Category Archives: Head to Head Beer Review

H2H Beer Review: Hoppy Lager, Sierra Nevada Beer Camp vs. Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union

Hoppy Lager SN vs JA

Many craft brewers are starting to brew lagers now, accepting that the longer fermentation times are worthwhile to add diversity to the styles of beer they can make. Budweiser apparently missed this fact when they made their Super Bowl ad, which seemed to assume that all craft beer was ale (amongst many other untrue assumptions). It’s no surprise that one of the most popular types of American lagers are beers brewed with large doses of aromatic and flavorful hops. Called India pale lagers or just hoppy lagers, these beers are a truly American creation. When done correctly the clean fermentation leads to a crisp and refreshing beer that highlights the pungent aromas and diverse flavor profiles of the selected hop varieties.

The Competitors: Beer Camp Hoppy Lager, the new spring seasonal from national powerhouse Sierra Nevada and Hoponius Union, one of the flagship lagers from local stalwart Jack’s Abby Brewing.

Sierra Nevada celebrated their touring Beer Camp festival series this summer with a 12 pack of collaboration beers they brewed with brewers from all over the country. One of these beers was a hop-forward lager they brewed with Ballast Point. For their new spring release Sierra Nevada tweaked this recipe for a slightly different take on the hoppy lager style. Jack’s Abby has been a lager-only brewery from the beginning, but they frequently venture outside the boundaries of traditional European lager styles. Hoponius Union is one of their most well known and popular beers, hoppy enough for any IPA fan but with a clean profile due to the cold fermentation with lager yeast. I thought it would be fun to compare the new offering from one of the most popular national breweries to a local favorite in this head-to-head review.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Hoppy Lager

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Hoppy Lager pours straw yellow with a moderate white head, and the scent packs a solid punch of floral and dank hops. The hops lead the flavor, notes of grass, pine and lemon. This is balanced by some mild malts that offset the subtle bitter punch. The beer is clearly a lager, crisp and clean with a very smooth finish. Overall this is a really good beer, tons of hop flavor and aroma in a easy to drink lager.

Jack's Abby Hoponius Union

Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union pours slightly darker, a more full orange, with a mild with head. The first thing you notice about this beer is the huge burst of hops in the aroma, floral with a hit of citrus fruit. The flavor is also hop forward but a little more fruity, touches of grapefruit, mango, tangerine and resin. There is some malt balance here, but this beer is clearly a vehicle to highlight the hops. The bitterness in Hoponius Union is a little stronger than Beer Camp, much closer to IPA level. While it has many of the characteristics of a well-made IPA, this is also clearly a lager, there are no yeasty esters involved and the finish is pristine. Jack’s Abby are truly masters of lager beer, and this is one of my personal favorites amongst their selections.

The Verdict: Despite making some of the best beers in the country, Sierra Nevada can get overlooked by beer geeks because they don’t have many hard to find “unicorn beers”. The thing they excel at is consistency, and Beer Camp Hoppy Lager fits seamlessly into their portfolio of well crafted and delicious selections. As much as I liked this beer, it wasn’t quite as good as Hoponius Union, one of my favorite local beers regardless of style. I’ll give Jack’s Abby the win, but both beers are definitely worth a shot.

Previous Sierra Nevada Reviews: Sierra Nevada Snow PackSierra Nevada Celebration

Previous Jack’s Abby Reviews: Jack’s Abby Barrel-Aged FraminghammerJack’s Abby Bride MakerJack’s Abby Brewery/Hopstitution BAMJack’s Abby Copper LegendJack’s Abby Session Rye IPL, Jack’s Abby Mass RisingJack’s Abby/Evil Twin Jack’s Evil BrewJack’s Abby Wet Hop LagerJack’s Abby Pro-Am Pilsner


H2H Beer Review: Porter, Henniker Working Man’s Porter vs. Smuttynose Robust Porter

When I review beers for this blog I try to cover breweries from all over New England, although beers that are distributed to the Boston area tend to be the focus for practical reasons. With all of the renowned breweries in Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont it is easy to occasionally overlook the brewing scene in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has a few grizzled veterans that have been producing great beer for years, and a strong cast of up-and-coming breweries. Unfortunately many of the newer breweries don’t distribute out of state, so I can’t taste their beer without taking a road-trip. Note to self, plan a New Hampshire brewery road-trip this spring. One brewery that has started to distribute to MA relatively recently (I think, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) is Henniker Brewing Company in Henniker, New Hampshire. Since I haven’t had the pleasure of sampling many of Henniker’s offerings I though it would be fun to compare one of their beers to a similar style produced by Smuttynose, the most well known brewery in the Granite State.

