Exhibit A Demo Tape Eleven Side B

For a long time I avoided most types of wheat beer. I’ve never been a fan of hefeweizens and only like a few Belgian style witbiers. My experience with American wheat beers was mostly with Sam Adams Summer Ale and similar wheats. I am not a Sam Adams basher, I love a number of their beers, but I detest the Summer Ale, I would honestly rather drink Bud Light. This led me to avoid wheat beers almost entirely. I started to change my attitude on wheat beers when many local breweries (especially Trillium) started featuring NE IPAs brewed with a substantial amount of wheat in their grain bill. The wheat malt helps enhance the flavors of the hops, so the natural follow up to these IPAs were American wheat ales that incorporate large doses of New World hops. A great example of this is Demo Tape Eleven from Exhibit A Brewing Company, the latest release in their series of test-batch Demo Tape beers. The first batch of Demo Tape Eleven sold out extremely quickly and I didn’t get a chance to try it. Fortunately they made Side B, a second batch that was double dry-hopped. Exhibit A Demo Tape Eleven Side B is available for a limited time on draft and in 16 oz tallboy cans, unless people really like it and they make it into another regular release beer. So if you try it and like it make sure you let them know!

Exhibit A Demo Tape 11 Side BExhibit A Demo Tape Eleven Side B pours murky light orange with a small white head. The aroma is a nice burst of hops, citrus and tropical fruit. The flavor is also very hop forward, notes of guava, tangerine, lemon and mango along with minimal bitterness. This is balanced by a mild malt backbone, hints of crackers and wheat bread. Demo Tape Eleven Side B is super light, easy to drink and sessionable at 4.2% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor. This beer is delicious, tons of hop flavor and aroma but not the one-note forgettable beer that so many hop-forward session beers turn into. I really hope this becomes one of Exhibit A’s regular releases. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Exhibit A Reviews:

Exhibit A Danko, Exhibit A The Cat’s Meow and Demo Tape 5

 

Should Beer Writers be Critics or Cheerleaders?

I recently read an interesting article by Jeff Alworth on the beervana blog, he has decided to make a conscientious effort to write about beer and breweries that have disappointed him. He isn’t talking about being a critic for critics sake (or being one of the yahoos who love to write negative reviews of Bud Light on Untappd), but instead offering constructive criticism of breweries that are doing some things right but have significant room to improve. This can be a difficult task for beer writers, it’s fun to write about the great beers you sample, especially when you find a new favorite that hasn’t become a target of beer snob hype yet. Writing about bad/mediocre beer is tougher, most craft breweries are small businesses that are run by passionate people who care deeply about their brand and their beer, and articles that paint their product in a bad light can be damaging to their business. As more breweries open there is more great beer, but there is also more mediocre or inconsistent beer, which leads to the question, should beer writers just focus on praising great beers or also call out beers that fall short?

August 2017 lineupThis article brought me back to a conversation that I had with a friend who is also a regular reader of this blog. He pointed out that the vast majority of the beers I review are 4.0-5.0 on my five point scale. Weren’t there beers that I disliked? I had a multi-part response to this. First, most of the beers I sample with the intent on reviewing fall between solid and great. I get plenty of info from other writers and beer enthusiasts before I do stock-up runs, so I feel confident that many of the beers I buy will be tasty. I also go out on a limb and try random beers, and sometimes I do find beers that I dislike or that have distinct off-flavors. In most cases I decline to review those beers. I would guess that I have around 1-2 beers a month that I buy with the intent of writing a review and then don’t ever write up for one reason or another. Some of these beers were simply past peak freshness when I drink them, others were oxidized or have other off flavors, and many were just mediocre.

The purpose of this blog has always been to find amazing local beers, especially beers that don’t involve online trading or waiting in crazy lines, and recommending these beers to my readers. I want Hoppy Boston to be an index of the best beers that New England has to offer. I understand that there is value in writing about beers I disliked too, and it has been a struggle making the decision to focus on beers I enjoyed instead of being critical. In the first few months of the blog I wrote a terrible review of an IPA only to sample it later and realize that the first beer was just well out of date. I felt really bad about the initial review, and from there decided to really focus on writing about the beers I enjoyed. FWIW, I later returned to the store where I bought the offending beer, they had a year old seasonal beer on display (the season was correct, but the labels had changed from the previous year). I stopped shopping at that store immediately.

