Category Archives: Opinion

Cross-blog: Short Brews Question #1

This is a new type of article for Hoppy Boston, where I’ll pose a question and provide my answer as well as the answer of another beer writer. For the first question I’ve enlisted the help of beer blogger Thomas Short from ShortBrews.com. We are planning to make this a series, so feel free to pass along potential questions of give your own take in the comments or on social media. While you are at it, give Short Brews a like on facebook or a follow on twitter @short_brews. Hope you enjoy and let me know what you think of the new article style

What is an under-rated/underappreciated beer style that you really enjoy?

Allagash SaisonRyan (HoppyBoston.com): I proposed this question and had an answer in mind before I asked it. My favorite under appreciated style is definitely the saison. I understand why some people shy away from the style, I wasn’t a fan of the flavors imparted by Belgian yeasts when I first started drinking craft beer and it took a while for me to come around, but now saisons are one of my favorite beer styles. The yeast is the key to a great saison, the expressive Belgian and French saison strains can add a whole host of flavors, fruity, spicy, funky even a little sour, or some combination. After that the style is pretty wide open. The saison style started in farmhouses across Belgium and France, the beers were brewed for the farm workers, so the malt and hop bills can cover a wide range. This gives a brewer a lot of latitude as they design their beer, and American breweries have taken advantage. I’ve tasted saisons as dark as a stout or as hoppy as an IPA. My personal favorite twist on the style mixes late doses of fruity new world hops with the expressive yeast. For a while I thought hoppy saisons would be the “next IPA”, but it didn’t really happen (FWIW, there is no “next IPA”, I don’t think any beer style will hit that height of popularity). So if you haven’t given saisons a try in a while I highly recommend putting down the hop bomb IPA and boozy imperial stout and trying some Belgian ales. If you need some recommendations I am happy to help!

Aeronaut Robot Crush

Thomas (ShortBrews.com) The only answer I can give is the classic pilsner. Anyone who has been reading ShortBrews lately knows that I’ve been on a big lager kick, and I feel like some people might have gotten the impression that I don’t like lagers which is not the case. I don’t like many lagers, but I love a good pilsner – specifically Czech-style since pilsners hail from Plzen, modern-day Czech Republic. It’s a perfect lighter beer (not to be confused with “light” or “lite”), but it doesn’t lack in flavor. The crispness is perfect for the fall, the same season when I fell in love with pilsners when I (here come the name drops) went to Prague after enjoying pilsners at Oktoberfest. They should have a nice, golden color, a crisp feel, and just enough malt to complement the hop flavor. As the leaves change and the air cools, I highly recommend drinking a nice pilsner with your football. For a ready-to-go pilsner, check out Pilsner Urquell or your local German-style beer hall. Europe does these right!

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Should Beer Writers be Critics or Cheerleaders?

I recently read an interesting article by Jeff Alworth on the beervana blog, he has decided to make a conscientious effort to write about beer and breweries that have disappointed him. He isn’t talking about being a critic for critics sake (or being one of the yahoos who love to write negative reviews of Bud Light on Untappd), but instead offering constructive criticism of breweries that are doing some things right but have significant room to improve. This can be a difficult task for beer writers, it’s fun to write about the great beers you sample, especially when you find a new favorite that hasn’t become a target of beer snob hype yet. Writing about bad/mediocre beer is tougher, most craft breweries are small businesses that are run by passionate people who care deeply about their brand and their beer, and articles that paint their product in a bad light can be damaging to their business. As more breweries open there is more great beer, but there is also more mediocre or inconsistent beer, which leads to the question, should beer writers just focus on praising great beers or also call out beers that fall short?

