Tomorrow my wife and I are taking the baby to Maine for a long weekend at my parents’ house. I love trips to Maine, especially in the summer. Since we are traveling with an infant we are going to need more frequent stops, so I have formulated a bit of a plan. Why stop at a rest stop when you could stop at a brewery? I have a tentative plan to hit 3-5 breweries on the way north, we’ll see how it goes. In honor of the upcoming journey my last pre-trip post will be a review of a Maine beer, Allagash Curieux. This beer is an interesting case. Curieux is a version of Allagash’s popular Tripel that is aged in Jim Beam Bourbon barrels and then blended with fresh Tripel. When Curieux was first released there were very few beers aged in whiskey barrels, now they are readily available. Curieux has received high praise from some of my most trusted fellow beer enthusiasts. When I bought this bottle one of the resident beer geeks at CBC Newton commented that it might be the best beer in the store. One of the most entertaining and informative national beer writers calls Curieux his favorite beer of all time. Despite this praise Curieux doesn’t get the hype that accompanies some barrel aged stouts like Founders KBS and Goose Island BCBS. Maybe it’s the lack of an acronym-ready name. More likely it is availability, these other beers are released in limited quantities that helps drives the hype, but Curieux is available year-round. You can find Curieux on draft and in 750 mL bottles.
Allagash Curieux pours a clear light brown with a moderate white head. The scent is a mixture of boozy bourbon mixed with Allagash’s distinctly expressive fruity and spicy Belgian style ale yeast. The bourbon leads the flavor, solid but not overpowering, boozy and sweet with notes of oak and vanilla. The yeast comes through too with touches of clove, apple and banana. There is some malt in the back of the beer, crackery grain and candi sugar, but not much in the way of hops. Curieux is incredibly easy to drink and goes down impossibly smooth for a beer at 11% ABV. The finish is clean with just a hint of yeasty esters and warming alcohol. This beer is extremely good, it is no wonder that it helped inspire a craze for bourbon barrel aged beers. I am surprised more brewers haven’t used tripels as their base for barrel aging, maybe they switched to stouts because they assumed Allagash had already mastered tripels with Curieux! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Allagash Reviews:
Allagash White, Allagash Dubbel, Allagash/Maine Beer/Rising Tide Prince Tuesday, Allagash Saison, Allagash Black
My sampling trip through Connecticut beers continues with a couple selections from Stony Creek Brewing Company in Branford, CT. Looking at their website I kind of wish I had made the trip to Branford instead of just grabbing the beers in a bottle shop, the brewery looks like a great place to hang out. They have indoor and outdoor space that includes a dock and space for games. Stony Creeks mantra is “aggressively laid-back”, their team focuses on creating ambitious and creative beers served in a fun and relaxing environment. I grabbed two selections to sample. The first was their summer seasonal Sun Juice, a Belgian style witbier brewed with orange peel, grapefruit peel, coriander and chamomile. The second was Dock Time, a year-round amber lager brewed with rye and Sterling hops. Both beers are available on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Stony Creek Sun Juice pours a clear straw yellow with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of estery Belgian style yeast and some citrus fruit. The yeast and added spices make up the majority of the flavor with notes of orange, apple, pepper, coriander, clove and grapefruit. This is supported by a solid malt backbone predominated by the wheat malts. There are some subtle grassy hops that add a little flavor and dry out the finish. The beer is very light and easy to drink, and not too heavy at 5.3% ABV. In all this is a very solid Belgian witbier, perfect for summer drinking on the porch or the beach. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5
Stony Creek Dock Time pours a deep amber red with a minimal white head. The scent is mostly rich malts, present but subtle. The taste is malt forward, touches of caramel, fresh bread, honey and roasted nuts. There are some mild earthy hops that add balance but this is a malt forward beer. The beer is crisp and clean, it is clearly a lager, and sessionable at 4.8% ABV. Amber lagers aren’t my favorite beer style, but this one was enjoyable. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
With the constantly increasing competition in the beer market, each individual brewery needs something to set it apart from all of the other options available to consumers. In my opinion the best way to achieve this is to do one thing extremely well, become known as the master of a particular style or set of styles. Many breweries have thrived starting with this model, but eventually every brewer wants to branch out and try their hand at the other styles of beer. This can be difficult from a marketing perspective, if your customers have equated your brand to hop-forward beers then they might be taken aback when you release a Berliner Weisse. Stillwater Artisanal Ales recently ran into this conundrum, they were well known for their line of delicious saisons but wanted to branch out to include more American styles in their portfolio. The solution was brilliantly simple, as demonstrated by the Stillwater modern works series of beers. The Stillwater name is still present but the artwork is distinctly different, at first glance it would look like a completely different brand of beer. One of the releases in this series is Yacht, a tribute to canned beer. Not long ago pretty much the only beer packaged in cans were macro-brewed light lagers, so Stillwater decided to brew their own interpretation of the light lager style (hint, unlike most macro lagers they added a bunch of hops to this interpretation). Stillwater Yacht is currently available on draft and in tallboy cans.
