An Ode to Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

Pretty Things glassI had my evening all planned out. I am heading up to Maine tomorrow for Thanksgiving, so I was going to wrap up work, come home, get myself packed and then help my wife get everything packed for the little man, have some dinner then knock out a beer review. Quick and easy post, probably the only one I would write this week due to travel. Then I got out of my afternoon meetings and did a quick check on twitter to hear devastating news, local stalwart Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project has decided to cease production. The last Pretty Things beers will be shipped over the next month and then the brand is essentially done. Pretty Things has been one of my favorite breweries for years and I have a bunch of thoughts on this, so bear with me if this post starts to ramble a little. To be honest this is probably the first of many posts on this subject, but I needed to get down my initial thoughts and then we’ll go from there as the news really sinks in.

The first question I asked when I heard the news was “why are they shutting down”? It seems like new breweries are opening every month but you hear very little news about brewery closures. The blog post announcing the closure can be found here, but it doesn’t give much info about why the brewery is closing. The best reporting on the subject can be found on the twitter feed of Beer Advocate columnist Andy Crouch (@BeerScribe or through this link). I am not a reporter so I won’t be chasing down the story and doing interviews, but I will link to any good articles I find on the subject going forward. Andy reports that the main reason was profit margins, Pretty Things wasn’t making money on keg sales and the sales of 22 oz. bottles have plummeted in favor of 4 or 6 packs of smaller bottles and cans (regardless of the brewery). Pretty Things beer was only sold on draft and in bombers, and they never had a tap room to sell directly to consumers, which cuts out the middle man and helps overall margins. There was also speculation that the pay-to-play controversy had a negative effect on the brand (in you aren’t familiar with these events more details can be found HERE).

The decline of the bomber makes a lot of sense, I think the shelves packed with larger bottles can be intimidating to less experienced drinkers, and the price point per ounce tends to be higher in 22 oz. bottles. Pretty Things also brewed the beer they wanted to brew, you never saw a triple dry hopped DIPA or a 20% ABV jalapeno and marshmallow stout aged in cognac barrels. They also never tried to create whalez/unicorn beers by generating hype online and then intentionally brewing small batches that would make the beer hard to find. They were best known for extracting maximum malt flavors in high gravity double-decoction brews, special beers that unfortunately appeal to a smaller subset of drinkers in these hop-obsessed times. I have dedicated this blog to finding all of the great beers in New England, but especially the great beers that are readily available, and it is no coincidence that Pretty Things appears 5 times in My Favorite Beers (so far). Beers like Jack D’Or, Meadowlark and Baby Tree were always go-to beers for me, and will be missed.

Pretty Things Line-upI am sure more information will be released over the next few weeks that will help explain this shocking announcement, and I am planning a series of Pretty Things posts over the next month so I will have plenty of opportunities to provide more insight and information. If you’d asked me this morning which local brewery I would miss the most if it went away Pretty Things would be at or near the top of my list. Their beer played a huge role in my development as a beer lover and in the start of this blog. I was introduced to Pretty Things beers by the old 99 Bottles blog on, and it immediately became one of my favorite breweries. I have previously credited Jack D’Or as the saison that fueled my love of the style and many other Pretty Things selections have expanded my appreciation of beer. I am planning on grabbing every Pretty Things beer I can find (coincidentally I already have a bottle of Babayaga in the fridge), expect a review each week until I run out along with more thoughts as I come to grips with the end of the brewery. Dann and Martha are apparently traveling over the next year and are open to some collaboration beers, which is great news and maybe enough to regenerate some interest in the brand and maybe even fuel a comeback at some point.

Narragansett Allie’s Donuts Double Chocolate Porter

I am pretty sure that Narragansett Brewing Company is working on a collaboration beer with every business based in the state of Rhode Island. It is a really cool way to connect with some of the local businesses, especially considering how iconic the Narragansett name is in the state. First they released Del’s Shandy in collaboration with the famous frozen lemonade stand, then Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout. The most recent beer in the series is Allie’s Donuts Double Chocolate Porter. Allie’s Donuts has been a Rhode Island institution since 1968 serving old fashioned fresh donuts in a variety of flavors. For the collaboration Narragansett took their standard porter and added chocolate malt, cocoa nibs and vanilla. Narragansett Allie’s Donuts Double Chocolate Porter is available in the fall and early winter on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.