The Competitors: The classic-for-a-reason Robust Porter from Smuttynose Brewing Company and the new-to-me Working Man’s Porter from Henniker Brewing Company.

I have long stated that porter is one of my favorite beer styles, especially in the winter months. A well made porter features rich, dark, malty flavors that are perfect for cold weather and subtle hop additions that balance the beer out. While many people sampling their first beers from an unfamiliar brewery would gravitate right to the IPAs (and I admit to doing the same on occasion), I thought it would be fun to start with Henniker’s Working Man’s Porter. This also gave me a good excuse to buy some more Smuttynose Robust Porter, one of my favorite local takes on the style. It’s a very high bar to set for Henniker, but I think every new brewery wants to be compared to the best.

Henniker Working Man's PorterHenniker Working Man’s Porter pours a cola brown with a pillowy tan head. The smell is roasty dark malts, not strong but noticeable. The taste is solidly malty, with plenty of coffee and a little chocolate, toffee and toast. There is also substantial hop character in this porter, earthy and floral flavors with a kick of mouth-drying bitterness. Working Man’s Porter is medium bodied and at 5.2% ABV is on the light side alcohol-wise. Overall this is a really solid beer, lots of malt flavor with a big (for the style) kick of hops.

Smuttynose Robust PorterSmuttynose Robust Porter pours an almost identical brown color, it would be difficult to distinguish the beers by sight alone. The malty/roasty smell is a little stronger here, as are the rich dark malt flavors. Significant mocha, milk chocolate and molasses dominate the flavor along with just a touch of sweetness. The hop flavor is more muted in the Robust Porter, you get a little kick in the end but not as strong. The other difference is in the body, Robust Porter had a fuller mouthfeel overall compared to Working Man’s Porter. At 6.2% ABV this isn’t a boozy beer, but it’s not a session beer either. There is a reason that this beer is a classic, it has tons of flavor while still being well balanced.

The Verdict: I noted that Smuttynose Robust Porter was one of my favorite local takes on the style, so I am really impressed at how tough a decision Henniker made this. Overall I would buy one over the other based on my mood, if I wanted a hoppier, drier porter I would go with Henniker, while Smuttynose is better if I’m in the mood for full malt flavor and body. Since I have to pick one as my “favorite” (based on arbitrary rules I made up myself), I’ll go with Smuttynose by a whisker, but I recommend trying both of these.

Previous Smuttynose Reviews: Smuttynose S’muttonator DopplebockSmuttynose Vunderbar PilsnerSmuttynose Bouncyhouse IPA, Smuttynose Durty Brown AleSmuttynose Finest Kind IPA



H2H Beer Review: DIPA, Grey Sail Captain’s Daughter vs. Baxter Bootleg Fireworks

IPAs are big business for craft breweries. Beers falling under the IPA umbrella easily outpace other styles in volume of sales. American beer drinkers love the bold hoppy flavors and tongue numbing bitterness, pushing brewers to produce beers with ever climbing IBU and ABV numbers. There are very few breweries that don’t brew a flagship IPA, and many also make big and boozy double IPAs. A great DIPA can put your brewery on the map in the increasingly competitive market (just ask the Alchemist or Russian River), so it is no surprise that newer breweries work hard to perfect and then market their DIPAs. I recently picked up a couple of new and highly recommended DIPAs, sampled both and thought they would be perfect for a head-to-head beer review.

The Competitors: Two relatively new releases in the double IPA catagory, Captain’s Daughter from Grey Sail Brewing and Bootleg Fireworks from Baxter Brewing Company.

Grey Sail Brewing and Baxter Brewing Company actually have a lot in common outside of their locations (Grey Sail is headquartered in Rhode Island while Baxter is in Maine). Both breweries were founded in the last few years, long enough to gain a loyal local following but still new enough to be unfamiliar to many. Both breweries also predominantly can their beer for distribution, including the beers reviewed here (Grey Sail bottles a few special releases, Baxter only cans). I have enjoyed a number of selections from each brewery, enough so that I seek out anything new they release. Here is how these beers stack up:

Grey Sail Captain's DaughterA 12 oz. can of Grey Sail Captain’s Daughter pours a cloudy deep amber-orange with a moderate white head and some nice lacing on the glass. the hops dominate the smell, deep resin along with a little fruitiness. The hops are also the predominant flavor, a little more citrus and tropical fruit in the flavor than on the nose. There is significant bitterness balanced by a noticeable full malt backbone. The beer is full bodied and you get a little alcoholic sweetness followed by a dry finish. This is a very good beer for the winter months, the full flavor and 8.5% ABV will help keep you warm during a cold snap.

