Idles Hands 34 and Six Seam

A couple weeks ago I received a big gift (from myself), official Hoppy Boston glassware. As soon as I decided to give the site a facelift and get a real logo I knew that I needed some logo-glassware and I found a online site that helped me make this dream a reality. I had avoided posting about the glasses on social media  or the blog because I had my yearly guys outing with my college buddies this weekend and I was bringing them all a glass as a gift. I had an Instagram/Twitter post ready with the first beer I drank from the new glasses, Four Seam IPA from Idle Hands, but in my excitement to share this I accidentally used a picture I took with Six Seam DIPA, which I was planning on reviewing today. Thank you for everyone that pointed out the mistake. Anyways, I’ve had a chance to sample a number of the newer additions to the Idle Hands lineup recently. After years making Belgian and then German styles Idle Hands has added a number of popular American beer styles to the lineup. Most of these new beers follow a baseball theme. Included in these newer additions is 34, a porter honoring Red Sox great David Ortiz, and Six Seam, a New England style DIPA. Both beers are available on a rotating basis on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.

Idle Hands 34Idle Hands 34 pours almost pitch black with a mild tan head. The scent is full of rich roasted malt, just what you want in a porter. The flavor is also very malt forward, touches of cocoa, cappuccino, licorice and caramel and just a little sweetness. There are some earthy and floral hops that add balance and just a touch of bitterness. 34 is full bodied but drinks easy and is moderately boozy at 6.7% ABV. The finish features full malt flavor and a balance of lingering sweetness and crisp bitterness. 34 is a very nice porter, worthy of honoring a Boston sports legend who delivered so many great moments for the city! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Idle Hands Six SeamIdle Hands Six Seam pours murky light orange with a small white head. The aroma is a huge burst of fruity hops, makes you want to dive right in. This is a hop-bomb juicy NEIPA, the hops add notes of grapefruit, pineapple, mango and orange but minimal bitterness. This is complemented by a mild malt backbone, hints of crackers and whole grain bread. Six Seam is medium bodied with a solid mouthfeel and drinks incredibly easy for a beer with 8.2% ABV. The finish is crisp with plenty of lingering hop flavor that keeps you coming back for more. This is a stellar New England style DIPA, I understand why the initial feedback on the beer has been overwhelmingly positive. Definitely worth seeking out the next time it’s released. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Previous Idle Hands Reviews:

Idle Hands Brocktoberfest, Idle Hands Proeme, Idle Hands Thing 1, Idle Hands HeideIdle Hands Riding ShotgunIdle Hands Adelais, Idle Hands D’aisonIdle Hands Triplication


Why Social Media is Critical for Breweries.

A couple weeks ago Carla Jean Lautner (@beerbabe) started a twitter discussion on the importance of every brewery having a functional and informative website. Lots of great points were made and it led me to think about all of the pieces that go into a brewery’s presence online. While I agree that a website full of information is crucial, it is also very important for a brewery to set up and maintain active accounts on social media platforms. Social media is an amazing (and mostly free) marketing tool. if it wasn’t for social media I doubt that anyone outside of a few of my friends would ever read Hoppy Boston. in theory social media is easy, customers like your beer, or are interested in learning more, they follow your accounts on different platforms and it allows the brewery to keep these customers updated and engaged in the brand. Obviously brewing great beer is the most important thing, but success engaging with customers in person and online will be crucial as the marketplace becomes more crowded.

Some breweries do an amazing job on their social media accounts. Allagash has a steady stream of beautiful pictures that accompany information about their beers and events at the brewery. TreeHouse is so popular that could probably release their beers at 2 AM on Tuesdays and still attract massive lines, but they are still very engaged with their customers on all social media accounts and keep people well informed on release schedules and wait times. Other breweries are MIA, the accounts either don’t exist or they haven’t been touched in months. Here are a few necessities for every brewery on social media, feel free to suggest anything I’ve missed.