Narragansett Allie's Donuts Double Chocolate PorterNarragansett Allie’s Donuts Double Chocolate Porter pours midnight black with a solid but quickly dissipating tan head. The scent is mostly chocolate and roasted malt. The beer is malt forward, notes of chocolate, caramel, honey and licorice. The cocoa and vanilla are definitely present, the vanilla is subtle but the chocolate flavor is strong. There are minimal hops, very low bitterness and almost no hop flavor. The beer is medium bodied and not too boozy at 5.5% ABV. The finish has some lingering cocoa and sweetness. Narragansett Allie’s Double Chocolate Porter is a solid beer, but a little on the sweet side for me, I personally prefer my porters a little more balanced. If you like malt forward dark beers with big chocolate flavor you should give this a shot. Hoppy Boston score 3.75/5.

Previous Narragansett Reviews:

Narragansett/Revival Lovecraft Honey AleNarragansett Autocrat Coffee Milk StoutNarragansett Fest LagerNarragansett Del’s Shandy

Enlightenment Beyond The Infinite

I was excited in September when Idle Hands Brewery announced that they signed a lease on a new facility in Malden which will open in Spring on 2016. Idle Hands is an underrated staple of the brewing scene in metro Boston and I have enjoyed a number of their offerings over the years. One question that wasn’t answered in the initial wave of press was what would happen to the Enlightenment Ales brand that had merged with Idle Hands in 2013. When the Idle Hands facility in Everett was forced to close this spring Enlightenment founder and Idle Hands/Enlightenment head brewer Ben Howe decided to take a sabbatical to run a farmhouse brewery in Denmark. Last month Idle Hands founder Christopher Tkach discussed the immediate future of Enlightenment in a blog post. While the Enlightenment brand will have a continued influence on Idle Hands beers, for now It appears that the brand hiatus will continue. This is really disappointing, I have always loved Enlightenment beers, they typically combine the highest quality with complex and delicious flavor profiles. I never understood why Enlightenment didn’t reach the wait-in-line for a beer release level of following, maybe because they never produced the hop-bomb beers that so many drinkers seek out. Idle Hands has been bottling and releasing a series of funky/wild saisons that Ben had brewed and was aging when the brewery shut down. The final beer in this release is Beyond The Infinite, a dark saison. Enlightenment Beyond The Infinite is brewed with a house wild yeast blend along with specialty dark malts, oats and bright hops. It is available while supplies last in 750 mL bottles.

Enlightenment Beyond The InfiniteEnlightenment Beyond The Infinite pours pitch black with a solid tan head. The scent is a mixture of earthy hops and funky/acidic wild yeast. The yeast leads the flavor, rustic Brettanomyces, apple, pear, pepper and a mild sour tingle. There are also some distinct hop flavors, touches of grass and pine along with a crisp bitterness. Despite the dark color the beer doesn’t have strong roasted malt flavors, just some mild bready notes. This beer fits perfectly into the Enlightenment line-up, extremely complex but all of the flavors work well together. Beyond The Infinite is medium bodied and not too boozy at 5.6% ABV. The finish is complex, with some dry bitterness and tartness along with fruity and spicy yeast. Every saison by Enlightenment that I’ve tried is unique and delicious, a great combination of creativity and quality. I am going to stock up and age some of these saisons and I hope the brand is back soon! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Enlightenment Reviews:

Enlightenment Things Are BeautifulEnlightenment Biere Brut, Enlightenment Rite of SpringEnlightenment Illumination Farmhouse IPA

Jack’s Abby trIPL

In the early days of “craft beer” (I know, I said I was going to avoid that term, but there is no good way to differentiate the ground-breaking breweries of the 80’s and 90’s with the macro beers that dominated the market at the time) many of the iconic beers and brewers got started with brewpubs, restaurants that served beer brewed onsite. There are pros and cons to the brewpub, running a restaurant is a ton of work and a tough business, but it brings in people who can try your beers, plus I imagine you save a little cash brewing your own. As these small breweries gained a following many moved away from the brewpub model and focused on selling their beer on draft at bars, in bottles or in growlers. Many new breweries didn’t even have a physical brewery, they would contract brew. Recently, with the explosion in popularity of quality beer, many drinkers want to hang out at a brewery and sample all of their wares. This has led some breweries to turn their physical space into full service bars where their customers can drink and the brewers can host special events and limited releases.

