Random Beer Thoughts: December 2017

Late December is always a time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the year ahead. It has been a crazy year for local beer, and 2018 looks set up to be another one. Fortunately we have the Mass Brew Brothers around to keep track of the rapidly changing landscape of local beer. Here is their summary of the year in Massachusetts beer, and a complete list of every brewery that opened in the state this year. They also have some regional articles focused on the beer scenes in Metro Boston and Northeast MA. We had 39 breweries open and only two close in Massachusetts this year, it’s hard to imagine that numbers like that will be sustainable. I think a huge number of breweries will open in 2018 too (Boston Business Journal says the number could be as high as 50), but a large number will probably start to close, including a few that will catch people completely off guard. I’m not hoping for this, I would never wish for a business to fail, but I can’t imagine that this rate of growth is sustainable.

The Brewers Association also has a year in review piece with a more national perspective.

Idle Hands Six Seam

One of my favorite articles of the month is Bryan Roth’s treatise on New England Style IPAs. One of the best parts of the article is the way Bryan pokes holes in the arguments many cynical brewers and beer writers make when they are trying to convince anyone that will listen that NEIPA is just a flash in the pan fad.

Vine Pair interviewed a number of people in the beer industry to get their predictions on beer trends in 2018. One that I really hope comes true is that people realize their time is important and there is no reason to wait in line for whalez when so many amazing beers are readily available.

The most creative article of the month has to go to Dave Patterson, who reviews the year in Maine beer in the form of a poem.

Sunset_Grill_Color_Logo-jpg

One of the biggest local stories this month was the news that legendary Allston beer bar Sunset Grill and Tap is closed for good. Norm “The Beer Nut” Miller has a well written post mortem. It is hard to overstate how important this bar was to many local beer geeks, for a long time there were so few places in Boston with extensive beer programs, and Sunset led to the discovery of many different beers. The place definitely had issues, it was loud, usually full of college kids trying to drink DIPAs like they were Natty Light, there were issues with the draft lines, and it is really hard to have consistently fresh beer when they stocked so many options. As more local beer-centric bars opened these issues became much more evident. I’ll still remember Sunset fondly as a place that introduced me to many beers that were important parts of my journey into beer geekdom.

As the year ends you always get a bunch of “best of the year” lists. I don’t do one because I summarize the best beers I reviewed every 3 months, you can find these lists HERE. If you are interested in the opinions of others I’ve gathered a few best beer lists, including articles from Hop Culture and Draft Magazine and the best breweries list from Paste (based on results of their blind tastings this year).

Eater Boston also hands out some end of the year awards, including best taproom to a rising star of the metro Boston beer scene.

BBC Coffeehouse Porter

I participated in another blind tasting this month, evaluating 10 local porters with a panel of local beer enthusiasts. There are a ton of great local porters, from classics like Berkshire Coffee House to innovative beers like Bog Iron One Down. The two beers I wish had been included in the tasting were Night Shift Awake and Mayflower Porter, two of my favorites and I would like to see how they stacked up in a blind panel.

Springdale Brewing is going to start distribution in 2018. This is nice to see, I think their IPAs and sours can go toe-to-toe with anything being brewed in the state, and their beers are about to be much more readily available.

Trillium has opened their winter beer garden in Roslindale, and here is a first look from Boston Magazine. These beer gardens are really a brilliant idea, and appear to be a huge success.

Worcester Business Journal has a summary on how Tree House created a cult-like following. Tree House makes some amazing beer, but the craziness that surrounds it also turns many people off.

mbc-beer-v

Good Beer Hunting has an interview with Dan Kleban of Maine Beer Company. The interview touches a number of topics, from independence to sustainability to their charity work and the direction of the industry. It would have been nice to see a question about their packaging, I would love to see them move away from the 500 mL bottles.

Boston Voyager has a profile of Zelus beer, a local brewery marketing their product towards active beer drinkers. SommBeer also has an article on the “science” behind Zelus. There is a lot of talk about brewing salts here but not much of an explanation as to why they are important for an “active lifestyle” beer.

Wachusett has opened their new taproom in Westminster. I need to check this out soon. My wife and I got married in nearby Gardner and had a number of Wachusett beers on tap at our wedding, so I will always have a special connection to that brewery.

Sam Adams is considering another taproom in Downtown Boston. I think this is a brilliant idea, at the very least it would immediately become a hot stop for tourists.

Slumbrew Yankee Swap 2015

The new Slumbrew American Fresh Brewpub is open in Assembly Row. I’ve heard very good things about the space, the food and the beer.

