Aeronaut A Session With Dr. Nandu

My wife and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary this week. Well, “celebrated” might be a slight exaggeration, with our little guy around and not much for babysitting options yet we didn’t exactly go out and light the town on fire. Instead we did lunch at the always delicious Redbones BBQ with our son in tow, and then swung by Aeronaut Brewing Company to share a flight and grab a growler to take home. I have been really impressed with Aeronaut, the space is beautiful, people are nice and knowledgeable, and the beer is very good.  I was a little disappointed to miss Aeronaut’s first can release, an IPA that celebrated their first year in business, but I look forward to tasting what they brew during year two. After finishing our sampler I let my wife decide what her favorite beer was, so I could fill my growler for further celebration that evening. Her choice was A Session With Dr. Nandu, Aeronaut’s American pale ale brewed with Mosaic hops. It was nice to see that Aeronaut calls their hoppy and sessionable ale an APA instead of adding to the bloated number of session IPAs on the market. A Session With Dr. Nandu is one of Aeronaut’s regular offerings and it’s currently available on draft and in growlers to go.

Aeronaut A Session With Dr NanduAeronaut Brewing A Session With Dr. Nandu pours a clear copper with a mild white head. The scent is a solid hit of New World hops, significant citrus and tropical fruit. The taste is also full of fruity hop flavors, notes of mango, passion fruit, grapefruit and tangerine along with a subtle but present bitterness. The difference between an APA and a session IPA can be murky, but the lower bitterness here clearly plants this beer firmly in the APA category. The hop flavor is balanced by subdued malt backbone, some crackers and a touch of caramel. The beer is very light bodied and crushable at 4.6% ABV. The finish is clean with just a little lingering hop flavor. Aeronaut A Session With Dr. Nandu is a great all-occasions session beer, tons of flavor but low alcohol and easy to drink, perfect for a BBQ or some day drinking. I continue to enjoy the offerings from Aeronaut and look forward to what they come up with next! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5

Previous Aeronaut Reviews:

Aeronaut The Eye of Sauvin

Allagash Confluence 2015

The Maine beer scene is thriving. There is amazing buzz around many Maine breweries and the wide array of beers they are producing. When I visit Maine I always have a laundry list of breweries I want to visit and beers I want to try, and some of them are definitely selected based on hype generated through social media and conversations with other beer geeks. I do have a couple of issues with the beer hype machine, even if I occasionally buy in. One issue is the focus on what is new and/or hard to find over beers that are well known and widely available. The other issue is that the hype always seems to center on a couple of beer styles, typically IPAs and imperial stouts. While I love these styles I also like to branch out, and there are amazing beers of nearly every style that are produced locally. In the (justified) hype around breweries like Maine Beer Company, Bissell Brothers and Foundation sometimes people can forget old guard breweries like Allagash, even though they make some incredible beers. Allagash should be a must stop on any trip to Maine. They have a beautiful tasting room with regular tours and a complementary flight of beer, and the attached retail shop sells a variety of year-round, seasonal and specialty beers. On my recent stop I grabbed a bottle of 2015 Confluence, Allagash’s widely regarded Belgian pale ale. Confluence is brewed with a mixture of Allagash house yeast and Brettanomyces, aged in stainless steel tanks and then dry hopped with Glacier hops before bottling. Confluence is released once a year, and while Allagash doesn’t brew a super-limited amount to drive the hype machine, the 750 mL bottles will sell out before you know it.

Allagash Confluence 2015Allagash Confluence 2015 pours a hazy yellow with a moderate white head. The scent is a mixture of citrus and earthy hops along with some funky yeast. The yeast is most evident in the flavor, pear, pepper and clove from the house yeast along with the distinct barnyard flavor from the Brett. This is nicely complemented by the hops which add notes of lemon, grass and peach along with a drying bitterness. The flavor is rounded out by the malt bill, some hints of crusty bread and just a little caramel. There is a diverse array of flavors here but they all work together, no one thing overwhelms or seems out of place. The beer has a medium body and goes down very smooth, but it packs a little punch at 7.5% ABV. The finish is dry with a little funk and fruit lingering on the tongue. I am a little embarrassed to say that this was my first time drinking Confluence, but this beer blew me away, absolutely delicious. I highly recommend trying this. Hoppy Boston score: 5.0/5.

