Funky Bow So Folkin Hoppy

I am officially on a short vacation, tomorrow I am headed up to Maine for a long weekend. The major purpose of this trip is to visit family, the little man is very excited to  spend some time with my family on the lake. That being said, I am hoping to squeeze in a little beer-related fun on the trip, maybe a stop at a brewery or two, and definitely grabbing some Maine beers to enjoy on the trip. There are a number of Maine breweries that are on my “need-to-try” list, fortunately some of them are now distributing in Massachusetts. One good example is Funky Bow Brewing out of Lyman, Maine. I’ve heard some good things about Funky Bow, but it’s one of the places that I’ve never had a chance to visit, so I was excited to see some of their beer make the trek south. One beer I tried recently was So Folkin Hoppy, their flagship IPA brewed with Galaxy hops. Funky Bow So Folkin Hoppy is available year round on draft and in 12 oz cans.

Funky Bow So Folkin HoppyFunky Bow So Folkin Hoppy pours a slightly hazy deep orange with a solid off white head. The aroma features plenty of hops, floral and grassy. The hops also lead the flavor, notes of pine, lemon and grapefruit along with a solid bitter bite. This is complemented by substantial malt flavor, hints of caramel and whole grain bread. So Folkin Hoppy is medium bodied, smooth and moderately boozy at 6.5% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor and bite. Overall this is a solid old-school American IPA, a nice way to mix it up from the juicy IPAs that are so popular now. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

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Kent Falls Juice Maker Mango

Within the last couple years a couple sub-styles of IPA started to gain traction amongst beer drinkers and brewers. One sub-style is the Brett IPA, hop-forward ales fermented with funky Brettanomyces strains of yeast. Another is the myriad of fruited IPAs, which were popularized with the introduction of Ballast Point’s Grapefruit Sculpin. I love Brett IPAs when they are done correctly, but it is really important to have the right mixture of hops to complement the yeast instead of clash with it. I have mixed opinions of fruited IPAs, I’ve had a few that are stellar but many seem like a cheap way to add fruity hop flavor to a beer instead of adding more hops, and in a few the fruit flavor overwhelms everything else. While I’ve tried many beers from each of these individual sub styles, I am pretty sure that Kent Falls Juice Maker Mango is the first fruited Brett IPA that I’ve sampled. Juice Maker is actually a series of Brett IPAs, each brewed with a different type of fruit. Kent Falls Juice Maker is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 500 mL bottles.

Kent Falls Juice Maker MangoKent Falls Juice Maker Mango pours a murky light yellow with a massive white head. The scent is mostly the Brettanomyces along with some fruity hops. The yeast leads the flavor with funky and spicy notes. This is complemented by the hops, with hints of lemon, grass and orange. I don’t get much mango in the flavor or the aroma, not sure if it’s just being drowned out by the other flavors. A light malt backbone rounds out the flavors with touches of crackers and cereal. Juice Maker is light and quaffable, not too boozy at 5.6% ABV. The finish is dry with a little lingering hops and funk. I enjoyed this beer as a Brett IPA, but with a name like Juice Maker I expected a little more fruit flavor and aroma. Still, another solid addition to the Kent Falls roster. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Previous Kent Falls Reviews:

Kent Falls Alternate World, Kent Falls EquinoxKent Falls Farmer’s TableKent Falls Field Beer Saison #3

 

Foundation Cosmic Bloom

When you ask a beer nerd to name the best breweries in Maine there are a few that will inevitably come up. Hopheads will immediately cite Maine Beer Company and Bissell Brothers, while fans of Belgian styles would point to Allagash and Oxbow. There are many others that would also be mentioned, it’s an incredibly vibrant scene is my home state. One brewery that as crept up my list of favorite Maine breweries in recent visits is Foundation Brewing Company in Portland. Their expanded brewery in Portland is a must visit, especially on a nice day when the fun spills out onto their expansive patio. Unlike some other popular breweries, Foundation also distributes their beer, mostly in Maine but it has now made appearances in Massachusetts too. Foundation’s most popular beer is definitely their stellar DIPA Epiphany, but they feature a strong lineup of diverse offerings. I recently sampled a relatively new addition to their lineup, an American pale ale named Cosmic Bloom. Foundation Cosmic Bloom is brewed with five types of hops and is available on draft and in 16 oz cans.

Foundation Cosmic BloomFoundation Cosmic Bloom pours hazy light yellow with a solid white head. The scent is a big burst of fruity hops, tropical, citrus and berries. The flavor is also very hop forward with a unique new-age flavor profile that includes notes of melon, strawberry and tangerine. There is a little bitter bite, not bracing but this isn’t a straight jooce-bomb NEIPA either. The hops are complimented by a mild malt backbone, hints of white bread and cereal. Cosmic Bloom is light and easy to drink, not too boozy at 5.8% ABV.  The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor. This beer is delicious, well crafted with tons of flavor and a little different than other hoppy beers. Cosmic Bloom is now neck-in-neck with Epiphany for my favorite Foundation beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.

