Newburyport Joppa Grande Stout

I’ve mentioned numerous times that I love blind beer tastings. We all have inherent bias for/against certain breweries and beers based on our previous experience tasting their beers (or even positive and negative experiences at the breweries), and sampling the beers blind removes any of these biases. While my favorite set of blind tastings are the ones held by the Mass Brew Brothers (and frequented by yours truly), the Paste Magazine blind tastings are definitely second. Paste acquires beers from across the country for each beer style and then rates their top 50. Local beers took many of the top spots in their recent blind tasting of stouts, including a 3rd place finish for Joppa Grande Stout from Newburyport Brewing Company. Joppa Grande also got an extra mention as the only beer in the top 5 brewed without the addition of coffee or other adjunct ingredients. Newburyport has made a concerted effort to expand their offerings recently, and this was one new-to-me beer that I was very excited to try. Newburyport Joppa Grande Stout is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 16 oz cans.

Newburyport Joppa GrandeNewburyport Joppa Grande Stout pours nearly black with a mild tan head. The aroma is mostly roasted malt with coffee as the predominant scent. The flavor is also very malt forward, notes of espresso, dark chocolate and black licorice. This is complemented by some mild hop character, earthy and grassy along with a touch of bitterness. Joppa Grande is medium bodied and goes down smooth, it isn’t an imperial stout but it packs some punch at 7.0% ABV. The finish is rich and full with some lingering malt flavor. This is a very good stout, no frills just a well designed and executed beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Newburyport Reviews:

Newburyport Melt Away Session IPA, Newburyport Greenhead IPA

 

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Stoneface Porter

New Hampshire beer has a tendency to get overlooked due to the crazy beer scenes in the surrounding states. Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont each have a number of the most sought-after breweries in the world, featuring beers that frequent the tops of many crowd-sourced and critic generated best beer lists. New Hampshire also has a slew of well respected breweries, even if they don’t have a place that has caught the fancy of the whale hunters yet. I feel like I am guilty of overlooking New Hampshire at times, I enjoy a number of their breweries but they don’t make as many appearances on the blog as beers from other parts of New England. One of the most popular breweries in the The Granite State is Stoneface Brewing Company out of Newington. Stoneface has regular distribution in Massachusetts, and I’ve enjoyed a number of their beers in the past, but they have made limited appearances on the blog (something I will try to amend this year). My favorite beer style during the winter months is porter, so I thought Stoneface Porter would be a good place to start. Stoneface Porter is available year round on draft and in 12 oz. cans.

Stoneface PorterStoneface Porter pours deep brown with a solid tan head. The aroma is full of rich roasted malts. The flavor is very malt forward, notes of coffee, cocoa and toffee. This is balanced by a hint of earthy hops that also add a touch of bitterness. Stoneface Porter is medium bodied and drinks very easy, and at 5.5% ABV it’s on the lighter side for the style. The finish is full and rich with plenty of lingering roasted malt flavor. This is a very good porter, tons of flavor and not too boozy, a perfect beer for a chilly winter afternoon. I need to make sure I don’t overlook New Hampshire, and Stoneface in particular, in the future! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Stoneface reviews:

Stoneface India Red Rye

Hoppy Boston is Drizly’s Best Beer Blog for 2017!

Drizly 2017 Best Beer Blog

I have a very exciting announcement, Hoppy Boston has been named the Best Beer Blog in Drizly’s 2017 Blogger Awards! You can see the full list of winners and finalists HERE. Drizly is a national company that specializes in home delivery of beer, wine and liquor, and this is the first year they are handing out awards for the best alcohol-related blogs. One of the employees at Drizly reached out in November asking to include Hoppy Boston amongst the nominees, and when I confirmed my interest she asked me to send along a few of my favorite posts from 2017 to be judged. I used the following posts, amongst my personal favorites this year:

Can mid and larger sized craft brewers find success with NEIPA?
Should Beer Writers be Critics or Cheerleaders?
A beer to stock for everyone at your Super Bowl party, 2017 edition.

