In the US, pilsner gets kind of a bad name (thank you Miller, Coors and Bud). Most craft beer drinkers in the US prefer big and bold flavors, and the name pilsner recalls the tasteless lagers that get chugged at campus-wide keggers. This is unfortunate, because when they are made correctly a pilsner can be a subtle and flavorful beer. The pilsners you find in central Europe are very different than bland American macro-brews, with noticeable crisp hops and substantial malt flavors. Many US craft breweries have come to the realization that there is a good market for flavorful, well-made pilsners. They are great beers to go with warm Summer weather. Idle Hands brewery in Everett, MA began by making mostly Belgian style ales, but their recent releases have branched out into other types of beer. These new styles include a series of lagers, and the third beer in that series is Adelais, an unfiltered German style pilsner. Adelais is made with three types of pilsner malts and then hopped with Hallertau, Hersbrucker and Saphir hops. It is sold for a limited time in 500 mL bottles and on draft.
Idle Hands Adelais pours a hazy golden yellow with a solid white head. The smell is pretty mild, some grainy malts with a touch of earthy hops. The taste starts with the malt, some crackers, fresh baked bread and a little buttery flavor. The hops are present as well, some pine forest, with a little herbal spice. The beer is clean and drinkable with a subtle but noticeable bitterness. The finish is crisp with very little aftertaste. At 5.2% ABV it is not quite a session beer, but I could easily knock back a couple while grilling on a Summer afternoon. Adelais is a solid addition to the Idle Hands lineup. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Idle Hands reviews:
Idle Hands D’aison, Idle Hands Triplication
Over the last couple weeks I’ve started to see it creep into social media messages and show up on local liquor store shelves. A number of breweries have released their pumpkin and Fall seasonal beers already. In July. The middle of the summer by pretty much any definition, yet these brewers and distributors think it’s time for Fall beer. I know there have been plenty of complaints about this in the craft beer community (and it seems to happen with every season), but I need to rant about it for a few minutes. Because who the hell wants to drink a Fall beer on a 90 degree day? This “seasonal creep” has become all too common and it really needs to stop.
I love living in New England. I’ve lived here my whole life (ME, MA, and CT), and I have no intention of leaving. One of the main reasons I love New England is the seasons. Sure it can suck when there is two feet of snow in the Winter or 100 degree/100% humidity days in the Summer, but the extremes make you truly appreciate the weather on the oft occasions that it’s agreeable. Southern California can keep its 80 degrees and sunny every day of the year, I’ll keep my seasons. The fall is probably my favorite season, cooler temperatures, more hearty food, football Sundays and malty beer. That being said, I am enjoying the warm summer days filled with BBQs and light bodied beers, and I am not ready to give them up yet.
The seasons in New England are one of the reasons I got into craft beer. In college I discovered seasonal beers, specifically those by Sam Adams, and I was amazed how well the flavors of each beer matched the weather and feel of a particular season. One of my favorites was always the Octoberfest, the rich malty Marzen was ideal for a crisp Fall, New England evening. I would look forward to the Octoberfest release every year, realizing that I had just a short window from early September to mid-November when the beer would be available. This anticipation was a good thing, but it’s ruined when the fall seasonal brews get released in July and by October the shelves are full of Winter releases.
Seasonal creep needs to stop. The breweries claim that the consumers want the beers early, but I call BS. I think this is being driven by the enormous selection available to craft beer consumers now. There are so many pumpkin beers, so by being one of the first breweries to release the beer you encourage consumers to give your selection a try. I see a few potential solutions. The first is obvious, you have the power as a consumer. Don’t drink these beers out of season, and if you have a friend who orders one feel free to give them such a hard time that they have no choice but to change their mind. If the beers don’t sell it puts pressure on the bars and stores to stock something else until the weather turns. No bar wants to occupy a tap line with a beer no one is drinking. The second is a little harder, and maybe unrealistic, but I’ll throw it out there anyways. We could boycott the seasonal releases of the brewers who are driving this, and use social media to let them know. We have plenty of options, and plenty of brewers who will wait until September to release their Fall beers. Beer is best when it’s fresh, who knows how long that Fall beer has been sitting around by the time it’s actually appropriate weather to enjoy it. Any other ideas? I am open to suggestions, I just know this annoys the hell out of me and seems to be getting worse.
