Random Beer Thoughts-October 2016

-When I visit a brewery that doesn’t can/bottle their beer yet I have found myself gravitating towards 32 oz. half-growlers instead of the full 64 oz. big-boys. I realize that this is typically less cost-effective, but would rather have 2 pints of 2 different beers than the 64 oz. commitment to a single style.

-On that topic, the Massachusetts law that breweries can only fill their own growlers is incredibly annoying. I only buy growlers if I have no other options and I still have way too many, I’m onto a second shelf in my basement just for empty growler storage. What is the point of this law exactly? Are they worried that someone will try to cheat the system and bring a 70 oz. container to get that extra beer? Couldn’t they just sell a standard growler that can be filled at any MA brewery that offers growler fills? Would anyone really object to that?

-I would love to buy more beer in crowlers (growler-like cans for the uninitiated), but there are very few local breweries that offer them right now.

-I recently heard a beer described as “it tastes like it was someone’s first attempt at a Mr. Beer kit.” Might be the best combination of clever and harsh that I’ve ever heard in a beer review.

-Revolution Brewing absolutely did the right thing recalling a huge amount of beer that had been contaminated with wild yeast. Too many breweries don’t take quality control as seriously as they should.

-In the last year I’ve notified three different breweries about quality issues. One was old beer on a store shelf, I should have checked before I bought it but the brewery still apologized. One was a bottle that was completely flat, the brewer offered a replacement. One was a clear example of oxidation, the brewery seemed to be aware of the problem but hadn’t taken any steps to remove the beers from the shelf (I tried two different styles that were both horribly oxidized).

-In the first two examples these were breweries I’ve enjoyed in the past and will give the benefit of the doubt, but anyone new to their product would probably be immediately turned off and they could lose a potential regular customer. The third example s a brewery I will avoid from here on out.

-As part of these random beer thoughts columns I am going to try and link to a few recent beer related articles that I’ve enjoyed over the last month, feel free to forward along anything that you think I should check out!


The Mass Brew Brothers ask “Will a Bay State Brewery Get Bought By Big Beer?” I don’t think it’s a question of “if”, it’s just a matter of time before it happens.

-Interesting news that Firestone Walker is discontinuing three year-round beers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more breweries cut back their year round options and focus on rotating and special releases to try and appease the portion of beer drinkers that are always chasing new beers.

Jason Notte ruffled a lot of feathers with his comparison of New York City and Portland, Oregon as beer towns. I was actually much less impressed with the beer scene in NYC on my last visit, I was hanging out with people who aren’t beer snobs and I was surprised by how dull the taplists were at the bars that weren’t beer-centric (which was everywhere we went). Could have just beer poor bar choices I guess.

Congratulations to Brazo Fuerte and founder Bev Armstrong on winning the 2017 Sam Adams Brewing and Business Experienceship!

Castle Island Festbier

Now that we are fully into the fall I’ve finally turned over my beer fridge, the lighter summer beers are mostly gone and the fridge is stocked with darker, heavier and maltier offerings. Marzen/Oktoberfest beers aren’t the kind of beers I want to drink year round, but it’s nice to go on a run of malt forward offerings every fall and give my palate a break from hop-bombs I tend towards. Traditional marzens are lager beers, fermented for longer times at lower temperatures resulting in a smooth and clean flavor. This can be a limitation for small breweries, many don’t have the proper equipment to lager their beer or can’t afford to tie up a fermenter for the required amount of time. Castle Island found a creative way around this limitation, designing an malt forward ale that closely resembles the Oktoberfest lagers many older breweries are releasing this fall. Castle Island Festbier is available not on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.

castle-island-festbierCastle Island Festbier pours deep orange with a small white head. The scent is mild, just a little malt and a hint of old world hops. The first thing you notice when you taste the beer is that it’s on the light side for an Oktoberfest, I usually expect my fest biers to have a pretty full body. At 4.6% ABV it’s also lower in alcohol than most, a session beer by many definitions. Festbier still packs full malt flavor, notes of caramel, biscuits and honey. This is complemented by noticeable hop flavor, earthy and grassy with a crisp finish. The beer is brewed with ale yeast but you wouldn’t know it, it has the crisp and clean flavor you’d expect from a lager. Castle Island Festbier is different from any other Oktoberfest I’ve tried, but that isn’t a bad thing, it’s a well made and flavorful beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Previous Castle Island Reviews:

Castle Island Keeper IPA

Bent Water Thunder Funk

I’ve spent a bit of time recently bemoaning the number of breweries I want to visit for the first time, or places I really need to return too. Fortunately I’ve been able to knock a couple breweries off of my list recently and I am making plans to get to a few more. One that has been on my need-to-visit list since they opened earlier this year is Bent Water Brewing in Lynn. Unfortunately I still haven’t made that trip, but I was able to find some of their beers at a local bottle shop. One of the beers I grabbed was Bent Water’s flagship IPA Thunder Funk. That is an amazing name by the way. I don’t typically but beers based on their names, but who is going to pass up a chance to try a beer named Thunder Funk? Bent Water Thunder Funk is available year round on draft and in 12 oz. cans.