I thought it was pretty cool that they asked for specific posts and had a panel of judges, and I am beyond honored that they chose Hoppy Boston as their favorite beer blog. I write the blog for fun, but it’s nice to be recognized and know that people enjoy what I write. Thanks to Drizly for the award and to all of my followers for the continued support! Looking forward to more good stuff in 2018.

Cheers,

Ryan

 

Brewery Visit: Battle Road Brewing Co.

Battle Road Brewery 1In the early days of the blog I wrote a few articles showcasing my visits to local breweries. I’m not really sure why I got away from this style of blog post, in many cases when I would visit a new place I would just include some information about the brewery in a beer review. Regardless, I am going to make an effort to specifically write a “brewery visit” article for as many breweries as I can, especially places I’ve been to a few times. This series re-starts with Battle Road Brewing Company in Maynard, which currently holds the title for closest brewery to my house. When I visit a brewery there are three things that I usually look for, the physical location (size, cleanliness, amenities, parking/public transit options), food (if applicable) and obviously the beer.

Battle Road Brewery 2

The space: The Battle Road Brewery is located in a refurbished mill bordering the Assabet River in Maynard. The space is huge, it has to be one of the bigger tap rooms in Massachusetts. There are pros and cons to this, on a Saturday afternoon at lunch there were a decent number of people eating but the restaurant felt kind of dead with so much empty space. The bar and restaurant are beautiful, with a long wooden bar and a variety of high top tables and booths that complement the exposed brick and beams. Everything is clean and well maintained. Battle Road features live music on Friday and Saturday nights. Parking is ample with a large, free parking lot right at the brewery, but public transportation options are limited.

The food: I’ve eaten at Battle Road twice with my family and the food has been a little hit or miss. They have a full menu with a focus on traditional BBQ and sandwiches along with snacks and salads. On both visits I got a BBQ plate, featuring meat along with two sides. The steak tips and sausage on a recent visit were very good (try the sausage with the mustard BBQ sauce), but the brisket on my first visit was a bit chewy. Sides were a similar mix, I enjoyed the beans and hulking slice of cornbread, but a biscuit was way too dense and dry. My wife also had mixed opinions, she enjoyed a chicken sandwich on the first trip but thought her burger was dry and under seasoned on the second. For what it’s worth, my two year old loved the grilled PB&J from the kids menu. Service was a touch slow on both occasions, but friendly and knowledgeable.

Battle Road IPL

The beer: Battle Road started as a contract brewery, and their offerings have expanded since the full brewery opened. The offer full pours, flights and growlers to go. The brewery usually offers a mix of their flagship, seasonal, and special brewery-only offerings. My personal favorites are Midnight Rider, a rich and easy drinking porter, and their spicy saison named Barrett’s Farmhouse Ale. This summer I tried a brewery only mixed fermentation peach grisette that was the most interesting Battle Road beer I’ve sampled to date. On my recent visit I tried their Jingle Bell IPL which had the crisp and clean lager body you like in the style and solid flavor but was a little short on the aromatic nose that I love in hoppy beers.

Final Thoughts: Battle Road Brewing has many of the features you want in a local brewery, a great space to hang out and a solid lineup of diverse and flavorful beers. If they spend a little time working on the inconsistencies in their menu and keep brewing interesting small batch additions to the draft lineup I could see this brewery becoming a very popular destination in the Metro West.

Location: 5 Clock Tower Place Maynard, MA.

Website: http://www.battleroadbeer.com/

Brewery in Planning: Pitkin Point

This article is part of a series called “So you want to start a craft brewery?” organized by the Mass Brew Bros. Five separate articles published on different blogs will profile a local brewery in planning, and then a final article will cover what the authors have learned about the challenges of opening a brewery in Massachusetts. I will add links for all of the articles in the series to the end of this piece as they go live, so check back in or follow on social media.