August 2017 lineupThis article brought me back to a conversation that I had with a friend who is also a regular reader of this blog. He pointed out that the vast majority of the beers I review are 4.0-5.0 on my five point scale. Weren’t there beers that I disliked? I had a multi-part response to this. First, most of the beers I sample with the intent on reviewing fall between solid and great. I get plenty of info from other writers and beer enthusiasts before I do stock-up runs, so I feel confident that many of the beers I buy will be tasty. I also go out on a limb and try random beers, and sometimes I do find beers that I dislike or that have distinct off-flavors. In most cases I decline to review those beers. I would guess that I have around 1-2 beers a month that I buy with the intent of writing a review and then don’t ever write up for one reason or another. Some of these beers were simply past peak freshness when I drink them, others were oxidized or have other off flavors, and many were just mediocre.

The purpose of this blog has always been to find amazing local beers, especially beers that don’t involve online trading or waiting in crazy lines, and recommending these beers to my readers. I want Hoppy Boston to be an index of the best beers that New England has to offer. I understand that there is value in writing about beers I disliked too, and it has been a struggle making the decision to focus on beers I enjoyed instead of being critical. In the first few months of the blog I wrote a terrible review of an IPA only to sample it later and realize that the first beer was just well out of date. I felt really bad about the initial review, and from there decided to really focus on writing about the beers I enjoyed. FWIW, I later returned to the store where I bought the offending beer, they had a year old seasonal beer on display (the season was correct, but the labels had changed from the previous year). I stopped shopping at that store immediately.

It’s easy to forget that the concept of beer writing is relatively new, especially compared to writing about food or wine. Early beer writers where educators and salespeople, expounding on the merits of better beer because so many people didn’t even realize that non-macro options existed. Things have changed drastically over the last decade. When I moved to Boston after college it was rare to find a bar that had extensive craft options. You’d see plenty of Sam Adams and Harpoon, but any bar that carried Sierra Nevada, Allagash or Long Trail would be considered a “beer bar”. Now you can walk into almost any bar in the city and see a variety of styles and multiple local options. Many dives and cookie cutter chains carry multiple IPAs. Big beer and their crafty offshoots still dominate marketshare, but I don’t think there are many people who are unaware that craft beer is an option. That being said, I think there is still value in extolling the virtues of great beer, the number one reason I started following beer blogs was to find out about delicious beers I wanted to try.

Watch City Rescue One KolschThere is also a place for beer criticism. Constructive criticism can also be a positive for breweries, especially brewers who are willing to hear the criticism and use it as an impetus to improve their product. The beer field is getting more and more competitive, places that make inconsistent or mediocre beer are going to start to fail as more and more top notch breweries reach the market, expand production and hone their craft. I’ve seen a few examples where local breweries have responded well to early criticism and it’s been a boon to their businesses. I’ve also seem breweries that have refused to change and have either gone out of business or been forced to sell.

So what is the answer to the question I posed in the beginning of the article? Should beer writers be cheerleaders or critics? Like IPAs, stouts and pilsners, I think there is room for all varieties of beer writing. I am going to continue to focus my beer reviews on brews I enjoyed, that has always been the point of this blog and it’s what I like writing about. That being said, I think it is important for more of the talented writers in the beer community to mix in some constructive criticism. Any short term losses that a brewery faces after a negative article could be quickly recouped if they fix the noted problems and make consistently better beer. From there I’ll pass it to the readers: what is your opinion? Do you prefer to read praises of great beers or criticism of poor ones? Let me know your opinions here or on social media!

Thoughts on the changes at Geary’s

Over the last few weeks there have been a number of articles chronicling the ongoing changes at Geary’s Brewing Company, the oldest brewery in Maine. First it was announced that founder David Geary was selling the brewery to Freeport businessman Alan Lapoint. Jason Notte noted that Geary’s had to lay off some long time employees as part of this transition, and that they would have gone bankrupt without the intervention. The new owner seems optimistic and has a plan to turn around the brewery, which has seen sales decline over the last few years.

Geary's HSAUnfortunately this news isn’t very surprising. When Geary’s launched in 1983 their classic takes on flavorful British ales stood out in a market dominated by light lagers. Their immediately recognizable lobster logo was great marketing in the tourist towns along the Maine coast. I grew up working in a family-run specialty grocery store and Geary’s beers flew off the shelves, especially in the summer months. In those days the number of Maine breweries were limited, and sales were good. In the last few years the Maine beer scene has exploded and competition for shelf space and sales dollars has become fierce.

