Random Beer Thoughts: February 2017

The Mass Brew Brothers hosted a blind tasting on New England style IPAs and wrote up the results, which included a few surprises. Funny what happens when you judge beer entirely on flavor and not the brand. I was planning on attending this event but had to cancel when my son and I both got horribly ill. I’m looking forward to participating in an upcoming blind tasting soon.

Overshores Simpel

Barring a massive influx of cash it looks like Overshores Brewing in CT will shut down. I never like to see any brewery fail, I’ve enjoyed some of Overshores beers in the past, but I think we’ll be sharing this kind of news more and more over the next few years. While a number of reasons were presented for the brewery’s financial issues, one really bothered me. In the article brewery owner Christian Amport rants about millennial drinkers chasing fads and focusing entirely on hop bomb beers. While I would love to see more drinkers branch out it comes across really poorly when you trash beer drinkers for liking other beers more than yours.

Brewer magazine has a good write up on the importance of taprooms in marketing a brewery. I completely agree with this, in addition to the higher margins taprooms give the brewer an opportunity to communicate directly with their customer and get feedback that will help them make better beer.

BrewStuds has an article on partner brewing that features local brewery Dorchester Brewing. Partner brewing seems like a logical evolution from the contract brewing model. The participating breweries still get access to larger scale equipment and lower their ingredient costs, but they also have a taproom that features beers from all of the breweries that brew onsite.

Draft magazine points out that Beer People are Just People. This seems pretty obvious, but many beer geeks wax poetically about how amazing everyone involved in craft beer is. I’ve met a huge number of awesome people at breweries and beer events. I’ve also met a fair number of jerks and entitled assholes.

RateBeer handed out their annual awards which are based on compiling user reviews of individual beers. They recognize a number of amazing breweries including a few right here in New England. I always end up perusing these types of lists, but I take them with a big grain of salt. Too often the hype surrounding the top breweries effects how users evaluate their beers, and this artificially inflates their ratings.

Will Gordon and John Laffler are drinking for good, donating $1 for every beer they drink between the Super Bowl and the end of the month to the ACLU. Others are encouraged to join, and I am definitely in. Will is doing weekly write-ups of the beers he is drinking and keeping a running tally.

Food and Wine made a list of the most important craft beers. It was interesting to see a list focus beers that were most influential in launching the current craft beer movement instead of the newest whalez the geeks are chasing. Hard to argue with many of the selections on the list.

Sierra Nevada West Latitude

Sierra Nevada announced the collaborations for their new Beers Across The World, including one with local powerhouse Tree House Brewing Company. This pack will be a must-purchase.

Speaking of Sierra Nevada, Good Beer Hunting has a revealing interview with Brian and Ken Grossman from Sierra Nevada on the challenges facing brewers. Lots of good stuff here.

Sam Adams and Sweet Water made an interesting bet on the Super Bowl. After the Patriots amazing comeback Sweet Water is paying up.

RiverWalk Winter Porter

RiverWalk Brewing is planning on opening a much larger new brewery in Newburyport.

Tasting Table has an interesting article on how Allagash brews wild fermented beers using their coolship.

I doubt anyone reading this blog missed this, but the very popular Vermont brewery Lawson’s Finest Liquids will now be regularly distributed in Massachusetts.

Turtle Swamp Brewing is opening soon in Jamaica Plain.

Banded Horn Vertumnus

Most breweries tend to stick to a rotation of classic styles for their flagship beers, usually an IPA (or a couple), a dark beer like a porter or a stout, and a lighter offering like a blond ale or a pilsner. These are tried and true styles and it makes sense to introduce the brewery to your customers with beers they will easily identify with. Things start to get interesting and more diverse when you get into seasonal and special release beers, especially when breweries establish a barrel aging program. Banded Horn Brewery came out of the gate with the IPA/DIPA combo you would expect, along with some seasonal dark beers, but they also make a line of flavorful lighter lagers. I’ve enjoyed the Banded Horn beers that I’ve tried, but I was excited to see some of their more creative offerings too. One beer that falls into that category is Vertumnus a version of their flagship Veridian IPA aged in oak barrels with Brettanomyces. Banded Horn Vertumnus is available on a rotating basis in 375 mL bottles.

banded-horn-vertumnusBanded Horn Vertumnus pours a deep brownish orange with a solid white head. The scent is a mixture of musty Brettanomyces and floral hops. The yeast leads the flavor, notes of barnyard and cheese rind, funky but not sour. There is some hop flavor too, hints of lemon, grass and herbs along with a drying bitterness. The malts round out the flavor with touches of bread dough and biscuits. Vertumnus is light bodied and complex, but not too boozy at 6.0% ABV. The finish is dry with some lingering funky Brett flavors. I like the idea of aging Banded Horn’s flagship IPA with Brett. As more drinkers gain an appreciation for Brett beers it will be interesting to see if more breweries make similar offerings. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Previous Banded Horn Reviews:

Banded Horn Norweald Stout

Deciduous Mosaic Sylph

The decision to focus my reviews on non-IPA styles this year leaves some significant grey areas. Many different beer styles have “hoppy” forms, and some of these have been given the “IPA’ designation (usually for marketing purposes). For example some beers are labeled as hoppy amber ales while others are called red IPAs, even though they are essentially the same style. I think the proliferation of session IPAs, black IPAs, Belgian IPAs, red IPAs and all of the other variants has actually fueled some of the burgeoning anti-IPA backlash. So I will try to avoid anything with IPA on the label as part of this experiment. That being said, I still want to enjoy some bold hop flavors on occasion, especially when they complement other styles of beer. One of my favorite combinations is the citrus and tropical fruit flavors and aromas of New World hop varieties with aromatic and assertive Belgian style saison yeast strains. It takes careful work to find the correct combination of hops and yeast, but these beers can be amazing when done correctly. One example I enjoyed recently was Mosaic Sylph from Deciduous Brewing Company in New Hampshire. This dry-hopped version of their flagship farmhouse ale is available on a rotating basis on draft and in bottles.

deciduous-mosaic-sylphDeciduous Mosaic Sylph pours a clear bright yellow with a massive white head. The scent is a mixture of tropical hops and expressive Belgian style yeast. A fruity strain of yeast leads the flavor with notes of apple, apricot and pear. This melds well with the Mosaic hops which add hints of pineapple, mango and grapefruit. A mild malt backbone rounds out the flavor with hints of white bread and crackers. Mosaic Sylph is very light bodied and effervescent, but packs a little punch at 6.3% ABV. It has a dry finish with some lingering fruit flavors from the hops and the yeast. I love a thoughtful combination of New World hops with expressive Belgian style yeast, and this is a very good example of the style. I’ve been impressed with the Deciduous beers I’ve tried and this one is definitely worth picking up. Hoppy Boston score; 4.5/5.

Previous Deciduous Reviews:

Deciduous Sepal

Relic Spectral Beast

My goal of focusing my drinking and reviewing on non-IPAs in 2017 is much easier in the winter, I love porters and stouts and tend to drink a ton of them this time of year. I know some people drink stouts in the summer and pilsner in the winter, but I’ve always been a fan of rotating my beer styles to fit the changing seasons. Dark and malty beers just go better with cold sinter nights. One dark beer sub-style that is underutilized is the Baltic porter, dark lagers that typically feature high ABVs. The longer fermentation at lower temperature helps mellow out the booze resulting in beers with big malt flavor coupled with an easy drinking lager body. One very good Baltic porter that I recently tried for the first time is Spectral Beast from Relic Brewing Company in Connecticut. Relic Brewing Spectral Beast is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 12 oz. cans.

relic-brewing-spectral-beastRelic Brewing Spectral Beast pours pitch black with a solid tan head. The scent is all rich and roasted malt. The flavor is also very malt forward with notes of strong coffee, dark chocolate, black licorice and plum. The hops add earthy flavors, late bitterness and balance. Spectral Beast has a full body but it’s incredibly easy to drink for a beer with 10% ABV, it goes down so smoothly that you need to be careful. The finish is crisp and clean with a little lingering malt flavor. Relic Spectral Beast is a very good version of a Baltic Porter, a big beer with tons of flavor but no alcoholic burn. Definitely worth a shot if you like big and dark beers. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Relic Reviews:

Relic The Fletcher

SoMe Whoopie Pie Stout

Well, that escalated quickly. There was no new snow on the ground when I woke up this morning, and by late this afternoon I had almost a foot to clean up. Fortunately I have become a good suburbanite and purchased a snow-blower, that investment has already paid off despite the relatively low snowfall totals this winter. I am also fortunate to work for a company that told everyone yesterday that the office was closed today and we could work from home. Cold and snowy days call for rich and malty dark beers. A great example is Whoopie Pie Stout from SoMe Brewing Company in Maine. Did you know that as many as five states claim to be the original home of the whoopee pie? One of the states with a strong case is Maine, where it is the official state treat and the town of Dover-Foxcroft hosts the annual whoopee pie festival. It makes sense that a Maine brewery would use this chocolate and cream sandwich as the inspiration for a beer. SoMe Whoopie Pie Stout is a milk stout brewed with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. It is available year-round on draft and in 22 oz. bottles.

some-whoopie-pie-stoutSoMe Whoopie Pie Stout pours pitch black with a small tan head. The scent is a mixture of rich roasted malt, cocoa and vanilla. The flavor is very malt forward, notes of milk chocolate, coffee and licorice. The adjuncts blend in well, adding subtle complexity. There is just enough hop character to balance out the sweetness, which is present but restrained. Whoopie Pie Stout has a medium to full body, smooth mouthfeel and isn’t overly boozy at 6.3% ABV. The finish is dry with some lingering chocolate and roasted malt flavors. This is an exceptional milk stout, complex and tons of flavor without being cloying. A perfect beer for a cold and snowy day like today! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Previous SoMe reviews:

SoMe Templeton Saison

Cold Harbor Indian Summer and Truffle Stout

After that amazing, unbelievable football game last night I am physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted (not a complaint at all), but I needed to knock out a #MassBrewMonday review in honor of the greatest dynasty in NFL history. On Saturday I had a very small amount of free time and made my first trip to Cold Harbor Brewing Company in Westborough. They have a cozy taproom with tasting flights and full pours along with growlers to go, but unfortunately I couldn’t hang out and sample beers. I was out running errands and had just enough time to run in and fill a couple growlers. Fortunately I got some recommendations on Twitter (thank you @MassBrewBros!) and grabbed 32 oz growlers of their Indian Summer IPA and Truffle Stout, a dark ale brewed with blackberries and Taza chocolate.

cold-harbor-indian-summerCold Harbor Indian Summer IPA pours a murky dark yellow with a solid white head. The scent is a big burst of tropical fruit from the late hop additions. This is very much a New England style IPA. There is tons of fruity hop flavor with notes of peach, mango, guava and papaya but minimal bitterness. There is a little malt, touches of wheat bread and biscuits. Indian Summer is medium bodied, not too boozy at 6% ABV and finishes with lingering hop flavor but no bitter bite. I am a big fan of many of the New England style IPAs, and this is a good version, but I could use just a little bitterness or non-tropical fruit flavors as an added dimension. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

cold-harbor-truffle-stoutCold Harbor Truffle Stout pours dark brown with a small off-white head. The scent is full of rich roasted malt and cocoa. The flavor is very malt forward, notes of milk chocolate, espresso and toffee. I don’t get much blackberry flavor, just a hint for complexity. Some earthy hops add balance and a little late bitterness. Truffle Stout has a full body but drinks easy, with just a touch of malt sweetness in the finish. This is a delicious stout, tons of flavor, complex but approachable, and worth the trip to Westborough to try. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

A beer to stock for everyone at your Super Bowl party, 2017 edition

My article today is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek rundown of the beers you should stock to please all of the characters at your Super Bowl party this weekend. I wrote a similar article two years ago, and then this happened:

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via GIPHY

I am not a superstitious person per se, but there was a 100% chance I would write an updated version of this article with the Patriots headed back to the Super Bowl. So without further ado, here are the beers you need to have on hand for your party this Sunday.

notch-infinite-jest

Notch Infinite Jest and Cerne Pivo: For the early arrivers and day drinkers. Kickoff isn’t until 6:30ish, it’s a long day and most of us need to get up for work on Monday, so pace is the key. Session beers are a huge help here, you can drink more than a couple without feeling too much of the effect.

Mayflower Porter

Mayflower Porter and Wormtown Be Hoppy: For game time. Two of my go-to house beers, one hoppy and one dark and malty. No beer fan will argue with having these on hand.

Boulevard Tank 7: To celebrate the fact that the Patriots are in their seventh Super Bowl in the Brady/Belichick Era. It’s hard to overstate how impossible a run like this seemed when I was growing up with the late 80’s/early 90’s Pats teams that routinely finished in the cellar.

Pretty Things Babayaga

Anything left in the your cellar from Pretty Things: For Gronk (not literally, I assume he will be in Houston). It is such an exciting time in local beer, there are more high quality options than ever, but I still miss the departed Pretty Things. Same idea with the game, you never complain about being in the Super Bowl, but it sucks that a generational player like Rob Gronkowski is sitting in the owners box.

Water: For anyone who defends the job Roger Goodell is doing as commissioner. They have clearly had too much to drink.

Goose Island Bourbon Country Brand Stout: For the elephant in the room for many Pats fans. I love BCBS and other Goose Island beers, but disagree with many of the business practices of their parent company AB InBev. Similarly, I’m a lifelong Patriots fan, but it’s a little disappointing seeing some of the political statements made by the owner and coach this year. A boozy beer like BCBS will help me forget and focus on the game.

Jack’s Abby Framinghammer: For the person who can’t stop talking about politics during the game (don’t tell them the ABV). Look, I get it, there is a lot going on right now and people have strong opinions. I do too. I just need a break from the constant political talk for a few hours so I can watch football. This beer is so easy to drink that the political commentator at your party probably won’t notice the booze and will be out cold before halftime.

A box of Franzia: For anyone who brings up deflated footballs or filming signals. Hand them a plastic cup fresh from the plastic bladder and then ask them if they would like some cheese with all that whine.

A bottle of whiskey: Regardless of your guests, you can bet that the network announcing team will repeatedly bring up deflated footballs. I’m sure they will also “forget” to mention the Falcons getting punished to pumping artificial crowd noise into the Georgia Dome. By the fourth quarter you might need something stronger than beer. Also handy in the unlikely event that a 2008 or 2012 type game happens.

allagash-hibernal-fluxus

Allagash Fluxus and Curieux: To celebrate a win. I wrote recently that Allagash makes some of the best special occasion beers, the Patriots winning the Super Bowl definitely counts as a special occasion worthy of a great beer!

Enjoy the game and GO PATS!