Previous Foundation Reviews:

Foundation VentureFoundation Afterglow, Foundation WanderlustFoundation Epiphany

 

Exhibit A Demo Tape Eleven Side B

For a long time I avoided most types of wheat beer. I’ve never been a fan of hefeweizens and only like a few Belgian style witbiers. My experience with American wheat beers was mostly with Sam Adams Summer Ale and similar wheats. I am not a Sam Adams basher, I love a number of their beers, but I detest the Summer Ale, I would honestly rather drink Bud Light. This led me to avoid wheat beers almost entirely. I started to change my attitude on wheat beers when many local breweries (especially Trillium) started featuring NE IPAs brewed with a substantial amount of wheat in their grain bill. The wheat malt helps enhance the flavors of the hops, so the natural follow up to these IPAs were American wheat ales that incorporate large doses of New World hops. A great example of this is Demo Tape Eleven from Exhibit A Brewing Company, the latest release in their series of test-batch Demo Tape beers. The first batch of Demo Tape Eleven sold out extremely quickly and I didn’t get a chance to try it. Fortunately they made Side B, a second batch that was double dry-hopped. Exhibit A Demo Tape Eleven Side B is available for a limited time on draft and in 16 oz tallboy cans, unless people really like it and they make it into another regular release beer. So if you try it and like it make sure you let them know!

Exhibit A Demo Tape 11 Side BExhibit A Demo Tape Eleven Side B pours murky light orange with a small white head. The aroma is a nice burst of hops, citrus and tropical fruit. The flavor is also very hop forward, notes of guava, tangerine, lemon and mango along with minimal bitterness. This is balanced by a mild malt backbone, hints of crackers and wheat bread. Demo Tape Eleven Side B is super light, easy to drink and sessionable at 4.2% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor. This beer is delicious, tons of hop flavor and aroma but not the one-note forgettable beer that so many hop-forward session beers turn into. I really hope this becomes one of Exhibit A’s regular releases. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.

Previous Exhibit A Reviews:

Exhibit A Danko, Exhibit A The Cat’s Meow and Demo Tape 5

 

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!

Big Elm Thunderlips

Love them or hate them, it looks like New England style IPAs are going to be a huge part of the local beer scene for the foreseeable future. It seems like nearly every brewery in the area is taking advantage of the popularity of this sub-style, brewing their own versions of these murky, low-bitterness hop bombs (and typically packaging them in 16 oz. tallboy cans). It amazes me how much this bothers some outspoken beer drinkers on social media, there is a subset that hate the style and express that opinion vociferously and repeatedly. I am not one of these people, in fact I love the New England IPA style and if other people don’t want them it just means more for me. One new NEIPA I recently sampled is Thunderlips from Big Elm Brewing Company in Sheffield, MA. Big Elm Thunderlips is brewed with Amarillo and Rakau hops and is available now on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.

Big Elm ThunderlipsBig Elm Thunderlips pours a murky dark yellow with a solid white head. The aroma is mildly hoppy, some fruit and floral scents. The flavor packs a little more hop punch, touches of cantaloupe, pear, grass and lime along with a mild bitterness. This is balanced by some malt, hints of bread crust and crackers. Thunderlips is light in body and smooth drinking, not overly boozy at 6.0% ABV. The finish is dry with some lingering hop flavor. Big Elm Thunderlips is a solid take on a New England IPA, I would have liked more hop aroma personally, but it’s flavorful and easy to drink. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.

Previous Big Elm Reviews:

Big Elm Transformer IPL, Big Elm 413 Farmhouse Ale

Bunker Brewing Rockerz

There are a number of reasons why I buy a particular beer. Some are old favorites that I buy all the time, or beers I’ve enjoyed in the past but haven’t drank in a while. Some beers are recommendations from other beer writers, social media or friends. Sometimes I see a new release described and immediately know I’m going to try some given the opportunity. These factors cover the majority of the beers I buy, but occasionally I just grab something and hope for the best. When I was in Maine my parents were throwing a little party and asked me to grab some beer. Unfortunately I stopped at a store with a relatively limited selection, so I took a shot on a new-to-me beer, Rockerz IPA from Bunker Brewing Company in Portland. I’d heard good things about Bunker and sampled a few of their beers in the past, but I’d never tried Rockerz. Fortunately it was a good choice and well received at the party. Bunker Brewing Company Rockerz IPA is brewed with Citra, Simcoe and Mosaic hops and is available year round on draft and in 12 oz. cans.

Bunker Brewing RockerzBunker Brewing Rockerz pours a hazy deep orange with a small white head. The aroma is very hoppy, mostly citrus and tropical fruit. The flavor is also very hop forward, notes of grapefruit, mango and lemon along with a solid bitter bite. This beer has the fruity flavors of a NE IPA but it has more bitterness and a little less turbidity. The hops are complemented by a solid malt backbone, hints of bread dough and honey. Rockerz is medium bodied and drinks very easy, but packs a little punch at 6.8% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor and bite. I really enjoyed this beer, it’s nice to have a slight change of pace from the straight juice bombs while still getting your hop fix. This is why I love trying random beers, you never know when you’ll find a new favorite! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.