bent-water-thunder-funkBent Water Thunder Funk pours a hazy deep orange with a substantial white head. The scent is solidly hoppy, a mixture of citrus and pine. There is a ton of hop flavor here, notes of mango, guava and tangerine along with a crisp bitter kick. There is enough malt for a little balance, touches of bread crust and honey. Thunder Funk is medium bodied and drinks smooth, but packs a little punch at 7.2% ABV. The finish is crisp with a little lingering hop flavor. Bent Water Thunder Funk is a really good IPA,  am looking forward to trying more of their offerings in the near future. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.


Should we care about medals/awards for beer?

Last weekend was the 30th Great American Beer Festival, a massive celebration of all things beer that takes place in Colorado every fall. In addition to the festival itself, and the myriad of events that take place in and around the area over the weekend. There is also a beer competition where beers from all over the country are entered, judged by a group of certified tasters, and then awarded medals. You can find the complete list of gold, silver and bronze medal winners for each style HERE. There are a number of festivals that have similar competitions, and many tasting rooms have their medals and awards on display. Whenever I see these types of awards I can’t help but glance through the winners, usually scanning by state to see which New England breweries picked up honors. After this list came out with a clear tilt towards the west coast there was an interesting debate on twitter about these competitions. Should we really care who wins medals and awards?


I have a two major issues with this type of judged competition. The first involves the entries. We usually only get a list of the winners, but have no idea how which other beers were entered in each category. This makes sense to an extent, no brewer wants to fall into the “loser” category, but it is impossible to know what the extent of the competition was. There is also an inevitable regional bias, many brewers from further away won’t make the trip and won’t ship the beer in fear that the time/distance will effect the quality. I know for a fact that a number of well respected Massachusetts breweries decline to enter any beers in this competition. You can imagine that the winners list would look a lot different if they had a more comprehensive number of entries.

My other issue with awarding medals is that the ranking of a group of well crafted beers can be subjective and effected by the preferences of the taster. I taste a wide variety of commercial beers as part of writing this blog, a small number are poorly made and the rest fall somewhere on the continuum between mediocre to amazing. I think if you gave a group of seasoned beer drinkers a bunch of beers in a style and asked them to put them to organize them in three buckets labeled mediocre, good and great you would see a lot of agreement. If you then asked them to rank the “great” beers I imagine things would start to diverge quickly. For example, I tend to prefer the east coast style of IPAs, with lower bitterness and fruitier hops, but I’ve still tasted some amazing piney/super-bitter west coast hop bombs. Others feel the opposite, and while we would agree that beers of both types can be top notch, we would probably have different opinions of which was best. With so many categories I imagine there are a limited number of people judging each style, and their personal preferences will be the difference between the winners and losers.

Even with these issues there is a good chance that I’ll keep track of the local winners of GABF medals, and seek out some of the beers that won. I am especially looking forward to trying Hexotic from Two Roads and Robot Crush from Aeronaut. So I’ll throw the question back to my readers. Do you pay attention to the winners of this type of competition? Does it effect the beers you buy to the point that you seek winning beers out? Is there anything that I missed that bothers you about judged beer competition? Let me know here or on social media!


Proclamation Derivative: Galaxy

I’ve made it pretty clear in this space that I don’t usually go out of my way to chase “unicorns” or “whalez”, the craft beers that are so hyped up they cause otherwise rational people to wait in line for hours in order to buy a couple cans or bottles. That being said, I do have a running list of beers that I’ve heard good things about and will jump at the chance to try if acquiring them doesn’t require anything too crazy. One beer that’s been on this list for a while is Derivative, a series of American pale ales from Proclamation Ale Company in West Kingston, RI. Each version of Derivative features a particular hop variety. Proclamation has been distributing their beers to the Boston area for a while now, but we get limited amounts and they tend to sell out very quickly, so I’ve been looking to try this beer for a while but always seem to just miss it when it lands in stores. I saw on Instagram that Sudbury Craft Beer got in a shipment of the Galaxy version of Derivative the other week, I showed up the next day and was able to grab the final can left in the store. Proclamation Derivative: Galaxy is available year-round (when you can find it) on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.

