Berkshire Brewing Brewer’s Choice Series Blonde IPA

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I am fascinated by the way tenured craft breweries are adapting to the changes in the marketplace as well as in consumers’ tastes. While some brewers are still relying on the same beers that they have sold for years, many are brewing new styles to complement or even replace long-standing classics. One brewery undergoing an evolution right now is Berkshire Brewing Company of South Deerfield, MA. One of the most obvious changes is in their labels, but they are also making a number of new beers to complement favorites like Steel Rail Pale Ale and Coffehouse Porter. Gary Dzen recently wrote about Steel Rail Pale Ale in an article in the Globe, and an interesting anecdote was the fact that BBC started brewing the light colored pale ale because so many macro-beer drinkers were reticent to try “darker” beer styles. This was a great idea for that problem – make a beer that looks like the macro lagers people are used to, but has more flavor. With the widespread popularity of craft beer, the brewery is also facing competition from local and national upstarts. BBC is addressing this is by launching their Brewer’s Choice Series of IPAs, allowing each of their brewers to design a limited release hop-forward beers. The third selection in the series is Blonde IPA, available for a limited time on draft and in 22 oz. bombers.

BBC Blonde IPABerkshire Brewing Company Blonde IPA pours a clear copper with a moderate off-white head. The scent is a solid hit of hoppy goodness, grassy and floral. The hops lead off the flavor too, notes of pine, lemon and freshly cut grass along with some mouth-puckering bitterness. This is balanced by a noticeable malt backbone, grainy with just a hint of caramel. The beer is medium bodied and goes down smooth, but packs a little punch at 7.4% ABV. I really enjoyed this beer, it’s kind of a hybrid between the old-school English style IPAs and hop-bomb West-Coast style IPAs. I would definitely look for more beers in this series, and I’m looking forward to revisiting some of BBC’s classics too! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous BBC Reviews:

BBC Coffeehouse Porter

Pretty Things Lovely Saint Winefride

There aren’t very many breweries who can (or would) release a beer where the label depicts a woman with a beer in one hand and her own severed head in the other, but Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project is apparently one. In fairness, Lovely Saint Winefride is named after the story of a Welsh abbess whose suitor cut off her head when she decided to become a nun, but her uncle performed a miracle and reattached it. The artwork certainly makes the bottle eye-catching. Pretty Things Lovely Saint Winefride is a brown lager made with the decoction mash technique that the brewery uses to harness massive malt flavors in many of their beers. While “brown lager” isn’t a traditional style, the always creative Dann Paquette wanted to brew a lager with big malt flavors, and this beer was the result. Lovely Saint Winefride is a late winter/early spring seasonal release, although I don’t remember seeing it the past couple years. This has been true of a few Pretty Things beers. I think they cycle some of their seasonal beers in and out to make room for collaboration and one-off brews. I like the idea, even though you might miss a favorite seasonal once in a while, it allows for more flexibility and innovation. Pretty Things Lovely Saint Winefride is available on draft and in 22 oz. bombers for a limited time.

Pretty Things Lovely Saint WinefridePretty Things Lovely Saint Winefride pours a cola brown with a substantial off-white head. The scent is all malts, semi-sweet and roasty. The taste is very malt forward, notes of milk chocolate, mild coffee, roasted nuts and whole grain toast. Despite the big malt flavor the beer isn’t overly sweet, there are some earthy noble hops that help balance the flavor. The beer is medium bodied and drinks very easy, although it packs a little punch at 7.0% ABV. While Lovely Saint Winefride packs big flavor, the finish is crisp and clean, you can really tell that you are drinking a lager. This beer is really good, unique and complex, definitely worth picking up while it lasts. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Pretty Things Reviews:

Pretty Things Bocky BierPretty Things/Naparbier There’s No Place Like TherePretty Things Grampus, Pretty Things Barbapapa, Pretty Things Meadowlark, Pretty Things/Yeastie Boys Our Turn, Your Turn.

