Gluten, the group of proteins in wheat, barley and rye that give bread its structure, has been in the news a lot lately. Many people are adopting a gluten-free diet either due to a diagnosis of celiac disease, an allergy or sensitivity to the protein, or personal choice. During the brewing process gluten is one of many proteins released into the beer from the malt, so anyone on a gluten-free diet can’t drink most beers. Some breweries have started to brew gluten-free or gluten-removed beer selections to meet the demand of people who want/need to have a gluten free diet, but still want to enjoy an occasional beer. Gluten-free beers are brewed with malted grains that don’t contain that protein, like buckwheat, sorghum and rice. Gluten-removed beers use normal barley and then add a special enzyme that digests the gluten into smaller, easier to digest proteins. I don’t have any issues with gluten (thank God), but I thought it would be interesting to try an occasional gluten-free or gluten-removed beer. Geary’s Brewing Company of Portland, ME typically brews very traditional English style ales, so I found it interesting that they decided to make a gluten-removed ale. Their take on the style is called Ixnay, it’s an English Pale Ale brewed normally and then treated with enzyme to break down the gluten. It is available year-round on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Geary’s Ixnay pours a deep reddish brown, clear with a minimal off-white head. The smell is pretty malty, some roasted caramel notes. The taste starts with some mild earthy hops followed by significant malt character, touches of toffee, cracker and whole grain bread. There is a bit of bitterness to balance the malt sweetness. This is definitely a British style beer, more of an ESB than a pale ale to me, but not so much that it’s worth quibbling over. Ixnay is easy to drink, lower in alcohol at 4.7% ABV, and finishes clean. I never would have guessed that this was a gluten-removed beer as there is nothing in the flavor that makes it taste any different. Overall Geary’s Ixnay is worth a try regardless of your gluten tolerance, and should be a go-to for those on a gluten-free diet who crave an occasional beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
Previous Geary’s reviews:
Geary’s London Porter
You could easily argue that modern American craft beer started with Anchor Brewing Company. The original brewery that became Anchor was founded in San Fransisco in 1871. It underwent multiple iterations including a fire, shut down for Prohibition, and numerous changes in ownership. The history is pretty interesting, you can see it all on their website HERE. Anchor’s flagship beer is Anchor Steam, a California Common, the first style of beer developed in the US. Anchor now brews a wide variety of year round and seasonal beers, which are distributed around the country. Anchor’s Summer seasonal is an American wheat beer that they have been brewing since 1984. Anchor Summer Beer is brewed with pale barley and malted wheat along with Goldings and Glacier hops. It is available during the summer in 12 oz. beers and on draft.
Anchor Summer Beer pours a clear deep yellow with a moderate white head. The smell is mostly wheat with a little pale barley malt and a touch of lemon. The flavor is very light, with the malts at the forefront, wheat bread and a little sugary barley. The hops are nearly undetectable, a touch of lemon and very little bitterness. The beer is light and drinkable at 4.5% ABV, and finishes clean. If you like summer wheat beers (think Sam Adams Summer) you might want to give this a try. Personally, not my favorite style. If I wanted to drink a lighter style beer from Anchor I’d prefer their California Lager. Hoppy Boston score: 3.5/5.
While many breweries focus their collaborations efforts locally, Somerville, MA-based Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project will brew beers with like-minded allies from around the world. Their most recent partnership is with Naparbier, a brewery based near Pamplona, Spain. Pretty Things brews mostly European style beers, while Naparbier brews mostly popular American styles, which presents the type of interesting dichotomy that can fuel a successful association. Their collaboration is called There’s No Place Like There, a bold American style double IPA. The beer was brewed with a variety of pale malts and then loaded with Citra, Chinook, Comet and El Dorado hops. It is available on draft and in 22 oz. bottle for a limited time, once it’s gone it’s gone. This is actually the most frustrating thing about collaboration beers, if you find one you love it probably won’t be around for long. I still miss the Pretty Things/Boulevard Stingo, a very unique beer that I only got to drink 2-3 times before the batch was done.