Pitkin Point logoAfter more than a decade as an acclaimed home brewer, Pitkin Point co-founder Tayler Pitkin is excited to share his beer with a wider audience. While he has two additional co-founders who are committed to helping out with finance and operations, Tayler is essentially Pitkin Point. He will be the head brewer, run the business and even self-distribute the beer to start. He still has a number of hurdles to clear before the brewery begins operations, applications for a federal license are processing now and they will be followed by a massive amount of paperwork to receive the appropriate licenses from the state. Once those hurdles are cleared he hopes to provide local drinkers with a stable of flavorful ales, ranging from hop-bomb IPAs to rich and malty stouts.

Pitkin Point is planning to start as a contract brewery, the beer will be produced at an existing brewery (he is not yet at liberty to divulge where) and packaged for distribution to local bars, restaurants and bottle shops. Tayler and his family live in Carlisle, and he had initially hoped to open a full taproom in town, something that his community doesn’t have. Unfortunately he had issue finding a good space for a brewery. Most breweries are built in established industrial lots, usually repurposed mills, factories or warehouses. One of the reasons many residential-focused communities don’t have their own breweries is that these types of buildings don’t exist. Starting as a contract brewer has many advantages, there is a much lower start-up cost both in money and time, and it allows the brewery to establish the brand before committing to a taproom. He hopes to establish relationships with the brewery where he contracts, using the expertise of the brewers at the facility to enable seamless scale up of his developed homebrew recipes into production levels.

Pitkin Point The Doctor

One of the big issues that contract brewers can face is that they don’t get the immediate community that a taproom can generate for a new brewery. People feel an immediate connection to a brewery in their town and want to help it succeed. Tayler wants Pitkin Point to be Carlisle’s brewery and has a number of plans to make this happen without having a taproom at launch. He is hoping to set up pop-up or seasonal beer gardens in Carlisle featuring Pitkin Point beers, similar to what Trillium did on the Greenway this summer. These beer gardens will help introduce the beers to people in town and allow Tayler to receive feedback directly from his customers.

Pitkin Point is going to emphasize family heritage, each beer is named after a specific ancestor and includes a story about the inspiration for the beer. One of the flagship beers will be The General, a New England style IPA named after one of Tayler’s ancestors who was quartermaster general for the army of the Potomac. Another beer, The Doctor, is a brown ale brewed with local honey and named for Tayler’s grandfather. A rotating IPA called The Immigrant will feature a new hop profile with every batch, and is named in honor of the first Pitkin ancestors to immigrate to the US. The beers are not available for sale yet, and won’t be until the proper licenses are acquired, but Tayler has been scaling and perfecting the recipes and sharing the beers with interested drinkers, creating some positive buzz for the brewery.

Pitkin Point the general

Pitkin Point is also planning on releasing a cider named Hunter Cove. Hunter Cove is a tart cider made from wild apples and yeast sourced from Hunter Cove Cabins in Rangely, Maine, which is owned by Tayler’s in-laws, keeping with the family stories that drives the beers. This release will make Pitkin Point one of a small number of breweries that also make their own cider. This cider is slightly tart, dry, flavorful and very easy drinking, it should appeal to cider fans and as well as beer fans looking to branch out. When Pitkin Point is able to open a taproom or beer garden many visitors will appreciate having a cider option in addition to the variety of beers.

With the increasing competitive market for local brewers there are a few key factors that lead to success. The first is obviously to brew amazing beer. Outside of that it is important to develop a cohesive and interesting brand, tell a good story and build a community of support. It sounds like Pitkin Point is off to a good start, it will be interesting to watch as they take the next steps and start selling their beer in the near future!