Previous Allagash reviews:

Allagash CurieuxAllagash White, Allagash DubbelAllagash/Maine Beer/Rising Tide Prince TuesdayAllagash Saison, Allagash Black

Bissell Brothers The Substance

I believe that the best way for a small brewery to stand out in the increasingly competitive beer market is to focus on one type of beer at the outset, and perfect that particular style. Usually this means one category, for example; hop-forward beers, Belgian ales, lagers, session beers, etc. Bissell Brothers Brewing in Portland, ME took this concept to a new level. At first their entire production was based around a single beer. Fortunately for them this one beer was a hop-bomb IPA called The Substance, and it quickly became one of the most sought after and highly regarded beers in Maine (and beyond). I visited Bissell Brothers during my trip to Portland last year, and I was able to sample The Substance in their tasting room. Unfortunately they were sold out of cans so I couldn’t do a formal review of the beer. This summer the brewery has done a much better job of keeping customers updated on the availability of their beers using their social media accounts. When I saw that they would have plenty of The Substance in stock on the weekend I would be in Maine I knew that their brewery on Industrial Way in Portland would be a must-stop. The Substance is brewed weekly with Falconer’s Flight, Centennial, Apollo, Summit and Chinook hops and distributed on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.

Bissell Brothers The SubstanceBissell Brothers The Substance pours a hazy straw yellow with a mild white head. The scent is a huge burst of hoppy goodness, mostly citrus fruit and pine. The taste is also very hop forward, notes of lemon, resin, grapefruit, mango and grass along with a bitterness that bites you back a little. This hoppiness is balanced by some solid malt flavor, bready with a hint of caramel. The beer is medium bodied and despite the bitterness drinks very easy. At 6.6% ABV it is moderately alcoholic for the style. The finish is crisp and clean with some lingering hop flavor. Some beers get so hyped up that they inevitably disappoint, but that is not the case here. Nearly every brewery makes an IPA, and The Substance is one of the best. There are so many great beers available on Industrial Way, but the trip is worth it for this beer alone. Hoppy Boston score: 5.0/5.

What I do when I try a “bad” beer

I hate writing negative beer reviews. I have an idea of how much work it takes to brew bee, and how much time, effort and passion each brewery puts into their brand. I take no joy in ripping on their creations. I’ve been asked why my reviews are generally so positive before, the simple answer is that most of the beers I try fall somewhere between decent and great. I try some things blind, but I also get a lot of recommendations that are taken into account before I make my selections at a brewery or bottle shop. There are exceptions to this, and every so often I try a beer that isn’t good for one reason or another. What I do in these cases depends on what the problem is with the beer. Here are the most common issues I’ve found with commercial beers and what I typically do when I drink a beer with this problem:

Not to my tastes: I do have preferences as far as style and expectations for beers in a particular style. My favorite thing about IPAs is the pungent smell of hops that hits your nose as you take that first sip, so an IPA missing that distinctive aroma is going to take a significant hit in my book. When I taste a beer that has no obvious flaws, but just doesn’t fit what I’m looking for in that style I’ll usually write it up and specify why it wasn’t my favorite take on the style. Everyone has different tastes, so someone else could read the justification for my so-so review and want to try the beer.

Muddled or clashing flavors: Sometimes a beer has a combination of flavors that don’t sit well with my palate. This can be due to crazy adjunct ingredients or just a mismatched recipe. For example, I think black IPAs can be delicious but only if you have hops that properly complement the roasted dark malt flavors. In my opinion earthy/grassy hop flavors work, while fruity/citrusy hops clash, but someone else might have a different opinion. When I try a beer that doesn’t work for me I’ll usually write it up and be very specific about what didn’t work. Maybe the combination of flavors that clashed for me would sound delicious to my readers!

Old Beer: Every beer, especially hop-forward beers, should really have a bottled-on date. Unfortunately many brewers don’t take this step, so you really don’t know if the beer you are buying is a month or a year old. I buy most of my bottles at a shop I trust to make sure things are as fresh as possible, but some stores pay no attention to the age of their beers. If I sample a beer that I am pretty sure is past it’s prime I will usually hold off on a review and try to find a fresh batch. If I know that the bottle is past, either because it’s dated or because I’ve tried the beer before, I’ll let the brewery know that a store has old beer on the shelves.

Oxidized or diacetyl flavors: Occasionally even a good brewer can make a bad batch of beer. I recently had a couple beers that were clearly oxidized, a wet cardboard smell overwhelmed the nose and rendered the beer undrinkable. I told the brewer, it turns out that they had a problem with their bottling line and didn’t realize until the bottles had shipped (oxidation takes time). You can have a similar problem with diacetyl (a fake-butter flavor/aroma), although it is usually evident sooner. If I get a beer that is clearly spoiled I let the brewery know. If it happens again, after giving the brewer a reasonable amount of time to correct the problem, I’m probably done with beers from that brewery.

