This spring I bemoaned the lack of Connecticut beers available in Massachusetts. I wanted this blog to cover breweries throughout New England, but I had reviewed very few CT beers. The beer scene in CT was somewhat limited for a long time, but it has expanded rapidly over the last few years. I ended up making a stop at Craft Beer Cellar in West Hartford just to sample beers from a number of breweries that were not available locally. Fortunately I have started to see a few more CT beer make their way north. At least I am assuming these beers are new to local distribution, my brain has been in a bit of a fog over the last few months between new fatherhood and work, I am kind of shocked that I can write a coherent sentence let alone keep track of every new brewery that starts to distribute in the state. One brewery that I am pretty sure is new to MA is Relic Brewing out of Plainsville, CT. Relic was a brewery I missed on my CT trip, so I was excited to finally try some of their beer. One of Relic’s flagship beers is The Fletcher, an American Pale Ale brewed with a blend of popular American hops. Relic The Fletcher is available year-round on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Relic The Fletcher pours a clear deep yellow with a mammoth off-white head. The scent is a huge burst of New World hops, citrus and tropical fruit. The beer is very hop forward, notes of lemon, grapefruit, pine and mango along with a crisp but soft bitterness that screams APA and not IPA. The hops are balanced by a little pale male, touches of white bread and biscuits. The Fletcher is light and easy to drink, at 5.5% ABV it is on point for the style. The finish is crisp and clean with a little lingering hop bitterness and flavor. Relic Brewing The Fletcher is a very good APA, tons of hop flavor and aroma but still goes down smooth. I’ll definitely be checking out more of their beers as they start to make it to Massachusetts. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
There are pros and cons to being a contract brewer. The lack of a physical brewery means fewer start-up costs and eliminates some of the headaches that come with maintaining a space. There are also many negatives, you need to run things on someone else’s schedule, and you don’t have your own space for tasting and sales. There is also the possibility that the place you brew can go out of business and leave you in a tight spot through no fault of your own. While news of brewery openings is currently much more common than breweries shutting down, a local exception was Watch City Brewing Company in Waltham, which unexpectedly shut down last summer. This closure also effected Portico Brewing Company, an upstart contract brewery that was producing all of their beer at Watch City. Fortunately Portico found a new home at Ipswich Brewing Company, and now they have started distributing their beers in bottles as well as on draft. Portico makes traditional beer styles with a twist, usually a key ingredient that is unexpected for the style. One of Portico’s flagship beers is Fuzzy Logic, a German style Kolsch brewed with Belgian yeast. Fuzzy Logic is available year round on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Portico Fuzzy Logic pours a hazy deep yellow with a solid white head. The scent is pretty mild, a little spicy yeast. The Belgian yeast leads the flavor too, touches of apple, pepper and pear. This is balanced by a full dose of lighter malts, notes of crackers and crusty wheat bread. The hops round out the flavor with some earthy and grassy flavors. Fuzzy Logic is light and easy to drink, and moderately alcoholic at 5.4% ABV. The finish is crisp with a mild estery aftertaste from the yeast. Portico Fuzzy Logic is a solid beer, easy to drink with good flavor, but I am not sure what makes it a kolsch. If I didn’t read the label I would have assumed this was a saison, I don’t know that the use of German hops qualifies the beer as a kolsch. I guess the brewer has the power can call their beer whatever they want. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
Pilsner is a proud European beer style that has struggled to find a foothold amongst the American beer snob community, mostly because it was the style of choice for behemoths like Bud, Miller and Coors. For many years smaller American brewers left the pilsner style to the macros while they focused on developing bold IPAs and stouts. As a result most of the pilsners available in the US were mass produced domestically, or imported from Europe and past their peak freshness. Recently pilsner has made a comeback in the beer community. Inspired by the flavorful and refreshing beers in central Europe many American brewers have developed their own take on the style. The original pilsner was developed in Pilsen, in what is now the Czech Republic. The style was immediately popular and pilsner-style beers began to pop up around Europe, but purists insist that true pilsner must be Czech. Czech pilsners use 100% local pilsner malt and the floral and aromatic native Saaz hops. While many American brewers have added extra hops to their pilsners in response to American palates, Brewmaster Jack set out to make a more traditional Czech pilsner with their recent release of Jan (pronounced Yahn). Brewmaster Jack Jan is currently available on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Brewmaster Jack Jan pours a clear golden yellow with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of noble hops and bready grains. The flavor is classic pilsner, and by that I mean the flavorful pilsners of Europe not the mass produced adjunct lagers. There is defined malt flavor, touches of crackers and white bread. This is balanced by a solid hit of classic Czech hops (I assume Saaz hops were used but I can’t find confirmation online), notes of cut grass pine and earth. Jan is light bodied, effervescent, and goes down easy at 4.5% ABV. The finish is crisp and clean with minimal aftertaste. Brewmaster Jack Jan is a stellar version of a classic Czech pilsner, plenty of flavor and very easy to drink. If you are a fan of pilsner you need to check this out, and if your only experience with pilsner type beers was pounding Miller or Bud at a college party this will change your opinion of what the style can be. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Brewmaster Jack Reviews:
Brewmaster Jack Ambrewsia, Brewmaster Jack Huell Melon, Brewmaster Jack Motueka, Brewmaster Jack Aquila
At the end of last week I issued a challenge to my readers, stop taking beer so seriously, take a break from the message boards and rating sites, and just have some fun trying some good beers this weekend (full column HERE). There were four potential challenges listed, I accomplished two of them myself. One was challenge #4, I home-brewed a hoppy amber ale that I am really looking forward to tasting (once it ferments, secondary ferments, gets bottled and carbonates…damn home-brewing takes some patience). I also finished challenge #1, I actually tried a couple of beers that I had no background knowledge of. When I go on a stock up run for the blog I usually have a list of beers that I am looking for, based on recommendations or announcements from the breweries. That list is usually only ~2/3 of what I buy, I like to window shop and buy a few things that just look or sound interesting. The beer that I am reviewing for the challenge is Hop Harvest from Ipswich Brewery. Hop Harvest is Ipswich’s fall seasonal, replacing their Harvest Ale. Hop Harvest is a dry hopped American IPA brewed with a healthy dose of Ella hops, a new world hop that adds citrus and tropical fruit flavors and aromas. Ipswich Hop Harvest is available on draft and in 12 oz. bottles this fall.
Ipswich Hop Harvest pours a clear deep amber with a solid off-white head. The scent is dominated by a big whiff of citrusy hops. The hops also lead the flavor, notes of grapefruit, mango, lemon and passion fruit along with a soft but persistent bitterness. This is balanced by a full malt body, touches of whole grain bread and caramel. Many breweries are moving towards IPAs that are all hop flavor, it is nice to see a little balance here, especially for a fall beer. The beer is medium bodied and easy to drink, and packs a little punch at 7% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor. Ipswich Hop Harvest is the kind of beer I like to drink as the weather cools down in the fall, plenty of flavor but has some weight to it, holds up to the cooler weather and robust fall foods. This was a good find for my random selection, and one of the reasons that I’ll continue to try beers without any previous research. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Ipswich Reviews:
Ipswich Harvest Ale
“I’m worried about the beer supply. After this case and the other case we only have one case left!”- Barney Gumbel
Something struck me yesterday as I was browsing through my Hoppy Boston Twitter feed. Some people take beer way too seriously. I am not talking about brewers and other brewery employees, beer is their career and they should care about the craft. I an referring to the beer fanatics who get in heated arguments on message boards and social media and/or routinely put their lives on hold to track down super-rare beers. I understand and appreciate the passion, but there is a thin line between a fun hobby and an unhealthy obsession. It is crazy to me how pissed off some people get when they read a negative comment about a beer they enjoy. Is it really that important that someone who you will probably never meet in person shares an opinion of a beer different from your own? Does it effect your enjoyment of said beer knowing that your appraisal isn’t universally accepted?
Beer is supposed to be fun. That should be obvious, but in all the hubbub of hunting down whalz and unicorns and rating every beer you taste online I feel like the fun part of enjoying a beer can get lost. Beer is fun to drink, fun to share and can be fun to discuss. Social media and internet message boards can enhance the experience for some people, but the your main goal as a beer drinker shouldn’t be to brag on Twitter about the rare beer you tracked down this weekend. I have used social media as a way to share this blog and to receive many great recommendations, and I understand the value of these sites. Sometimes I think it’s a good idea to step back and take a break from the online beer world to enjoy the beer you are drinking and the people you are hanging out with. With that is mind I have a challenge this weekend for my readers (and for me, since I can be guilty of over analysis and getting fired up online too).
- Try a beer this weekend that you’ve never heard of. Don’t look it up online, don’t check the scores of Untappd, Rate Beer or other websites, don’t even check to see if Hoppy Boston already wrote a review. Just select a random beer and try it with no preconceptions about whether or not you’ll enjoy it. You don’t even need to commit to a full 6-pack, many good bottle shops (like Craft Beer Cellar) allow you to buy everything in singles.
- Share some beers with your friends. I don’t mean checking in on Untappd or posting pictures on Instagram, I mean physically getting together with friends, and sharing some delicious beers. Either meet up at a bar or get together at someone’s house and have everyone bring a few bottles. Chat about the beers, or about something that has nothing to do with beer, but put your phones away and resist the urge to check in online.