It’s easy to forget that the concept of beer writing is relatively new, especially compared to writing about food or wine. Early beer writers where educators and salespeople, expounding on the merits of better beer because so many people didn’t even realize that non-macro options existed. Things have changed drastically over the last decade. When I moved to Boston after college it was rare to find a bar that had extensive craft options. You’d see plenty of Sam Adams and Harpoon, but any bar that carried Sierra Nevada, Allagash or Long Trail would be considered a “beer bar”. Now you can walk into almost any bar in the city and see a variety of styles and multiple local options. Many dives and cookie cutter chains carry multiple IPAs. Big beer and their crafty offshoots still dominate marketshare, but I don’t think there are many people who are unaware that craft beer is an option. That being said, I think there is still value in extolling the virtues of great beer, the number one reason I started following beer blogs was to find out about delicious beers I wanted to try.

Watch City Rescue One KolschThere is also a place for beer criticism. Constructive criticism can also be a positive for breweries, especially brewers who are willing to hear the criticism and use it as an impetus to improve their product. The beer field is getting more and more competitive, places that make inconsistent or mediocre beer are going to start to fail as more and more top notch breweries reach the market, expand production and hone their craft. I’ve seen a few examples where local breweries have responded well to early criticism and it’s been a boon to their businesses. I’ve also seem breweries that have refused to change and have either gone out of business or been forced to sell.

So what is the answer to the question I posed in the beginning of the article? Should beer writers be cheerleaders or critics? Like IPAs, stouts and pilsners, I think there is room for all varieties of beer writing. I am going to continue to focus my beer reviews on brews I enjoyed, that has always been the point of this blog and it’s what I like writing about. That being said, I think it is important for more of the talented writers in the beer community to mix in some constructive criticism. Any short term losses that a brewery faces after a negative article could be quickly recouped if they fix the noted problems and make consistently better beer. From there I’ll pass it to the readers: what is your opinion? Do you prefer to read praises of great beers or criticism of poor ones? Let me know your opinions here or on social media!

Big Elm Thunderlips

Love them or hate them, it looks like New England style IPAs are going to be a huge part of the local beer scene for the foreseeable future. It seems like nearly every brewery in the area is taking advantage of the popularity of this sub-style, brewing their own versions of these murky, low-bitterness hop bombs (and typically packaging them in 16 oz. tallboy cans). It amazes me how much this bothers some outspoken beer drinkers on social media, there is a subset that hate the style and express that opinion vociferously and repeatedly. I am not one of these people, in fact I love the New England IPA style and if other people don’t want them it just means more for me. One new NEIPA I recently sampled is Thunderlips from Big Elm Brewing Company in Sheffield, MA. Big Elm Thunderlips is brewed with Amarillo and Rakau hops and is available now on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.

Big Elm ThunderlipsBig Elm Thunderlips pours a murky dark yellow with a solid white head. The aroma is mildly hoppy, some fruit and floral scents. The flavor packs a little more hop punch, touches of cantaloupe, pear, grass and lime along with a mild bitterness. This is balanced by some malt, hints of bread crust and crackers. Thunderlips is light in body and smooth drinking, not overly boozy at 6.0% ABV. The finish is dry with some lingering hop flavor. Big Elm Thunderlips is a solid take on a New England IPA, I would have liked more hop aroma personally, but it’s flavorful and easy to drink. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Previous Big Elm Reviews:

Big Elm Transformer IPL, Big Elm 413 Farmhouse Ale

Bunker Brewing Rockerz

There are a number of reasons why I buy a particular beer. Some are old favorites that I buy all the time, or beers I’ve enjoyed in the past but haven’t drank in a while. Some beers are recommendations from other beer writers, social media or friends. Sometimes I see a new release described and immediately know I’m going to try some given the opportunity. These factors cover the majority of the beers I buy, but occasionally I just grab something and hope for the best. When I was in Maine my parents were throwing a little party and asked me to grab some beer. Unfortunately I stopped at a store with a relatively limited selection, so I took a shot on a new-to-me beer, Rockerz IPA from Bunker Brewing Company in Portland. I’d heard good things about Bunker and sampled a few of their beers in the past, but I’d never tried Rockerz. Fortunately it was a good choice and well received at the party. Bunker Brewing Company Rockerz IPA is brewed with Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic hops and is available year round on draft and in 12 oz. cans.

