Lamplighter Major Tom and Nocturne

I mentioned earlier this week that I rarely make it to beer releases due to massive constraints on my time caused by family, work and life. One reason that I failed to mention, but probably tops the list, is that I refuse to wait in line for beer. If a brewery is doing a big release that will generate a enough enthusiasm for a line to form ahead of time then I am probably not interested. There is way too much awesome beer available without the enormous time-sink of lines. Fortunately some breweries have adopted a new strategy to release popular beers in a more efficient and time effective manner, they sell “tickets” ahead of the release, and you can redeem the ticket anytime in a window after the beer is ready to get your beer. Lamplighter did this a couple weeks ago with their popular Galaxy hopped NEIPA Major Tom and it was very easy, I bought a voucher for a couple 4 packs online ahead of time, then the day after the beer was released I stopped by with the receipt (on my phone) and my ID, and the beer was mine with zero lines. I was also able to grab a few other special beers on my stop including Nocturne, a dunkel brewed in collaboration with Night Shift and Sneaker Wave, a NEIPA with Arctic thyme brewed in collaboration with Borg Brugghus. All three beers were stellar, I am just doing reviews of Major Tom and Nocture here to keep this article from being ridiculously long, but I highly recommend trying all three while they last!

Lamplighter Major TomLamplighter Major Tom pours murky dark yellow with a small white head. The aroma is a big burst of fruity hops. The Galaxy hops also dominate the flavor, notes of pineapple, mango, kiwi along with a subtle but noticeable bitterness. This is complemented by some mild malt flavor, hints of bread dough and oatmeal. Major Tom has a rich and full mouthfeel, but drinks pretty easy and isn’t overly boozy at 6.8% ABV. The finish is crisp with plenty of lingering hop flavor. This is a very good NEIPA, any brewery would be very proud to have this beer on their menu, and it was great to get it without worrying about a line! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Lamplighter NocturneLamplighter/Night Shift Nocturne pours deep brown with a small white head. The scent is mild, featuring some roasted malts. The flavor is malt forward, touches of brown sugar, roasted nuts, toffee and dates. There is a subtle hop flavor that adds balance along with some earthy and herbal notes. Nocture is a light and very easy drinking lager, sessionable at 4.9% ABV. The finish is clean with a little lingering roasted malt flavor. This is a very good beer, tons of rich flavor but still super crushable. I hope this isn’t a one-off because I would definitely buy it again. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Lamplighter Reviews:

Lamplighter Werewolves of Cambridge and Birds of a Feather, Lamplighter WatchmanLamplighter Blitzen, Lamplighter Lucid Nonsense and Easy Tiger

 

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Cambridge Brewing Cerise Cassee

I don’t make it to very many bottle releases. Life is incredibly crazy with the new baby plus work, a toddler and everything else that goes into being a mildly functional human being, so making it to a specific brewery on a bottle release day is rarely in the cards. I’ve been fortunate to mix in a few exceptions lately, where the cards align and I am able to slip into a brewery to grab a special offering. A great example happened last week when Cambridge Brewing Company released Cerise Cassee. I have the good fortune of working right down the road from CBC, so when they announced the release of this beer I was able to run over at lunch and grab a couple bottles (plus a long overdue addition to my glassware collection). Cerise Cassee is a special beer too, it has been a work in progress for 14 years. This is a solera style sour, each year a new batch of ale is brewed, fermented in stainless steel with the house ale yeast, then re-fermented in French oak wine barrels with sour cherries. The barrels aren’t emptied all the way at the end of the year, so each year a new batch is blended with what is left in the barrels from the previous batches. This is the first year Cerise Cassee is being released in bottles, I grabbed one to enjoy now and another to cellar and compare to next years batch. This is a limited release, so head to CBC soon if you want to try the beer!

CBC Cerise CasseeCambridge Brewing Company Cerise Cassee pours deep red with a minimal white head. The scent is a mixture of acidity and some cherry aromas. The flavors imparted by the fermentation lead the flavor, notes of green apple, lemon, barnyard funk and peppercorn. There is also a solid tartness, but it isn’t mouth puckering. The sour cherry is well represented and complements the other flavors well. There is a mild malt backbone, hints of crackers and bread crust. Cerise Cassee is pretty light bodied and easy to drink but packs some serious punch at 9.0% ABV. The finish is tart with some lingering fruit and funk. This is a delicious beer, complex and flavorful but still approachable and drinkable. Grab some of this years batch before it’s gone! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Cambridge Brewing Co. Reviews:

Cambridge Brewing Co. Working Class Hero, Cambridge Brewing Co. Arquebus, Cambridge Brewing Co. Pearls of WisdomCambridge Brewing Co. Le SaisonniereCambridge Brewing Co. Hay is for HorsesCambridge Brewing Co. Sgt. PepperCambridge Brewing Company You Enjoy My StoutCambridge Brewing Company Remain in LightCambridge Brewing Company The Audacity of Hops

Can Craft Brewers Expand Their Market Share by Brewing Light Lagers?

