I am kind of a planner – when it comes to writing this blog and really in all aspects of my life. I usually have a series of post in mind so when I go to the beer store I’m not just thinking about beers I’d like to try, but also the stories I want to tell in the resulting blog post. On my last trip I grabbed a bottle of Stone Brewing Companies Enjoy By 8.16.14 IPA with the idea of writing a whole post about how important fresh beer is, especially with hoppy beers, and what a great idea it was to place a drink by date boldly on the bottle. It was a solid idea for a blog post, and I could still do it, but I thought it would be a little disingenuous writing a post about Stone and not addressing the controversy generated by their announcement last week.
Stone announced that they are opening two new breweries, one on the East coast of the US and another in Germany. This makes sense, their business has grown and it will save on shipping while assuring the freshest possible beer to their customers. The issue many have was the crowd-funding campaign that Stone announced at the same time, hoping to raise one million dollars from their customers to help support their expansion. I won’t get into all of the details, for a full write-up please see THIS piece by Will Gordon of Deadspin (by the way, Will is one of the most entertaining beer writers around, follow him on twitter @WillGordonAgain). My general thoughts on the subject; I don’t mind startup breweries crowdsourcing some of their funding, it helps spread the word and gets locals excited for an opening/expansion. I would prefer to support the brewery just by buying their beer, but to each his own. Having the tenth largest craft brewer in the US try to raise a million dollars this way is BS. It’s completely unnecessary and anyone who gave to that campaign is a sucker. If Stone needed more cash for this I assume a company that size can get a sizeable line of credit, and if they can’t they need to rethink how they run their business.
Onto the beer review: Stone Enjoy By 8.16.14 IPA pours a clear red-tinted copper with a very mild white head. The smell is dominated by hops, with strong pine and floral scents followed by touches of citrus fruit and earth. The alcohol is also evident on the nose, not strong but noticeable. The taste starts with another big hit of hops; resin, cut grass and lemon with a little tropical fruit. There is a bit of malt in the backbone, enough to provide some balance and a little caramel flavor, but this is clearly a hop-bomb style DIPA. Stone Enjoy By 8.16.14 weighs in at 9.4% ABV, and the booze is evident in the flavor, not overpowering at all but you can taste it a bit. Despite this, it drinks pretty easy for a high gravity beer, the bitterness is very present but not tongue-numbing. This beer is really good, one of the better DIPAs I’ve tasted. I might not agree with how Stone is handling this expansion, but it’s hard to argue the fact that they know how to brew some outstanding beer. Hoppy Boston Score: 4.75/5.
Previous Stone Reviews:
Stone Go To IPA
There are so many breweries in New England that it can be hard to keep track of them all. I have been tasting any craft beer I can get my hands on for many years now, but there are still a few local breweries that I have yet to try. While many of these breweries are brand new and have limited/no distribution, occasionally I come across an established brewery that has slipped through the cracks. On a recent visit to Craft Beer Cellar-Newton I saw a number of beers from The People’s Pint, a brewpub in Greenfield MA, and realized I hadn’t had the pleasure of sampling any of their offerings (at least that I can remember). This happens on occasion, but I was a little surpised considering that they are a MA brewery that has been open since 1997. The People’s Pint makes a variety of craft ales served at their pub and bottled for distribution. I grabbed a 22 oz. of their Pied Piper IPA.
The People’s Pint Pied Piper IPA pours a deep amber red, slightly cloudy with a monstrous khaki-colored head. The smell is solidly hoppy, led by earthy and foresty scents. There is strong hop flavor too, pine, mulch, grass and a little lemon. The bitterness is substantial, but not overwhelming. The hops are balanced by significant maltiness, caramel and whole grain bread. This is more of an English style IPA, hoppy but a lot of malt too, than the American style that focuses almost entirely on the hop flavor/smell. The beer is medium bodied and drinkable, not too boozy at 5.7% ABV. The finish is clean with a pleasant hop bite. This is a good example of the older/English style IPA. I enjoyed it, but I missed the pungent hoppiness that defines West Coast IPAs. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
It’s hot out and I’ve been on a huge pilsner kick recently which will be very obvious as I review a bunch of craft pilsners over the next couple weeks. I love the interesting adaptations on the style made by many American craft brewers. While traditional German/Czech pilsners have more hop flavor than many of the bland American macro-lagers, they aren’t really “hoppy” beers, especially by US standards. It is not a surprise that brewers in the US saw the light malt body and crisp finish of a traditional pilsner and thought it would be complemented perfectly by a liberal, late dose of American hops. The most successful of these beers keep the subtle flavors of traditional pilsner in tact and meld in enough hop flavors to complement the beer without overwhelming the palate. One of the most popular local hoppy pilsners is Fresh Cut Pilsner, brewed by Peak Organic Brewing in Portland, ME. Peak Organic takes a traditional pilsner beer and dry-hops it with Chinook, Citra and Centennial hops. Dry hoppping adds a lot of the hoppy aroma and some flavor without adding bitterness to the beer. Peak Organic Fresh Cut is available on draft in 12 oz. bottles and now in cans.