Brewery Overview: Trillium Brewing Company

Trillium Stock-up

Location: Trillium’s taproom is located at 369 Congress St. in the Fort Point neighborhood on the Boston waterfront. It is walkable from South Station and there are a number of bus routes that will get you even closer. Parking in the area can be a little bit of a challenge, but there is some metered parking in the area as well as a few nearby lots. They are also opening a new brewery in Canton, I’ll update this once it opens.

Website: http://www.trilliumbrewing.com/

Leadoff: In a short amount of time Trillium Brewing Company has established itself as one of the most popular breweries in Massachusetts. Boston Globe beer writer Gary Dzen named them the best brewery in the state in November, 2014. I wrote a response to this, asking my readers for their favorite local brewery (I am OK with picking a favorite, calling one the “best” when everyone has different tastes in beer seems kind of ridiculous), and Trillium was far and away the most mentioned. When the brewery was forced to shut down for a month due to a licensing issue many of their supporters were apoplectic, and as soon as they re-opened there were lines out the door. Trillium’s popularity stems from their line of well crafted ales, especially their hop-forward offerings, considered by many to be among to the best IPAs in the country. While the IPA style drives business, Trillium also makes a wide variety of styles from Belgian ales to wild fermented and sour beers to porters and stouts.

Trillium Farmhouse

My Favorite Trillium Beers:

Trillium Farmhouse: Saisons are one of my favorite beer styles and Trillium’s eponymous Farmhouse Ale is one of my favorite takes on the style. The expressive Belgian yeast effortlessly mingles with American hoppiness to form a complex and flavorful beer.

Fort Point Pale Ale: This is the best story to describe how good Fort Point Pale Ale is: My pregnant wife got one whiff of a FPPA I was drinking and proclaimed that this was the first beer she wanted to drink once the baby is born. Enough said.

Congress St. IPA: Trillium makes a few different IPAs but my personal favorite is still the original. Congress St. IPA mixes a bold boutique of hop character with a solid malt backbone and just enough bitterness.

Mettle: Trillium also makes quite a few different double IPAs, and it is difficult to choose a favorite here. Mettle is one of my favorite local takes on the style, huge and aggressive hop flavor and aroma in a balanced and easy to drink beer.

Trillium Sinister Kid

Other Beers You Should Try: While Congress St. is my personal favorite Trillium IPA, I could understand why others would prefer Melcher St. IPA or Sleeper St IPA, all are deliciously hoppy versions on America’s favorite craft beer style. In addition to Farmhouse Ale, Trillium’s Belgian strong ales are both very good. The Belgian strong pale ale Broken Angel and Belgian strong dark ale Sinister Kid are both flavorful and complex, definitely worth picking up. While the addition of oats is most common in the stout style, Pot and Kettle is an oatmeal porter that mixes the thick mouthfeel  from the oats with a little hop kick. I am still gaining a taste for sour styles but I loved Stonington, a wild fermented saison that is the perfect mix of tart and funky. Wakerobin is a solid rye beer, with a flavorful mixture of spicy rye and a little hit of hops.

Double Dry-Hopped Beers: Trillium makes special versions of FPPA and many of their IPAs where they double the amount of hops in the dry hopping process or dry hop with a specific alternate hop style. The additional hops don’t add any bitterness, just a little flavor and a huge amount of mouth-watering hop aroma. Order one of these at a bar and after one sniff everyone around you will want one too.

Barrel-Aged Beers: Trillium has a fledgling barrel aging program that is going to get a huge boost with the additional storage space provided by the new brewery. I know I am not the only one who is excited to see what they come up with!  

Final Thoughts: It is very easy to see why so many people consider Trillium to be their favorite brewery. The hop-forward beers draw you in and the diverse array of offerings keep you coming back for more. I have introduced a few friends to Trillium and all of them have come away impressed. I am very excited for their expansion because it will make their beers much more widely available, and allow their brewers to continue to experiment and innovate. If you haven’t done so recently make the trip into the city and grab some Trillium!