There have been a few distinct trends in craft brewing this Spring and Summer, a clear one is the emergence of the shandy/radler as a popular beer style. These mixtures of beer with soda (typically lemon/lime but there are many variations) are popular in parts of Europe, but they were rare in the US until the last year or two. Now many brewers are mixing their lighter lagers with soda or sparkling fruit juices as there is clearly a market for this style. The Traveler Beer Company in Burlington, VT specializes in shandies. In fact, that is all they brew. Traveler Beer was founded with the goal of popularizing the shandy style in the US, and it looks like they’ve accomplished that goal in a relatively short time. Traveler’s flagship beer is Curious Traveler, a shandy brewed with fresh lemon and limes in the place of soda to give a more authentic citrus fruit flavor.
Traveler Brewing Curious Traveler Shandy pours a cloudy pale gold with a very mild white head. The smell is a ton of lemon followed by just a hint of sweetness. The citrus fruit leads the flavor too, but it tastes like a beer flavored with lemon and not straight lemonade (an important distinction that some shandies seem to miss). There are some bready malts and just a hint of bitterness that provides the “beer flavor”. Curious Traveler Shandy is very drinkable and refreshing. At 4.4% ABV it is easy to crush a few on a warm summer day, or the perfect way to mix it up a little while you day-drink. The finish is clean with just a touch of lemon left on the tongue. This is probably the best version of a shandy I’ve tasted (limited experience with the style, but still). Definitely worth picking up if you’d like to try something a little different. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Malted rye has been used as an ingredient in beer for centuries, although it fell out of favor as a fermentable due to purity laws restricting the ingredients used in the brewing process in many countries. Recently there has been a renewed interest in brewing with rye malts, mostly due to innovative American craft brewers. While rye has been incorporated into a number of beer styles, the most popular is the rye IPA. I am a huge fan of this style. When designed correctly the spicy character of the rye beautifully melds with the bitter and fragrant hops resulting in a complex and delicious beer. Jack’s Abby Brewing of Framingham, MA took this concept in a slightly different direction with their Session Rye IPL (India Pale Lager). This beer uses rye malts along with Centennial, Chinook, Columbus and Crystal hops, but ferments at lower temperatures with lager yeast. Ideally the lower fermentation temperature results in a crisp lager that lets the spicy rye and aromatic hops shine.
Jack’s Abby Session Rye IPL pours a deep orange/brown, hazy with a moderate white head. The smell is a nice burst of American hops, aromas of the woods mingle with citrus fruit. The beer is very light and easy to drink. The hops are significant in the flavor, lemon, pine, and orange with a touch of mango and grapefruit. There is enough malt to add some mild flavors, highlighted by a touch of spicy rye. The finish is very clean with just a hint of bitterness. At 3.8% ABV it is definitely a session beer, light and easy to drink. This is a great summer beer that is well balanced and drinkable, but full of flavor. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Jack’s Abby reviews:
Jack’s Abby Mass Rising, Jack’s Abby/Evil Twin Jack’s Evil Brew, Jack’s Abby Wet Hop Lager, Jack’s Abby Pro-Am Pilsner
High and Mighty Beer Company was founded by Will Shelton in 2006. Will was working with his brother running Shelton Brothers beer importing company when he decided to make and distribute his own beer, in addition to the beers he was importing. By 2008 Will left the importing business to focus exclusively on High and Mighty Beer Co., contract brewing his beers at Paper City Brewing in Holyoke, MA. The goal of High and Mighty is to produce European style beers with a strong American influence. One of their popular brews is Purity of Essence, a hoppy lager. High and Mighty Purity of Essence is brewed according to the German Reinheitsgebot, a Bavarian Purity Law established in 1516 that required all beer to be made using only malted grains, water and hops (yeast was obviously necessary too, but knowledge of microorganisms was limited in 1516) . This was important because some miscreant “brewers” would make beer with all sorts of harmful chemicals. Despite the adherence to ancient brewing laws and the use of only German noble hop varieties, Purity of Essence is very different from traditional German lagers, displaying the high hop additions popularized by many American style ales, and an increasing number of craft lagers. High and Mighty Purity of Essence is available year round in 22 oz. bottles and on draft.