Pretty Things/Naparbier There’s No Place Like There pours a bright tangerine, hazy with a minimal off-white head. The smell is a huge dose of American hops, but more woodsy/earthy than citrusy/fruity on the nose. The taste also starts with the hops, some pine, earth and grass followed by a little lemon and orange. The hops also add some tongue-numbing bitterness. I mean that in a good way, you want a double IPA to assault your senses a little. The malt is present, enough to add a little balance to the beer, but way more muted than you normally find in a Pretty Things beer. There’s No Place Like There packs some punch at 9.5% ABV, but you don’t get much alcohol in the flavor. The combination of the booze and a full body makes this more of a sipper, but it goes down pretty smooth with a delicious bitter finish. This beer is ridiculously good, just what I look for in a double IPA. I recommend grabbing a bottle if you can still find it, I don’t imagine it will last for much longer! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Pretty Things Reviews:
Pretty Things Grampus, Pretty Things Barbapapa, Pretty Things Meadowlark, Pretty Things/Yeastie Boys Our Turn, Your Turn.
In the increasingly crowded craft beer market it is important for a brewery to do things that are unique and innovative to distinguish itself from the competition. Element Brewing Company of Miller’s Falls, MA has found a few ways to stand out to consumers. One way is their packaging. All of their beers are distributed in 750 mL bottles gift wrapped in full length paper labels. Around the neck is a tag with details about the beer and a bottle number. The beers tend to be made in small batches, so don’t expect a high number, my recent purchase was bottle number 66. The beer itself is another way that Element is unique. While most breweries will start their business with easily recognizable styles like IPA and stout, all of Element Brewing Company’s beers defy traditional style constraints. This is true for Element’s summer seasonal Interval, a Summer Pilsner Fusion beer. Interval is intended to be a mixture of a German pilsner and an oatmeal stout, using the light colored malts and crisp hops of a traditional pilsner with the thick and smooth mouthfeel of an oatmeal stout. Definitely a cool concept for a beer, but I have to admit I was a little skeptical of how well it would work. My skepticism was mixed with intrigue, so I bought a bottle and gave it a try.
Element Interval Ale pours a deep copper (pretty dark for a pilsner) with a large but quickly dissipating off-white head. The smell has some floral and earthy hops, noticeable but not strong. The taste starts with some mild hoppiness, touches of orange, grass and flowers. This is nicely offset by some pilsner malts, notes of cracker and grain. All of these taste elements are reminiscent of a classic German pilsner, but the mouthfeel is all oatmeal stout, thick, full bodied and a little creamy. Despite the full body, Element Interval Ale is easy to drink. I was shocked to find out that it was 9% ABV. The finish is pretty clean with just a little hoppy bite. Overall this is a very solid beer with an interesting and unexpected twist, definitely worth a try. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5
Although I have been drinking a lot of craft pilsners during these warm summer days, I also love light-bodied hoppy beers when it’s hot and humid. In particular, the bright and fruity flavors of American style hops are a perfect complement to a summer BBQ. A couple summer beers I tried recently fit this description. They are light and drinkable, but feature big bursts of disntictly new world hops. The first is Simmer Down, the summer seasonal from Sebago Brewing Company in Gorham, ME. The second is Island Day, the new summer beer from Slumbrew (Somerville Brewing Company) in Somerville, MA. Neither beer specifies a style (not that it matters), they are both on the borderline between an American pale ale and IPA. Regardless of style designation, both beers are a celebration of American hops and brewed to be enjoyed during the few short months of warm weather we get in New England.
Sebago Brewing Simmer Down is a summer session ale brewed with El Dorado, Mosaic and Ahtanum hops. Simmer Down pours a copper-orange, slightly hazy with a very mild white head. The smell is lightly hoppy, some fruity scents but not overpowering. The hops come through a little stronger in the flavor, with touches of orange, mango, lemon and passion fruit. The bitterness is pretty mild and nicely complemented by some malty grain flavors. Simmer Down is very light and crushable, at 4.9% ABV it can be classified as a session beer by some definitions. The finish is clean with just a hint of bitterness lingering on the tongue. Sebago Simmer Down is a great beer for summer. The mild hoppiness and low alcohol make you think of outdoor parties on a hot summer day. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5
Slumbrew Island Day is a golden ale brewed with Ella, Pacific Jade and Calypso hops. Island Day pours a cloudy pale orange with a small white head. The smell is all American hops, big bursts of citrus and tropical fruit. The hops dominate the flavor profile too, notes of pineapple, guava, lime and orange. The hop flavor is accompanied by a nice mild bitterness, you get some bite but it isn’t mouth-numbing. There is a little malt for balance, but this is clearly a beer brewed to showcase these varieties of hops. Island Day goes down smooth so I was a little surprised that it had 6.5% ABV. The finish is hop-forward with a pleasant bitter tingle on the tongue. This immediately became one of my favorite Slumbrew releases. A great hoppy beer for a warm summer evening. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5