While competition is a major factor in the decline in Geary’s sales there are also other factors. The biggest one was Geary’s stubborn resistance to change. While their new competitors were gaining accolades with hop-forward beers that showcased New World hop varieties, Geary’s kept brewing their same stable of classic English ales. While there is something to be said for sticking to your brand and not chasing every trend, not adapting at all to changing tastes can be disastrous for a brewery. They also took a long time to open a taproom even as it’s become clear that direct sales are extremely important for a profitable modern brewery.  It looks like new ownership is taking these challenges seriously. They have a taproom open and they are brewing many new beers, including some hoppy American ales. There are a number of recent examples of breweries successfully refreshing their brands, it will be interesting to see if Geary’s uses these success stories as a model.

Gearys London PorterI want Geary’s to succeed. Every beer geek has a few beers that helped lead them from macro lagers to better beer. They may not be your favorite beers anymore, but these beers were an important step in the transition from keg parties to beer appreciation. Geary’s Pale Ale was definitely one of these beers for me. I drank more than a few during my years at Bowdoin, and have enjoyed more since. I am still a big fan of HSA and London Porter. These two styles that aren’t in as high demand as IPAs, imperial stouts and sours, but they are well crafted and tasty. I think there can still be a market for some of these under-appreciated styles, but they can’t be all that you brew. Hopefully the new ownership finds a nice balance between tradition and innovation and we can all enjoy a new era of Geary’s beer.

Every Beek Geek Should Do Blind Tastings

On a Saturday afternoon in late March I gathered in the tasting room at Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont with a group of local beer enthusiasts to do a blind tasting of local stouts. This tasting was organized by the Mass Brew Brothers, and was the second in a series of tastings sampling a particular style of local beers. The first highlighted New England style IPAs and ended with some surprising results where some less heralded beers held there own against a few of the heavy weights of the local beer scene. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend that tasting, I was planning to and then I got sick, so I was excited to make up for it by tasting some stouts. I have been a big proponent of blind tasting, but haven’t participated in anything this organized and comprehensive before.

All of the beers we tasted were from Massachusetts, and they were all non-imperial (8% ABV or less) and non-barrel aged stouts. A few had adjunct ingredients, but the idea was to focus on standard dry, sweet and oatmeal stouts. You can read a full run down of the event and results on the Mass Brew Bros website HERE, but I thought I would pass along a few thoughts of my own. First and foremost, it was difficult to judge these beers. A couple had defined off flavors or quality control issues, but the rest were tasty and fit well into the flavor profile you would expect from a stout. None of the three rounds had a unanimous winner, and in the final all three beers had votes for best beer of the group. My personal favorite ended up being the Oatmeal Stout from Mayflower, it had great body and the rich roasted malt flavor I love from a quality stout. I thought Idle Hands Check Raise was in a virtual tie, and wasn’t surprised it won. The biggest disparity in opinions was around Bennington from Night Shift, which had the most obvious addition of adjunct ingredients. It was a great day tasting amazing beers and chatting with other enthusiasts and I can’t wait to do another blind tasting.

Mayflower Oatmeal stoutHere are a few reasons why I think everyone who is passionate about beer should try to do an occasional blind tasting:

  1. Tasting blind removes any preconceptions.  We all have breweries that we have enjoyed in the past and others that we tend to avoid. Sometimes a brewery that disappointed you before has made strides and you’ll find that you actually really enjoy one of their beers. On the other hand sometimes a brewery that people wait in line for has some beers that are no better than offerings you can find at any local bottle shop.
  2. It forces you to think about what you are drinking. It’s easy to crack a beer take a few swigs and decide that you enjoy it. Having to taste a series of similar beers makes you think about the characteristics that lead you to enjoy beers in that style. What makes one beer preferable to another? Even if you have no desire to drink that critically on a regular basis it’s interesting to go through the process on occasion.
  3. You might discover new beers or breweries. There were a number of beers in this panel that I’d never tasted before, including a few that I really enjoyed. I was reminded how much I like Mayflower Oatmeal Stout and I will definitely seek out Idle Hands Check Raise again. Another good beer that just missed the finals was Sam Adams Cream Stout, a quality offering from a brewery that takes a significant amount of flak from some beer geeks.
  4. It’s fun to chat about beer with others who are passionate about it. While the tasting was fun, it was even more interesting hearing what the other panelists thought about the beers, and chatting with them about everything that is happening in the local beer scene. We had tasters from very different backgrounds and it led to some diverse opinions.

You don’t need to go to great lengths to do a blind tasting, get a group of friends who like beer, a few bottles/cans of a selection of beers of a similar style, and put one person in charge of pouring and keeping track of which beers are in each round. I think everyone will learn a lot and have a good time (and feel free to invite your favorite local beer blogger too). If you do give blind tasting a try please let me know how it goes!

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!

Best of Hoppy Boston 2016

Now that the calendar has turned to 2017 I thought it would be fun to do a recap of some of my favorite and/or most popular articles of the year, along with a rundown of some of the best beers I reviewed this year. It was a crazy year personally with buying a house, changing jobs and moving to the suburbs, I even needed to take a month-long hiatus from the blog, but I am still having a blast writing about local beer and chatting with other beer enthusiasts. Here are a few of the top posts from 2016:

The most read non-review article of 2016 was Hoppy Boston’s House Beers, a list of the beers I try to keep in my fridge at all times. I love this concept, it’s fun to try new things but I try to keep a seasonally relevant stash of staple beers on hand too.

A close runner up was my thoughts on the Craft Beer Cellar Blacklist. This was one of the biggest local beer stories this year, and more details continue to come out.

Close behind, and one of the most bittersweet articles I wrote, was my Definitive Ranking of Pretty Things Beers. I really miss this brewery and it was fun to do an overview of their beers, even though I wrote it knowing I wouldn’t enjoy many of them again.

Bog Iron Devil's FootprintThe most read beer review of the year was Bog Iron Devil’s Footprint, their braggot aged in Mezcal barrels. In addition to being a unique beer, this was the first beer that Bog Iron bottled, so there was clearly a lot of interest.

I drank and reviewed a number of amazing beers this year, but a few of my favorites (in no particular order include:

Trillium Melcher StMy two favorite beers from Trillium (at least of their hop forward releases) are Fort Point Pale Ale and Melcher Street IPA.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a beer from Notch Brewing that I didn’t like, but my new favorite is Infinite Jest, a sessionable hoppy wheat beer. If you haven’t visited the new taproom in Salem you really need to make the trip.

Brewmaster Jack Tennessee PrinseI love seeing more variety in barrel aged beers, beyond the ubiquitous bourbon-barrel aged imperial stouts. Two great examples are the Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale from Oxbow Brewing and Tennessee Prinse, a quadruple aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels from Brewmaster Jack.

medusa-black-ale-projectA few classic beers made the list, like Berkshire Brewing Oktoberfest and Maine Beer Company Mo. There were also a couple amazing new releases (both brewed to benefit charitable causes) that I hope aren’t one-off releases, like Medusa Brewing Black Ale Project and Ipswich Riverbend Pils.

I’m sure I missed a few, but these were all delicious beers that are highly recommended.

Looking ahead to 2017, I am planning to keep plugging away with a combination of beer reviews, news and opinion pieces on everything happening in local beer. I started writing a monthly random thoughts/links article in September that I will definitely keep up with, it’s fun to write and people seem to enjoy it (you can find them all HERE). You might have also noticed that my focus has moved almost entirely to New England beers, a trend that will continue. I realize that there are amazing beers brewed all over the country, and that local doesn’t mean great, but it is hard to keep pace with just the new breweries and beers being produced locally (and impossible nationally). My goal for this blog was to identify top notch local beers, especially one’s that are readily available, and that will continue to be my mission.

