Many breweries start with some version of a standard story, a few friends who are avid home-brewers get together, experiment with some recipes and jot down a business plan that slowly builds into the opening of the brewery. 14th Star Brewing Company in St. Albans, VT has a similar story but with a little twist, the planning started in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan where owner and head brewer Steve Gagner and his friends were stationed while serving in the US Army. After finishing their service the business plan jotted in a notebook in the Middle East turned into a licensed brewery. 14th Star Brewing is now part of the vibrant Vermont Brewing scene, and after a recent expansion you can find their beers in Massachusetts. Their flagship beer in Valor Ale, a hoppy amber ale sold on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Valor Ale go to the Purple Hearts Reunited Foundation, a charity that helps restore lost or stolen medals to the servicemen and women who earned them.
14th Star Valor Ale pours a deep red with a solid off-white head. The scent gives you a big whiff of citrus and pine from the hops. The flavor is more balanced between malt and hops. The malts add touches of caramel, fresh baked bread and honey. The hops provide a nice counterpoint with notes of orange, peach and grass along with a mild bitterness. Valor Ale is medium bodied and goes down smooth, and not too boozy at 5.4% ABV. The finish is clean with some lingering hop flavor and a crisp bitter bite. Overall 14th Star Brewing Valor Ale is a solid example of a hoppy amber ale, a nice way to transition from the heavy, malt-forward beers of the winter into lighter summer beers. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Two years ago I brewed a hoppy amber ale that I named Hoppy Boston Hoppy Fall. The final beer was good, but I am a relentless tinkerer and there were a few things that I thought could be better, so I started working on a new version. The beer was designed to smell like an IPA and have good hop flavor, but also have a full caramel malt body and mild bitterness. I was hoping for a little more body and a little more hop flavor and aroma in the second generation brew. You can find the original recipe and tasting notes HERE. For the additional body I used Crystal 75 instead of 40 and added some CaraPils. I also made the beer a little lighter alcohol-wise. Instead of focusing exclusively on Simcoe hops in my late/dry additions I added some Citra and Cascade to diversify the hop profile. My new recipe is as follows:
Malts: 1 lb. Victory, 1 lb. CaraMunich I (40 L), 1 lbs. Crystal 75 L, 0.5 lb. Carapils, 3.3 lbs. Briess Light LME, 1 lb. Breiss Light DME
Hops: 1 oz. Columbus hops (60 min), 1.0 oz. Simcoe hops (20 min), 1.0 oz. Simcoe hops (1 min), 1.0 oz. Citra hops (1 min), 1.0 oz. Simcoe hops (Dry hop in the secondary), 1.0 oz. Citra hops (Dry hop in the secondary), 1.0 oz. Cascade hops (Dry hop in the secondary)
GigaYeast (GY011) British Ale #1 yeast
Primary fermentation was 7 days followed by a 14 day secondary fermentation. I went a little light on the bottling sugar to keep the carbonation moderate in the final beer.
Hoppy Boston Hoppy Fall Take 2 pours a deep amber with a solid off-white head. The scent is a huge burst of hops, citrus and tropical fruit. While the beer smells like an IPA, the taste is much more balanced. There is plenty of hop flavor, notes of orange, grapefruit, mango and papaya but very mild bitterness. This is complemented by a full dose of malt, touches of caramel, fresh bread and honey. The beer is medium bodied and very easy to drink. The finish is clean with some lingering hop and malt flavors. This is one of the best beers I’ve brewed at home. My company has Friday socials and I shared a few of my recent homebrew batches this week, this beer got rave reviews. I will definitely brew it again next fall!
Although Boston is my home now, I am originally from a very touristy area in coastal Maine. Our main tourist season was always the summer and I understood that, beautiful weather, fresh air, the hills and the ocean drew people out of the city and into our local bed and breakfasts. We also had a smaller secondary tourist season in the fall led by the “leaf peepers”. I never really understood the appeal, I love the fall and the colors are pretty, but there are pretty leaves in Massachusetts and New York too, no real need to drive all the way to Maine to look at trees. To each their own I guess. The changing leaves typically come with cooler weather (although no complaints about this unseasonably warm start to November), which calls for maltier beers. Atlantic Brewing Company brews a fall seasonal called Leaf-Peeper Ale, a malty but sessionable American amber ale made for the fall tourists (and locals as well). It is available now on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Atlantic Leaf-Peeping Ale pours a deep amber with a moderate off-white head. The scent is pretty mild, some subtle maltiness. The taste is malt forward, notes of caramel, grainy bread and honey. This is balanced by a little dose of noble hops, grassy and earthy. Leaf-Peeping Ale is medium bodied and goes down smooth, and is sessionable at 4.9% ABV. The finish is clean with just a touch of lingering malt sweetness. Atlantic Leaf-Peeping Ale is a well made version of an amber ale, full flavored and easy to drink, enough body to stand up to cool fall nights and hearty food. Definitely worth a try if you are a fan of the style. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
Previous Atlantic Reviews:
Atlantic Brewing Coal Porter
When Narragansett re-launched their brand I assumed they would focus on their lager, a well-made and local alternative to big beer adjunct lagers. I was a little surprised when they pushed heavily into the craft space with their seasonal and special release beers. Part of this has been a focus on their home state of Rhode Island, many of their beers feature tie-ins to local businesses or people. This is again the case with their recent Lovecraft Honey Ale. Lovecraft is named in honor of horror author H.P. Lovecraft who spent the majority of his years writing in Providence. Lovecraft’s work wasn’t appreciated while he lived, but later inspired many famous authors, musicians and filmmakers. Narragansett brewed Lovecraft Honey Ale as a collaboration with local upstart Revival Brewing Company. It is an American amber ale brewed with significant amounts of honey malt. Lovecraft Honey Ale is available for a limited time on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.