There is a significant movement in craft beer right now, and it comes as a surprise to many. The craft sector is best known for their bold flavors, beer geeks go wild for hop bomb IPAs, boozy imperial stouts and mouth puckering sours, and these styles dominate craft tap lists and rating sites. Many popular breweries are now also embracing light and drinkable beer styles, cream ales, golden ales, pilsners, and even beers in the adjunct light lager style that the craft community long derided. Some significant examples include Night Shift Nite Lite, Founders Solid Gold and Firestone Walker Lager. Each of these beers is low alcohol and eschews bold flavors in favor of easy drinkability. While the craft sector has continued to grow and take a larger share of the overall beer market, it is still a very small segment of total beer sales, and these new beers look like a more direct challenge to big beer. It makes sense for these breweries to try to expand their potential market instead of continuously competing over the same relatively small group of IPA and stout drinkers, but do they have any shot in a very different marketplace long dominated by a few large conglomerations?

Night Shift Nite LiteFirst, lets clear up a common misconception. While the majority of craft beers are ales the idea of craft lagers is far from new. Many of the beers that played a huge role in the rise of craft beer were lagers, including Sam Adams Boston Lager, Brooklyn Lager and Victory Prima Pils. These brewers found a balance between the familiarity and accessibility of lager styles and vibrant flavor than separated them from the macro adjunct lagers that dominated the market. With the recent explosion of new breweries and the resulting increase in competition many brewers have re-visited lager styles as a way to differentiate themselves, including a few breweries that exclusively brew lager beers. Many of these beers are designed for the craft market, with significant hop additions or high ABVs, and even the lighter styles like pilsner are sold as a premium product with a price point much closer to other craft styles than macros. While some of the oldest craft breweries like Yuengling and Narragansett continuously brewed beers that are reminiscent of macro lagers, light adjunct lager was a style that most upstart craft brewers intentionally avoided.

There are two types of light lagers that are quickly gaining popularity with craft brewers. One is Mexican style lagers, modeled after beers like Corona or Modelo. This sub-style has seen significant growth during a period when many other beer styles are in decline, so there is clearly a market for these beers. The other sub style is adjunct light lagers, like Bud Light or Coors Light. After years deriding fizzy yellow beers we are now seeing popular and highly respected breweries take the plunge into this space. This isn’t out of nowhere. While beer geeks sing the praises of bigger and bolder beers and wait in line for rare releases, they represent a very small subset of the beer drinking community. Some of the biggest growth in craft has been in lighter and easier to drink beers. A large portion of the beer drinking population enjoys a beer that has some flavor but is also crisp and easy drinking. Even many hop heads find the need to drink lighter beers every so often. It’s hard to pound a bunch of DIPAs to an afternoon BBQ unless your plan is to be in bed well before sunset.

Founders Solid GoldBreweries have a couple major hurdles when they try to take on big beer at their own game. The biggest is probably the brand loyalty of macro drinkers. Most Bud, Coors or even Heineken drinkers drink that brand nearly exclusively. I have seen more than one heated argument about the merits of one of these beers, or the short comings of another in comparison. I guess these craft breweries can hope to build this type of brand loyalty for their new beers, but they will have a hard time converting customers that have been loyal to another brand for years. The other hurdle is price point. Some people have no issue dropping large sums of money on their beers of choice, but for many macro drinkers an extra couple of bucks for a 12 pack is a non-starter. Small breweries might be able to compete with Heineken or even Corona on price, but they probably have no shot at Budweiser or Miller. Craft breweries also have a severe disadvantage in the marketing department. Big beers spends massive dollars to create a brand and sell an alleged lifestyle to accompany the brand. Corona wants you to feel like you are on vacation at a beach whenever you open a bottle and drop in a slice of lime, Bud Light tells you to feel like every day is a party and Coors Light wants to assure you that their beer is very cold (which is apparently a good thing). I doubt Founders or Firestone Walker will be advertising their products during the Super Bowl.

Craft Brewers also have a few big advantages in this competition. The major one is volume, the amount of these beers that a small brewery needs to sell for the release to be a success is relatively tiny compared to a macro beer. This is one beer in each breweries portfolio, it doesn’t need to drive their bottom line as much as complement the other things they already do well. There are also examples of light lagers outside the big three brands gaining popularity without traditional marketing and advertising, Pabst Blue Ribbon is a good example, I’ve never seen a PBR ad on TV but they have a strong cult following. Finally, these breweries have a built in fan base. I’m probably not going to choose Nite Lite over Whirlpool or Morph for myself, but if I’m hosting a BBQ I would definitely buy a 12pk of that over a macro to offer to my guests that prefer light beers. If these breweries focus on attracting customers who prefer lighter beer but want a premium product they have a chance to build solid followings. It will be interesting to see if these beers become staple brands or fade away quickly. While I doubt my friends who are loyal macro drinkers will buy these instead, I imagine the light lager styles will quickly become solid sellers for the breweries involved.

