a brewer, I instead patronize like-minded craft breweries. Element Brewing Company has a great name, makes interesting beers that deftly fuse seemingly contrasting beer styles, and even has chemical structures right on their label. A perfect combination for a beer and science nerd like myself. Element’s fall seasonal is called Altoberfest, a fusion of a rich and malty marzen with a hoppier German altbier. The beer is fermented with Element’s house ale yeast. While these styles aren’t as far apart as some of the other fusions Element makes (like pilsner with stout in Interval), this is an interesting combination that seems perfect for a crisp fall day.

Element AltoberfestElement Altoberfest pours a deep amber red, slightly cloudy with a large but quickly dissipating khaki-colored head. The smell is a mixture of old world hops intermingled with some rich maltiness. The hops lead the flavor, earthy with some pine and grass. There is significant malt flavor too with notes of caramel and whole grain bread. The beer is medium bodied and pretty easy to drink so I was shocked to find that it is 8.35% ABV. The finish has a pleasant little hop bite on the tongue. This beer kind of reminds me of a British ESB, lots of old world hops mixed with significant maltiness. There is a little German malt character that sets it apart, but that is the closest “traditional” style that came to my mind. It is an interesting combination, not as crazy as the pilsner/stout hybrid, but worth a try this fall. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Previous Element Reviews:

Element Interval

Cape Cod Kurt’s Farmhouse Saison

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to try local beers (shocking, I know). If I go out to dinner or for drinks I’ll usually seek out beers that are from the area and not available in Boston. Usually this beer tourism is limited to trips out of state, but there are some Massachusetts beers that haven’t made it into the city yet. I was recently down on Cape Cod for a wedding, and I was finally able to try some beer from Cape Cod Brewing Company. I had hoped to make a visit to the brewery itself but couldn’t due to some time constraints. Fortunately I was able to swing by a local liquor store and grab a bottle of their latest release, Kurt’s Farmhouse Saison. Cape Cod brewed this beer as part of a celebration honoring Kurt Vonnegut, the world famous author who spent time on Cape Cod. They chose a Belgian style saison because Vonnegut was captured in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, and this experience inspired his best known book: Slaughterhouse Five. Cape Cod Kurt’s Farmhouse Saison is available for a limited time on draft and in 22 oz. bottles.

Cape Cod Kurt's FarmhouseCape Cod Kurt’s Farmhouse Saison pours a clear cornflake-yellow with a mild white head. The Belgian yeast dominates the flavor, fruity esters with a little spice. The yeast also leads off the flavor, notes of white pepper, coriander, apricot, pear and white grape. This is complemented by substantial light malts, cereal grains from the barley and a big hit of spicy wheat. The wheat flavors make this beer teeter on the style boundary between saison and witbier, but it tends to be a blurry line. There is also some crisp hoppiness in this beer, earth, lemon and grass. The beer is light bodied and easy to drink, and not too heavy and 5.5% ABV. Overall this is a very solid saison. I’ll have to pick up some more Cape Cod beers the next time I’m in that area, and hopefully they’ll expand distribution up to Boston soon! Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Pretty Beer and Dirty Lines

Apparently late last night Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project’s Dann Paquette went on a bit of a rant on twitter using the @PrettyBeer account. The topic: the illegal practice of brewers and distributors paying bars to stock their beer on draft. Draft lines are a limited commodity in any bar and restaurant. For a brewer it is important to have your beer available in as many locations as possible, not just for the keg sales but also for visibility. New draft lines can lead to new customers trying your selections. For big beer companies that routinely buy Super Bowl commercials and billboards paying for draft lines in a bar is a relatively small expense. For a small craft brewer having to pay to get your beer on draft cuts into already minimal profit margins.

The idea that pay-to-play systems have been in place in Boston has been mentioned before. When Yuengling moved into Boston I didn’t understand why so many craft brewers were uneasy, it didn’t seem like a direct competitor. Then a number of breweries implied that Yuengling was notorious for buying taps, and they already knew bars who displaced local craft taps to carry Yuengling. Dann took this to another level, calling out the industry in general, but also specific bars. He also made some vague comments about some local craft brewers getting extra attention because of their willingness to buy taps. He asked people to call out bars that practice selling their lines using #dirtylines.