Previous Sebago reviews:
Sebago Frye’s Leap IPA
Previous Slumbrew reviews:
Slumbrew Snow Angel, Slumbrew Trekker Trippel, Slumbrew Sittin’ on Hop of the World
A couple weeks ago Maine Beer Company released their limited edition double IPA, Dinner, at their brewery in Freeport. The brewery opened at noon, and according to multiple sources people started to line up at the door before 8 AM in anticipation of this release. On a Thursday. I love Maine Beer Company’s beers. I stopped by the brewery last week on a trip to Maine and grabbed some of their signature IPA Lunch along with a variety of other favorites. I am sure Dinner is amazing. A friend of mine had some from their first batch and loved it. All of those things are true, but there is still no way in hell I would spend hours of my day standing in line to buy beer. This isn’t a one-time thing. At least once a month I see a local brewery release a limited edition beer that results in a mad rush of enthusiastic beer fans who line up and wait for hours to buy it. I am not one of those people, and I won’t be. Here are some of my reasons:
1. I have a busy life. I have a good career that has nothing to do with beer or brewing (this is all a hobby for me). I’m married, plus I have a strong circle of friends and family. All of these things take up a large amount of my time. Sometimes I wish I was at a place where I could take 5 hours out of my weekday to wait in line to buy beer, but then I realize that even if I did have that time I would hope to find a slightly more productive way to use it.
2. There are so many amazing beers that are available for purchase without waiting in line. Every time I walk into Craft Beer Cellar or another quality beer store I see hundreds of beers I’ve never tried. I also see hundreds of other selections that I know and love, and others I haven’t tasted in way too long. Some of the new beers won’t be great, others will. None of the beers requires hours of waiting. How much better could these rare beers be than my readily accessible favorites?
3. Wait-in-line beers tend to be over-rated. Some of these beers are incredible, but I feel like some beers get highly rated just because they are so hard to find. Do you know how many of the 50 highest rated beers in New England (according to Beer Advocate) are regularly available at your local liquor store, assuming you live in metro Boston? Zero. One that is occasionally available is the Trillium Fort Point Pale Ale, the rest are mostly wait-in-line or drive for hours beers. Are these beers really the best brewed in New England, or is there a selection bias because it is the same small group of people who wait in line to drink them? I think I need to write an entire rant about this subject alone.
Listen, if you want to wait in line for hours to get your hands on some rare beers, be my guest, I have no problem with that. To each their own. I’m sure some of the beers are even worth the wait. I just have a suggestion, the next time you do, also head to the store and buy a few readily available beers of a similar style. Set up a little blind tasting with your friends and see if the beer you spent all that time (and most likely more money) acquiring is really better than the great beers that are consistently available. I’d be interested to see what your conclusions are.
The ever evolving tastes of American craft beer consumers presents a challenge for older breweries who need to balance brewing the beer that made them popular with making new and exciting brews. This is especially tough with IPA, the most popular type of craft beer but also a style that has evolved significantly over the years. The original English style was full bodied with a large dose of bitter and earthy Old world hops. Many early American craft brewers were inspired by traditional English styles and brewed their IPAs in this fashion. This started to change when a few breweries on the US West coast produced IPAs that highlighted the fruitier flavor and aroma of new hop strains grown in the Pacific Northwest. These West coast IPAs used extensive hop additions late in the boil and during fermentation to give the big hop flavor and smell that has come to define this style. Now many breweries that started brewing English style IPAs years ago are left with a choice to brew their classic beer or change with the times. Long Trail has decided to keep brewing their classic Long Trail IPA and also start brewing a new West Coast style IPA called Limbo. Limbo is brewed year round and sold on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Long Trail Limbo pours a deep amber, slightly hazy with a mild white head. The smell is a huge burst of American hops, tons of citrus and tropical fruit with a little pine. The taste is hops, hops and more hops. Grapefruit, mango, papaya, orange, lemon, with just a little floral and earthy flavor. Basically everything you love about New World hop varieties! There is enough malt to provide a little balance, but this is clearly a hop-bomb West coast style IPA. Limbo is solidly bitter but not tongue-numbing. The beer is medium bodied and drinkable, you don’t taste the 7.6% ABV at all. The finish is crisp with a pleasant bitterness on the tongue. This beer is delicious, it could hold its own against many of the higher priced, hard to find IPAs that people drive hours to wait in line to buy. I’d much rather grab some Limbo at the local beer store and I suggest you do too! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Long Trail reviews:
Long Trail Ramble, Long Trail Double Bag