Narragansett/Revival Lovecraft Honey Ale pours a deep copper with a monstrous off-white head. The scent is subtle, some mild maltiness along with a bit of floral hops. The malts lead the flavor, touches of graham cracker, toast, caramel and a little honey. This is followed by a solid hit of hops, touches of grass and earth along with a bitter kick. The beer is medium bodied and goes down smooth, I was a little surprised it was 7% ABV. The finish has a little malt sweetness along with crisp hoppiness. Lovecraft is a solid beer, a good selection for springtime. I am looking forward to further specialty releases by Narragansett. Hoppy Boston score 4.0/5.
Previous Narragansett Reviews:
Narragansett Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout, Narragansett Fest Lager, Narragansett Del’s Shandy
If you pay attention to the scores and rankings on websites like Beer Advocate and Rate Beer you’ll notice a trend, the “best” beers in the world are almost all incredibly hard to find. If there is a beer that you can grab off the shelf at a local bottle shop it will probably be lower rated than a beer you need to wait in line for. Many brewers read these reviews and care about their ratings, they understand that high ratings on these sites can lead to more consumers seeking out their products. This presents an issue for established breweries who have increased capacity and distribution, they want to create buzz but their business needs higher sales volumes to cover their overhead. It doesn’t make much sense to release very small batches of your most popular beers just to improve the score on a website. One solution is seasonal releases – make a large quantity of a sought after bee,r but only release it for a couple months to help build anticipation. A great example of this is Troegs Nugget Nectar, a hopped up version of an American amber ale that is only released in the late winter. I was surprised at the amount of social media buzz that this year’s release generated. I know Nugget Nectar is a well-liked beer but didn’t realize how many people look forward to it’s release each year.
Troegs Nugget Nectar pours a light amber with a mild off-white head. The smell is a solid dose of floral and citrus scented hops. The hops also lead the flavor with notes of lemon, grapefruit and pine along with a solid hit of bitterness. This is balanced by a substantial malt body that adds touches of toast, toffee, roasted nuts and just a hint of sweetness. This beer is defined by the brilliant interplay between the rich malts and pungent hops. Nugget Nectar is medium bodied and goes down smooth while still packing a little punch at 7.5% ABV. It is really easy to see why this beer is so popular, I love hop-forward amber ales and this is one of the best. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Troegs Reviews:
Troegs Mad Elf, Troegs Troegenator, Troegs Sunshine Pils
It seems like most startup craft breweries nowadays are built in old warehouses or barns. This wasn’t always the case. When the American craft brewing industry started to grow again in the 1980’s and early 1990’s many of the breweries were started as brewpubs, restaurants that brewed and served their own beer. Some of these brewpubs gained popularity and eventually bottled and distributed their beers. While many brewpubs combine good food with fresh beer, I don’t know of very many that will also rent you a room. This is one thing that makes the Woodstock Inn and Brewery in North Woodstock, NH unique. The Woodstock Inn was founded in 1982 when a century old home was rebuilt as an inn and restaurant. In addition to the restaurant, they also started to brew and serve their own beers, which are now bottled and distributed into MA. One of Woodstock Inn’s signature beers is Red Rack Ale, an American amber/red ale. Red Rack Ale is sold on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Woodstock Inn Red Rack Ale pours a clear raspberry red with a massive cream colored head. The smell is a combination of nutty and sweet malt with a little earthy hops. The taste starts with the malt, grainy bread, caramel and a hint of sweetness. This is balanced with some subtle hops, grass and pine with some mild bitterness. The beer is clean and drinkable, at 5.5% ABV it’s not too heavy. Red Rack Ale is a very solid beer for the Fall – full flavored enough to hold up to hearty foods and brisk evenings, but light enough to drink on a pleasantly warm afternoon. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Woodstock Inn’s beers in the future. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
The flagship beers of Mayflower Brewing Company in Plymouth, MA are all very traditional British styles. They even have straightforward style-descriptive names. In the age of flashy labels and crazy, occasionally offensive beer names, this is actually kind of refreshing. Mayflower takes a few more liberties with their seasonal beers, making beers that complement the drastically different seasons in New England. Mayflower’s Spring seasonal is a hoppy amber ale named Spring Hop. This brew combines the medium color and malt flavors of a traditional red/amber ale with extensive late additions of four varieties of American hops. When done correctly this combination of malt body with hop aroma and flavor can result in a nicely balanced and complex beer.
Mayflower Spring Hop pours a deep brownish-red, clear, with a moderate white head. There is significant lacing on the glass as you drink. The smell is all American hops with citrus and tropical fruit scents dominating the nose. The hops are very strong in the initial flavor contributing notes of grapefruit, peach, mango and lemon. The malts are also well represented, adding some tastes of caramel, grain and a little brown sugar. The beer is well balanced, medium bodied, and goes down smoothly. At 5.3% ABV it is very drinkable. Mayflower Spring Hop finishes clean with a balanced aftertaste combining a touch of malt sweetness with a little tang from the hops. This is a great Spring beer, easy to drink but still full flavored and complex. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5
Previous Mayflower Reviews:
Mayflower Oatmeal Stout