HoppyBoston Best Beers-Fall 2016

After an incredibly crazy summer life has settled down a bit this fall. I am back into somewhat of a routine with the new house, new job, new commute, etc. I’ve even found some time to visit a handful of breweries this fall. As part of the compromises that came with these changes I am writing a little less on Hoppy Boston, although I am still getting two posts up most weeks. Honestly, the three posts a week run I was on was probably unsustainable regardless of any life changes. Fewer posts means that I’ll probably have fewer new entries into my “Favorite Beers” list, but I am still committed to finding all of the great beers in New England, especially the ones that don’t require waiting in line to acquire. As always, the best beers I’ve reviewed this fall have been added to the My Favorite Beers page, and the links lead to the full review. Please feel free to recommend any beers that you think belong on this list and I haven’t had a chance to review yet. Cheers!

medusa-black-ale-projectMedusa Black Ale Project: The first in a series of beers (from different breweries) that will benefit charities that help veterans, and Medusa knocked it out of the park. A full flavored milk stout that is still easy to drink and not too boozy, I really hope this beer makes a comeback.

bbc-oktoberfestBerkshire Brewing Oktoberfest: A classic marzen, tons of malt flavor without being cloying, packs some punch but still super drinkable. Everyone should celebrate the fall with a few mugs of this beer.

notch-infinite-jestNotch Infinite Jest: The newest addition to Notch’s flagship lineup has quickly become a mainstay in my beer fridge. Big hop flavor, balance, drinkability, and of course it’s a session beer, making it perfect for all occasions.

oxbow-barrel-aged-farmhouse-pale-aleOxbow Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale: I am really glad to see Oxbow beers make their way down to Massachusetts. This saison aged in oak barrels with Brettanomyces has a complex mixture of flavors but everything comes together and makes a delicious beer.

Random Beer Thoughts-November 2016

-There was a good article by Aaron Goldfarb discussing how rarity seems to drive high ratings on Beer Advocate (and similar sites like Rate Beer and Untappd). If you look at the Beer Advocate Top 100 you will find a common theme, they are beers you probably won’t find in your local bottle shop. It is unfortunate that these sites have been overtaken by trophy hunters who care more about finding these high rated rare beers (and then bragging about it) instead of forming their own opinions based entirely on taste.

-I know I’ve ranted about this before, but seriously, next time you wait in line for some rare beer please stop into a local shop and ask for the best available versions of the same style and taste them blind. I think you’ll be shocked at how often you prefer the regularly available beer to the trophy beer.

-As competition increases, we’re seeing more niche breweries, each trying to occupy a specific segment of the market. We’ve had some success stories locally, like Notch with session beers. This can be a good way for a brewery to establish a brand, although they don’t have to stay in that niche. Night Shift started by almost exclusively making beers with uncommon adjunct ingredients, they have expanded well beyond that.

-Speaking of Night Shift, they launched their own distribution company, an interesting way around the restrictive laws that lock a brewer into a relationship with their distributor.

-Geary’s Brewing has seen a slow down in sales. This one is tough, Geary’s Pale Ale and HSA were two of the beers that started my journey away from cheap macro lager. They have also been one of the most stubbornly resistant breweries when it comes to the changing market. I remember stocking the cooler with most of the same beers they are still peddling when I worked an afterschool job 20 years ago. Consistency is good, but so is innovation.

Links:

-Last month I wrote extensively about my problems with growlers, The Mass Brew Bros have a good write up on the subject.

-Josh Bernstein writes about the importance of bottle dating, especially with hoppy beers. Clear and consistent dating is a big help, so is educating beer drinkers on the importance of checking said dates.

-Start Line Brewing is now open in Hopkinton.

-Lamplighter Brewing now has a full taproom open, with full pours in addition to growler fills.

-Battle Road Brewing Company is really, really close to opening . I am excited about this, it will become the closest brewery to my new home.

-Proclamation Ale is expanding with a new brewery in Warwick, RI. Love the few beers I’ve tried from these guys, and their beers sell quick when they make it up to the Boston area.

-Upland Brewing is now available in the Boston area. They are doing a bunch of launch events this week.