Stillwater Yacht pours a clear straw yellow with a moderate white head. The scent is a subtle mixture of floral and citrusy hops. The taste is hop-forward, notes of lemon, resin, grass and grapefruit along with a crisp bitterness. This isn’t like an IPA that clubs you over the head with hoppiness, but the flavor is vibrant and complex. The hoppiness is balanced by a light malt flavor, just a touch of crackers and grain. The beer is super light and easy to drink, at 4.2% ABV it is a session beer by any definition. Stillwater Yacht is a perfect summer beer, clean and refreshing but tons of flavor, perfect for the outdoors and the warm weather. I am not sure if this was a one-off or a new regular release, but I hope it’s the latter as this is amongst the best lagers I’ve ever tried. Hoppy Boston score 4.75/5.
Previous Stillwater Reviews:
Stillwater Lower Dens Remastered with Brett, Stillwater Classique
A couple weeks ago I picked up a number of beers from Connecticut breweries that aren’t distributed in Massachusetts yet, with the hope of getting better acquainted with the CT brewing scene. My reviews of these beers continues with a couple of selections from Half Full Brewery in Stamford, CT. I wasn’t very familiar with the Half Full lineup, which is part of the reason I wanted to give some of their beers a shot. Half Full Brewery was founded by “Chief Beer Philosopher” Conor who decided to leave a soulless Wall Street job to travel the world, and during his travels found inspiration for his new brewery. Half Full was founded on the power of a positive attitude and the belief that things would work out. After four years of planning, training and brewing tons of beer the brewery opened and their story continues to evolve each day. I selected two of their beers, the spring seasonal Onward APA, and the flagship Pursuit IPA, both of which are distributed in 12 oz. cans.
Half Full Onward APA pours an amber orange with a substantial off-white head. The scent is a mixture of earthy hops and bready malts. The taste is actually pretty light considering the appearance and aroma, the beer didn’t look or smell like most APAs, but the first taste had a flavor profile more in line with the style. There is solid hop character, touches of grass, pine and lemon along with a light and crisp bitterness. This is complemented by significant malt character. notes of caramel, biscuits and whole grain bread. The beer is medium bodied with moderate booze at 5.5% ABV. Overall Onward APA is a solid beer, although to me it is more of an English style pale ale than an APA, but that is a minor quibble. Hoppy Boston score: 3.75/5.
Half Full Pursuit IPA pours a deep amber with a monstrous off-white head. The scent is relatively mild, some floral and grassy hops. The hops hit much harder on the palate, noticeable flavors of pine, grapefruit, orange and grass along with solid but not overwhelming bitterness. There is also substantial malt character for balance, notes of toffee, freshly baked bread and honey. The beer is medium bodied and packs a little punch at 7% ABV. This is a good IPA if you like more balance and drinkability in the style as opposed to the tongue numbing West Coast style hop bombs. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
The recent explosion of the session IPA style has been remarkable. A couple of years ago the style didn’t even exist and now it seems like every brewery is hopping on the bandwagon and brewing a session IPA. I have had mixed opinions on this particular sub-style from the beginning. On one hand it is kind of a marketing gimmick, brewers have realized that anything labeled “IPA” sells better and there is a demand for lower alcohol beers with big hop character. On the other hand, I am a sucker for beers with high doses of New World hops and there are occasions where I’d much rather drink a couple low ABV beers than a single bottle of boozy DIPA. In the end I am going to follow along with the herd and continue to buy/try session IPAs with the goal of finding a few that will be part of my regular beach/BBQ/I-am-going-to-be-up-all-night-with-a-screaming-infant-so-I-can’t-drink-anything-too-heavy rotation. One of the newest additions to the local session IPA stable is Melt Away from Newburyport Brewing Company. Melt Away is brewed with Citra and Amarillo hops and sold on draft and in 12 oz. cans year-round.
