Jack’s Abby Cordon Rouge Framinghammer

It wasn’t long ago that barrel aged beers were only made by a few breweries that could afford the space for barrels and the patience to leave unsold product for months to properly age it. Now it seems like every brewery is starting a barrel program with a focus on aging beers in liquor/wine barrels or imparting flavors from Brettanomyces or wild microbes. The Mass Brew Brothers recently wrote an article about the history and exciting new developments involving barrel aging at Massachusetts breweries. One of the advantages of so many breweries venturing into barrel aging is more variety in the beers being produced. After the success of Goose Island’s quintessential Bourbon County Brand Stout it seems that most brewers started by aging an imperial stout in bourbon barrels. This is a logical and classic combination, and I love a good bourbon barrel stout, but there are a ton of potential style/barrel combinations that should also be explored. Jack’s Abby has been extremely creative with the various iterations of their Framinghammer Baltic Porter, with versions including bourbon, vanilla, coffee, mole, cocoa-nut and PB&J. One newer version that I was excited to try is Cordon Rouge, Framinghammer aged in brandy barrels with orange peel. Jack’s Abby Cordon Rouge is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 500 mL bottles.

Jack's Abby Cordon RogueJack’s Abby Cordon Rouge Framinghammer pours deep brown with a minimal tan head. The scent is mostly roasted malt with a little brandy. The flavor is malt forward, chocolate, toffee and licorice with a subtle sweetness. The barrels add flavor and complexity without overwhelming the base beer, touches of red grape and candied sugar along with warming booze. The orange is very mild, I’m not sure I would have picked out the flavor if I didn’t know it was there. The flavor is rounded out by some earthy hops that add a little balance. Cordon Rouge is a complex sipper and it packs some serious punch at 10% ABV. The finish is dry with some lingering malt flavor and alcohol. I really enjoyed this iteration of Framinghammer and I applaud Jack’s Abby for continuing to experiment. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Jack’s Abby Reviews:

Jack’s Abby Sunny Ridge Pilsner, Jack’s Abby House LagerJack’s Abby FraminghammerJack’s Abby trIPL, Jack’s Abby/Otter Creek Joint CustodyBREWERY OVERVIEW, Jack’s Abby Maibock Hurts Like HellesJack’s Abby Hoponius UnionJack’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

Springdale Amirite?! and Good N’ You

When I attended the Mass Brew Bros. blind tasting of local stouts there was animated conversation amongst the tasters covering all aspects of the local beer scene. One brewery that many talked about in glowing terms was Springdale Brewing, the offshoot of Jack’s Abby that focuses on ales, sours and barrel aged beers. A few of the other beer enthusiasts compared Springdale’s beers favorably to the offerings from some of the most popular breweries in the state. I was a little ashamed to admit that I hadn’t made the trek to Springdale yet, it’s been on my to-do list since the day it opened and I hadn’t found the time. Fortunately I needed something to do for my brother’s birthday, so we grabbed lunch at Jack’s Abby and then a flight of beers at Springdale. I was very impressed by everything I tasted, a nice mix of hoppy, malty, funky and sour offerings. Springdale also cans a number of their IPAs so I grabbed a selection to take home and review. Spoiler alert: these beers were all stellar and I will be making trips to Framingham on a much more regular basis.

Springdale AmiriteSpringdale Amirite?! pours hazy yellow with a massive white head. The aroma is a solid burst of hops, mostly tropical fruit. The flavor is also very hop forward, notes of guava, honeydew and tangerine along with minimal bitterness, this is definitely a New England style IPA. There is just enough malt for balance, hints of bread crust and honey. Amirite?! is very easy to drink, light and refreshing, but packs some punch at 7.3% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering fruity hop flavors. This beer is very good, if you like the fruit-forward NE Style IPAs you need to give this a shot. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Springdale Good N YouSpringdale Good N’ You pours cloudy straw yellow with a solid white head. The scent is a big hit of hops, lots of citrus and some tropical fruit. The hops also lead the flavor, hints of passion fruit, grapefruit, tangerine plus a little pine. Good N’ You would still fall into the New England IPA style but it has a little more bitterness than many beers in the category. The malts round out the flavor with notes of crackers and white bread. Good N’ You is smooth and very drinkable, and a little less boozy at 6.5% ABV. The finish features some strong hop flavors and a crisp bitter bite. This is a top notch IPA, my personal favorite amongst the beers I tasted at Springdale. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

