White Birch Raspberry Berliner Weisse

For many years I was adamantly opposed to fruit-flavored beers. Part of my hesitancy was definitely due to a belief that beers brewed or infused with fruit were for people who didn’t really like the flavor of beer. Many of the readily available fruit beers supported this assumption, they were light ales with heavy additions of cloying fruit flavors. For many years I refused to even try a beer that was flavored with fruit, with the possible exception of citrus peels that are traditional in a few beer styles. I have started to loosen that stance, and the fruit flavored versions of the Berliner weisse style are a big reason why. The sour acidity from the Berliner mash is a perfect counterpoint to the sweetness added by fruit, and the addition of fruit syrup is actually a very traditional accompaniment to the style. White Birch Brewing Company in New Hampshire brews a few different versions of their popular Berliner Weisse, including one fermented with raspberry puree. Raspberries are my absolute favorite fruit. If I buy a pint it will usually be gone before it makes it into the fridge, so sampling this beer was a no-brainer. White Birch Raspberry Berliner Weisse is available year round on draft, in 22 oz. bombers and in 12 oz. cans.

White Birch Raspberry Berliner WeisseWhite Birch Raspberry Berliner Weisse pours a clear red-tinted yellow with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of tart acidity and a little raspberry. The taste starts with the sourness, distinct and present without being overpowering. The raspberry comes in after, fruity and a little tart perfectly complementing the acidity from the mash without overwhelming the beer. Some wheat malts round out the flavor and add some body. The beer is light and very drinkable at 5.5% ABV. The finish is crisp and tart with just a touch of raspberry flavor. While I am still wary of some fruit beers I think Berliner weisse is an ideal style to mix with fruit flavors, and White Birch demonstrates that point here. The fruit flavor here is a perfect complement to the beer, the final result is complex and flavorful but still light and refreshing. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous White Birch Reviews:

White Birch Hop SessionWhite Birch Belgian Style Pale AleWhite Birch Nyx American Black Ale

Brooklyn Brewing Sorachi Ace

The term “local” is used constantly when it comes to beer, to the point that there is some backlash against local-centric beer culture. Just because a beer is local doesn’t mean it’s good, and the term local is also very vague. Local beer will always be a relative term, whether it’s a beer brewed in your town, in your county, in your state, in your region, in your country, on your continent, etc. (I’ll assume all the beers you drink are from this planet, but it you have any ET beers I’d love to try them).  I named this blog “Hoppy Boston” because I live in metro Boston and wanted to focus my articles on beers that were available for sale in Metro Boston. I would get frustrated when I would read a review of a beer, think it sounds amazing, and then find out that the only way to try it would be to fly to the west coast. While I have reviewed beers from all over the country that are available locally, I’ve made a concerted effort to focus on New England beers on this blog. This delineation is very arbitrary, why should I count beers brewed in Connecticut as “local” but beers from New York or Pennsylvania don’t make the cut? I guess you have to draw a line somewhere. Regardless, I do drink beers from all over the country, and I try to make an effort to mix in reviews from non-New England breweries from time to time. I’ve been sampling some quality New York beers recently, there are a few breweries that just started distributing to MA and complement the strong showing from established NY breweries. One beer I haven’t had in a while and wanted to review is Sorachi Ace from Brooklyn Brewery. Sorachi Ace is a saison brewed with the eponymous variety of hops, a rare breed developed in Japan.

Brooklyn Sorachi AceBrooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace pours a hazy straw yellow with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of fruity and spicy yeast mingling with some herbal hoppiness. The yeast leads the flavor, touches of apple, pepper, coriander and pear. This is followed by the unique hop flavors from the Sorachi Ace variety, notes of lemon, grass, orange and earth. The malts fill out the backbone with a little biscuit and whole grain flavor. Sorachi Ace is smooth, light bodied and goes down easy, but packs some punch at 7.2% ABV. The finish is crisp with some residual fruity hops and estery yeast. Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace is a unique beer, the unusual hop variety pairs very well with the yeast strain. Definitely worth trying, even if you are a New England centric beer drinker! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Brooklyn Brewery Reviews:

Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout

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.