Contamination (unintentional): There are a number of sour and wild ale styles that intentionally have a tart flavor. If a brewer isn’t careful with sanitation other styles can get “infected” and ruin the beer. I’ve had this happen to homebrew, but never in a commercial beer. If I did I would be done with that brewery, it would show a complete lack of quality control.

What do you do when you taste a bad beer? Agree or disagree with my assessments? Let me know!

Foundation Epiphany

During my recent trip to Maine I was able to visit an array of breweries, but there were a few I was disappointed to miss. The sheer number of breweries that line the Maine coastline is impressive, and it is hard to balance visits to old favorites along with checking out new spots. One favorite that I was sad to miss was Foundation Brewing Company in Portland. I stopped by Foundation last spring and had a great time, the crew at the brewery were welcoming and engaging and the beer was delicious. In the last year Foundation has started canning some of their offerings and their IPA Epiphany in particular has started to build significant buzz. I had hoped to grab some on my way north, I was already visiting their neighbors Allagash and Bissell Brothers, but they didn’t open until a couple hours later and I couldn’t wait around (the trials and tribulations of traveling with an infant). I ended up getting lucky though! I visited my good friend Russell during the trip and he’s a beer enthusiast. Russell had one beer he really wanted me to try and write up, none other than a tall boy can of Foundation Epiphany. Foundation Epiphany is brewed with Columbus, Cascade, Citra, Ella and Mosaic hops and is available year-round, but the 16 oz. cans are only produced once a month and they sell out quickly.

Foundation EpiphanyFoundation Epiphany pours a hazy deep orange with a moderate white head. The scent is a monstrous burst of hops, citrus fruit and resin. The taste is also very hop forward, notes of grapefruit, mango, pine and orange along with solid but not overwhelming bitterness. This is balanced by a noticeable malt backbone, touches of whole grain bread and caramel. The beer finishes clean with just a hint of lingering hop flavor, and drinks incredibly smooth for 8% ABV. Foundation Epiphany is an incredibly good IPA, it easily earns a place in the conversation for the best IPA in Maine, a field that is becoming more and more crowded. It is no wonder that Epiphany has become one of the beers people seek out when they travel to Vacationland. I’m really glad I got a chance to try it! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Maine Beer Co. Beer II

Every summer I make at least one trip up to Maine to visit family and friends. Ideally I make multiple trips, but with the new addition to the family it looks like my recent 4th of July weekend trek to the north could be it for this summer. With that in mind I felt the need to maximize this trip, and I think I accomplished that. In all I managed to visit five breweries over the long weekend, tasting and purchasing some delicious beer along the way. My wife and I have developed a bit of a tradition on these trips, every year we try to stop at Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub in Freeport for either lunch or dinner. We’ve eaten at some pretty strange times to make this work, but it is completely worth it to hold up the tradition. This stop has multiple advantages, it’s right off of 295, the food is good and the beer is solid, and the pub is right down the street from Maine Beer Company, so it would be foolish not to stop there too. The Maine Beer Company stop is always a treat, their incredible IPAs Lunch and Another One might be hard to find in Boston but the brewery typically has them in stock and they are incredibly fresh. They also have a great selection of their other beers, including some limited releases. One of the beers I grabbed on this trip was Beer II, the second release in MBC’s hop program. Beer II is a session IPA brewed with Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe and Hallertau Blanc hops. It is available for a limited time on draft and in 500 mL bottles.

maine beer co beer 2Maine Beer Company Beer II pours a clear straw yellow with a mild white head. The scent is a huge burst of fruity hops, dominated by tropical and citrus. The taste is also very hop forward, notes of grapefruit, passion fruit, lemon and tangerine. The hops also add some bitterness, but it is on the lighter/crisper side. The malts are muted, with just a touch of biscuit and honey. Beer II drinks very easy, with a clean finish, and is very sessionable at 4.7% ABV. This is a well done session IPA, tons of hop flavor without being one-note. I still personally prefer some of their “traditional” IPAs like Lunch and Another One, but this is a very nice lower alcohol alternative. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Maine Beer Co Reviews:

BREWERY OVERVIEW: Maine Beer Co., Maine Beer Co. King TitusMaine Beer Company Lunch, Maine Beer Co. Another One, Maine Beer Co./Allagash/In’finiti 2013 Ale, Maine Beer Co. Peeper