If you want details of the whole feud you can find all of Dann’s posts on a thread on Beer Advocate (HERE). This was followed by a response from Wilcox Hospitality Group, who Dann called out specifically can also be found on Beer Advocate (HERE). Kevin Slane on BDC Wire did a good job covering the whole thing, read his post HERE. Finally, Chris Furnari at Brewbound did an extremely well researched piece on this (he has addressed this issue before), read it HERE.

Here are my thoughts:

1. Pay-to-play arrangements are clearly a problem in Boston. A number of other brewers have mentioned that, despite the fact that it’s illegal, it is common practice around town. Aside from the legality, I want my bars and restaurants to stock the best beers available, not just beers from brewers with the deepest pockets.

2. While Dann has a point, I’m not sure that a late night twitter rant was the best way to address it. I think it needed to be said, and I’m even OK with calling out specific bars. It might have been a better idea to write a blog post, have a few people look it over, and then publish it on their website. I could have also done without the vague shots at other breweries, it just creates needless speculation.

3. That being said, the response by Wilcox Group was completely childish and poorly thought out. It was a published open letter, so I assume others read it before it went to the media. They clearly need a new PR person (and a better editor, misspelling brewery names is unacceptable). All they needed to say was that the accusations were untrue, but they don’t deny taking money for taps anywhere in the letter (they denied it later). Instead they made a series of personal attacks on Dann and misquoted the prices on Pretty Things beer, implying that it was cost alone that keeps them from doing business.

4. Wilcox also implies that Pretty Things doesn’t make good beer, which is undeniably false. Pretty Things is one of the best breweries in the area, and having a series of “beer bars” that refuse to stock their product is suspicious at best.

In the end, the pay-for-play system needs to be addressed, and it was important for a brewer to take a stand. I hope other brewers follow suit and put pressure on the authorities to crack down on this practice. It could have been addressed in a better way, ideally in a different forum. The response by Wilcox was completely unacceptable. Personally, I am going to seek out bars that have a great beer selection, especially those who come out against dirty lines. I will also proudly continue to support Pretty Things, one of my favorite local breweries. Feel free to chime in if I missed anything, if you agree or disagree. Thanks!

Otter Creek/Lawson’s Finest Liquids Double Dose

When I started writing this blog I found that social media was a great way to connect with brewers and breweries, as well as other beer writers and enthusiasts. Twitter in particular has been a great medium to share my work and to find other blogs to read. It has also been a great way to find out news about new beers, special events and trends in the industry. Twitter was the first place I heard the term “unicorn beer”, designated for highly rated but hard-to-find special releases. I don’t end up drinking very many unicorn beers, mostly due to my unwillingness to drive for hours or stand in line for the sole purpose of buying a particular beer. This brings me to another advantage of social media, I’ve been clued in from Twitter followers when rare beers come to town, and where I can find them. This happened recently with Double Dose, the once-a-year double IPA brewed by Otter Creek and Lawson’s Finest Liquids of Vermont. While Otter Creek beers are widely available (and very good in their own right), you can only get beers from Lawson’s in VT, so it is a rare treat to find this collaboration beer at a local store. Double Dose is currently available in 4 packs of 12 oz bottles and on draft, I recommend grabbing some if you find it, it won’t be around for long!

Otter Creek Double DoseOtter Creek/Lawson’s Finest Liquids Double Dose pours a deep orange, slightly hazy with a mild white head. The smell is a huge burst of hops, tons of tropical and citrus fruit. This beer might have the best nose of any IPA I’ve ever tasted. The hops rule the flavor too, significant grapefruit, lemon and resin followed by a little mango and passion fruit. The hop flavor is accompanied by the tongue-numbing bitterness you expect from a double IPA. While Double Dose is a very hop-forward beer, there is enough malt in the backbone to add a little balance. This is also a pretty big beer at 8.5% ABV, and you get just a hint of warming alcohol as you drink. For a big beer it is very drinkable, and finishes with a  pleasant bitter bite on the tongue. This beer is awesome, as soon as I finished my first bottle I wished I bought more than a 4-pack, but I will make sure I track more down before it’s gone. Hoppy Boston score: 5.0/5.

Previous Otter Creek Reviews:

Otter Creek Fresh Slice, Otter Creek Citra Mantra, Otter Creek Kind Ryed