Bunker Brewing RockerzBunker Brewing Rockerz pours a hazy deep orange with a small white head. The aroma is very hoppy, mostly citrus and tropical fruit. The flavor is also very hop forward, notes of grapefruit, mango and lemon along with a solid bitter bite. This beer has the fruity flavors of a NE IPA but it has more bitterness and a little less turbidity. The hops are complemented by a solid malt backbone, hints of bread dough and honey. Rockerz is medium bodied and drinks very easy, but packs a little punch at 6.8% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor and bite. I really enjoyed this beer, it’s nice to have a slight change of pace from the straight juice bombs while still getting your hop fix. This is why I love trying random beers, you never know when you’ll find a new favorite! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Mast Landing Gunner’s Daughter and DDH Tell Tale

Some beer geeks get very excited when a new out-of-state brewery begins to distribute in Massachusetts, they have a list of beers that they want to try as soon as they land. I am not usually in that group, I focus nearly all of my drinking on New England beers so I don’t pay much attention to breweries in states like Illinois or North Carolina. Nothing against beer from other regions, I just have a hard enough time staying current on local beers. The exception is when a brewery from another state in New England expands into Massachusetts. I was excited to see that Mast Landing Brewing Company in Westbrook, ME has signed on with Night Shift Distributing. I’ve heard great things about Mast Landing’s offerings, but hadn’t tried many of their beers. While I haven’t seen cans of Mast Landing in local bottle shops yet, I did grab a sneak preview on my recent trip to Maine. The two beers I found were the double dry hopped version of Mast Landing Tell Tale Pale Ale and Gunner’s Daughter, a peanut butter milk stout. Both are available year round on draft and in 16 oz. tall boy cans.

Mast Landing Gunner's DaughterMast Landing Gunner’s Daughter pours cola-brown with a solid tan head. The scent is a mixture of chocolate and peanut butter. This beer tastes like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in beer form. The malts and adjuncts combine for notes of chocolate, peanut butter, caramel and lingering sweetness. There is minimal hop flavor, this beer is made to showcase the sweet malt flavors. Gunner’s Daughter is medium bodied and smooth, not too boozy at 5.5% ABV. It finishes with some sugar and lingering roasted malt. This is a really interesting beer, I loved it at first sip but was OK with just one can, anything more would have been overkill. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Mast Landing DDH Tell TaleMast Landing Double Dry Hopped Tell Tale Pale Ale pours hazy orange with a massive white head. The scent is a huge burst of hops, tons of citrus and tropical fruit aroma. The flavor is also very hop forward, hints of tangerine, grapefruit and mango with a soft bitterness. This is balanced by some light malt flavor, touches of bread crust and honey. DDH Tell Tale is light bodied and crushable at 5.3% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor. This beer is stellar, huge hop flavor and aroma but still easy to drink and not too boozy. I hope cans start hitting the shelves in MA, because this will become a regular part of my rotation. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

 

Random Beer Thoughts: July 2017

My favorite article of the month is from Hop Culture reminding everyone to drink what you like and that beer is fun. I try to never criticize the beers that other people choose, and don’t enjoy the game of chasing down rare beers to brag about them online. I’d rather have a couple good beers shared with friends then drink whalez alone. That being said, here are a months worth of beer links, including some articles that take beer too seriously.

Paste Magazine has a thorough review on the reasons why buyouts hurt craft beer, tearing apart arguments in favor of buyouts. It is pretty clear that Inbev wants to use it’s financial and distribution advantages to take back some of the market share they have lost over the last decade. A less in-tuned beer drinker could walk into a bar and see Goose Island, Elysian, Wicked Weed, etc. on draft and think the bar has amazing diversity without realizing that they are all InBev beers.

Cambridge Brewing Working Class HeroEater Boston has a write-up on Kendall Square stalwart Cambridge Brewing Company. I grabbed a beer there with a friend last night, they always have a wide range of interesting and delicious brews available.

Boston Magazine has an article on growlers in Massachusetts that hits on most of the important points from both sides of the debate. I personally hate growlers and would love I if every brewery exclusively bottled/canned their beer, but I understand why growlers are used by cost-conscious start-ups.

Alex Weaver has an post for BostInno on Five Local Beers That You Should Drink Right Now. I really like that he highlighted some local breweries that make awesome beer but get a little less buzz compared to a some of the “biggest names”.

Bissell Brothers SeedGreat Beer Hunting has an extensive and well written profile on Bissell Brothers.

Jason Notte has a feature on why he loves to homebrew. It’s been a while since I brewed a batch of beer, life is busy, but reading this made me want to design a new recipe and fire up the kettle soon.