1. Have the necessary accounts:

Every brewery should have a Facebook, Instagram and Twitter account. It is amazing that a significant number of breweries don’t have all of these. I don’t see the use of LinkedIn (at least to communicate with customers), Snapchat or Tinder for breweries, but feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I imagine there are other social media networks that I’m not privy to (these things make me feel a little old), but these “big three” seem to be the absolute minimum. Beer rating sites like Untappd are a different beast, I know they are important, but I am not counting them for this exercise. Just having the accounts isn’t enough, every brewery should have an employee who regularly posts on all three accounts and responds to comments and questions posted by others.

2. Have a designated person who runs social media accounts:

Bigger craft breweries tend to have a designated person in their marketing group that exclusively handles social media. A small start-up brewery probably can’t afford to hire a designated marketing person, but there should be one person in the group who takes on this role to start. This person should devote a portion of every day to the accounts, posting news, reminding people of beer releases or other special events, and most importantly interacting with customers. Social media allows direct and constant access to your customer base, and allows the brewers to get feedback on everything they put out. Building these positive online relationships can lead to repeat customers, and satisfied customers spread the good word to their friends, which leads to new customers.

3. Take good pictures:

It’s pretty awesome that we all carry phones in our pockets that come with solid cameras, you can capture any aspect of your life with a picture at any time (good God, am I glad that wasn’t true when I was in college, missed this by a couple years). While these pictures are fine, you can really tell when a talented photographer has taken picture with a high quality camera. Inevitably some of the day-to-day pictures in a brewery will be taken with phones, but every brewery should make an effort to engage a trained photographer to take professional pictures of their facility and their beer. There is no excuse for stock photos on the website or social media accounts. Chefs always say that people eat with their eyes first, and the same can be said with beer, quality pictures get you excited to try the beer.

4. On Facebook:

The brewery Facebook account should have all of the general information from the website (location, hours, etc.) but your Facebook page is NOT a replacement for a website. Posts should be frequent, but shouldn’t overwhelm the news feeds of your followers. Daily updates that include which beers are available and other special events are encouraged. Facebook is great for brewery events, you can invite all of your followers and their friends will be able to see when they respond “yes”, potentially attracting new customers.

5. On Twitter:

Twitter allows for much more regular updates, but it is important to do twitter specific posts instead of just sharing links to your Facebook account. The key to twitter is engaging with your followers. You don’t need to retweet every positive Untappd check-in (actually, please don’t do that), but it takes minimal effort to hit the like button when a customer says they love your beer, and a quick “thanks” takes just a little more time. Whomever is in charge of the twitter account should also regularly respond to questions and know when and where the beers they are talking up will be available. Twitter is also a good place for people to reach out with a QC issue, but don’t rehash the whole issue on Twitter for everyone to see, just pass along an e-mail or do it through DM.

6. On Instagram:

Instagram is pretty easy. Take cool pictures of your beer and your brewery and then share them. When others post cool pictures of your beer click the like button and say thank you. It’s also another good place to share beer release/special event info, but the key is quality photography that will catch people’s eyes.

Those are my key points, running successful social media accounts isn’t that hard, and the effort it takes will pay for itself between feedback that improves the quality of your product and the relationships you build that turn occasional customers into regulars. Plus, anytime the occasional negativity of beer social media gets you down just spend a little time on pages where people are arguing about politics and you will feel much better (about beer debates, not about the state of the world). Cheers!

Mystic Voltage and Echo

It is no longer news when a brewery starts canning their beers, in fact I’m struggling to think of any Massachusetts breweries with a significant distribution footprint that don’t can. One of the last hold-outs was Mystic Brewing in Chelsea. For years Mystic brewed a lineup dominated by flavorful saisons and other Belgian styles, mostly distributed in large format bottles. Many of these beers are stellar, but unfortunately almost all of the buzz (and the sales that go along with it) is focused on hop-bomb IPAs. Mystic’s lineup has slowly incorporated hoppy beers over the last year or so. They started with a rotating selection of brewery-only DIPAs and now they’ve revamped their brand by producing cans of a number of these hop-forward offerings. I really wish a brewery could thrive making entirely Belgian styles, but hopefully this change will lead some hop heads to branch out and enjoy some beer styles outside of their comfort zone. I also hope that Mystic still sticks with some of their classics, even if it’s on a rotating or limited release schedule. I guess we’ll see how this all shakes out. I was able to try a number of Mystic’s new beers including their NEIPA Voltage and Echo, which is called a session IPA on the can but seems to be a hoppy saison. Both beers are available on a rotating basis on draft and in 16 oz tallboy cans.

