Allagash Brewing Company might be the best brewery when it comes to special occasion beers. Don’t get me wrong, their year-round regular releases are stellar, but you don’t get a full appreciation for Allagash until you start tasting their limited release bottles. I call these beers “special occasion beers” because while I would love to drink these beers all the time, they tend to be on the pricy side, and while they are well worth the expense it isn’t always feasible. These special releases include many beers that are spontaneuosly-fermented, funky and/or sour, and infused with fruit or other adjunct ingredients. One of their yearly releases is Fluxus, brewed with a different recipe every summer to celebrate the first beer that Allagash sold in 1995. For the first time in 2016 Allagash brewed a second version of Fluxus in the winter, called Hibernal Fluxus. Allagash Hibernal Fluxus 2016 is a Belgian style stout brewed with figs. A portion of the proceeds go to Window Dressers, a group that helps underprivileged Maine family reduce their heating costs in the winter. Hibernal Fluxus 2016 is available for a limited time on draft and in 750 mL bottles.
Allagash Hibernal Fluxus 2016 pours deep brown with a solid mocha head. The scent is a mixture of expressive Belgian yeast and roasted malts. The malt leads the flavor, notes of chocolate, raisin and coffee. This is complemented by plenty of flavor from the fermentation, hints of pear, clove and apricot. The figs add some complexity but are mild, I don’t know that I would have specifically identified them without reading the bottle. Hibernal Fluxus is a full bodied sipper, and packs a little punch at 8% ABV. The finish is dry with some lingering sweet malt and yeasty esters. This beer is worthy of a special occasion, and perfect for sipping on a cold winter night, grab some before it’s gone! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Allagash Reviews:
Allagash Sixteen Counties, Allagash Tiarna, Allagash Confluence 2015, Allagash Curieux, Allagash White, Allagash Dubbel, Allagash/Maine Beer/Rising Tide Prince Tuesday, Allagash Saison, Allagash Black
Merry Christmas (a day late) and Happy Holidays! I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend celebrating with friends and family, and that it included a number of delicious beers. I am enjoying a large variety of styles over the holidays, from hop-bomb IPAs to malty stouts and barleywines. In my opinion you don’t need a specific style for the holiday season, anything delicious will do. There are a number of breweries that make holiday themed beers, and to be honest there aren’t many that I enjoy on a regular basis. Many of them are heavily spiced, which is never something I’ve enjoyed. Belgian style holiday ales are an exception, the dark malts and expressive yeast flavors can hold up to adjunct additions resulting in complex and flavorful beers that work well with the holiday season. One Belgian style holiday ale that I sampled for the first time this weekend was Blitzen, a Belgian strong dark ale from Lamplighter Brewing Company in Cambridge. Blitzen is available for a limited time at the brewery for samples, drafts and growler fills.
Lamplighter Blitzen pours a deep reddish brown with a moderate cream colored head. The scent is a mixture of dark fruit from the malts and esters from the yeast. The yeast leads the flavor, notes of pear, clove and nutmeg. This is complemented by plenty of malt flavor, touches of date, plum, toffee and bread dough. There are minimal hops, just a touch at the end to keep the sweetness from the malt in check. Blitzen is a full bodied sipper, but goes down pretty easy for a beer with 8.8% ABV. The finish is dry with some fruity yeast and malt sweetness lingering on the tongue. I really enjoyed Lamplighter Blitzen, it is the perfect style of beer to celebrate the holidays with! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Lamplighter Reviews:
Lamplighter Lucid Nonsense and Easy Tiger
When Spencer Brewing officially became the first American Trappist brewery last year they had an interesting business plan. The initial plan included an aggressive scale of production and distribution for a single beer, their Spencer Trappist Ale. The reasoning for sticking to a single style was mostly tradition, many of the European Trappist breweries make a limited number of recipes that have been refined over decades. The problem with implementing this strategy as a new American brewery is that the current beer market thrives on novelty. Breweries need to keep producing new and interesting beers to stay relevant in the saturated and competitive marketplace. Spencer realized this when their sales for year two were weaker than anticipated, and they immediately worked on producing some new beers. The second beer produced by America’s first Trappist Brewery is Trappist Holiday Ale, a strong and dark Belgian Abbey ale brewed with added spices. I am not a huge fan of many winter warmer/Christmas ale styles, too many are so heavily spiced that the underlying beer gets lost. I was intrigued to try this hybrid that mixes some of the holiday spices with an expressive Belgian style ale yeast. Spencer Trappist Holiday Ale is available on draft and in 750 mL bottles this winter. I think it was only distributed in Massachusetts this year, correct me if anyone has seen it in another state.