Notch Dog and Pony Show

My wife and I had a somewhat rare treat the other weekend, a child-free afternoon thanks to my in-laws, so we did a little date day (it was also the 6-year anniversary of our first date so we had a good reason to celebrate). We decided to head up to Salem, get some lunch and finally check out the new Notch brewery and tasting room. The brewery is beautiful, big and open, plenty of different types of seating, skee ball and an outdoor beer garden. My wife perfectly summed up my feelings when I asked her what she wanted and she replied, “pick anything, I’ve never had a bad Notch beer”. We sampled a few beers, got some more to go, and even met owner Chris Lohring. Chris explained that they were currently focused on hoppy pale ales and traditional Czech lagers, but would branch out from there. I like the initial areas of focus, hop-forward pale beers will always pay the bills and the non-pilsner varieties of Czech lager are underappreciated in the US. I wish I’d had more time to sample everything they offered. One of the beers we tried at the brewery and then grabbed to go was Dog and Pony Show, a pale American wheat beer with a generous dose of Citra hops. Notch Dog and Pony show is available on draft (including 1L pours at the brewery!) and to-go in 32 oz. crowlers.

notch-dog-and-pony-showNotch Dog and Pony Show pours a clear bright yellow with a solid white head. The scent is a big burst of citrusy hops. The flavor is also hop forward, notes of grapefruit, orange and mango with a very mild bitterness. A light malt backbone rounds out the flavor, hints of white bread and honey. Dog and Pony show is light bodied and crushable at 4.0% ABV, I had no issue polishing off a 32 oz. crowler in one sitting. The finish is crisp and clean with a touch of lingering hop flavor. This beer perfectly showcases Notch’s mission, low ABV bt still tons of flavor. Notch’s year-round releases are staples of my beer fridge, but the addition of draft only releases like this will necessitate regular visits to Salem. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Notch Reviews:

Notch Infinite JestNotch Cerne Pivo, Notch The MuleNotch Hootenanny, Notch Left of the Dial, Notch Saison

Oxbow Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale

I’ll be traveling up to Maine for Thanksgiving again and hopefully stopping at a brewery or two as part of the trip. One place that I’ve been meaning to visit is Oxbow Brewing in Newcastle. I’ve heard great things about their eclectic Belgian style beers, but the brewery is a little off of the beaten path and it’s tough to justify the detour, especially when we are traveling with an 18-month old. Fortunately, Oxbow has opened a second location in Portland, which could be a little easier to visit. They have also started distributing to Massachusetts, which makes their beer much easier to come by for those of us in the Boston area. I’ve now tried a couple Oxbow selections, most recently their Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale. The name tells most of the story, this beer is an American saison fermented in stainless steel and then aged in oak barrels with Brettanomyces. Oxbow Barrel Aged Farmhouse Ale is available on a rotating basis in 500 mL bottles.

oxbow-barrel-aged-farmhouse-pale-aleOxbow Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale pours a hazy golden yellow with a massive white head. The scent is a complex mixture of fruity esters, barnyard Brett and acidity. The diverse flavors from the fermentation and aging also dominate the taste. The Belgian style yeast adds notes of green apple, pear and lemon that mingles with funky Brett, a solid hit of tart sour flavor, and just a touch of oak. There is also some citrus fruit flavor that I assume is from the hops, hints of orange and mango. A light malt backbone rounds out the flavor with a little bread crust and honey. The beer is light and easy to drink, moderately boozy at 6.5% ABV. The finish is dry with a little lingering acid and some yeasty esters. Oxbow Barrel Aged Farmhouse Ale is really good, incredibly complex but still easy to drink and approachable, diverse flavors but everything works together. Wild/barrel aged saisons are becoming a favorite style and this is a stellar example. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

RiverWalk Blackberry Porter

In you told me a few years ago how many fruit infused beers I would drink and enjoy, I would have never believed you. In fairness, the majority of fruit beers on the market even a few years ago were still lighter wheat ales with massive doses of cloying artificial fruit flavor. Over the last couple years creative breweries have found a number of delicious ways to incorporate fresh fruit flavors into an array of beer styles. The most obvious examples are the citrus and tropical fruit infused IPAs and fruit flavored sour beer styles. Some brewers have found even more creative ways to add subtle fruit flavors to a wide range of beer styles, even some combinations that sound strange at first glance. A good example is the Blackberry Porter from RiverWalk Brewing Company. I am a huge fan of porters, but I don’t know that I’ve even tried a fruit infused version of the style. I can see how it would work, good porters have chocolate and coffee notes, and subtle fruit flavors can complement these types of dark malts. RiverWalk Blackberry Porter is available now on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.