 

Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout

Otter Creek made a big announcement recently, after 8.5 years their head brewer Mike Gerhart is leaving the brewery. Rumor has it that he is taking a job with Hill Farmstead, which is widely considered one of the best breweries in the world. Gerhart has played an instrumental role as Otter Creek overhauled their brand over the last few years, developing a completely new lineup of beers focusing on hop-forward offerings. This re-branding has included all new artwork that heavily features the bearded and tye-dyed character  of Gerhart on the majority of their bottles and cans (usually accompanied by his dog). It should be interesting to see how the brand evolves going forward, their new beers have been very well received and it looks like they have a stable of up and coming brewers who are ready to take the reigns. In addition to all of the varieties of IPA that Otter Creek is brewing, we’ve seen them dabble in dark beers, including a big and boozy Russian Imperial Stout. Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout is available in the winter on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.

Otter Creek Russian Imperial StoutOtter Creek Russian Imperial Stout pours pitch black with a minimal tan head. The scent is mostly roasted malts along with a little alcohol. The flavor is malt forward, notes of dark chocolate, raisin and toffee. You also get some booze in the flavor, but it isn’t overpowering. Some late hops round out the flavor with hints of grass and earth along with a bit of bitterness. Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout is a full bodied sipper and it packs a wallop at 10% ABV. The finish is dry with some lingering malt flavor. For a brewery that has focused it’s efforts on hop forward beers Otter Creek makes some tasty dark and malty brews too. This one is worth a shot as imperial stout season winds to a close. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.

Castle Island Vern

One of the hardest things about starting a new brewery is consistency. Once a brewer gets to the point that they brewing beer professionally they usually have some good recipes, but consistently executing these ideas on large scale can take some time. Some brewers learn from their mistakes as they go, but a select few hit the ground running and make delicious beer from day one. One brewery that seemed to figure things out very quickly is Castle Island, it’s no surprise that they are being recognized as one of the best new breweries in the country, and they need to expand to meet demand. I’ve enjoyed every beer I’ve tasted from Castle Island so far, their flagships Candlepin and Keeper have become a regular entries in my beer fridge. I was excited when they announced that their new Spring beer was a Mosaic wheat IPA named Vern. I am a big fan of Mosaic hops and wheat malts usually help showcase hop flavors and aromas. Castle Island Vern is available this Spring on draft and in 16 oz tallboy cans.

Castle Island VernCastle Island Vern pours hazy light orange with a solid white head. The scent is a burst of fruity hops, mostly the tropical aromas that define Mosaic hops. The flavor is also hop forward, notes of mango, melon and orange along with a very mild bitterness. This is balanced by some malt, touches of wheat bread and crackers. Vern is light bodied, smooth and extremely drinkable, but packs a little punch at 6.8% ABV. The finish is crisp with a little lingering malt flavor. I haven’t had a bad beer from Castle Island yet, and this is one of my favorites, definitely worth picking up. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Castle Island Reviews:

Castle Island TBD, Castle Island FestbierCastle Island Keeper IPA

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!

Lawson’s Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine

I try to focus my blogging (and thus the vast majority of my drinking) on New England beers, so my knowledge of breweries in the rest of the country is more limited. Occasionally I see other beer geeks get excited when an out of state brewery announces that they are going to begin local distribution and I need to do some online research to familiarize myself with the brewery. The exception involves breweries from the rest of New England, I try to keep tabs on most of the breweries in the other 5 New England states so I know something about their offerings if I am in their neck of the woods or if they move into eastern Massachusetts. One brewery that needed no introduction was Lawson’s Finest Liquids out of Vermont, who recently announced that they would begin regular distribution to Massachusetts accounts. Lawson’s is best known for their hoppy beers, especially their double IPA Sip of Sunshine, one of the beers that has been credited with developing the style New England IPA and putting it into the national consciousness. Sip of Sunshine distribution is somewhat limited, but you can find it on draft around the city and in distinct yellow 16 oz. tallboy cans in select bottle shops.