Mystic VoltageMystic Voltage pours hazy light yellow with a solid white head. The scent is a huge burst of fruity New World hops. The hops also dominate the flavor, notes of mango, grapefruit, peach and tangerine along with a mild bitter bite. This is complemented by a light malt backbone, hints of bread dough and crackers. Voltage is medium bodied and very easy to drink but solidly boozy at 7.0% ABV. The finish is crisp and smooth with lingering hop flavor that keeps you coming back for more. This is a top notch IPA, not a straight juice-bomb but plenty of the fruity hops that have become so popular. This will quickly become a go-to IPA for me, just a delicious beer. Highly recommended.  Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Mystic EchoMystic Echo pours slightly hazy bright yellow with a full white head. The aroma is a mixture of fruity and floral hops with expressive Belgian style yeast. These two elements lead the flavor as well. The hops add notes of orange, spruce and herbs with just a little bitterness. The yeast contributes hints of apple, apricot and peppercorn. Touches of wheat bread and cereal from the malts round out the flavor. Echo is light and super drinkable, very much a session beer at 4.3% ABV. The finish is crisp and dry with lingering hop and yeast flavors. I am a big fan of mixing late hops with expressive Belgian style yeasts, and this is a solid version of the style. Mystic is so good at building beers around these strains of yeast, I hope to see more hoppy saisons in their future releases. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Mystic Reviews:

Mystic Kanzu, 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


Spencer Monk’s Reserve Quadruple

When Spencer Brewery was introduced as the first the first American Trappist brewery I had dreams of a constant supply of traditional Abbey style ales from a local source. They started with a single beer, their Trappist Ale which is a very tasty Belgian pale, and I was intrigued when they announced they were adding a number of new beers to the lineup. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to see an IPA, imperial stout and Oktoberfest in the expanded lineup, not that the beers were bad it just wasn’t the styles I would expect from a Trappist brewery. The one beer that fit the bill (and I really enjoyed) was their Christmas ale, a delicious take on a spiced Belgian dark. I was really excited when Spencer announced that they were making a Belgian quadruple, this is one of my favorite Belgian styles and there aren’t enough quality local versions. I am hoping they follow this up with a tripel, my other favorite abbey ale. Spencer Monk’s Reserve Belgian Quadruple is available now on draft and in 11.2 oz and 750 mL bottles.

Spencer Monks ReserveSpencer Monk’s Reserve Quadruple pours deep brown with a solid creamy head. The aroma features fruity and spicy Belgian style yeast. This is a complex sipper, just what you want in a quad. There is plenty of malt flavor, notes of fig, brown sugar, molasses, raisin and just a touch of booze. The yeast adds touches of apricot, clove and peppercorn. There is minimal hop flavor, fitting the style. Monk’s Reserve is full bodied and packs some punch at 10.2% ABV, it was nice to find this is a 11.2 oz bottle because a bomber would take a while to drink. The finish is rich with lingering malt and yeast flavors. This is a really nice quad, the type of beer I’ve been looking for since Spencer became the first American Trappist brewery. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Spencer Reviews:

Spencer Festive Lager, Spencer Holiday Ale, Spencer Trappist Ale

Abandoned Building Lola’s Saison

The total number of breweries in Massachusetts has exploded over the last few years, there are now around 100 that have a physical brewery that you can visit for samples/pours/growler fills, plus a number more that contract brew. It’s honestly hard to keep track of all of them, although one great resource is the Mass Brew Bros. Bay State Breweries page (worth a bookmark for MA beer fans). I did a quick check and found that I’ve visited ~40 of the breweries at least once, a number that is far too low and I will need to amend. Fortunately more and more of these breweries have ramped up capacity to the point that they can start distribution, so I can grab cans at local stores without making trips all over the state. One brewery that I’d heard some good things about but hadn’t sampled was Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton. Abandoned Building brewer/founder Matt Tarlecki renovated a former plastic bag factory into a 15 barrel brewhouse with a  taproom and beer to go. More recently some of their cans have made their way east to finer Boston area bottle shops. I was able to procure some of Lola’s Saison, a Belgian style ale brewed with locally malted wheat and a solid dose of classic European hop varieties. Abandoned Building Lola’s Saison is available year round on draft and in 16 oz tallboy cans.

Abandoned Building Lolas SaisonAbandoned Building Lola’s Saison pours hazy light yellow with a mild white head. The aroma is led by some fruity and spicy Belgian style yeast. The flavors imparted by the yeast also come to the forefront with notes of green apple, clove and a touch of funk. There is also some old world hop flavor, floral, grassy and earthy, that complements the yeast strain well. Some light malts round out the flavor with touches of crackers and wheat bread. Lola’s Saison is very light and easy to drink, sessionable at 5.0% ABV. The finish is bone dry with some lingering yeast and hop flavor. This is a really nice beer, a smooth every day type of saison. I look forward to trying more of Abandoned Building’s offerings in the near future! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Bog Iron Campout Mild

English mild ales are a style that never really caught on with American beer drinkers, or at least they haven’t yet and I am not holding my breath waiting for that to change. Mild ales are a version of the English brown ale that keeps the malt forward profile but has a lighter body and lower alcohol. Most American beer drinkers are obsessed with extremes, IPAs with huge doses of hops, aggressive sours and high gravity imperial stouts dominate the marketplace and the crowd-sourced beer rankings. As the weather turns cooler I like to mix in a heavy rotation of malt forward beers, but there are many occasions that call for a lower alcohol beverage. While American brewers make plenty of session IPAs and light lagers, there are very few low ABV malt forward beers. A very good option that fits into this category is Campout Mild from Bog Iron Brewing. I’m pretty sure Campout Mild is the only regularly produced local version of an English mild, feel free to correct me if you know another. It is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 500 mL bottles.

Bog Iron Campout MildBog Iron Campout Mild pours cola brown with a minimal white head. The aroma is full of toasted and roasted malts. The flavor is malt forward, notes of toffee, chocolate and bread crust. This is complemented by just a hint of earthy hops. Campout Mild is very light and easy to drink, super sessionable at 3.5% ABV. The finish is clean with a little lingering malt flavor. This style is never going to get the buzz of hop-bomb IPAs but sometimes it’s nice to have a full-flavored malt forward beer that isn’t going to put you under the table, and Campout Mild definitely fits the bill. I would love to try this beer on cask some time. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Bog Iron Reviews:

Bog Iron Drawing a Blank and Fancy French Name, Bog Iron Devil’s FootprintBog Iron Jump Back, Bog Iron Ryezing Son, Bog Iron Middle ChildBog Iron Stinger IPABog Iron One Down Robust Porter

Can mid- and larger sized craft brewers find success with NEIPA?

The buzz around cloudy, juicy New England style IPAs keeps growing, and while many beer snobs (and quite a few brewers) continue to dismiss the style as a fad there is no denying that a huge market has developed for this sub-style. Follow a bunch of local beer geeks on Instagram or Untappd and it will look like a majority of beers they consume are hazy and heavily dry-hopped. I knew that the NEIPA buzz had reached another level when a buddy of mine who drinks far more Coors Light than anything else was raving about TreeHouse Green. The popularity of the style has attracted the attention of breweries that you wouldn’t associate with hazy and hoppy beers. Shipyard, a brewery known for traditional British Ales brewed with the distinctive Ringwood yeast strain, now has a new NEIPA that is getting positive reviews. Even Sam Adams, a brewery that resisted the IPA revolution for many years, has announced that they are producing a hazy, juicy IPA starting in 2018. It is no surprise that so many breweries are throwing their hats into this ring, but the question remains, will these bigger breweries have success with this style?