Spencer Trappist Holiday Ale pours a deep brown with a massive off-white head. The scent is fruity and spicy, a combination of Belgian style ale yeast, malts and the adjunct spices. The yeast leads the flavor, notes of clove, apricot and peppercorn. The additional spices add complexity without overwhelming the beer, touches of cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. The taste is rounded out by a rich malt backbone, hints of raisin, currant, date and toffee. The hops are minimal, just enough to dry out the finish and add some balance. Spencer Trappist Holiday Ale is a medium bodied sipper at 9.0% ABV, but drinks smooth with no alcohol in the flavor. The finish is dry with some lingering fruity esters and malt. I am not usually a huge fan of most winter warmer type spiced beers, but the subtle adjunct additions in this beer nicely complement the rich malt and expressive yeast. I am glad Spencer decided to produce more products and I look forward to seeing what they make next! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Spencer Reviews:
Spencer Trappist Ale
This is Trillium week on Hoppy Boston, with a beer review today leading into the second entry in my brewery overview series (hopefully posted tomorrow). It is a fortuitous coincidence that the week I had selected to feature Trillium they come out with some huge news. If you missed it, Trillium is planning on opening a second location in Canton, see their statement HERE. Local beer geeks have always been willing to put up with the lines, tight quarters and occasionally difficult parking situation to get their hands on Trillium beers, so I think the number one frustration has been their limited capacity. Opening the new brewery will allow Trillium to make significantly more beer. Once they are up and running you might even find their bottles of the shelves of your local bottle shop more often than not. As many of you know Trillium needed to shut down for almost a month this winter due to a licensing issue, so having the brewery re-open followed by this announcement has generated a lot of enthusiasm in the local craft beer community.
I am sure that the license snafu was a very challenging situation for the brewers. These types of breweries are small businesses and even very successful businesses can’t afford to go for a month generating minimal income. I stopped by the brewery right before Christmas and it was great to see the community coming out in full force and welcoming them back. As a Christmas present to myself I bought a bottle of nearly every available variety of Trillium. Now I feel like I have a much better grasp on their beers than I did before. While Trillium is best known for their hop-forward ales like Fort Point Pale Ale and Congress St. IPA, they also make a number of Belgian style brews including their eponymous Farmhouse Ale. Their Belgian collection also includes Sinister Kid, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Trillium Sinister Kid is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 750 mL bottles.
Trillium Sinister Kid pours midnight black with a moderate tan head. The scent is a mixture of roasted malts with some fruity esters. The flavors derived from the yeast are the first thing you perceive as you drink, notes of clove, sour apple and pear. There is also significant dark malt character, touches of plum, raisin and a little dark chocolate. The dark fruit flavors from the malt form a pleasant interplay with the estery flavors from the yeast. The beer is medium bodied and goes down very easy for 10% ABV. This is a very solid version of a Belgian dark. I tend to focus on porters and stouts in the winter but it is really nice to mix in the full bodied Belgian styles too. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Trillium Reviews:
Trillium Congress St. IPA, Trillium Farmhouse Ale, Trillium Wakerobin Rye
Some holidays have very defined food and drink standards, like turkey on Thanksgiving, champagne on New Years and obscene amounts of candy on Halloween. Food on Christmas in the U.S. seems to vary from family to family. My parents usually cook up a roast beef or pork while my in-laws enjoy lasagna Christmas Eve and turkey on Christmas Day. There is also no defined beer style to best celebrate the holiday. Some breweries release fresh hopped beers from the fall harvest, while others do maltier ESBs, winter warmers, or stouts. Many Christmas beers include spices or fruits that complement the distinct flavors of the holiday season. One of the most sought-after Christmas releases is Mad Elf by Troegs Brewing Company in Pennsylvania. Mad Elf is a Belgian strong dark ale brewed with cherries and honey. I am a fan of Belgian dark beers in the winter and especially during the holidays. The malt sweetness and fruity esters from the yeast result in a bold and complex brew. The yeast flavors can also nicely complement subtle additions of fruit and spices. Mad Elf is available for a very short time on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Troegs Mad Elf pours a clear deep amber with a mild off-white head. The scent is a mixture of roasty malts and some spicy Belgian style yeast. The taste starts with the malts, significant dark fruit flavors including plum, currant and raisin, along with notes of caramel and chocolate. The yeast is also present with touches of apple, clove, pepper and pear. The cherry flavor is noticeable but subtle, and the honey adds alcohol along with some mild sweetness. At 11% ABV the alcohol is noticeable, but mild on your palate so the beer actually goes down very easy. There isn’t much hop flavor, but the hops add enough balance to keep the beer from being cloying. Troegs Mad Elf is a full bodied sipper that finishes with a touch of sweet fruit. This has emerged as a classic holiday beer for a reason, it is complex, flavorful, and perfect for a cold winter night. Pick up some before it’s gone! Merry Christmas – enjoy your food and beer, whatever it may be! Hoppy Boston score 4.5/5.