Firestone Lager

So I’ll throw it to my readers: What do you think of the craft light lager trend? Will you buy these beers? If you do will it be a one-time try, occasional purchase or regular part of your rotation? Let me know here or on social media!

I’ve found a few other well written articles on this trend that I feel like I should pass along:

Good Beer Hunting on Nite Lite

The Fervent Few on Craft Light Lagers

Jason Notte on How Craft Lagers Became Cool

 

 

 

 

Start Line Hop Load Citra

If you ask any Massachusetts resident what they know about Hopkinton they  will probably mention the fact that the town is the starting point of the Boston Marathon. Next Monday is Patriots Day and Marathon Monday, a holiday in the state of Massachusetts where people who are way more motivated and/or crazy than me run for 26.2 miles, while I hang out, watch sports on TV, eat snacks and have a few beers. With all of these runners making their way to the starting line in Hopkinton it makes a lot of sense that the only local brewery is named for the town’s claim to fame. Start Line Brewing has been producing a variety of ales since 2016. Many of these beers have names referencing the big event, like Marathon Wheat and Home Stretch Stout. Start Line’s flagship IPA is called Hop Load, presumably in reference to the act of carbo-loading before a big race, and they also brew a version of the beer featuring the popular Citra hop variety. Start Line Hop Load Citra is available year round on draft and in 16 oz cans.

Start Line Hop Load CitraStart Line Hop Load Citra pours hazy deep orange with a solid white head. The aroma is a solid burst of fruity hops. These hops also lead the flavor, notes of grapefruit, tangerine, herbs and pine along with a solid bitter bite. This isn’t a straight NEIPA, more of a hybrid with the more bitter West Coast style. The hops are complemented by a mild malt backbone, hints of bread crust and cereal. Hop Load Citra is light and very easy to drink but packs a little punch at 7.1% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor and bite. This is a very good IPA, I like the East-West combo beers that feature the fruity hops but also pack a little bite. What better way to celebrate Marathon Monday than some beers from the Start Line! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Von Trapp Dunkel Lager

Spring is a transitional season for beers. Dark, boozy and malty beers tend to dominate the cold winter months while light and refreshing beers perfectly complement warm summer days, but there isn’t a particular style that you point to for spring beers. It seems like some breweries skip over the season all together, I saw some summer ales pop up in the grocery store shelves over the last couple weeks, just what you want when it’s 30 degrees. I have a number of styles that I gravitate to in the spring months, Belgian styles like saison, dubbel and tripel are always flavorful and versatile, good for the crazy variety of spring weather in New England. I am also getting into malty lagers like bock and dunkel, which mix full malt flavor with easy drinkability, perfect for the transition from winter into summer. These styles are under-represented in craft breweries, where most lager production focuses on light pilsner or hop-forward American lagers. A few breweries make these malty lagers and do them well. One good example is the aptly named Dunkel Lager from lager-centric Von Trapp Brewing in Vermont. Von Trapp Dunkel Lager is available on draft and in 12 oz bottles year-round.

Von Trapp Dunkel LagerVon Trapp Dunkel Lager pours cola brown with a mild white head. The scent features some rich roasted malts. These malts also lead the flavor, hints of toffee, roasted nuts and coffee. This is balanced by some old world hops, earthy and floral with a little crisp bitterness at the finish. This is a clean and easy drinking lager, not overly boozy at 5.7% ABV. The finish is crisp with a little lingering malt flavor. This is a really nice beer to drink as winter transitions into spring, plenty of malt flavor but lighter than the boozy stouts and porters from the dark months of winter. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Von Trapp Reviews:

Von Trapp Helles Lager

Medusa Prosperous and Citra Legacy

There are a number of breweries that I feel like I need to visit on a more regular basis, but for one reason or another don’t make it too. A great example is Medusa Brewing in Hudson. Medusa is a 20 minute ride from my house, has a beautiful bar and taproom, and they make exceptional beers. Unfortunately most of my brewery visits right now are quick pop-ins to grab beers to go, family commitments keep me from hanging out and having a few pints. Until recently all beers-to-go from Medusa were in growlers, and I hate growlers and try to avoid using them when I can, so that probably limited my visits. Now Medusa is canning a rotating selection of their beers for sale at the taproom, and I imagine my trips to Hudson will become much more frequent. On a recent stop I grabbed two releases, Prosperous IPA and Citra Legacy Rye IPA. Both beers are available on a rotating basis on draft and in 16 oz tallboy cans.