- Visit a brewery you’ve never been to. Instead of filling your growlers at your favorite place branch out and try somewhere new. Don’t do any online research beyond directions and hours of operation, just show up with an open mind, sample the wares and bring something home. Your new favorite beer might be sitting undiscovered at a local establishment and you’ve been so focused on your normal stops that you’ve never even tried it.
- If you are feeling really adventurous, brew some beer of your own. I’m planning on bewing a batch this weekend, have the recipe all planned out. If you don’t have the equipment you can coordinate with someone who does, or you can make an appointment at a brew-your-own facility like Hopster’s.
Regardless of what you do, take a weekend away from the online bubble of fellow beer fanatics and just hang out, enjoy the fall weather, watch some football and sample some delicious beers. Maybe you’ll realize that all of the online arguments aren’t enhancing your enjoyment of beer as much as you thought and it’s time to relax and spend a little more time offline. Let me know if you participate in my challenge, and tell me how it goes. Cheers!
With so many local and national options available to beer lovers it is important for each brewery to set themselves apart from the competition. There are a few ways to do this, but the most common is by making the best beer of a particular style or by focusing on a subset of beers that aren’t brewed by many American brewers. While most small American brewers have started with ales, which require shorter time to ferment, lagers are starting to make a comeback. There are now a few lager-only breweries in New England, including the Von Trapp brewery in Stowe, VT. Johannes Von Trapp started his brewery at his family lodge with the goal of bringing the flavorful varieties of lager that he loved to drink in Austria to patrons in his home state of Vermont. While some American lager breweries make completely new takes on lager styles, often incorporating high ABVs and heavy doses of American hops, the Von Trapp Brewery makes very traditional European lagers. While the lack of hop-forward IPAs might turn off some drinkers, I believe there is a strong market for these beers as many drinkers still appreciate a well made and flavorful lager. There are also fewer Dunkel lagers than IPAs on the market, so there is less in-style competition. Von Trapp is clearly doing something right, they recently expanded capacity and started to distribute their beers in Massachusetts. One of Von Trapp’s flagship beers is Helles Lager, a bright and sessionable golden lager sold year round on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Von Trapp Helles Lager pours a clear bright yellow with a solid white head. The scent is mild, some bready malt and floral hops. The flavor is very balanced, no one component dominates. The hops are very old world, grassy and earthy with a crisp bitterness in the finish. The malts add touches of biscuits, grain and honey. The beer is very light and easy to drink, sessionable at 4.9% ABV. The finish is distinctive of a lager beer, crisp and clean with minimal aftertaste. Von Trapp Helles Lager is a good choice for day drinking on a warm afternoon, it’s full flavored but goes down smooth and isn’t too boozy. I like seeing some small American brewers tackle traditional European lager styles, it’s a nice change of pace from hop-bomb IPAs and heavy imperial stouts. I look forward to sampling some of the other Von Trapp lagers. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
The other day I wrote about the investment deal between Firestone Walker and Duvel, and mentioned that outside of a few vocal opponents most beer lovers have accepted these deals as part of the modern industry. A notable exception to this trend occurred this month when Lagunitas announced that they were selling a partial stake in their brewery to Heineken, which resulted in outcry and even mockery from many in the beer community. A part of the outcry is due to the purchasing brewery, while Duvel is known for making a number of well-respected beers Heineken is known for their eponymous beer and Amstel Light, which are ummm, less well regarded by most beer snobs. A much more significant issue brought up by many on social media were previous tweets by Lagunitas owner Tony Magee ripping other brewers for “selling out”. I have no problem with the Lagunitas deal itself, but I completely understand why Magee is being called out for his hypocracy. This stands as a good reminder that everything you post online lives on, so be careful what you say/tweet/post. Lost in all of the noise is the reason why I won’t boycott the breweries that sell to big beer, most of these breweries make high quality beers. One of Lagunitas’ most popular releases is Little Sumpin’ Extra, a bigger version of their flagship Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ ale. Little Sumpin’ Extra is a double IPA with a twist, it’s brewed with a generous helping of wheat along with mounds of hops. It is available in the late summer/early fall on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Extra pours a deep hazy orange with a moderate white head. The scent is a mixture of floral hops and a little booze. The beer is hop-forward, notes of lemon, pine, grass and orange along with a solid hit of bitterness. This is balanced by a full malt body, touches of whole wheat bread, caramel and some alcoholic sweetness. You know this is a bigger beer right away, there is no effort to hide the 8.5% ABV, but it still drinks relatively easily. The finish leaves a little bite on the tongue, from both the hops and the booze. Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Extra is an interesting beer, mixing a large dose of wheat malt with DIPA level booze and hops, worth a try if you are a fan of those styles. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
Previous Lagunitas Reviews:
Lagunitas Day Time, Lagunitas Night Time, Lagunitas Sucks