Newburyport Melt Away Session IPA pours a hazy orange with a moderate white head. The scent is a huge burst of hops dominated by citrus and tropical fruit. The flavor is also very hop-forward, notes of lemon, grapefruit, passion fruit and mango. The hops also add some bitterness, you feel it on your tongue but it isn’t overwhelming. There is a mild malt backbone that adds a little balance and a hint of grainy bread to the flavor. The beer is light bodied and crushable, perfect for the outdoor and/or day drinking. At 4.6% ABV it is a session beer by most standards, definitely much lighter than their 7.2% ABV Greenhead IPA. The finish is clean with some crisp bitterness lingering on the tongue. Overall this is a very solid session IPA, plenty of hop flavor and very easy to drink. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Newburyport Reviews:
Newburyport Greenhead IPA
In shocking news last week Idle Hands and Enlightenment Ales, who had merged into a single operation a couple of years ago, announced that they were closing their brewery in Everett. The company isn’t going out of business! The space they use was sold to the development group building the casino in Everett and the facility is going to be torn down to help build a new access road. While Idle Hands had been considering an eventual move to help grow the business and expand capacity, the timing wasn’t great and the notice they were given was pretty short, which will lead to a lull in production. They are in the process of securing a new facility, and in the meantime the generous team at Night Shift is letting them contract out some space and equipment to continue production of part of their lineup. You can find out more information HERE. I have always thought that Idle Hands and Enlightenment Ales was amongst the most underrated local breweries as they make a wide range of delicious and innovative beers. I urge everyone to support them as they go through this transition, head to the brewery at the end of the week and stock up on some of their beers, or pick them up at a local bottle shop. Idle Hands has expanded their lineup considerably over the last year. At their inception they focused primarily on Belgian style ales including Triplication, their outstanding abbey-style tripel. Recently they have added a bevy of German inspired lagers to their lineup, including their house lager Heide. Idle Hands Heide is a Munich Helles lager, a pale colored and easy drinking table beer that is sold on draft and in 500 mL bottles.
Idle Hands Heide pours a clear straw yellow with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of earthy hops and some pale malts. The beer is a classic lager, smooth, clean and very light bodied. There are some grassy and floral hops that also add a pleasantly crisp bitterness. This is complemented by the light malts, touches of cracker, freshly baked bread and a hint of honey. At 4.6% ABV Idle Hands Heide is very sessionable. The “house lager” designation is perfect for this beer, it’s both full flavored and easy to drink, the kind of beer that does the job for all sorts of occasions. Pick this up and continue to support a great local brewery as they go through a difficult transition! Hoppy Boston score 4.25/5.
Previous Idle Hands Reviews:
Idle Hands Riding Shotgun, Idle Hands Adelais, Idle Hands D’aison, Idle Hands Triplication
Down The Road Brewery in Newton is gradually rolling out their introductory lineup of beers. They recently released Rasenmaher Kolsch on draft and in 12 oz. bottles. If you grab a bottle you’ll probably notice something interesting in their artwork. The label depicts Down The Road character Hans Mowermann pushing a lawnmower in his lederhosen. In his free hand, where you might expect to see a frosty mug of beer, there is a small “censored” label instead. The original art included the mug of beer, but the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (who approves all labels for alcoholic beverages), nixed the art. The full story can be found on Down The Road’s blog HERE. Apparently the TTB consider a lawnmower to be heavy machinery, and every beer contains the warning to not operate heavy machinery if you consume alcohol. I’m glad Down The Road chose to use the censored label instead of re-doing their artwork, it adds a little intrigue and immediately draws the consumer’s eye. While Rasenmaher Kolsch is a perfect Summertime lawnmower beer, it is going to be one of Down The Road’s flagship beers and thus available year-round.
Down The Road Rasenmaher Kolsch pours a clear pale orange with a mild white head. The scent is a mixture of noble hops with just a touch of German-style yeast. The taste starts with the pale malts, notes of crackers and grain. This is perfectly complemented by the noble hops, which add moderate earthy and grassy flavors. The German yeast is less expressive than Belgian styles, but adds some subtle hints of banana and clove. The beer is very light and easy to drink with some spritzy carbonation and sessionable at 4.5% ABV. Rasenmaher Kolsch is a great summer beer, full flavored but crushable, I’ll knock back a few of these on the porch and add this to my BBQ rotation. I’m glad only the label was censored and not the beer! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Down The Road Reviews:
Down The Road Pukwudgie Pale Ale