The biggest news in the beer world over the last few months has been the partnership agreements between some of the world’s large brewing conglomerates and a couple of the highest volume independent brewers in the US. These agreements are always met with mixed emotions by vocal beer lovers. While the idea of expanded production and distribution are great, there are always a few people who accuse the smaller brewer of selling out and vow to stop buying their product. Fortunately these people are a very small minority, I don’t think breweries like Boulevard, Goose Island and Blue Point are hurting for business because they no longer fit into the established definition of “craft beer”. One very interesting deal is the agreement between Duvel and Firestone Walker that was announced in July. Duvel purchased a portion of Firestone Walker as an investment partner, Firestone Walker is still free to run their business and brew their beers as they see fit. I am guessing that Duvel will use some of their distribution power to help expand the Firestone Walker blueprint (probably in Europe), and Firestone Walker will use some of the cash to help expand production. I am all for this deal, especially if it means expanded production/distribution of some of Firestone Walker’s rare/barrel aged beers. One of the beers that you’ll probably start to see everywhere is Wookey Jack, Firestone Walker’s black rye IPA. Wookey Jack is brewed with a diverse malt profile including rye, wheat and de-bittered black malts and then hopped with Magnum, Citra and Amarillo hops. It is available year-round on draft and in 12 oz. and 22 oz. bottles.
Firestone Walker Wookey Jack pours a deep brown with a solid tan head. The scent is mostly fruity New World hops along with a little roasted barley. The hops lead the flavor, notes of lemon, grapefruit, mango and pine along with a soft but noticeable bitterness. The dark malts are also well represented, touches of milk chocolate, coffee and toffee along with just a little spicy rye. The beer is medium bodied and goes down smooth, but packs a surprising punch at 8.3% ABV. The finish is crisp with a bit of lingering hop and roasted malt flavors. I usually don’t care for the use of fruity hops in black IPAs, I think the pine/grass/earthy hop flavors are usually a better complement to the dark malts, but this beer is really good. Regardless of who is involved in their finances, Firestone Walker knows how to make great beer and this is a stellar example. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Firestone Walker Reviews:
Firstone Walker Oaktoberfest, Firestone Walker Opal Saison, Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA
Many craft beer enthusiasts have a tendency to hyper-focus on what is new and with so many new beer releases it is easy to try entirely new brews every time you grab a beer. I can be guilty of this on occasion, sometimes I need to remind myself to mix in a few old favorites. This presents a challenge for bigger craft breweries that already have a large number of beers in regular rotation. As these breweries introduce new beers should they also retire some of their older/less popular brews? Stone Brewing Company recently announced that they were retiring a few of their year round offerings including their amber ale Levitation and their black IPA Sublimely Self-Righteous. While these beers were popular with some drinkers, their sales didn’t justify continuing year-round distribution. I thought it would be appropriate to drink and review Sublimely Self-Righteous before it becomes much harder to find. Stone first brewed this black IPA to celebrate their 11th anniversary in 2007 and it became part of their regular rotation in 2009. The last bottling will be in April, so you have a few more months to try the beer before it is gone.
Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous pours midnight black with a moderate tan head. The scent is very hop-forward, a mixture of floral, citrus and resin aromas. The taste is also extremely hoppy, notes of pine, cut grass and lemon. This is accompanied by aggressive bitterness, Stone tends to be in-your-face and this beer lives up to their reputation. The malts are present in the flavor, touches of unsweetened chocolate and strongly brewed coffee that complement the pungent and bitter hops. The beer is medium bodied but drinks like a heavier beer due to the full flavor and bitterness. It is also by no means a light beer weighing in at 8.7% ABV. Overall this is a solid version of a black IPA, a good beer but not my favorite from Stone. I can understand why they want to shelve this recipe in favor of some of their newer creations, but if you are a big fan of the style you should try this one before it’s gone. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
Previous Stone Reviews:
Stone Enjoy By IPA, Stone Go To IPA
While I named this blog Hoppy Boston, and I do tend to center on my current home state of Massachusetts, my goal was always to cover breweries from across New England. I have lived in New England my whole life, the first 22 years in Maine and then Massachusetts, along with a two year hiatus to Connecticut for my post-doc. I moved to CT just as the craft beer scene in MA was starting to ramp up, and I was disappointed in the initial selection of beers in my temporary home state. Naturally, as soon as I moved back to Massachusetts, a number of new and exciting breweries started to open in Connecticut. Relatively few of these breweries have expanded to the point where they distribute their product North, I really need to find an excuse to do a CT beer tour in the near future. One brewery that has recently increased production and distribution though is Two Roads Brewery in Stratford, CT. Two Roads makes a wide variety of year-round, seasonal and special release beers that are now widely available in MA. One of their winter releases is Route of All Evil, a black IPA that is a mixture of dark malt flavor and aromatic hops from the Pacific Northwest. Two Roads Route of All Evil also has one of the creepiest labels you’ll see on a craft beer bottle, featuring a character that looks like the clown from “It” on a small tricycle. Route of All Evil is available during the winter on draft and in 12 oz. bottles.