Trillium Melcher StThe New England IPA craze has been fueled almost entirely by small breweries with limited or no distribution. If you look at the breweries that popularized the style, The Alchemist, Trillium, Treehouse, Bissell Brothers and Other Half are good examples, they sell the vast majority of beer on-site and very soon after it’s packaged. This limited distribution has driven demand, follow any of those breweries on social media and you’ll get a deluge of stories about wait times, long lines and per-person purchase limits. If people are willing to jump through these hoops for this beer style, doesn’t it stand to reason that a larger brewer without the same production and distribution constraints could sell a massive amount of NEIPA?

There are a number of advantages bigger breweries have as they begin to produce New England IPAs. The biggest advantage is the economy of scale, bigger breweries should be able to make the beers on scale and then sell them at a lower price point, which is huge when many small batch NEIPAs are routinely over $20/4 pack. These breweries also have the distribution apparatus in place to get the beers right onto the shelves soon after they are packaged. An advantage that is easy to forget is the big hop contracts large breweries sign, they should have no issues buying large lots of sought after hop varieties (this is an under-rated issue for small breweries who can’t scale their homebrew recipes due to a lack of specific hops). I think we’ll see large increases in acreage planted with Mosaic, Citra and Galaxy hops. These larger breweries typically employ talented brewers who should be able to develop recipes that are competitive with some of the better beers on the market. I assume these beers can scale, I’m not a professional brewer but I would be interested to hear if anyone with more experience in the field thinks this will be an issue.

There are also a few big disadvantages that larger breweries face when they try to compete in the NEIPA space. The biggest one is making sure their consumers buy and drink fresh beer. These beers have notoriously short shelf lives, and just because they reach the shelves fresh doesn’t mean they are still at peak flavor and aroma when they are purchased and consumed. I’ve already seen a number of NEIPAs from mid-sized breweries that have clearly been sitting on the shelves well past their peak. This is a huge advantage to small breweries, who sell the majority of beer onsite within days of packaging, so customers are always purchasing it at peak freshness. The other issue is buzz. There is a well established psychological phenomenon where people enjoy a food/beverage more when they think it’s rare, expensive or highly regarded. One of my big goals with this blog was to find readily available beers that are just as good as the whalez people wait in line for. While I think it’s been a success, the user ratings on crowd-sourced beer sites are still heavily skewed towards rare beers from a select subset of breweries. While bigger breweries can fight back on value there is no chance they will attract the same buzz as releases by TreeHouse or Bissell Brothers. The freshness and buzz issues can go hand in hand too. I read two reviews of a new NEIPA from a regional brewery, one reviewer loved the beer and the other completely trashed it. It might be a difference in personal preference, but I wonder if the writer who trashed the beer was drinking a batch that was past it’s prime.

Wachusett WallySo, back to the big question, can larger brewers be successful making NEIPA? I’m tempted to just say we’ll see, but what fun is that? I think a few will find success, the beers won’t be the envy of beer traders or cause people to stand in lines, but they will sell well and turn a good profit. I think Wachusett Wally is already a success story and the delicious NEIPAs from Springdale are ramping up production with an eye on distribution. I also think many will fail, and some will fail miserably. Some of the beers will be lower quality, or the breweries will do a poor job keeping fresh beer on the shelves and consumers will be ignored these brews in favor of other options. I also think the glut of these beers on the market will be a problem, Sam Adams isn’t going to convert Trillium drinkers, they are going to compete for marketshare with other mid-sized and large breweries making large batches for distribution. The competition is a good thing for consumers in theory, but it will probably mean more old and mediocre beer sitting on store shelves. It will be interesting to see how long the NEIPA phenomenon lasts, I think some of the popular breweries will still make the style for a long time, but the trend chasers will move away from it quickly. Regardless, I love my hazy, fruity, low bitterness IPAs, and I am really interested to see more breweries tackle the style! If you get overwhelmed by the number of options keep tabs on Hoppy Boston and I’ll try to review as many as I can. Cheers!