Peak Organic Fresh Cut Pilsner pours a straw yellow, slightly hazy with a massive white head. The first scent hits your nose with a huge burst of hops, fruity with some undertones of pine. The hops are present in the flavor too, but more mild, with touches of lemon, resin and grass. This is what you’d expect from a dry hopped pilsner, tons of hop aroma but more subtle flavor along with subtle bitterness. There are touches of malt in the backbone, cereal and a hint of fresh baked bread. This beer is extremely drinkable – the perfect beer for summer. The finish is crisp and clean with just a touch of hoppy bite on the tongue. Peak Organic Fresh Cut is one of my favorite pilsners! The hops add so much to the beer without overwhelming it. This is a creative and unique take on a classic style. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Peak Organic Reviews:
Peak Organic Simcoe Spring, Peak Organic Hop Noir
In the US, pilsner gets kind of a bad name (thank you Miller, Coors and Bud). Most craft beer drinkers in the US prefer big and bold flavors, and the name pilsner recalls the tasteless lagers that get chugged at campus-wide keggers. This is unfortunate, because when they are made correctly a pilsner can be a subtle and flavorful beer. The pilsners you find in central Europe are very different than bland American macro-brews, with noticeable crisp hops and substantial malt flavors. Many US craft breweries have come to the realization that there is a good market for flavorful, well-made pilsners. They are great beers to go with warm Summer weather. Idle Hands brewery in Everett, MA began by making mostly Belgian style ales, but their recent releases have branched out into other types of beer. These new styles include a series of lagers, and the third beer in that series is Adelais, an unfiltered German style pilsner. Adelais is made with three types of pilsner malts and then hopped with Hallertau, Hersbrucker and Saphir hops. It is sold for a limited time in 500 mL bottles and on draft.
Idle Hands Adelais pours a hazy golden yellow with a solid white head. The smell is pretty mild, some grainy malts with a touch of earthy hops. The taste starts with the malt, some crackers, fresh baked bread and a little buttery flavor. The hops are present as well, some pine forest, with a little herbal spice. The beer is clean and drinkable with a subtle but noticeable bitterness. The finish is crisp with very little aftertaste. At 5.2% ABV it is not quite a session beer, but I could easily knock back a couple while grilling on a Summer afternoon. Adelais is a solid addition to the Idle Hands lineup. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Idle Hands reviews:
Idle Hands D’aison, Idle Hands Triplication
Over the last couple weeks I’ve started to see it creep into social media messages and show up on local liquor store shelves. A number of breweries have released their pumpkin and Fall seasonal beers already. In July. The middle of the summer by pretty much any definition, yet these brewers and distributors think it’s time for Fall beer. I know there have been plenty of complaints about this in the craft beer community (and it seems to happen with every season), but I need to rant about it for a few minutes. Because who the hell wants to drink a Fall beer on a 90 degree day? This “seasonal creep” has become all too common and it really needs to stop.
I love living in New England. I’ve lived here my whole life (ME, MA, and CT), and I have no intention of leaving. One of the main reasons I love New England is the seasons. Sure it can suck when there is two feet of snow in the Winter or 100 degree/100% humidity days in the Summer, but the extremes make you truly appreciate the weather on the oft occasions that it’s agreeable. Southern California can keep its 80 degrees and sunny every day of the year, I’ll keep my seasons. The fall is probably my favorite season, cooler temperatures, more hearty food, football Sundays and malty beer. That being said, I am enjoying the warm summer days filled with BBQs and light bodied beers, and I am not ready to give them up yet.