Don’t listen to the haters, IPAs are still awesome

98.5 the sports hubI occasionally listen to local sports talk radio. Well, to be fair, I listen to Toucher and Rich on 98.5 almost every day, but that is a general entertainment radio show with a sports focus. On a less frequent basis I also listen to hardcore, sports-are-our-entire-lives-and-the-only-thing-we-care-about sports talk radio. The conversations on these shows are often ridiculous and over the top. For example, last September when the Patriots got off to a rough start there were callers and talking heads who seriously debated whether the Pats should bench future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady. Good idea guys, that would have worked out really well. If you listen to these shows on a regular basis you hear people call in and routinely express these fringe/crazy opinions, and the hosts encourage this kind of talk. If you are a run of the mill, rational sports fan listening to these one-sided debates you might start to question your beliefs. What if these ideas that initially seemed way out there aren’t so crazy at all? The thing you need to remember is that many of these shows force their callers to wait on hold for up to an hour before they get on the air, so the majority of the people you hear get through are the type of people who have an hour to kill waiting on hold while listening to the radio. The hosts also welcome fringe ideas because it gives them things to talk about for four hour blocks on a slow sports day. The opinions of these people don’t represent the opinions of the majority of the fan base, but that rarely gets addressed on the show. There is a selection bias that promotes radical ideas espoused by people with too much free time.

TwitterRecently there have been a number of beer enthusiasts on social media and message boards who have boldly claimed that they are done drinking IPAs. The IPA style is by far the best selling type of craft beer, and has spawned a number of sub-styles including Black, White, Rye, Belgian, Double, Triple and Session IPAs. Many breweries have nearly abandoned brewing other styles of beer in favor of lineups stocked with different types of IPA. If you go into a bar with a strong beer selection and try to drink every IPA available you’ll probably need someone to carry you home long before you finish the list. The abundance of IPAs, often at the expense of other styles, has led to a bit of a backlash amongst an outspoken minority of beer geeks. It typically starts in the form of hypothetical questions. Are there too many IPAs? Is the market saturated? Why don’t more breweries make [insert beer style X]? Has the IPA style “jumped the shark”? In and of themselves, these can be legitimate questions, but for some they lead to bold proclamations, including claims of eschewing the IPA style all together. I do wonder how many of the people who are so bold to declare that they aren’t going to drink IPAs any more really stick to that, I’m guessing very few. These people have become the sports talk radio callers of the beer world, starting from a defensible position and taking it way too far. Unfortunately some of these types often spend too much time of social media and message boards, so their opinions look more widespread than they really are.

20120811_162728Now, I’m not saying that anyone or everyone has to like IPAs or any other style of beer. If you prefer stouts, pilsners or sours over hoppy beers that is perfectly legitimate. I am taking an issue with the people who were outspoken proponents of IPAs for years and now treat the style the way a hipster treats their favorite underground band after they sign a major label record deal. Like that band, the beer didn’t change, so denouncing it now is disingenuous. I also understand palate fatigue, I got a little burned out on hoppy beers last fall, so I took a break and focused on maltier offerings. I never claimed that I was over iPAs, it’s just nice to mix it up once in a while. There are some legitimate complaints about the current beer market. Would I like to see some more diversity in beer styles? Sure. Can black IPAs be muddled, or DIPAs overdone, or session IPAs undrinkable hopwater? In some cases, absolutely. Does this mean I am going to trash the style in any way? Not a chance. Complaining about the specific issues with the beer market is legit, but taking the next step to trash the most popular style of beer is taking the argument to an extreme.

Maine Beer Co Another OneThe thing is, there is a great reason why the IPA style is so popular; hops are delicious. Bitter, aromatic with a vast array of bold flavors, it is no wonder that hop-bomb beers have become the crown jewel of American brewing. The IPA style is also so diverse, even without all of the sub-styles there are an impressive and rapidly expanding number of hop varieties, not to mention the contributions from malts, yeast and water. There are many great hop-forward beers being brewed locally and nationally, along with plenty that are mediocre or worse. Instead of bemoaning the style, focus on the great beers and realize that ever increasing competition will be the death knell to the brewers who can’t get it right. It is also fine to sing the praises of other beer styles, but you can do it without denouncing IPAs. As with sports, it is OK to be the passionate fan and it’s OK to have strong opinions, but don’t be the guy who sits by the phone for hours just to go on an irrational tangent. When done correctly the IPA is one of the best styles of beer, and drinking a great one is much more fun than complaining about a crappy one.