Medusa ProsperousMedusa Prosperous pours clear bright orange with a solid white head. The aroma is a solid burst of fruity hops. These hops also lead the flavor, notes of orange, pine and mango along with a full bitter bite, this is very much a West Coast style IPA. The hops are balanced by a solid malt backbone, touches of crackers and whole grain bread. Prosperous is medium bodied, drinks easy and has moderate alcohol at 6.6% ABV. The finish is crisp and clean with lingering hop flavor and bitterness. This is a really well crafted West Coast IPA, it’s nice to mix some of these bitter classics in with all of the juicy NEIPAs being produced in the area, and this is a great example. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Medusa Citra LegacyMedusa Citra Legacy pours slightly hazy light orange with a substantial white head. The aroma is a big burst of lusciously fruity hops. The flavor is very hop forward, notes of passion fruit, tangerine and mango but minimal bitterness, this beer is more in the New England IPA style. The malts add a solid hit of spicy rye along with a backbone of bread crust and cereal. Citra Legacy is smooth and easy to drink, not too boozy at 6.3% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hops and rye. This beer is stellar, I wouldn’t have expected the fruity hops to work so well with the rye flavor, but it really comes together perfectly. A must try if you like rye IPAs. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Previous Medusa Reviews:

Medusa Black Ale Project, Medusa Mesmerist

Random Beer Thoughts: March 2018

This month has been a bit crazy personally due to the birth of my second child, so my monthly list of links and random thoughts is probably a little more haphazard and missing some important pieces, so I apologize in advance. As always, I welcome recommendations of articles to feature here, feel free to forward them along!

Melcher Day 1

In case you missed it: I did a “scientific” study on the shelf life of New England Style IPAs (spoiler, it’s very limited). I clearly wasn’t the only person to have this idea. Over a similar timeframe Jeff Alworth of Beervana tracked the changes of Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing over 90 days. The Sierra Nevada beer is a totally different animal from a Trillium IPA, and it is clear from the results.

There are a ton of new breweries opening in Massachusetts this year, and the Mass Brew Brothers have a run down. It is really hard to keep track of the changing beer scene in the state, and their website is always an amazing resource if you are looking for a new place to try.

Tree House Tornado

The Brewer’s Guild has officially recognized hazy/juicy IPA as it’s own style, helping to legitimize the popular but controversial beer sub-style. I wish they had recognized the name as New England style IPA, but that is a minor quibble. Bryan Roth has an informative article on why this news is important.

Norm “The Beer Nut” Miller has a recap of the Freshman Brewers event, where the newest breweries in the state get together to share their products with local beer fans. This is definitely an event I need to attend in the near future.

Smuttynose Single Digit Dubbel

After the initial auction attempt stalled out, a bank managed to find a deal to sell Smuttynose. It looks like the new owners are committed to keeping the core brand and updating the business to compete in the current market. It will be really interesting to see how this works out, I know I will keep close tabs on the situation.

Greater Good has opened their new brewery and taproom in Worcester. Looks like more big and boozy beers to come from the All-Imperial brewery.

I am not really into beer trading, but I know many of my readers are. Beer Shippers wants to make it easier to send beer in the mail, with special packages designed to safely ship beer cans.

Allagash Saison

Allagash has announced the lineup for this years saison day celebration. April is the perfect time to hold events that honor this delicious style.

Good Beer Hunting’s Fervent Few series continues with a look at the future of distribution and the traditional three tier model.

Two Week Notice Brewery was open very briefly last summer before shutting down due to a disagreement between the owners on the direction of the brewery. It looks like a settlement has been agreed upon and the brewery will re-open this summer.

Allagash is now selling Curieux, their stellar bourbon-barrel aged tripel, in 4 packs of 12 oz bottles. I love Curieux, but a 750 mL bottle of a beer this boozy is a pretty big commitment, so I will definitely drink more of the beer now that a small bottle is an option. I would love to see more breweries make this change with their big beers.

The ownership group behind Armsby Abbey, widely considered one of the best beer bars in the state, are opening a new place in Hudson. As a resident of the MetroWest I could not be more excited about this development.

Local craft-centric distributor Craft Collective is will host a pop-up beer barn every Sunday from May-October at the SoWa Power Station. They have a strong line-up of breweries, so I imagine this will be a popular hangout.

Down the Road Springheel jack

Down The Road is expanding their lineup of beers and expanding distribution into Rhode Island.

The Notch blog has the story behind their new session Irish Stout. I love low ABV stouts, but I doubt I’ll get a chance to try this batch, hopefully they brew will the beer again.

Weymouth is becoming a craft beer hotspot, with two new breweries opening soon.

In another flagrant attempt at clickbait, Thrillist names the 33 hottest IPAs in the US. Needless to say I clicked, and then I am sharing, so it worked. Lots of local representation on the list for what it’s worth.

That’s it for March, looking forward to another fun month ahead. Cheers!