Altruist Brewing is open is Sturbridge, with a tasting room pouring a variety of ales.

I am excited for Amory’s Tomb to open in Maynard, another brewery that will be very close to where I live.

Bissell Brothers is opening a second location, and it’s going to be way up north.

Thrillist ranks every state in the US based on their beer. My god, this article is a brilliantly devious piece of click-bait, and I not only clicked on it I linked to it. What can you do.

That is it for December and for 2017, thank you all for reading and your continued support of Hoppy Boston. I am having a blast writing the blog and communicating with other local beer fans, and I hope you’re all still enjoying the content. Look for some new stuff going forward in 2018!

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Trillium Farnsworth Street IPA

Last Thursday I started a 12 day vacation, the first long vacation I’ve taken since last Christmas. Most of my vacation is devoted to family time, but I’ve had a few chances to do things for myself, including a trip to Trillium Brewing Company in Canton on the first day.  Always nice to stock up the beer fridge with high quality offerings on the first day of an extended break. As the Trillium facility in Canton has gotten up to speed it has been clear that the scale of beer releases has increased, and this has led to a plethora of options available at each visit. I showed up right before opening and ended up chatting with a middle aged man who was making his first trip, he had family coming to town for the holiday and wanted to impress them with a fridge full of quality beer. I let him know he was in the right place, and recommended a number of my favorite offerings including Melcher Street IPA and Fort Pont Pale Ale. I stocked up on these favorites but also grabbed a few new-to-me beers, including Farnsworth Street IPA. This beer is one of the newer additions to the “street” series of IPAs, where each beer showcases a different type of hop, in this case the Australian variety named Vic Secret. Trillium Farnsworth Street IPA is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 16 oz. cans.

Trillium Farnsworth Street IPATrillium Farnsworth Street IPA pours murky light orange with a solid white head. The aroma is a huge burst of fruity and floral hops. The flavor is also very hop forward, notes of white grape, pear, grass and apple along with a mild bitterness. This is balanced by some malt flavor, hints of crusty bread and biscuits. Farnsworth Street has a full body but drinks very easy, and packs a little punch at 7.2% ABV. The finish is crisp with lots of lingering hop flavor. The “street ” IPAs are clearly a core piece of the Trillium lineup, and Farnsworth Street is a welcome addition to that group. Definitely worth a shot for all of the hop-heads out there, especially if you need a break from the Mosaic/Citra/Galaxy beers that are so commonplace. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Trillium Reviews:

Trillium Melcher St. IPA, Trillium Fort Point Pale AleTrillium Free Rise Dry-hopped with Citra, Trillium Pot and KettleTrillium Scaled Up, Trillium Launch Beer, Trillium PM DawnBREWERY OVERVIEW, Trillium Sinister Kid, Trillium Congress St. IPATrillium Farmhouse AleTrillium Wakerobin Rye

 

Foundation Forge

Today I am going to attempt to coin a new beer term, Blue Chip beer styles. Blue Chip Beer styles are the few styles of beer that are most sought out by beer geeks, and making an amazing version of a Blue Chip beer can put a newer or less renowned brewery on the map, locally or even nationally. It would be great if making a top notch beer of any style would attract this attention, but when was the last time you saw a line form for a brown ale or ESB release? In my opinion there are two beer styles that are definitively Blue Chip, double IPAs and imperial stouts. If you look at the highest rated beers on any crowd-sourced beer cite the list is usually dominated by DIPAs and boozy stouts, and many of the most sought after beer releases revolve around these styles. Other types of beer including standard or New England style IPA and sour/wild ales are also in consideration for Blue Chip status, but I am going to start with two definitive styles (since I just made up the term I feel like I have that power, feel free to disagree). A good example of the power of a quality Blue Chip beer is Foundation Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. When Foundation first opened they focused on saisons and other Belgian inspired styles. These beers were very good but the brewery didn’t really take off until they released Epiphany, their stellar DIPA. Now Foundation is a sought out destination in the crowded Portland brewery scene. Foundation also brews another Blue Chip style in the winter, an imperial stout named Forge. My visits to Maine are much more regular in the summer, so I hadn’t sampled Forge until recently, but Foundation now distributes to Massachusetts, so it’s much easier to drink their beers on a regular basis. Foundation Forge is available in the colder months on draft and in 16 oz cans.

