Bog Iron Ryezing Sun

I have mentioned multiple times that saisons are my favorite spring beer style (and one of my favorite styles overall), so it should come as no surprise that I have been drinking a bunch of them recently. I am also on a bit of a rye beer kick, the addition of rye malt adds spice and complexity that can complement a number of different beer styles. While many breweries focus on Rye IPAs (which can be great), I love the combination of rye and Belgian yeast. Many Belgian style yeast strains add notes of pepper, coriander and other spices to the finished beer that can mesh well with the flavor imparted by the rye malt. I am planning on home-brewing a saison in the coming weeks and rye will definitely be part of the recipe. Bog Iron Brewing seems to agree with my opinions on rye in Belgian style beers. One beer in their regular rotation is Ryezing Sun, a saison brewed with Pacific Jade and Citra hops along with a hearty dose of rye malt. Since Bog Iron doesn’t bottle or can their beer (yet) the only way to find this beer is on draft or by driving to Norton (which isn’t a bad ride from Boston).

Bog Iron Ryezing SunBog Iron Ryezing Sun pours a cloudy bright yellow with a mild white head. The scent is a complex mixture of spicy rye, estery yeast and a little hit of citrusy hops. The yeast leads the flavor with notes of coriander, banana and apple. The malts also come through led by the peppery spice of the rye. The hops round out the flavor with hints of lemon, orange and cut grass. The flavor here is complex, but everything works together in harmony. The beer is light bodied, easy to drink and not overly strong at 6% ABV. The finish is dry with some lingering spice from the rye and yeast. Overall this is a really good example of an Americanized saison with the rye malts and new world hops complementing the expressive Belgian style yeast. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Bog Iron Reviews:

Bog Iron Middle ChildBog Iron Stinger IPABog Iron One Down Robust Porter

Sam Adams Rebel Rouser

I love to post reviews of new beers soon after the beers are released, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work out. A good example is the Sam Adams Rebel IPA series. When they released the original Rebel IPA I intended to write a full review, but the timing didn’t work out (I tried it at a bar and didn’t take notes and then didn’t grab a bottle in a timely manner). I was also going to do a big review on all of the Rebel IPAs when Sam Adams released Rebel Rouser (their DIPA) and Rebel Rider (a session IPA) earlier this year, but every time I stopped at a bottle shop they would be out of one or the other. These beers were an interesting change in strategy for Sam Adams. They had resisted brewing a West-coast style IPA for many years and now they have three beers that fall into this bucket. Sam Adams founder Jim Koch tries to focus on brewing beers he enjoys drinking and has been critical of this style of hop-bomb IPAs in the past. I imagine the market for these beers, combined with poor sales growth amongst some of Sam Adams other styles, led to this change in philosophy. I thought Rebel IPA was decent, solid hop flavor but not very bitter, compared to its contemporaries it might be more of a pale ale than an IPA but that’s a minor quibble. I had heard good things about the new beers, especially the double IPA Rebel Rouser, so I finally got to try it and do a formal review. Better late than never I guess. Sam Adams Rebel Rouser is brewed with 7 varieties of hops and is available year round on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.

Sam Adams Rebel RouserSam Adams Rebel Rouser pours a deep orange with a moderate off-white head. The scent is solidly hoppy, mostly citrus fruit and a little pine. The taste is also pleasantly hop-forward, notes of resin, lemon, grass and orange. The hop flavor is accompanied by the characteristic hoppy bite, not aggressive but noticeable. There is enough malt for balance, just a touch of caramel and whole grain bread. Rebel Rouser is very clean for a bigger beer, even at 8.4% ABV the beer goes down smooth without boozy flavor. Overall this is a really well done beer. I’ve had better DIPAs but they are usually much more expensive than this. This is probably my favorite beer amongst Sam Adams new hop-forward offerings. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Sam Adams Reviews:

