Category Archives: Beer Review

Mystic Voltage and Echo

It is no longer news when a brewery starts canning their beers, in fact I’m struggling to think of any Massachusetts breweries with a significant distribution footprint that don’t can. One of the last hold-outs was Mystic Brewing in Chelsea. For years Mystic brewed a lineup dominated by flavorful saisons and other Belgian styles, mostly distributed in large format bottles. Many of these beers are stellar, but unfortunately almost all of the buzz (and the sales that go along with it) is focused on hop-bomb IPAs. Mystic’s lineup has slowly incorporated hoppy beers over the last year or so. They started with a rotating selection of brewery-only DIPAs and now they’ve revamped their brand by producing cans of a number of these hop-forward offerings. I really wish a brewery could thrive making entirely Belgian styles, but hopefully this change will lead some hop heads to branch out and enjoy some beer styles outside of their comfort zone. I also hope that Mystic still sticks with some of their classics, even if it’s on a rotating or limited release schedule. I guess we’ll see how this all shakes out. I was able to try a number of Mystic’s new beers including their NEIPA Voltage and Echo, which is called a session IPA on the can but seems to be a hoppy saison. Both beers are available on a rotating basis on draft and in 16 oz tallboy cans.

Mystic VoltageMystic Voltage pours hazy light yellow with a solid white head. The scent is a huge burst of fruity New World hops. The hops also dominate the flavor, notes of mango, grapefruit, peach and tangerine along with a mild bitter bite. This is complemented by a light malt backbone, hints of bread dough and crackers. Voltage is medium bodied and very easy to drink but solidly boozy at 7.0% ABV. The finish is crisp and smooth with lingering hop flavor that keeps you coming back for more. This is a top notch IPA, not a straight juice-bomb but plenty of the fruity hops that have become so popular. This will quickly become a go-to IPA for me, just a delicious beer. Highly recommended.  Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Mystic EchoMystic Echo pours slightly hazy bright yellow with a full white head. The aroma is a mixture of fruity and floral hops with expressive Belgian style yeast. These two elements lead the flavor as well. The hops add notes of orange, spruce and herbs with just a little bitterness. The yeast contributes hints of apple, apricot and peppercorn. Touches of wheat bread and cereal from the malts round out the flavor. Echo is light and super drinkable, very much a session beer at 4.3% ABV. The finish is crisp and dry with lingering hop and yeast flavors. I am a big fan of mixing late hops with expressive Belgian style yeasts, and this is a solid version of the style. Mystic is so good at building beers around these strains of yeast, I hope to see more hoppy saisons in their future releases. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Mystic Reviews:

Mystic Kanzu, Mystic Sauvignon Blanc Barrel SaisonMystic Vinland 4Mystic De Varenne, Mystic India Wharf Pale Ale, BREWERY OVERVIEW, Mystic Flor ZMystic Melissa, Mystic DescendantMystic Vinland ThreeMystic Brewery visit and Day of Doom, Mystic Hazy Jane, Mystic Mary of the Gael, Mystic Vinland Two, Mystic Table Beer

 

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Spencer Monk’s Reserve Quadruple

When Spencer Brewery was introduced as the first the first American Trappist brewery I had dreams of a constant supply of traditional Abbey style ales from a local source. They started with a single beer, their Trappist Ale which is a very tasty Belgian pale, and I was intrigued when they announced they were adding a number of new beers to the lineup. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to see an IPA, imperial stout and Oktoberfest in the expanded lineup, not that the beers were bad it just wasn’t the styles I would expect from a Trappist brewery. The one beer that fit the bill (and I really enjoyed) was their Christmas ale, a delicious take on a spiced Belgian dark. I was really excited when Spencer announced that they were making a Belgian quadruple, this is one of my favorite Belgian styles and there aren’t enough quality local versions. I am hoping they follow this up with a tripel, my other favorite abbey ale. Spencer Monk’s Reserve Belgian Quadruple is available now on draft and in 11.2 oz and 750 mL bottles.

Spencer Monks ReserveSpencer Monk’s Reserve Quadruple pours deep brown with a solid creamy head. The aroma features fruity and spicy Belgian style yeast. This is a complex sipper, just what you want in a quad. There is plenty of malt flavor, notes of fig, brown sugar, molasses, raisin and just a touch of booze. The yeast adds touches of apricot, clove and peppercorn. There is minimal hop flavor, fitting the style. Monk’s Reserve is full bodied and packs some punch at 10.2% ABV, it was nice to find this is a 11.2 oz bottle because a bomber would take a while to drink. The finish is rich with lingering malt and yeast flavors. This is a really nice quad, the type of beer I’ve been looking for since Spencer became the first American Trappist brewery. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Spencer Reviews:

Spencer Festive Lager, Spencer Holiday Ale, Spencer Trappist Ale

Abandoned Building Lola’s Saison

The total number of breweries in Massachusetts has exploded over the last few years, there are now around 100 that have a physical brewery that you can visit for samples/pours/growler fills, plus a number more that contract brew. It’s honestly hard to keep track of all of them, although one great resource is the Mass Brew Bros. Bay State Breweries page (worth a bookmark for MA beer fans). I did a quick check and found that I’ve visited ~40 of the breweries at least once, a number that is far too low and I will need to amend. Fortunately more and more of these breweries have ramped up capacity to the point that they can start distribution, so I can grab cans at local stores without making trips all over the state. One brewery that I’d heard some good things about but hadn’t sampled was Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton. Abandoned Building brewer/founder Matt Tarlecki renovated a former plastic bag factory into a 15 barrel brewhouse with a  taproom and beer to go. More recently some of their cans have made their way east to finer Boston area bottle shops. I was able to procure some of Lola’s Saison, a Belgian style ale brewed with locally malted wheat and a solid dose of classic European hop varieties. Abandoned Building Lola’s Saison is available year round on draft and in 16 oz tallboy cans.

Abandoned Building Lolas SaisonAbandoned Building Lola’s Saison pours hazy light yellow with a mild white head. The aroma is led by some fruity and spicy Belgian style yeast. The flavors imparted by the yeast also come to the forefront with notes of green apple, clove and a touch of funk. There is also some old world hop flavor, floral, grassy and earthy, that complements the yeast strain well. Some light malts round out the flavor with touches of crackers and wheat bread. Lola’s Saison is very light and easy to drink, sessionable at 5.0% ABV. The finish is bone dry with some lingering yeast and hop flavor. This is a really nice beer, a smooth every day type of saison. I look forward to trying more of Abandoned Building’s offerings in the near future! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Bog Iron Campout Mild

English mild ales are a style that never really caught on with American beer drinkers, or at least they haven’t yet and I am not holding my breath waiting for that to change. Mild ales are a version of the English brown ale that keeps the malt forward profile but has a lighter body and lower alcohol. Most American beer drinkers are obsessed with extremes, IPAs with huge doses of hops, aggressive sours and high gravity imperial stouts dominate the marketplace and the crowd-sourced beer rankings. As the weather turns cooler I like to mix in a heavy rotation of malt forward beers, but there are many occasions that call for a lower alcohol beverage. While American brewers make plenty of session IPAs and light lagers, there are very few low ABV malt forward beers. A very good option that fits into this category is Campout Mild from Bog Iron Brewing. I’m pretty sure Campout Mild is the only regularly produced local version of an English mild, feel free to correct me if you know another. It is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 500 mL bottles.

Bog Iron Campout MildBog Iron Campout Mild pours cola brown with a minimal white head. The aroma is full of toasted and roasted malts. The flavor is malt forward, notes of toffee, chocolate and bread crust. This is complemented by just a hint of earthy hops. Campout Mild is very light and easy to drink, super sessionable at 3.5% ABV. The finish is clean with a little lingering malt flavor. This style is never going to get the buzz of hop-bomb IPAs but sometimes it’s nice to have a full-flavored malt forward beer that isn’t going to put you under the table, and Campout Mild definitely fits the bill. I would love to try this beer on cask some time. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Bog Iron Reviews:

Bog Iron Drawing a Blank and Fancy French Name, Bog Iron Devil’s FootprintBog Iron Jump Back, Bog Iron Ryezing Son, Bog Iron Middle ChildBog Iron Stinger IPABog Iron One Down Robust Porter

Otter Creek Oktoberfest

Seasonal beers played a major role in my transition from macro lagers to more flavorful beer, I loved how certain beer styles fit perfectly with the seasons. One of my favorites has always beer the marzen/Oktoberfest, the rich malt flavors pair perfectly with crisp fall weather. One criticism of many American Oktoberfest beers was that they could be overdone, cloyingly sweet and overly boozy. These characteristics cut down on the drinkability of a beer style meant to be enjoyed in large steins. Recently you’ve seen these complaints addressed by some breweries, and a few have even reached out to breweries in Germany to collaborate on their fall seasonal brews. One great example of this is the new Oktoberfest from Otter Creek Brewing Company, brewed in collaboration with Camba Barvaria, a brewery from just outside of Munich. Otter Creek Oktoberfest is brewed with German malts and a solid dose of traditional noble hops, and is available for a limited time on draft and in 12 oz bottles.