proclamation-derivative-galaxyProclamation Derivative Galaxy pours a hazy light yellow with a massive white head. The scent is a big burst of citrus hops. The flavor is very hop forward, notes of tangerine, grapefruit and mango along with a mild bitterness. This is balanced by some malt flavor, touches of white bread and crackers. Derivative Galaxy is light bodied and very easy to drink and just a touch boozy for an APA at 6.0% ABV. The finish is crisp and clean with a little lingering hop flavor. I was glad that I finally tracked down a can of Proclamation Derivative, and it didn’t disappoint, this is a top notch pale ale. I will still be on the lookout for the other versions, as I tend to prefer Mosaic and Citra hops to Galaxy, but this is still a very good beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Lamplighter Lucid Nonsense and Easy Tiger

I rarely make it to the grand openings of breweries, usually by the time I can make the trip a brewery has been in operation for a little while. In fact, my life has been so crazy that there are a number of places that have been on my must-visit-soon list for way too many months. I was able to make a glorious exception to this last week with a visit to Lamplighter Brewing Company less than a week after they first opened their door. It is a huge help that Lamplighter’s new space near Kendall Square in Cambridge is right down the road from my new job. The brewery is currently one big open room with equipment in the back, a counter for filling growlers and buying merchandise, and a small bar for tasting (Lamplighter currently just pours free tasting samples, they are working on getting the proper licenses to sell beer for consumption on the premises). I had to do a quick in and out, but I came away with some new glassware and a couple half growlers, one filled with Lucid Nonsense IPA and another with Easy Tiger Brett IPA. Both were very good, and I highly recommend checking out Lamplighter the next time you make a trip into Cambridge!

lamplighter-lucid-nonsenseLamplighter Lucid Nonsense pours a deep hazy orange with a solid white head. The scent is a big burst of hops, citrus and pine. The flavor is also very hop forward, notes of grapefruit, resin and tangerine along with a solid bitter bite. There is enough malt for balance, touches of bread crust and honey. Lucid Nonsense is medium bodied and drinks easy but packs a little punch at 7.1% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor and bite. Lucid Nonsense is kind of a hybrid between the juicy east coast IPAs and the more bitter/piney west coast versions. It is a very good beer, a strong addition to the stable of delicious IPAs being brewed in Massachusetts. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

lamplighter-easy-tigerLamplighter Easy Tiger pours a hazy gold with a small white head. The scent is a mixture of funky yeast and fruity hops. The hops lead the flavor, notes of melon, orange and papaya along with mild bitterness. The yeast adds complexity, fruity esters and the distinct barnyard flavor imparted by the Brettanomyces yeast strain. The malts round out the flavors with hints of white bread and crackers. Easy Tiger is medium bodied and drinks very easy, with moderate alcohol at 6.8% ABV. The finish is crisp and dry with some lingering flavors of hops and funky yeast. It is nice to see that Lamplighter is not afraid to experiment with some different flavors, coming right out of the gate with a very well done Brett IPA. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Bucket Brewery Pawtucket Pale Ale and Black Goat of the Woods

There are so many breweries that have opened in the last few years that I have a hard time keeping track of the beers being produced in Eastern Massachusetts, let alone keeping up with all of the new breweries throughout New England. I’ve considered keeping Hoppy Boston’s focus on MA beers, but it’s fun to try things from across the region. New England isn’t that big anyways, with a short drive can try amazing beers in every New England state. You can also have awesome friends who bring you beers from their travels. My friends Tim and Amanda live in Providence and recently came to a get together at our house with a bunch of local beers that haven’t made their way to Massachusetts yet. Many of these beers were consumed that night, but I set aside a sample pack from Bucket Brewery in Pawtucket. It took me a little time to get around to writing my thoughts, better late than never I guess. A couple of the beer I sampled were Pawtucket Pale Ale, a balanced APA, and Black Goat of the Woods, a milk stout brewed with ginger and cinnamon. All of Bucket’s selections are available on draft and in 12 oz. cans.

bucket-pawtucket-pale-aleBucket Brewery Pawtucket Pale Ale pours a deep amber with a small white head. The aroma is mild, a bit of fruity hops. The flavor is balanced, much more malty than many of the newer style American pale ales. There is solid hop flavor, touches of orange, guava, grass and pine along with a little bitter bite. This is complemented by the malt, notes of caramel and whole grain bread along with substantial body. Pawtucket Pale Ale drinks easy at 5.5% ABV and finishes with a mixture of sweet malt and bitter hops. This is a solid beer, especially if you like more balanced, British inspired pale ales. Hoppy Boston score 4.0/5.

bucket-black-goat-of-the-woodsBucket Black Goat of the Woods pours pitch black with a small tan head. The scent features some rich roasted malts and a hint of spice. The flavor is very malt forward, notes of cocoa, caramel and weak coffee. The spices are subtle, you get faint hints of cinnamon and ginger that add some complexity. The hops are almost non-existent in this beer, which leans toward sweet. The body is a touch thin for a stout, but the beer drinks smooth and has moderate alcohol at 6.5% ABV. Black Goat of the Woods is an interesting beer, with a few tweaks I think it could be very good. Hoppy Boston score: 3.75/5.