Now that many breweries have become popular local hangouts, and having food available to their customers is a big advantage. Food service keeps customers around longer and good food can bring people into the brewery on it’s own. Some breweries have partnered with local food trucks, especially on busy weekend days. Jack’s Abby has taken this to a new level, closing their small tasting room to open a full service beer hall and restaurant in Framingham. The restaurant features a full menu of entrées and pizza, plus an enormous selection of Jack’s Abby brews on draft. One of the releases you can grab right now is trIPL, their “triple” India Pale Lager. Jack’s Abby brews trIPL with Columbus, Chinook and Citra hops. It is available on draft and in bottles on a rotating basis during the year.

Jack's Abby trIPLJack’s Abby trIPL pours a clear deep orange with a minimal off-white head. The scent is a huge burst of hops dominated by citrus and tropical fruit. The taste is led by the New World hop flavors that make so many of Jack’s Abby’s hop-forward beers so delicious. I get notes of papaya, mango, grapefruit and orange along with a solid but not overwhelming hit of bitterness. There is some malt flavor for balance, touches of caramel, fresh baked bread and honey along with just a hint of boozy sweetness. The beer is incredibly easy to drink for 10% ABV, it’s almost dangerous how quickly you can drink this if you aren’t paying attention. Jack’s Abby trIPL has the crisp and clean finish of a lager with a little lingering hop flavor and bitterness. So many big hoppy beers are way overdone, even the huge hop flavors can’t mask all of the booze. This beer is an exception, tons of hops and high ABV, but still drinkable and delicious. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5

Previous Jack’s Abby Reviews:

Jack’s Abby/Otter Creek Joint CustodyBREWERY OVERVIEW, Jack’s Abby Maibock Hurts Like HellesJack’s Abby Hoponius UnionJack’s Abby Barrel-Aged FraminghammerJack’s Abby Bride MakerJack’s Abby Brewery/Hopstitution BAMJack’s Abby Copper LegendJack’s Abby Session Rye IPL, Jack’s Abby Mass RisingJack’s Abby/Evil Twin Jack’s Evil BrewJack’s Abby Wet Hop LagerJack’s Abby Pro-Am Pilsner

603 Brewing 18 Mile Rye Pale Ale

I have recently spent some time discussing how I select the beers that get reviewed on Hoppy Boston. It is usually a combination of recommendations, buzz and some random choices. There is one situation that will almost always result in a purchase; when I walk into a bottle shop and see beers from a New England brewery that has recently started to distribute in Massachusetts. This is especially true if the brewery leads their release with an interesting style (namely anything other than a standard IPA). On a recent trip to my local Craft Beer Cellar I noticed a new-to-me beer from 603 Brewery in Londonderry, NH. This beer is 18 Mile Rye Pale Ale, one of 603’s flagship beers. 18 Mile Rye Pale Ale is named after the 18 miles of coastline in New Hampshire, the shortest (non-zero) coastline of any US state. One of the towns on the New Hampshire coast is named Rye, so a rye based ale seemed like a perfect style choice. The beer is brewed with a combination of rye and pilsner malt along with European noble hops. 18 Mile Rye Pale Ale is available year round on draft and in 12 oz. cans.