Trillium Sinister Kid

This is Trillium week on Hoppy Boston, with a beer review today leading into the second entry in my brewery overview series (hopefully posted tomorrow). It is a fortuitous coincidence that the week I had selected to feature Trillium they come out with some huge news. If you missed it, Trillium is planning on opening a second location in Canton, see their statement HERE. Local beer geeks have always been willing to put up with the lines, tight quarters and occasionally difficult parking situation to get their hands on Trillium beers, so I think the number one frustration has been their limited capacity. Opening the new brewery will allow Trillium to make significantly more beer. Once they are up and running you might even find their bottles of the shelves of your local bottle shop more often than not. As many of you know Trillium needed to shut down for almost a month this winter due to a licensing issue, so having the brewery re-open followed by this announcement has generated a lot of enthusiasm in the local craft beer community.

I am sure that the license snafu was a very challenging situation for the brewers. These types of breweries are small businesses and even very successful businesses can’t afford to go for a month generating minimal income. I stopped by the brewery right before Christmas and it was great to see the community coming out in full force and welcoming them back. As a Christmas present to myself I bought a bottle of nearly every available variety of Trillium. Now I feel like I have a much better grasp on their beers than I did before. While Trillium is best known for their hop-forward ales like Fort Point Pale Ale and Congress St. IPA, they also make a number of Belgian style brews including their eponymous Farmhouse Ale. Their Belgian collection also includes Sinister Kid, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Trillium Sinister Kid is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 750 mL bottles.

Trillium Sinister KidTrillium Sinister Kid pours midnight black with a moderate tan head. The scent is a mixture of roasted malts with some fruity esters. The flavors derived from the yeast are the first thing you perceive as you drink, notes of clove, sour apple and pear. There is also significant dark malt character, touches of plum, raisin and a little dark chocolate. The dark fruit flavors from the malt form a pleasant interplay with the estery flavors from the yeast. The beer is medium bodied and goes down very easy for 10% ABV. This is a very solid version of a Belgian dark. I tend to focus on porters and stouts in the winter but it is really nice to mix in the full bodied Belgian styles too. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Trillium Reviews:

Trillium Congress St. IPATrillium Farmhouse AleTrillium Wakerobin Rye

Stillwater Lower Dens Re-Mastered with Brett

I am a scientist in the real world, and today I am going to get a little science-nerdy here, so bear with me (or skip straight to the next paragraph to find out how I liked the beer). Most current beers are brewed with yeast strains from the genus Saccharomyces. Even before brewers understood microbiology they would cultivate strains of yeast from batches of beer that had minimal off-flavors, and re-use these yeasts for further batches. Other beers, especially some Belgian styles, are wild-fermented, where the natural yeasts present in the atmosphere are used to ferment the beer. One of the main types of yeast present in these beers (other than Saccharomyces) is Brettanomyces, nicknamed “Brett” by most brewers and beer geeks. While the funky/barnyard flavors produced by fermentation by Brett are considered off-flavors in most British and German beer styles, they add desireable complexity to saisons and other Belgian (and now American) beer varieties. Now many brewers intentionally “infect” their beers with Brett, either in combination with another yeast strain or as the sole microbe for fermentation. While there is occasionally some confusion, Brett beers are not sours, they don’t have the acidic compounds that give sour beers their tart flavor. If you like Belgian styles but are a little nervous about taking the plunge into the more exotic sour beers, Brett-fermented beers can be a good jumping off point. Many American craft brewers are now using Brett, often they will brew the same beer with and without Brett, allowing for an interesting comparison.

Stillwater Lower Dens with BrettOne Brett beer I tried recently is Lower Dens Re-Mastered with Brett, brewed by Stillwater Brewery. Lower Dens is part of Stillwater’s Sensory Series, where each beer is a tribute to a musical act. The first batch of this hibiscus infused ale was brewed with a more traditional Belgian yeast, while the second batch included Brett. Stillwater Lower Dens Re-Mastered with Brett pours a light orange with a massive white head and significant carbonation. The smell is funky and estery, lots of obvious yeast character. The yeast comes through clearly in the flavor too, with notes of barnyard, sour apple, clove and pepper. There are also some light malts here, crackers and whole grain bread. I don’t get a strong hibiscus flavor, it blends in pretty well with the expressive yeast character. The beer is light bodied, very easy to drink and not overly strong at 6.0% ABV. If you like saisons and other Belgian styles and want to start exploring some more exotically fermented styles this is a good place to start. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Stillwater Reviews:

Stillwater Classique

 

Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout and Alta Gracia Coffee Porter

While I have reviewed a number of beers by Otter Creek on Hoppy Boston I haven’t spent much time on Wolaver’s Organic Ales. The beers in the Wolaver’s line are all brewed and bottled at the Otter Creek Brewery in Middlebury, VT, but sold under a different label. Wolaver’s was the first certified organic brewery in the US, and recently became the first verified non-GMO brewery too. (As an aside, I have some thoughts on the GMO debate that I won’t get into them here, but I know some people are interested in GMO free diets so I thought I would mention it). While Otter Creek has shifted their focus to hop-centric beers, especially in their newer releases, Wolaver’s still brews a number of malty and dark offerings. Today I am going to review a couple of their beers in tandem, the year-round Oatmeal Stout and seasonal Alta Gracia Coffee Porter. Both are available on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.

Wolaver's Oatmeal StoutWolaver’s Oatmeal Stout pours dark chocolate brown with a minimal off-white head. The scent is pretty mild with some hints of roasted dark malts. The taste is very malt forward, touches of dark chocolate, coffee, toasted bread and just a touch of sweetness. There are minimal hops, just enough to keep the beer from being cloying. The best part about the beer, and one of my favorite things about oatmeal stouts as a style, is the body, thick, full and robust. Even with the full flavor and mouthfeel this isn’t a huge beer at 5.4% ABV. Overall this is a very solid version of a style that has fallen a little out of favor, perfect for a cold and snowy winter night (not that we’ve had any of those recently). Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5

Wolaver's Alta Gracia Coffee PorterWolaver’s Alta Gracia Coffee Porter pours a cola brown with a mild tan head. The smell is an aromatic mixture of freshly ground coffee and roasted malts. The coffee leads off the flavor, dark and savory. This perfectly complements the malt which adds some chocolate and caramel notes. This beer also has some distinct hop character, earthy flavors with a solid hit of bitterness that works well with the added coffee. The beer was also brewed with vanilla, which adds some subtle complexity without being overbearing. Alta Gracia Coffee Porter is medium bodied and goes down smooth at 5.0% ABV. This is another strong offering, an elaborate combination of flavors that find harmony in the beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Lagunitas Day Time

It seems like Lagunitas Brewing Company is constantly embroiled in controversy. Many of these controversies are started by founder Tony Magee, who is never afraid to speak his mind, especially on twitter. In late 2013 he called out Sam Adams, claiming their new Rebel IPA was an attempt to attack Lagunitas’ marketshare and take over their draft lines. A  more recent dispute focused on beer labels. It began when Lagunitas filed a lawsuit against Sierra Nevada over the label of their new IPA. I won’t get into the details, but the suit was dropped after an outcry on social media by craft beer fans. While the brewery has been the center of many squabbles over the years, they also make a number of delicious beers. One of their newest year-round releases is DayTime, a session IPA. Why did they decide to brew a sessionable version of their ubiquitous IPA? DayTime was brewed for the times when you want a beer but still have to be productive, the situation that calls for lower alcohol session beers. Lagunitas DayTime is available year round on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.

Lagunitas DayTimeLagunitas DayTime pours straw gold with a moderate white head. The scent is amazing, tons of citrus and fruity hops. It smells so good that my wife was sitting next to me on the couch and commented that the aroma was making her salivate. The hops come through in the flavor, notes of lemon, orange, pine and mango. The issue I have is with the balance, there is very little malt or body, it’s almost all hops. The bitterness is present, but pretty mild for a beer labeled as an IPA. The beer goes down easy, crushable at 4.65% ABV. I guess I could see knocking a few of these back on the porch in the summer, but I expected more from Lagunitas. I’ve had a number of other session IPAs that have great hop flavor and aroma without completely abandoning balance. Hoppy Boston score: 3.5/5.

Previous Lagunitas Reviews:

Lagunitas Night TimeLagunitas Sucks