Otter Creek OktoberfestOtter Creek Oktoberfest pours clear light yellow with a small white head. The scent is mild, just a little toasted malt. The beer is very malt forward, notes of bread dough, caramel and roasted barley but with minimal residual sweetness. There is some hop character here too, floral, herbal, earthy and spicy. Oktoberfest has a medium body, drinks very easy and isn’t too boozy at 5.5% ABV. There is a crisp and clean lager finish with a very light aftertaste. I really like these American/German collaborations on the marzen style. This beer has the malt flavor you want in the style along with the drinkability you love from lager beers. Grab some before it’s gone! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Previous Otter Creek Reviews:

Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout, Otter Creek Couch SurferJack’s Abby/Otter Creek Joint CustodyOtter Creek Backseat BernerOtter Creek/Lawson’s Finest Liquids Double DoseOtter Creek Fresh Slice, Otter Creek Citra Mantra, Otter Creek Kind Ryed

 

Lone Pine Brightside IPA and Oh-J DIPA

The beer scene in Portland, Maine is insane, both in the sheer quantity of breweries for a small city and for the  high quality of the beer being brewed. Portland has a wide range from stalwarts like Allagash to buzzy upstarts like Bissell Brothers and Foundation. The popularity of these breweries has made Portland into a destination beer city for beer fans from around the world, and this had led to even more new breweries opening up shop. One newer addition that has started to build significant buzz is Lone Pine Brewing Company. Lone Pine makes a variety of beers with a focus on IPAs that showcase new world hop varieties. I was able to stop at Lone Pine  on a recent trip north and I grabbed a selection of cans to go. The brewery features a small tasting room with indoor and outdoor seating, and it’s an easy stop off of I-295 if you are driving through the city on your way north or south. Among the beers I grabbed was their flagship IPA Brightside and one of their double IPAs named Oh-J, which uses citrus forward hops to give the beer it’s distinctive juicy flavor and aroma. Both beers are available on a regular basis on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.

Lone Pine Brightside IPALone Pine Brightside IPA pours slightly hazy light orange with a solid white head. The scent is a big burst of fruity hops that makes you want to dive right in. The flavor is also very hop forward, notes of tangerine, guava and melon along with a little bitter bite. This is complemented by a mild malt backbone, hints of crackers and bread crust. Brightside is light bodied and has the smooth drinkability you look for in a NEIPA, but it packs a little punch at 7.1% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor that keeps you coming back for more. This is a stellar IPA, well crafted with huge hop flavor. It has a little more bitterness than some NEIPAs, but I would still put it into that sub-style. Brightside guarantees that Lone Pine will become a regular stop on trips to Maine, it is on par with any Maine IPA I’ve sampled. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Lone Pine Oh-JLone Pine Oh-J pours slightly hazy light yellow with a large white head. The scent gives you a huge whiff of citrus and tropical fruit from the hops. These fruity hops lead the flavor too, notes of orange candy, lemon and peach but minimal bitterness. There is also solid malt flavor, touches of bread dough, honey and a little residual sweetness, although I’m not sure if it’s from the malt, the booze or the fruity hops (probably some combination of the three). Oh-J is medium bodied and drinks very easy for a DIPA, especially for a beer with 8.1% ABV. The finish is somewhat crisp with some lingering hops. I’ve heard lots of buzz for this beer and I understand why people like it, although that sweet flavor was a slight minus for me (personal preference). Still worth a shot for fans of New England style DIPAs. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Bissell Brothers Pine Tree Agronomics

I am a huge fan of Bissell Brothers Brewing in Portland, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad beer from there and everyone from the brewery has always been awesome, back to the early days on Industrial Way. I’m clearly not the only Bissell fan, even with the increased capacity enabled by the opening of their new brewery that place is a madhouse for can releases, especially in the summer during peak tourist season. Last summer I stopped on the way home from a family visit and waited in line for well over an hour for cans, not an easy sell when traveling with family. For that reason I skipped Bissell on both Maine trips this summer, opting for other breweries that wouldn’t have the wait. Fortunately I had to come north for a wedding a couple weeks ago, and I was travelling solo on a Friday mid-day, so I made a noontime stop at Bissell Brothers. In less than 15 minutes I was loaded with cans on their flagship IPA The Substance and a new release, Pine Tree Agronomics. Bissell Brothers Pine Tree Agronomics is an IPA brewed with 100% Maine products, malt, oats, wheat, Cascade and Nugget hops, and even Maine maple syrup. It is available on a limited basis on draft and in 16 oz cans.

Bissell Brothers Pine Tree AgronomicsBissell Brothers Pine Tree Agronomics pours murky light orange with a solid white head. The aroma is solidly hoppy, but more floral and pine then fruity. The hops also lead the flavor, notes of resin, spruce, herbs and grapefruit along with a solid bitter bite. This has the hazy appearance of a NEIPA but drinks more like a West Coast IPA. There is a solid malt backbone too, hints of bread crust, cereal and just the faintest hint of maple. Pine Tree Agronomics has a medium body and packs a little punch at 7.5% ABV. The finish is crisp with a lasting hop flavor that keeps you coming back for more. At first I was a little thrown off by this beer, it isn’t what I expected from a Bissell Brothers beer, but after getting over the initial surprise I really enjoyed Pine Tree Agronomics. Great to have some Bissell Brothers beer in the fridge and I hope to make another stop when I am in Maine in November. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Bissell Brothers Reviews:

Bissell Brothers Seed, Bissell Brothers The Substance