603 18 Mile Rye Pale Ale603 Brewing 18 Mile Rye Pale Ale pours a hazy copper with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of herbal and grassy hops along with some spicy rye. Some brewers use rye as a specialty grain that just adds a little complexity, but 603 adds a substantial dose of rye malt flavor to this beer. The rye adds earthy and spicy character along with some bready notes from the pilsner base malt. The noble hops complement this flavor with touches of cut grass, pine, earth and lemon along with a dry bitterness. The beer is clean and easy to drink at 6.0% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering rye and hop flavors. I am a fan of rye as a beer ingredient, and when something is labeled as a rye ale I want to taste the rye, so I really enjoyed 18 Mile. Looking forward to trying some more 603 brews now that they are available in MA! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Peak Organic Super Fresh

Let’s talk for a minute about beer styles. Styles are really a way to convey to the consumer general information about the flavor profile of the beer they are about to purchase. If I go to a pretty novice beer drinker and ask them the difference between a stout and an IPA they will probably be able to give some general information about color and hop levels. Some of the big beer competitions take it to another level, adding strict guidelines for color, ABV, hop and malt levels and flavors and acceptable yeast contributions in each defined style of beer. These strict guidelines result in some beer drinkers getting bent out of shape when a beer is labeled as a style but falls well outside the typical description. A good example is Super Fresh a relatively new release from Peak Organic Brewing company in Portland, Maine. Super Fresh is an extreme version of Fresh Cut, a very popular pilsner that is dry hopped with a solid dose of New World hops, something that isn’t traditional in a pilsner. Super Fresh takes it to another level with more hops and over 7% ABV, both well outside of the defined style guideline, but it’s still labeled as a pilsner and not an IPL or hoppy lager. Personally I don’t care, a brewery can call their beer whatever they want, and it’s not like Peak labeled Super Fresh as an imperial stout. Good beer is good beer, and with all of the experimentation going on the lines of style are blurry at best. Peak Organic Super Fresh is available intermittently (mostly due to popularity) on draft and in tallboy cans.

Peak Organic Super FreshPeak Organic Super Fresh pours a clear straw yellow with a massive off-white head. The scent is a pungent burst of hops, cut grass and citrus. The flavor is also hop forward, notes of pine, grapefruit, lemon and mango along with a solid hit of bitterness. There is minimal malt flavor, some light touches of crackers and grain. Super Fresh is crisp and very easy to drink, it packs some punch at 7.6% ABV but you don’t get any alcohol in the flavor. There is a clean lager finish with just a little lingering bitterness. I really enjoyed this beer, the hops and the booze really don’t scream “pilsner” to me but the beer is delicious regardless of what you want to call it. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Previous Peak Organic Reviews:

Peak Organic Hop HarvestPeak Organic Fresh Cut PilsnerPeak Organic Simcoe Spring, Peak Organic Hop Noir

Atlantic Leaf-Peeping Ale

Although Boston is my home now, I am originally from a very touristy area in coastal Maine. Our main tourist season was always the summer and I understood that, beautiful weather, fresh air, the hills and the ocean drew people out of the city and into our local bed and breakfasts. We also had a smaller secondary tourist season in the fall led by the “leaf peepers”. I never really understood the appeal, I love the fall and the colors are pretty, but there are pretty leaves in Massachusetts and New York too, no real need to drive all the way to Maine to look at trees. To each their own I guess. The changing leaves typically come with cooler weather (although no complaints about this unseasonably warm start to November), which calls for maltier beers. Atlantic Brewing Company brews a fall seasonal called Leaf-Peeper Ale, a malty but sessionable American amber ale made for the fall tourists (and locals as well). It is available now on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.

Atlantic Leaf-Peeping AleAtlantic Leaf-Peeping Ale pours a deep amber with a moderate off-white head. The scent is pretty mild, some subtle maltiness. The taste is malt forward, notes of caramel, grainy bread and honey. This is balanced by a little dose of noble hops, grassy and earthy. Leaf-Peeping Ale is medium bodied and goes down smooth, and is sessionable at 4.9% ABV. The finish is clean with just a touch of lingering malt sweetness. Atlantic Leaf-Peeping Ale is a well made version of an amber ale, full flavored and easy to drink, enough body to stand up to cool fall nights and hearty food. Definitely worth a try if you are a fan of the style. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Previous Atlantic Reviews:

Atlantic Brewing Coal Porter