Foundation ForgeFoundation Forge pours pitch black with a small tan head. The aroma is full of rich roasted malts, make you want to dive right in. The beer is malt forward, notes of black coffee, dark chocolate, raisin and just a faint hint of booze. There is also some noticeable hop flavor, hints of pine and herbs along with a little bitterness. Forge is a full bodied sipper but goes down pretty easy for a beer with 10% ABV. The finish is full and rich with lingering malty goodness. This is a top-notch imperial stout, an absolutely delicious beer. If DIPA and imperial stout are truly the Blue Chip beer styles Foundation is in very good shape with Epiphany and Forge! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Previous Foundation Reviews:

Foundation Cosmic BloomFoundation VentureFoundation Afterglow, Foundation WanderlustFoundation Epiphany

 

Rockingham Javelina

I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read Hoppy Boston, from the people who have been reading for years and visit multiple times a week to the first time readers who stumbled across the blog after a Google search. I do have a special appreciation for the long time followers though, most are old friends who have been incredibly enthusiastic and supportive from day one. Hoppy Boston fan #1 was definitely my amazing wife Kristin. She supported the idea of starting the blog and after I got some pretty harsh comments in the first few months she acted as my editor for a solid year, helping me find my voice and identifying common issues I’d make with grammar (this ended with the birth of my son 2.5 years ago, hopefully the quality hasn’t fallen off too drastically). Whenever anyone she knows brings up local craft beer my wife will mention the blog, I know I’ve gained a number of followers based on her recommendations. After a conversation about Hoppy Boston my wife’s co-worker revealed that her cousin works at Rockingham Brewing Company in Derry, NH and later passed along some of their beers for me to sample. One of these beers is Javelina, their flagship IPA. Rockingham Javelina is available year round on draft and in 12 oz cans.

Rockingham JavelinaRockingham Javelina pours hazy copper with a solid white head. The aroma is a solid hit of hops, floral and herbal. This is definitely more of a west coast style IPA than the juicy IPAs that have gained notoriety in New England. The hops lead the flavor, notes of resin, orange, grass and lemon along with a solid and persistent bitter kick. This is balanced by some malt flavor, touches of crackers and whole grain bread. Javelina is medium bodied and drinks easy, at 6.5% it is about what you’d expect for the style. The finish is all hops, lingering flavor and bite. Overall Javelina is a well crafted west coast IPA, it’s nice to mix in beers like this with all of the juice-bombs I tend to drink. I don’t think Rockingham distributes to Massachusetts yet, but they are worth a shot if you are visiting New Hampshire! Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Notch Zwickel Beer

Some of my favorite winter beers tend to be heavy and boozy, like imperial stouts and quads. The high ABVs of these beers limit the volume I consume, usually any of those beers are one-and-done on the night. For this reason it’s nice to have a few sessionable options around for balance, and nobody does session beer as well as Notch Brewing Company. Notch has recently added a couple new beers to their lineup including Zwickel Beer, an unfiltered German lager. Zwickel beer is a style that I wasn’t very familiar with with until recently, and now it feels like a bunch of local breweries are making versions of this pale and hazy lager. One of Notch’s specialties are traditional European lagers, I’ve tried a number of styles at the brewery that I had never head of before. They originally introduced Zwickel Beer on draft at the brewery but it is now distributed in 16 oz cans. Yes, you read that correctly, a few of the new Notch releases are in tallboys now, the perfect packaging for session beers.

Notch Zwickel BeerNotch Zwickel Beer pours slightly hazy light yellow with a small white head. The aroma is mostly floral and herbal old world hops. This is a crisp, clean, flavorful and super-drinkable lager beer, something that Notch excels at. The hops add notes of grass, spruce and lemon along with a mild bitter bite. The light malts add hints of bread crust and crackers. Zwickel Beer is light bodied, balanced and very much a session beer at 4.5% ABV. This is another winning release from Notch, tons of flavor but still light and refreshing, just what you want in a quality pale lager. I will drink a ton of these this summer, and a few to balance out the boozy stouts I enjoy this winter. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Notch Reviews:

Notch Dog and Pony Show, Notch Infinite JestNotch Cerne Pivo, Notch The MuleNotch Hootenanny, Notch Left of the Dial, Notch Saison

The Perfect Holiday Gift for the Beer Geek in Your Life

Xmas

We have hit mid-December, the days are counting down towards Christmas and I’m sure I’m not the only one that still has a significant amount of Christmas shopping to do. It seems like every website has stock articles about “The perfect gift for the (insert name of hobby/interest) enthusiast in your life”, and beer is certainly no exception. I try to be original, so I think you will find my list to be a bit different than most. Since I imagine most of my blog followers are beer geeks themselves, feel free to pass this along to anyone struggling to pick a gift out for you. Here is my list for the perfect gift for the beer geek in your life:

  1. Beer

That is it, full list. Everything on those other lists is somewhat misguided. Brewing supplies and equipment are great for a home brewer, but they are probably very particular about what they would like (gift cards to a homebrew shop are totally OK). If you think your favorite beer fan might try their hand at homebrewing, but they haven’t explicitly expressed interest, you’re probably wrong. Brewing quality beer takes a lot of time and hard work, it’s easy to love beer but have no desire to make it yourself. Glassware and bottle openers are fine, but most beer fans have more than they need, and they like the experience that goes along with acquiring new glasses. Same goes for shirts/hats/other brewery gear. And don’t get me started on shirts that glorify getting hammered, unless your favorite beer geek is still a college frat boy those are inappropriate. This is true for most “novelty” beer products, great for dorm rooms, not for adults. The hardest exclusion from my list are beer books, I always want to support quality beer writing. If you decide to go that route just make sure you are buying quality books (if you don’t know ask someone who does). That 8-year-old “100 greatest beers” book on the shelf at TJ Maxx definitely doesn’t qualify.

Treehouse and BeerdJust because my list is short doesn’t mean you can’t be creative. Do you know a big Tree House fan who hates waiting in line? Maybe head out yourself and get them some fresh beer for the holiday week. You can also reach out to friends in other cities and have them send local standouts with limited distribution. Many quality bottle shops offer gift cards, which are always great for a beer fan on a limited budget. If you prefer experiences to physical gifts make an offer to be a designated driver to your beer enthusiast and a couple friends for a Saturday afternoon full of brewery visits. My wife did this as a birthday present one year and we had a blast. So skip the novelty cooler bags and bottle openers that make crude noises when used, and buy your favorite craft beer fan the one thing they really want for the holidays, some delicious beer!

Thoughts on Sam Adams and the Red Sox

The big news in local (and probably national) beer today was that Sam Adams has signed a deal to be the official beer of the Boston Red Sox, replacing AB-InBev and their flagship beer Budweiser. This makes Sam Adams the first craft brewery to be the official beer of a major professional sports team, although many other regional breweries have a significant relationship with their local teams. The right field roof deck at Fenway is changing it’s Budweiser sign to a Sam Adams sign, and the beer will be available throughout the park. Here is Sam Adams official release, and a great summary of the deal from BrewBound. I have a few quick thought on the deal myself:

Fenway

I love going to games and concerts at Fenway, but the beer selection has typically been terrible. It has been getting a little better over the last few years, and hopefully this is a big step in the right direction. Hopefully some of the Bud and Goose Island kiosks are now pouring Sam Adams. I also hope they offer a variety of beer styles, I’ll be disappointed if every tap is Boston Lager and Summer Ale. This seems like a great venue for Noble Pils and Rebel IPA, solid beers that would be an upgrade over many that are offered at the park.

Sam Adams 26.2

That being said, I would be really disappointed if Sam Adams uses this influence to push other craft breweries out of Fenway. I’ve recently enjoyed selections from Harpoon, Smuttynose, Wachusett and Jack’s Abby at Fenway and I’ve seen some other local options. There is no way the Red Sox are completely booting Bud, Miller and Coors, so they should keep the other craft options around too.

I hope this represents a change in strategy for the Sam Adams brand. They have had a well documented decline in sales, and have been trying many things to make up for the lost revenue. Instead of trying to win back the hardcore beer geeks Sam Adams should be courting marco drinkers, especially the people who enjoy the “crafty” offerings from big beer. The people waiting in line at Tree House every weekend aren’t going to buy Sam Adams mix packs instead, but macro beer still controls a major share of the market and Sam Adams can potentially sell them on a more flavorful option.

It is interesting that after so many years focusing on it’s national brand Sam Adams has focused on reestablishing it’s roots in Boston. First they finally opened a full service taproom in the city and now they are spending a significant sum of money to establish a major presence in one of the most iconic locations in the city. With craft beer becoming more and more focused on local brands, so it is interesting to see Sam Adams finally invest in Boston as their hometown. I am not sure how much of a dent these changes will make in the bottom line, but I think the taproom will be a success and they will sell plenty of beer at the park.

What do you all think of Sam Adams setting up a marketing deal with the Sox? How does this effect your attitude towards the brand going forward? Are you going to drink some Sam as you watch the Sox this summer? Let me know here or on social media!