Baxter Bootleg FireworksBaxter Bootleg Fireworks comes in 16 oz. tallboy cans, pouring a lighter yellow with a massive white head. This is also hop forward, strong scents of pine and citrus on the nose. As expected Bootleg Fireworks is another hop-bomb, notes of lemon, grapefruit and orange along with floral and earthy touches. The maltiness is a little more subdued here, but the bitterness is not, this beer numbs the tongue a bit. Despite the aggressive hop flavor the beer is remarkably drinkable, even at 9.0% ABV you don’t get a hint of booze. This is a beer for the true hop lover, the flavors really shine through.

The Verdict: When I do a H2H review of two beers that I have enjoyed previously I know it will be tough to pick a favorite. It was a pleasant surprise to have the same issue with two beers that were completely new to me! Both of these beers are worth picking up if you enjoy hop forward selections. If you prefer a little more body and a touch of boozy sweetness to balance out the aggressive hops you will probably love the Grey Sail Captain’s Daughter. Personally I enjoyed the Baxter Bootleg Fireworks just a hair more as it was slightly easier to drink and the combination of hop varieties was perfect for my palate. Baxter Bootleg Fireworks gets the win here.

Previous Grey Sail Reviews: Grey Sail Leaning Chimney Smoked Porter

Previous Baxter Reviews: Baxter TarnationBaxter Phantom Punch Stout

H2H beer review: Saison, Trillium Farmhouse vs. Allagash Saison

As promised, here is my first head-to-head beer review. This was originally going to be my first Gourmandatory article, and I am posting it here more as a preview of the format. I realize that I have already reviewed both of these beers individually on Hoppy Boston, but I still thought this was worth posting. In the future I will probably have less general information on the style, this was initially aimed towards a more general crowd, while many of the readers of this blog are connoisseurs. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

The Competitors: My first head-to-head beer review involves two local takes on the Belgian saison style, Allagash Saison versus Trillium Farmhouse Ale.

The saison style started in farmhouses in Belgium and France where the beer was brewed for the farm workers. The lack of a single origin resulted in a huge variation of flavor profiles that all fit under the saison umbrella. A wide variety of malts, specialty grains and hops can be used in the brewing process. The one consistent feature is the Belgian style yeast, which adds subtle spicy and fruity flavors to the beer. I think this lack of style-related constraints is one of the main reasons American craft brewers have embraced the saison style. Some American saisons have been brewed with the addition of dark malts, an array of spices and adjuncts, or large amounts of American hops. When done correctly the citrus and tropical fruit flavors of American hops perfectly complement the fruity flavors derived from the yeast.

Allagash SaisonAllagash Brewing Company was one of the first US breweries to focus on producing Belgian style ales. Located in Portland, Maine, their current lineup includes a series of Belgian and Abbey style beers along with limited edition barrel aged brews. This year Allagash introduced their saison as the first new addition to their year-round lineup in years. Allagash Saison is a very traditional take on the style. It pours a very light yellow and the smell is dominated by the fruity and spicy esters produced by their expressive Belgian style ale yeast. The yeast is also at the forefront of the flavor, notes of apricot, apple and pepper. You get a little malt and enough hops to balance the beer out, but this isn’t a hoppy beer. Allagash Saison is light and easy to drink, the perfect beer for a warm summer evening. If you like the flavor of European saisons I highly recommend this beer, it holds up against any traditional saison I’ve tasted.

Trillium FarmhouseWhile Allagash is one of the old guard New England breweries, Trillium is an upstart, brewing small batches of beer in the Fort Point neighborhood of Boston since 2013. They have quickly gained a devout following. When Trillium releases a limited edition beer you can expect a line around the block at the brewery. Trillium’s flagship beer is their eponymous Farmhouse Ale. Trillium Farmhouse Ale pours a pale gold, slightly darker than the Allagash Saison. The smell also contains the spice and fruit of Belgian yeast, but in this case it’s mixed with a solid burst of floral American hops. The hops are also present in the taste, with pine and earthy flavors mingling with the pear and peppercorn from the yeast to give a complex but delicious flavor profile. Trillium Farmhouse is also very drinkable, light enough for a hot summer day, but substantial enough to drink year round.

The Verdict:  I picked two of my favorite saisons for the first head-to-head beer review, which doesn’t make it easy to name a favorite. These beers are very different takes on the style, but both are exceptional and highly recommended. While Allagash is a nearly perfect example of a classic Belgian saison, I love the use of hops in the Trillium Farmhouse, as they add an extra level of complexity to the flavor. Based on this I’ll give Trillium Farmhouse Ale the slightest of edges in this head-to-head beer review.