Hoppy Boston Heads into 2018

The New Year is always a good time for some reflection on the past year and planning for the next, so I thought it would be a good idea to do a quick re-cap of 2017 on Hoppy Boston and set up a few things for 2018. I want to start by thanking everyone who regularly reads the blog, and my followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I have met an awesome community of beer fans through the blog and social media, and the interaction with others is what keeps me excited to continue writing Hoppy Boston.

cropped-hoppy-boston-1.jpgThe biggest change on the blog this year was definitely the new logo. I’ve been hoping to develop a professional looking logo for a while and finally took the plunge this year. I’m happy with how it came out and got great feedback. I’m planning on pasting this logo onto every piece of relevant merchandise I can think of, I already did stickers and glassware. The first batch of the stickers flew, but I got in more of the same, so anyone who is interested in a Hoppy Boston sticker (no charge) just send a email to ryan.brawn80@gmail.com with your address and “sticker” in the subject line and I will send you one.

I am trying to mix up the blog and include more different types of articles, from news about local breweries to opinion pieces. I started the random beer thoughts/links articles at the end of 2016 but it became a blog staple this year. I typically post it on the last Thursday of the month, with a collection of links to the most interesting beer writing I come across that month and other news, notes and opinions. The articles have been very well received, they are always amongst my most viewed article of a given month. You can find the log of monthly links articles HERE.

I don’t do a best beers of the year article because I recap the best beers I reviewed every 3 months, you can find the quarterly summaries HERE. While I am doing more diverse blog posts beer reviews are still in heavy rotation, with a goal of identifying the best beers being brewed in the region and passing along my recommendations. The most popular beer reviews of 2017 (based on number of page views) were the dual review of Hipster Apocalypse and Liquid Rapture from buzzy Maine brewery Mason’s Brewing and my review of Vermont standout Sip of Sunshine from Lawson’s Finest Liquids. No surprise that IPAs reign supreme. My most popular opinion article was a recent post questioning whether large and mid-sized breweries can have success brewing New England style IPAs. I think this question will be answered in 2018 when breweries like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada try to mass produce and distribute this style.

Looking ahead to 2018 I have some fun stuff planned for the blog. I am working with some other local beer writers on a series of collaboration articles. I have a special beer-related scientific study in progress right now that you’ll be able to read about this summer. The monthly links column will continue along with reviews of the best beers I come across and a variety of other articles relevant to the constantly changing local beer scene. My goal is to keep Hoppy Boston informative and entertaining, I hope I am doing a reasonable job. My life is going to get even more crazy in 2018, but I am hoping to do a little more traveling around New England and spend more time writing about less-heralded breweries and beer styles. I am always open to ideas, so if there is anything else you’d like to see on Hoppy Boston leave me a message here or on social media. Thank you again for making 2017 another great year for the blog, and I look forward to more fun exploring the world of local beer in 2018!

Cheers!

Ryan

 

Random Beer Thoughts: December 2017

Late December is always a time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the year ahead. It has been a crazy year for local beer, and 2018 looks set up to be another one. Fortunately we have the Mass Brew Brothers around to keep track of the rapidly changing landscape of local beer. Here is their summary of the year in Massachusetts beer, and a complete list of every brewery that opened in the state this year. They also have some regional articles focused on the beer scenes in Metro Boston and Northeast MA. We had 39 breweries open and only two close in Massachusetts this year, it’s hard to imagine that numbers like that will be sustainable. I think a huge number of breweries will open in 2018 too (Boston Business Journal says the number could be as high as 50), but a large number will probably start to close, including a few that will catch people completely off guard. I’m not hoping for this, I would never wish for a business to fail, but I can’t imagine that this rate of growth is sustainable.

The Brewers Association also has a year in review piece with a more national perspective.

Idle Hands Six Seam

One of my favorite articles of the month is Bryan Roth’s treatise on New England Style IPAs. One of the best parts of the article is the way Bryan pokes holes in the arguments many cynical brewers and beer writers make when they are trying to convince anyone that will listen that NEIPA is just a flash in the pan fad.