Thank you all for reading, Happy New Years, and feel free to provide any feedback/suggestions here or on social media. Just a quick reminder that you can follow Hoppy Boston on Twitter (@HoppyBoston), Facebook (facebook.com/hoppyboston) and now on Instagram (HoppyBoston). Cheers!

Random Beer Thoughts: December 2016

There have been a couple more important articles released since I published my thoughts on the Craft Beer Cellar Blacklist (if you are sick of talking/reading/thinking about this topic I understand, feel free to skip ahead, but there is clearly a lot of interest).

BostInno published an in depth and very well researched article with thoughts from the owners of CBC, the owners of some of the franchises who are unhappy with these new regulations, and the brewers affected the most by the leaked memo. Author Alex Weaver has told me that the information that has been released so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

Craft Beer Cellar published an update on the topic on their blog. This addresses some of the criticisms, and acknowledges the fact that some of their franchisees are unhappy with the changes. One thing they don’t address is who is involved in making these lists. I think that is the biggest issue, the franchise owners want a say in what beers they carry. I like that the list is constantly adapting, but I can’t imagine how any person can stay on top of every shift in the fluid local and national markets. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out and how this effects their business going forward.

Julia Herz wrote a great column on Embracing Diversity in the Beer Biz, and Brain Roth did a follow-up interview for his blog. It is amazing how much sexism still exists in the industry and I think we can all play a roll in fighting it. First, don’t buy beer from breweries that have flagrantly sexist/misogynist beer names or label art. Second, if you see someone doing/saying something inappropriate then speak up. I believe these issues are due to a relatively small group of jackasses, but one sexist comment is one-too-many.

Norm “The Beer Nut” Miller handed out his year end awards, dubbed The Golden Nutties, which is always a must-read article. One point I especially agreed with was naming Mystic Brewery the most underrated local brewery. This led to an extensive discussion on twitter amongst people who love Mystic beer and don’t understand why it hasn’t developed the crazy followings that many other local breweries seem to recieve. It is unfortunate that a brewery needs to make hop-bombs in tallboy cans in order to generate local buzz.

I would love to see Mystic follow the Allagash model, start distributing a few of their flagships in 12 oz. 4-packs (the large format only brands are in for a tough ride), and then focus their efforts on special release Belgian/wild/barrel aged styles. The Mystic brewers are as good as anyone at coaxing amazing flavors out of expressive yeast strains and building delicious beers to complement these flavors, and I think demand for these types of beers is going to rise as people move past the all-hops-all-the-time mentality.

Links:

BostInno did an enlightening interview with Castle Island co-founder Adam Romanow discussing what it’s really like to run a small brewery.

The Mass Brew Bros did an extensive overview of the year in Massachusetts beer. It has been an exciting year in the state and it looks like more great things will come in 2017!

-Speaking of 2017, Brewstuds has an article looking forward to the upcoming year in Massachusetts beer.

-The crew behind Jack’s Abby has officially opened their Springdale Barrel Room, featuring a number of beers that fall outside the typical Jack’s Abby offerings (namely plenty of ales). This has immediately jumped to the top of my must-visit list.

-The Gardner Ale House will begin distributing it’s beer soon. My wife and I got married in Gardner and have great memories of this brewpub from the many trips to the area before the ceremony.

-Jeppe from Evil Twin did a series of memes poking fun at a beer reviewer on Untappd who trashed his beer for having diacetyl, but didn’t know how to spell “diacetyl”. Someone of twitter accused him of being a bully for this, but I think it is well within his right to poke fun at anyone who publically trashes his product online.

-Trillium has tentative plans to set up an estate brewery in North Stonington, CT.

-The Massachusetts senate has approved a bill that would allow farmer-brewers and distillers to sell their products at farmers markets.