The seasons in New England are one of the reasons I got into craft beer. In college I discovered seasonal beers, specifically those by Sam Adams, and I was amazed how well the flavors of each beer matched the weather and feel of a particular season. One of my favorites was always the Octoberfest, the rich malty Marzen was ideal for a crisp Fall, New England evening. I would look forward to the Octoberfest release every year, realizing that I had just a short window from early September to mid-November when the beer would be available. This anticipation was a good thing, but it’s ruined when the fall seasonal brews get released in July and by October the shelves are full of Winter releases.
Seasonal creep needs to stop. The breweries claim that the consumers want the beers early, but I call BS. I think this is being driven by the enormous selection available to craft beer consumers now. There are so many pumpkin beers, so by being one of the first breweries to release the beer you encourage consumers to give your selection a try. I see a few potential solutions. The first is obvious, you have the power as a consumer. Don’t drink these beers out of season, and if you have a friend who orders one feel free to give them such a hard time that they have no choice but to change their mind. If the beers don’t sell it puts pressure on the bars and stores to stock something else until the weather turns. No bar wants to occupy a tap line with a beer no one is drinking. The second is a little harder, and maybe unrealistic, but I’ll throw it out there anyways. We could boycott the seasonal releases of the brewers who are driving this, and use social media to let them know. We have plenty of options, and plenty of brewers who will wait until September to release their Fall beers. Beer is best when it’s fresh, who knows how long that Fall beer has been sitting around by the time it’s actually appropriate weather to enjoy it. Any other ideas? I am open to suggestions, I just know this annoys the hell out of me and seems to be getting worse.
There have been a few distinct trends in craft brewing this Spring and Summer, a clear one is the emergence of the shandy/radler as a popular beer style. These mixtures of beer with soda (typically lemon/lime but there are many variations) are popular in parts of Europe, but they were rare in the US until the last year or two. Now many brewers are mixing their lighter lagers with soda or sparkling fruit juices as there is clearly a market for this style. The Traveler Beer Company in Burlington, VT specializes in shandies. In fact, that is all they brew. Traveler Beer was founded with the goal of popularizing the shandy style in the US, and it looks like they’ve accomplished that goal in a relatively short time. Traveler’s flagship beer is Curious Traveler, a shandy brewed with fresh lemon and limes in the place of soda to give a more authentic citrus fruit flavor.
Traveler Brewing Curious Traveler Shandy pours a cloudy pale gold with a very mild white head. The smell is a ton of lemon followed by just a hint of sweetness. The citrus fruit leads the flavor too, but it tastes like a beer flavored with lemon and not straight lemonade (an important distinction that some shandies seem to miss). There are some bready malts and just a hint of bitterness that provides the “beer flavor”. Curious Traveler Shandy is very drinkable and refreshing. At 4.4% ABV it is easy to crush a few on a warm summer day, or the perfect way to mix it up a little while you day-drink. The finish is clean with just a touch of lemon left on the tongue. This is probably the best version of a shandy I’ve tasted (limited experience with the style, but still). Definitely worth picking up if you’d like to try something a little different. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Malted rye has been used as an ingredient in beer for centuries, although it fell out of favor as a fermentable due to purity laws restricting the ingredients used in the brewing process in many countries. Recently there has been a renewed interest in brewing with rye malts, mostly due to innovative American craft brewers. While rye has been incorporated into a number of beer styles, the most popular is the rye IPA. I am a huge fan of this style. When designed correctly the spicy character of the rye beautifully melds with the bitter and fragrant hops resulting in a complex and delicious beer. Jack’s Abby Brewing of Framingham, MA took this concept in a slightly different direction with their Session Rye IPL (India Pale Lager). This beer uses rye malts along with Centennial, Chinook, Columbus and Crystal hops, but ferments at lower temperatures with lager yeast. Ideally the lower fermentation temperature results in a crisp lager that lets the spicy rye and aromatic hops shine.
Jack’s Abby Session Rye IPL pours a deep orange/brown, hazy with a moderate white head. The smell is a nice burst of American hops, aromas of the woods mingle with citrus fruit. The beer is very light and easy to drink. The hops are significant in the flavor, lemon, pine, and orange with a touch of mango and grapefruit. There is enough malt to add some mild flavors, highlighted by a touch of spicy rye. The finish is very clean with just a hint of bitterness. At 3.8% ABV it is definitely a session beer, light and easy to drink. This is a great summer beer that is well balanced and drinkable, but full of flavor. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Jack’s Abby reviews:
Jack’s Abby Mass Rising, Jack’s Abby/Evil Twin Jack’s Evil Brew, Jack’s Abby Wet Hop Lager, Jack’s Abby Pro-Am Pilsner