Vine Pair interviewed a number of people in the beer industry to get their predictions on beer trends in 2018. One that I really hope comes true is that people realize their time is important and there is no reason to wait in line for whalez when so many amazing beers are readily available.

The most creative article of the month has to go to Dave Patterson, who reviews the year in Maine beer in the form of a poem.

Sunset_Grill_Color_Logo-jpg

One of the biggest local stories this month was the news that legendary Allston beer bar Sunset Grill and Tap is closed for good. Norm “The Beer Nut” Miller has a well written post mortem. It is hard to overstate how important this bar was to many local beer geeks, for a long time there were so few places in Boston with extensive beer programs, and Sunset led to the discovery of many different beers. The place definitely had issues, it was loud, usually full of college kids trying to drink DIPAs like they were Natty Light, there were issues with the draft lines, and it is really hard to have consistently fresh beer when they stocked so many options. As more local beer-centric bars opened these issues became much more evident. I’ll still remember Sunset fondly as a place that introduced me to many beers that were important parts of my journey into beer geekdom.

As the year ends you always get a bunch of “best of the year” lists. I don’t do one because I summarize the best beers I reviewed every 3 months, you can find these lists HERE. If you are interested in the opinions of others I’ve gathered a few best beer lists, including articles from Hop Culture and Draft Magazine and the best breweries list from Paste (based on results of their blind tastings this year).

Eater Boston also hands out some end of the year awards, including best taproom to a rising star of the metro Boston beer scene.

BBC Coffeehouse Porter

I participated in another blind tasting this month, evaluating 10 local porters with a panel of local beer enthusiasts. There are a ton of great local porters, from classics like Berkshire Coffee House to innovative beers like Bog Iron One Down. The two beers I wish had been included in the tasting were Night Shift Awake and Mayflower Porter, two of my favorites and I would like to see how they stacked up in a blind panel.

Springdale Brewing is going to start distribution in 2018. This is nice to see, I think their IPAs and sours can go toe-to-toe with anything being brewed in the state, and their beers are about to be much more readily available.

Trillium has opened their winter beer garden in Roslindale, and here is a first look from Boston Magazine. These beer gardens are really a brilliant idea, and appear to be a huge success.

Worcester Business Journal has a summary on how Tree House created a cult-like following. Tree House makes some amazing beer, but the craziness that surrounds it also turns many people off.

mbc-beer-v

Good Beer Hunting has an interview with Dan Kleban of Maine Beer Company. The interview touches a number of topics, from independence to sustainability to their charity work and the direction of the industry. It would have been nice to see a question about their packaging, I would love to see them move away from the 500 mL bottles.

Boston Voyager has a profile of Zelus beer, a local brewery marketing their product towards active beer drinkers. SommBeer also has an article on the “science” behind Zelus. There is a lot of talk about brewing salts here but not much of an explanation as to why they are important for an “active lifestyle” beer.

Wachusett has opened their new taproom in Westminster. I need to check this out soon. My wife and I got married in nearby Gardner and had a number of Wachusett beers on tap at our wedding, so I will always have a special connection to that brewery.

Sam Adams is considering another taproom in Downtown Boston. I think this is a brilliant idea, at the very least it would immediately become a hot stop for tourists.

Slumbrew Yankee Swap 2015

The new Slumbrew American Fresh Brewpub is open in Assembly Row. I’ve heard very good things about the space, the food and the beer.

Altruist Brewing is open is Sturbridge, with a tasting room pouring a variety of ales.

I am excited for Amory’s Tomb to open in Maynard, another brewery that will be very close to where I live.

Bissell Brothers is opening a second location, and it’s going to be way up north.

Thrillist ranks every state in the US based on their beer. My god, this article is a brilliantly devious piece of click-bait, and I not only clicked on it I linked to it. What can you do.

That is it for December and for 2017, thank you all for reading and your continued support of Hoppy Boston. I am having a blast writing the blog and communicating with other local beer fans, and I hope you’re all still enjoying the content. Look for some new stuff going forward in 2018!