Sam Adams Double Bock, Sam Adams Cold Snap, Sam Adams Octoberfest

Ideas to Survive the “Craft Beer Bubble”

There was an article in Thrillist this week that predicted an impending burst of the “craft beer bubble”. This isn’t a new idea. Many articles/commentaries/random tweets have pointed out that the incredible growth in the number of breweries and beers being produced is probably not  sustainable. Even if craft beer continues to gain a larger share of the overall beer market it will be hard pressed to keep pace with the increased amount of beer being brewed. The Thrillist article suggests that eventually the competition for customers, shelf space and tap lines will force normally collaborative and collegial brewers to turn on each other, leading to price wars and the failure of many breweries. I agree that the current rate of growth is unsustainable, and that eventually some breweries, and not just new startups, will fail. I have no idea where the breaking point is though I think the industry is still growing and gaining market share, but I do believe it will happen eventually. On a side note, I am not sure that the pricing is as big an issue as the article makes it out to be. Craft beer enthusiasts seem willing to pay a premium for good beer and many successful breweries have a premium price point. I could be proven wrong in the next few years, we’ll just have to see.

If you accept that there is a “craft beer bubble”, then it stands to reason that it will eventually burst (or at least deflate a little). When this happens some breweries will go out of business, and I think some of them will come as a big surprise to customers. Since most breweries are small, privately held enterprises their customers really have no idea how each is doing financially, but it stands to reason that some do a much better job with their books than others. Hopefully this burst is more of a minor market correction and not the equivalent of the housing crisis a few years ago. I would be happy to hear a counter argument that allows for continued exponential growth across the industry, but until then I think it is important for all breweries to hope for the best and plan for the worst. Here are a few suggestions I would give to a brewery that wants to not just survive but thrive in the face of heightened industry competition.

1. Make great beer. This is obvious, but it needs to be said. Don’t make good beer, make great beer. Every brewery should have at least 1-2 beers that are tried and true recipes that customers will go out of their way to seek out. After that feel free to experiment and always get customer feedback.

2. Quality Control. It sucks to dump out a batch of beer, and it has to be hard when a brewer is dealing with the razor thin margins any upstart brewery is working with. That being said, if a batch doesn’t meet the strictest quality standards it should be dumped. You need to assume that each beer you pour could be your only chance to lure a potential customer. If that one taste is a “meh” beer the customer might be lost forever, but if you blow them away they could become a regular and spread the good word.

3. Grow Organically: I am sure it’s frustrating for a small brewery to be unable to meet customer demand. It must be tempting to take out a bunch of loans and try to grow as quickly as possible. You might even be able to justify the added expense (the interest paid on these loans) by the lower production costs that come with scale. If I owned a brewery I would try to avoid the debt and reinvest profits from sales into organic growth. Besides, having your beer in high demand builds hype which is never a bad thing in a competitive industry.

4. Mix It Up: Instead of brewing a large stable of year round beers and making the same seasonal offerings year after year, brewers should vary their release schedule. Keep a few great beers as your flagships and then continually rotate your other beers. Taking a year off from brewing a beer allows demand to build and gives you the option to make something new that might be your next big hit. Craft beer enthusiasts like a variety and love novelty.

5. Taprooms/Loyalty Programs: Selling beer directly from your taproom means higher profit margins and provides the brewers a great opportunity to interact with their customer base. It also allows for small batch brewery-only beer releases. This can lead to loyalty/barrel/bottle programs that bring customers in on a monthly basis.

6. Become Known For Something Specific: Notch Brewing is known for their session beers. Jack’s Abby is known for their lagers. While each of these breweries make beers with a wide variety of flavor profiles, they have a niche in the craft beer market. This isn’t a necessity for every brewery, but having a calling card certainly helps build a brand identity.

Hopefully there is no craft beer bubble. Maybe every Bud/Miller/Coors drinker will see the light and start drinking more flavorful, hand crafted beer. Just in case, I think that brewers who do some of the things above will have a better chance to thrive even as competition increases in the coming years. Any other ideas? What things do certain breweries do that make you come back repeatedly?