The Boston Herald got some attention for a click-bait article on the best IPAs in New England. The choice for #1 was clearly a deliberate attempt to rile up the local beer snobs (and it worked, lots of twitter discussion and I am linking the article here).

Treehouse JuliusAnyone who reads this blog has probably heard this news: TreeHouse Brewing Company has opened a massive new brewery in Charlton, MA. If the expanded capacity helps with the crazy lines and strict can limits I might end my hiatus and make a trip out there in the near future.

South Portland Maine recently hosted a pilsner-only beer fest. I could see this type of focused beer festival becoming more popular.

Blue Hills Brewery is working on a new taproom in Canton.

medusa-mesmeristFor Maine readers, Medusa Brewing is doing a tap takeover on Friday at the Thirsty Pig in Portland. They make some delicious beers and this event is worth checking out.

The Boston Cannons Lacrosse team is hosting a Lax and Lagers beer tasting during their game on August 5th.

Sam Adams Brewing the American Dream

Sam Adams releases a number of variety packs over the course of the year, usually changing them with each season. This month they also released a special new pack, called the Brewing The American Dream Collaboration Pack. This 12-pack features two bottles of Boston Lager along with two bottles each of five new collaboration beers. Each collaboration is with a brewery that helped get their start by participating in the Sam Adams Brewing for the American Dream program, which provides training and loans that helped make these brewers dreams a reality. Profits from this 12 pack will be funneled back into the program to help the next generation of American brewers get started. I was very excited to try the beers in this pack (disclosure: they were provided by Sam Adams). Here are my thoughts on each shown in order of how much I liked them, starting with my personal favorite.

Sam Adams Tea Party SaisonBoston Tea Party Saison: Collaboration with Woods Beer Company in San Francisco, CA. Boston Tea Party is a saison brewed with yerba mate tea, coriander and grains of paradise and fermented with the yeast strain used in Sam Adams Kosmic Mother Funk. My favorite beer in the pack, funky yeast on the nose and tons of flavor from the fermentation, apple, pear, a little acidity along with the distinct flavor imparted by the Brettanomyces. The spices add complexity without overwhelming the beer, and the finish is dry and just a touch tart. A complex but still easy to drink saison.

Sam Adams Oats McGoatsOats McGoats Stout: Collaboration with Brewery Rickoli in Wheat Ridge, CO. Oats McGoats is a gluten-reduced oatmeal stout. A little roasted barley on the nose, and full dark malt flavors, milk chocolate, toffee, espresso. A little bit of herbal hops round out this full bodied but still easy drinking beer. You would have no idea the beer is gluten-reduced, it’s a tasty and flavorful stout.

Sam Adams ThreeNinety BockThreeNinety Bock: Collaboration with Roc Brewing in Rochester, NY. ThreeNinety is a Helles Bock brewed with Mosaic and Hallertau Mittelfrueh hops and named after the distance between Boston and Rochester. This is a super drinkable maibock, crisp and clean. The crackers and bread from the malts meld well with grassy and herbal hops. I enjoyed the beer, but I would have liked to see the fruity Mosaic hops shine through a little more, it would have made it a little more unique.

Sam Adams Time Hop PorterTime Hop Porter: Collaboration with ChuckAlek Independent Brewers, Ramona, CA. Time Hop is a hopped up porter brewed with Zeus, Chinook, Cascade and Goldings hops. Dark chocolate and black coffee notes from the malt combine with grass, pine and lemon from the hops. Smooth, drinkable and not too boozy at 5.3% ABV. I have mixed opinions on this beer, it was a interesting take on a porter with the extra hops, but not what I usually love about the style. Hop-heads might love this beer, for me it was just OK.

Sam Adams Desert KaleidoscopeDesert Kaleidoscope IPA: Collaboration with Bosque Brewing in Albuquerque, NM. A West Coast IPA brewed with Zeus, Cascade, Mosaic and Ekuanot hops. This IPA features solid hop flavor, notes of pine, lemon and grass along with substantial malt, with touches of honey and caramel. I would have liked some more hop aroma, for me that pungent aroma is make or break in an IPA and I didn’t get enough of it here.

Previous Sam Adams Reviews:

Sam Adams 26.2, Sam Adams Hopscape and Fresh As HellesSam Adams Rebel RawSam Adams Rebel RouserSam Adams Double Bock, Sam Adams Cold Snap, Sam Adams Octoberfest