Previous Troegs Reviews:
Troegs Troegenator, Troegs Sunshine Pils
Belgian style ales have become a staple of the American craft beer scene, due to their diverse boutique of malt and hop profiles and flavorful strains of yeast. This wasn’t always the case. German and British influenced beer styles gained a major foothold in the US long before their Belgian counterparts. One of the breweries who is most responsible for bringing Belgian ales to American palates is Allagash Brewing Company, based in Portland, ME. Founder Rod Tod brewed his first batches of Allagash as a one-man operation in 1995, since then the brewery has grown into a nationally recognized power on the craft beer scene. Allagash makes a series of year-round Belgian styles, including their ubiquitous White Ale, along with specialty beers and one-off experimental brews. They continue to lead innovation in American interpretations of Belgian styles, including barrel aging in pre-used whiskey and wine barrels, and the use of wild bacteria strains to make sour beers. One of Allagash’s flagship beers is Allagash Black, a Belgian style dark ale brewed with a strong selection of dark malts and Allagash’s proprietary strain of yeast.
Allagash Black pours a very dark brown, nearly black, mildly carbonated with a solid and sustained tan head. The smell starts with the Belgian yeast, mild but present, with hints of apple and raisin. You also get some dark malt aromas on the nose, touches of coffee and roasted barley. The beer is malt forward, the roasted malts come through along with strong chocolate, coffee and brown sugar flavors. The yeast adds a nice complement with fruity esters that give some plum notes along with some must. Earthy hops add some balance and bitterness, but take a back seat to the malt and yeast. Allagash Black is medium bodied, lightly carbonated and drinkable. It weighs in at 7.5% ABV, solid enough to provide some warmth without giving the beer a strong alcoholic flavor. Allagash Black is a great dark beer for the cold nights of late fall and winter. It is no wonder that Allagash has emerged as a mainstay in the New England craft beer scene. Hoppy Boston Score: 4.5/5.
Brewery Ommegang has been making Belgian inspired ales in Cooperstown, NY since 1997. Originally a local brewery, Ommegang was purchased by European brewery Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat, but all of their beer is still developed and brewed in Cooperstown. The backing by a major brewery has helped with distribution, as Ommegang beers are now available in 43 states and Canada. Having national distribution was probably a major selling point in the co-development of a new set of beers inspired by HBO’s smash hit TV show Game of Thrones. This cross promotion is relatively rare in craft beer, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if TV shows, movies and sports franchises start collaborating with craft breweries to make special beers for publicity. The second beer in the Game of Thrones series is Take the Black Stout, a Belgian dark ale brewed with star anise and licorice root. Belgian dark ales encompass a wide range of dark colored beers that are brewed with Belgian yeast, but don’t fit into traditional abbey styles. When done well this style complements the roasted and dark malt flavors of porters and stouts with the fruity esters of the Belgian yeast.
Brewery Ommergang Take the Black Stout pours almost pitch black with a small light brown head. The first smell contains notes of roasted malt along with a touch of licorice, followed by some light must and raisin from the yeast. The flavor is dominated by the dark malts; roasted barley, coffee and a little dark chocolate. The fruity yeast flavors are present but muted, there are hints of dark fruit flavors like plum and currant. The beer resembles an English or American stout more than many Belgian darks. I’m not a huge black licorice fan, so I was glad that the flavor here was mild, you get hints of anise but it’s not overbearing. There is enough hop bitterness to balance the beer and keep it from being sweet, but the dark malts are the star here. At 7.0% ABV this is a solid beer but not as heavy as many of the American craft beer’s dark offerings, and the alcohol doesn’t show up in the flavor profile. Take the Black Stout has a sturdy body and full flavor, making it the perfect beer for a cold winter night, even if you don’t live on a giant wall of ice. As the Stark family motto goes, winter is coming, so grab a bottle of Take the Black Stout to help keep the chill off. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.