High and Mighty Purity of Essence pours a full amber red, slightly hazy with a mild white head. The smell is all hops, earthy with citrus and tropical fruit. The taste is very hop forward too, lemon, grapefruit, pine and mango accompanied by a nice bitter bite. There is some malt in the backbone, present enough to add some balance without contributing much to the flavor. The beer is very clean and drinkable, great for warm days in the summer. You can tell it’s a lager, there are none of the ester byproduct flavors common in beers fermented at higher temperatures with ale yeast. At 4.9% ABV it’s low in alcohol without being a true session beer. The finish is crisp with a nice little kick of hop bitterness. Overall I really enjoyed this beer - great hop flavor in a smooth, easy to drink lager. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Unlike many industries that focus entirely on competition, craft brewers love to collaborate. Most of the popular craft breweries have brewed collaboration beers, Sierra Nevada is even releasing a 12-pack with twelve different beers each brewed with a different brewery this Summer. In a seminal series of articles Bangor, ME based beer writer Chad Lothian had a group of Maine craft beer experts pick their dream collaborations involving Maine breweries. You can find the results HERE (and I highly recommend following his If My Coaster Could Talk blog, some of the best Maine-centric beer writing out there). It is no surprise that three of the breweries that made frequent appearances on these dream-team lists were Allagash, Rising Tide and Maine Beer Co. Both Rising Tide and Maine Beer Co. started in the “craft beer incubator” on Industrial Way next to the Allagash brewery, and while they have grown into new spaces there is still a strong sense of community amongst these old neighbors (for a write up of my visit to the current breweries on Industrial Way see: Part 1 and Part 2). Recently Allagash released Prince Tuesday, part of their Tribute Series, in collaboration with Maine Beer Co and Rising Tide. Prince Tuesday is a Belgian Rye Pale Ale brewed with rye malts from Rising Tide, hopped by the hop experts at Maine Beer Co. and then fermented using the Allagash house yeast. It is available on a limited basis in 750 mL bottles and on draft, with a percentage of the proceeds going to Portland Trails.
Allagash/Maine Beer Co/Rising Tide Prince Tuesday pours a deep gold, hazy with a massive white head. The smell starts with a huge burst of citrusy hops, followed by undertones of spicy and fruity esters from the Belgian yeast. The yeast comes through strongly in the flavor with touches of pear, bubblegum, clove and peppercorn. The hops are also present adding tastes of mango, grapefruit and guava. There is significant malt to balance the beer out, spicy rye and whole grain bread. Prince Tuesday is pretty easy to drink, the hops add a ton of flavor but pretty mild bitterness. The drinkability hides the alcohol well, you don’t taste any of the 8.1% ABV. The finish is complex with fruit, spice and just a hint of bitterness. This is a great beer, tons of different flavors but all of them are harmonious. I need to go find some more before it’s all gone. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Allagash reviews:
Allagash Saison, Allagash Black
Visiting a bar or restaurant is about the complete experience, the food and drinks are a piece of it but so is the company you are with, the conversation, the jokes, and the memories you make. Having great food, drinks and service enhances the experience, while the lack thereof can make it a memorable night for all the wrong reasons. If you look back at your favorite restaurants and bars I’m sure they are places you have had great meals (hopefully with some great beer) but they are also places where you made great memories with friends and family. A place that had special memories for me was Audubon Circle in Boston. One night almost four years ago I met a girl for a drink at Audubon Circle. I was impressed when she bypassed the wine/cocktail menu and ordered a craft beer, and almost four hours of conversation later I was smitten. This ended up being the first date I had with my wife. We had frequented Audubon Circle since, always enjoying the menu and the excellent variety of beers, and we were both a little nervous to find out the business was going under new ownership and being re-branded as Audubon Boston.
This last weekend we stopped by to check out the new restaurant, and out fears were quickly alleviated. The space looks similar, the back left dominated by the large bar with tables up front and to the right and a patio out back. The removal of the large oddly-shaped table in the front (and it’s sharp edges) was a nice improvement. The MENU recalls some old favorites like shareable apps and diverse salads and sandwiches, but has been updated. The BBT sandwich with cheese, bacon, basil, and tomato on a rosemary focaccia is a must try. Everything we ate was well prepared, tasty and reasonably priced. We went before a Red Sox game and it was on a completely different level than the overpriced and unimaginative food we would have eaten at the ballpark.
Another thing that hasn’t changed is the well crafted beer menu. The current menu was clearly geared towards summer weather, with refreshing offerings like Notch Left of the Dial, Victory Prima Pils and Rising Tide Daymark. Those looking for something a little stronger could choose Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union of Backlash Declaration. The bottles added some diversity with Allagash White, Spencer Trappist Ale, 21st Amendment Watermelon Wheat, Narragansett Del’s Shandy and Rogue Hazelnut Brown. There are also a number of macro-brews, but it was great to see descriptions poking fun at them like “Bud + water” (Bud Light) “Diet Beer” (Michelob Ultra). All-in-all Audubon Boston has kept many of the things my wife and I loved about the old restaurant while adding some fresh touches. I highly recommend stopping by before/after a Sox game, or any other time you’re in the area!