Lawson's Finest Liquids Sip of SunshineLawson’s Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine pours a clear bright orange with a huge off-white head. The aroma is a large burst of hops, tropical and citrus fruit along with pine. The flavor is hop forward, notes of grapefruit, orange, grass and papaya. Sip of Sunshine is mid-way between West Coast and New England Style IPAs, some of the fruit flavor but less haze and just a little bitterness. There is enough malt flavor for some balance, touches of bread crust and biscuits. Sip of Sunshine is medium bodied and drinks very easy for 8% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor. Sip of Sunshine is clearly an extremely well crafted beer, I understand why it has developed such a following. Some of my regular readers might wonder why it just missed “best beers” level, it’s just a matter of personal taste. While I enjoyed this beer and recognize the quality there are other DIPAs that I prefer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Lawson’s Finest Liquids Reviews:

Otter Creek/Lawson’s Finest Liquids Double Dose

Random Beer Thoughts: March 2017

Here are some thoughts and links for the month of March. There are a couple of the links I didn’t post here because they deserve more than a quick blurb. I am planning on waiting to post them until I can do a more in depth article (or incorporate them into a beer review).

Amherst Jess

One of my favorite articles of the month is from Alex Weaver at Hop Culture titled Stop Judging Me for Liking IPAs. I have noticed a backlash against the style by some brewers and beer geeks, it has become so ubiquitous that some people feel the need trash people who call IPA their favorite style. While I am trying to focus more of the blog on other styles for a few months I still love hoppy beers and drink more IPAs than any other style (and it isn’t even close). BTW, you should check out Hop Culture, it’s a relatively new site focused on beer and the beer geekdom. I think you’ll be seeing many articles from that site posted in this links column going forward.

Speaking of Hop Culture, another article from the site discusses breweries that started brewing IPAs to meet customer requests in their taprooms, even if they had resisted brewing the style before. There are some good quotes in the piece that help explain why breweries like Mystic and Idle Hands have started making IPAs. As long as a large segment of beer drinkers focus entirely on hoppy beers it will be really hard for any brewery to ignore the style completely.

The Mass Brew Brothers ask if we are in a craft beer bubble as the state approaches 150 breweries. I don’t think we are there yet, but I do think the lopsided ratio of openings to closings is going to change quickly. I think the state can support 150 breweries (or more), especially if a large number of them focus on being a local hangouts instead of distributing across the state/region. The expanding number of breweries along with the expansions in production by some of the most popular locals is going to put significant pressure on every brewery to make consistently top notch beer and have a great business plan. I hate to say it, but I think this year will start to see some local breweries close for financial reasons.

The Brothers also have their list of everything that is happening in Massachusetts beer over the next three months. Bookmark that link so you don’t miss anything!

A giant pet peeve of mine is when people complain about a “best of” or “top” article without reading the criteria for the list (ask anyone who writes this type of article and they will tell you that it happens all the time). Bryan Roth at Good Beer Hunting uses a strong example of this to make a bigger point about thinking and reading before you get outraged on social media.

Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion 1

Boston Business Journal has an interesting article on how breweries are using a rotating IPAs to appease the large segment of beer geeks who are constantly chasing what is new and different.

Castle Island is expanding due to high demand. Good to see their success, Castle Island has quickly become a regular part of my beer fridge rotation. Castle Island has also released a beer as part of the Black Ale Project.

Night Shift Distributing has added a number of breweries to their portfolio. I’m especially looking forward to trying some beers from Mast Landing in Westbrook, Maine, I’ve heard good things about their beers.

exhibit-a-the-cats-meow

Thrillist’s Best New Breweries list has a lot of local representation.

For the beer nerds and brewers: Beer Advocate has an interesting article on hop powder, a high oil form of hops that some brewers are using with great acclaim.

Barleycorn’s, the brew-on-premises business in Natick, is closing by the start of May. They were a pioneer in the space and operated for 20 years.

Zippia has a 5 step process to become a master brewer. I am good with my day-job career path, but if you are considering brewing beer as a career path this plan seems to make a lot of sense.

CraftRoots Brewery is open in Milford.

Moby Dick Brewing Company is now open in New Bedford.

That’s all for this month, thanks for reading and feel free to pass along anything that you think I should include in next months links article!