riverwalk-blackberry-porterRiverWalk Blackberry Porter pours pitch black with a massive purple-tined tan head. The aroma is mostly dark malts, roasty and sweet. The flavor is also malt forward, notes of milk chocolate, espresso and caramel. The blackberry flavor is subtle, enough to add complexity without being assertive. The beer has minimal hop flavor and just enough bitterness to crisp up the finish. Blackberry Porter is full bodied but drinks very easy for a beer with 8.5% ABV. The finish is rich with some lingering dark malt flavor. This is a really well made porter with an interesting twist, definitely a good beer for the upcoming winter months. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Riverwalk Reviews:

RiverWalk Winter Porter, RiverWalk Farm to Kettle 2015, RiverWalk Screen Door

Berkley Red Rye Ale

After a rough night/day following the turmoil of this country’s political process it’s nice to be back writing about beer. I won’t share any election thoughts, this is strictly a beer blog and I’d like to keep it that way. I think we all could use a couple of beers with friends, or even invite some people with different views out for beers and try to find some common ground. While pumpkin and marzen/Oktoberfest beers dominate the fall seasonal market I’ve found a few other styles that fit well with the crisp fall weather. One style is rye beers, the spicy grain adds body and lots of flavor that works well with a variety of other malts, hops and yeast strains. An interesting rye beer that I tried recently was Red Rye Ale from Berkley Brewing Company. Berkley uses a liberal amount of rye malt and then ferments with an expressive Belgian yeast strain. Berkley brewing Red Rye Ale is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 750 mL bombers.

berkley-red-rye-aleBerkley Red Rye Ale pours deep amber with a minimal off-white head. The scent is mostly fruity esters from the Belgian yeast. The yeast leads the flavor, notes of pear, green apple and bubblegum. The malts add a touches of bread crust and honey along with a noticeable hit of spicy rye. A hint of earthy and grassy hops round out the flavor. Berkley Red Rye Ale has a medium body and drinks smooth, not too boozy at 5.4% ABV. The finish is dry with some lingering yeasty esters. This is a solid beer nice mixture of flavors from the yeast and malts, although I would have liked a little more assertive rye character. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Previous Berkley Reviews:

Berkley Coffee Porter

Mystic Kanzu

I am a somewhat regular participant in a twitter beer chat on Thursday nights that starts around 9 PM EST. It’s a fun place to chat about beer, anyone is welcome to chime in, just follow the hashtag #beerchat and answer the questions posed by whomever is hosting. A recent topic was coffee beers, with questions about good/bad examples and different beer styles that can/should/shouldn’t be infused with coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker, not because I dislike it per se I just try to limit my caffeine intake, but I enjoy the occasional coffee stout or porter. Someone (and I really don’t remember who or I would give them credit), suggested that a coffee saison could be interesting or terrible depending on the execution. It seemed like a strange idea to me, but the next time I was at the bottle shop I noticed a coffee saison and needed to give it a shot. Fortunately it was from Mystic Brewing, if any brewery knows how to make unique and delicious farmhouse ales it’s Mystic. Mystic Kanzu is a farmhouse ale brewed with Rwandan coffee, it is available now in 375 mL bottles.

mystic-kanzuMystic Kanzu pours deep orange with a moderate off-white head. The scent is a mixture of coffee and esters from the expressive Belgian style yeast. The coffee is well represented in the flavor but doesn’t overwhelm. The yeast is also present, notes of apple, apricot and clove. Light malts round out the flavor with hints of cracker and bread dough. Kanzu is light bodied and easy to drink, not too boozy at 5.4% ABV. The finish is dry with lingering coffee flavor. I don’t know if I would have even tried a coffee infused saison if it wasn’t from Mystic, but years of drinking delicious beers from that brewery have led to an inherent trust that I will enjoy the beer. If you are interested in trying a different style of beer with coffee this is a good place to start. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Mystic Reviews:

Mystic Sauvignon Blanc Barrel SaisonMystic Vinland 4Mystic De Varenne, Mystic India Wharf Pale Ale, BREWERY OVERVIEW, Mystic Flor ZMystic Melissa, Mystic DescendantMystic Vinland ThreeMystic Brewery visit and Day of Doom, Mystic Hazy Jane, Mystic Mary of the Gael, Mystic Vinland Two, Mystic Table Beer