Rising Tide Maine Island Trail Ale

So I am going to break a couple of my unwritten, poorly defined and completely arbitrary blog rules with my review today. The first is that I try not to do reviews of beers from a single brewery on consecutive weeks. There are so many great local breweries, even when I visit a tap room and have a few different beers from one place to review I try to spread the posts out. The second is my anti “unicorn beer” stance, one of the goals of this blog is to identify great beers that are also readily available at your local bottle shop. Rising Tide Maine Island Trail Ale would have been considered a unicorn beer last year. The first run was only available in the state of Maine and even in state it sold quickly. I was fortunate enough to try it on a trip to Portland last spring. This year a limited amount was distributed to Massachusetts, and I was fortunate enough to grab some at CBC Newton last week. I decided to post quickly (even though I reviewed Printemps last week) to give you a chance to try the beer before it’s gone. My reviews might also get a little more haphazard in the coming weeks due to some major life changes, so I figured I would share my thoughts on this beer before that happens. Rising Tide Maine Island Trail Ale (or MITA) is a sessionable American pale ale brewed with Citra and Simcoe hops. It is available in the spring/summer on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans. A portion of the proceeds from the beer benefit the Maine Island Trail Association.

Rising Tide Maine Island Trail AleRising Tide Maine Island Trail Ale pours a pale straw yellow with a monstrous white head. The scent is a big burst of juicy citrus hops. There is also substantial hop flavor, notes of lemon, grass, pine and peach. The beer is remarkably light and easy to drink, the hop bitterness is present without being overwhelming. This is obviously a pale ale and not an IPA. Their is a mild malt backbone that contributes some cracker flavor and just enough balance and complexity. This beer is hop focused without being one-note, the problem that many hop-forward session bees run into. The finish is clean and dry with a touch of lingering hop flavor. This is a very well done hoppy session beer, one of my personal favorites, a great beer for BBQs and other outdoor activities that come with the warmer weather. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Rising Tide Reviews:

Rising Tide PrintempsRising Tide Calcutta CutterUrsa Minor Weizen Stout

Slumbrew Seasonale Creep

Some people can drink any style of beer during any time of year. They will sip an imperial stout on a hot summer day and pound a crisp pilsner on a cold winter night. I am not one of those people. While there are some beers I’ll drink all year round, I tend to move from style to style as the seasons change. This is probably why “seasonal creep”, where breweries release their new seasonal beers months before the actual season, bothers me so much. On a hot day in August I am looking for the light refreshing beers of summer, so it is disappointing when summer seasonal beers have been replaced by fall selections in bars and bottle shops. There were even a few breweries that released their summer beers in March this year, although that might have been a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the brutal winter we just endured. Fortunately some local brewers have listened to their customer base and promised to release their seasonal brews at appropriate times. Poking fun at this phenomenon, Slumbrew has announced that they have found the culprit responsible for the early releases and called him out with their new beer, Seasonale Creep. Slumbrew Seasonale Creep is a Belgian style saison brewed with Galaxy hops. It is currently available on draft and in 22 oz. bombers.

Slumbrew Seasonale CreepSlumbrew Seasonale Creep pours a clear copper with a solid white head. The scent is a pleasant combination of citrusy hops and fruity esters from the saison yeast. The yeast leads the flavor, with touches of clove, coriander and pear. This mingles effortlessly with the hints of lemon, grass and mango from the hops. The beer is medium bodied and the hops add a light bitterness. The malts round out the flavor with noticeable notes of whole wheat bread and just a hint of toffee. The beer drinks easy and isn’t overly strong at 6% ABV. The finish is dry with just a little fruitiness in the aftertaste. I love the combination of expressive Belgian saison yeast and new world hops, and Seasonale Creep is a very solid version of this style. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Slumbrew Reviews:

Slumbrew Yankee Swap 2014Slumbrew American Fresh Tap RoomSlumbrew Attic and Eaves, Slumbrew Island Day, Slumbrew Snow Angel, Slumbrew Trekker Trippel, Slumbrew Sittin’ on Hop of the World

Aeronaut The Eye of Sauvin

I don’t go to breweries as much as I would like. Life is busy and I find that I buy more of my beer in bottle shops, which allows me to purchase a variety of styles from different producers all in one stop. I have made a personal goal to visit more local breweries and taprooms this year, with a focus on the places I have yet to patronize. Probably the biggest oversight locally was Aeronaut Brewing in Somerville, considering how close it is to where I live it’s inexcusable how long it took me to get there. When my wife and I were invited by our friend Jenny to grab dinner and then check out the Science by the Pint event at Aeronaut a couple weeks ago I finally remedied this oversight (and heard about some cool science while enjoying some quality beer). One of the beers I sampled was The Eye of Sauvin, a Belgian Pale Ale brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops. Nelson Sauvin hops are native to New Zealand and are known for the fruity white wine-like flavor they impart on the beer. I love the combination of fruity New World style hops with expressive Belgian style yeast strains, when correctly paired they make for some delicious beers. Aeronaut clearly has a successful pairing here because I enjoyed my first taste of The Eye of Sauvin enough to grab a growler to go.

Aeronaut The Eye of SauvinAeronaut The Eye of Sauvin pours a pale orange with a moderate white head. The scent is a complex mixture of floral hops and expressive Belgian yeast. The yeast leads the flavor with notes of pear, clove, white pepper and apricot. This is complemented by significant hop flavor, grass, lemon and the expected dry white wine. Despite the substantial hop flavor and aroma the beer isn’t very bitter, the hop additions were clearly added in mostly later in the brewing process. The malt backbone is muted, just a hint of cracker grain and caramel that lets the yeast and hops sing. The beer is light bodied and goes down easy, but packs a little punch at 7.2% ABV. The finish is dry with a little fruity ester flavor from the yeast. This was a very enjoyable beer, light but full flavored and perfect for spring. I clearly need to make more trips to Aeronaut to see what else they have to offer! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA

While I am a proud beer geek, I am also a serious science nerd. My job as a chemist pays the bills but it is also something that I am passionate about. Brewing beer involves a ton of science, from chemistry to physics to microbiology, so these interests often intersect. When Sierra Nevada announced their new Hop Hunter IPA I was immediately intrigued by the provided description. Sierra Nevada had noticed the rise in popularity of “wet hopped” beer, which are beers brewed with hops that had just been harvested. Most beers are brewed with dried hops, but the drying process can result in a loss of some of the volatile compounds that add flavor and aroma. Hops are only harvested in the fall, so most brewers have a limited window to fully capture the flavor of fresh hop cones. Sierra Nevada seems to have found a solution, they steam distill the wet hops before they even leave the fields, isolating a hop oil that contains all of the key volatile compounds. This oil is then added to the brew kettle along with the regular hops. The result is Hop Hunter IPA, a beer with the flavor of freshly harvested hops. Hop Hunter IPA is available year-round on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.

Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPASierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA pours a clear orange-tinted yellow with a mild white head. The scent is a huge burst of floral and resinous hops, there is so much hop aroma that the beer almost smells bitter. The hops also lead the flavor, notes of pine, lemon and cut grass, along with solid but not overwhelming bitterness. The hop flavor has the freshness that you predominantly see in wet-hopped beers. There is some light malt in the backbone, but it is clearly a canvas to showcase the fresh hop flavors. The beer goes down very easy and isn’t overly boozy at 6.2% ABV. Isolating the fresh hop essences to make wet hopped style beers all year is extremely cool, and this beer is a very tasty result. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Sierra Nevada Reviews:

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Hoppy LagerSierra Nevada Snow PackSierra Nevada Celebration