Two Roads Route of All Evil pours a midnight black with a moderate khaki-colored head. The scent is mostly hops, piney and floral, with a little dark malt. The taste is hop-forward, notes of lemon, earth and trees with a solid hit of bitterness. There is also plenty of malt, touches of coffee, chocolate and molasses. This beer definitely has a nice balance between the hops and malt, exactly what you look for in a black IPA. The beer is medium bodied with a pleasant bitter kick and moderate alcohol at 7.5% ABV. This is a very solid version of a black IPA, the hop selections are on point for the malt profile, which is usually the biggest challenge with black IPAs. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Two Roads Reviews:
Two Roads Workers Comp Saison
Since I started writing this blog I’ve noticed a few unexpected perks. A lot of my friends want to talk to me about beer and make/get recommendations. They also introduce me to others who are beer enthusiasts, and pass along word about the blog. Nights out at a craft beer bar are a lot of fun, giving advice on what to order and watching people enjoy beers they might have never tried otherwise. One of the greatest benefits though occurs when one of my friends comes across a beer that they enjoy and I haven’t reviewed it, and they decide to grab a bottle for me. I was recently out for a drink with my friend Rory and we were talking about our favorite beers. I suggested some porters and stouts knowing that he liked darker styles. He asked if I’d ever tried a black IPA from Lagunitas. When I admitted that I hadn’t he insisted that we swing by the beer store and grab a bottle. Turns out it was a good recommendation!
Lagunitas Night Time pours nearly pitch black with a moderate tan head. The smell is mostly foresty and floral hops, along with a little roasty dark malt. The hops lead the flavor too, notes of pine, grass, earth and a hint of lemon. This is complemented by a large dose of dark malt with significant chocolate and coffee along with a little plum and raisin. The beer has noticeable bitterness but it isn’t overly strong. Lagunitas Night Time is full bodied, but goes down pretty easy for a beer with 8.2% ABV. Overall this is a really well done black IPA. Sometimes the combination of dark malts and high levels of hops can lead to a muddled product with clashing flavors, but the flavors here work well together. If you are up in the air on the black IPA style I recommend giving this one a shot. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Lagunitas reviews:
Beer in America was a local product from the first colonies of European settlers through the dawn of Prohibition. Part of this was necessity, the lack of reliable refridgeration and packaging made it difficult to transport fresh beer. Prohibition wiped out many of the small breweries, and after its repeal large, industrial breweries dominated American beer for decades. The craft beer movement has brought back the ideas of local flavor along with the use of quality ingredients and a willingness to innovate. When Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan founded their brewpub in San Fransisco in 2000 they wanted to bring back the focus on community themes. Fittingly they named their brewpub after the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition. 21st Amendment Brewing Company has grown dramatically and now their beers are distributed in cans and on draft across the country (the canning line is actually done in Minnesota for cost reasons). One of 21st Amendments year-round releases is Back in Black, a black IPA. 21st Amendment pays homage to American history by naming beers after well-known moments. Back in Black refers to Paul Revere’s midnight ride through the streets of Boston. It is also fitting that a black IPA is one of their flagship beers, since this style is one of the few to originate in the US. Back in Black combines Black, Crystal and Munich malts with Cascade and Centennial hops.
21st Amendment Back in Black pours a cola brown with a huge off-white head. The smell has some hops, with pine and floral notes, but they aren’t overly strong. There are also mild dark malt scents. The taste starts with the hops, strong flavors of deep forest and freshly cut grass. The dark malts are also well represented with touches of coffee, molasses and brown sugar. The beer is solidly bitter, with just enough malt flavor to keep it from being overwhelming. Back in Black is medium bodied and drinkable, it weighs in at 6.8% ABV. The finish is a pleasant mixture of some dark malt sweetness and mouth puckering bitterness. Overall this is a solid version of a black IPA, with a nice balance between the malt and hop flavors. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Peak Organic Brewing in Portland, ME is proud to support local businesses that focus on the production and use of fresh, organic and sustainable ingredients. Peak Organic sources many of the malts, hops and adjunct ingredients for their beers from local farms and artisanal businesses, many in New England. It is the support of Peak Organic and other breweries with a similar philosophy that has led to the growth of local farms producing organic hops and malts. This shows the impact that craft beer can have on the economy, not just the jobs produced making and selling the beer, but also the farms that grow the key ingredients necessary for brewing. Peak Organic makes a series of year-round and seasonal ales. One of their most popular beers is Hop Noir, their Black IPA. Hop Noir is brewed with a combination of dark malts including organic black patent malt along with liberal additions of Centennial hops.
Peak Organic Hop Noir pours a very dark brown with a mild, but well sustained tan head. The smell is pretty tame overall. There are some hops to start, with notes of pine and citrus. This is followed by some dark malts which contribute coffee and dark fruit aromas. The hops are much stronger in the flavor, adding pine, earthy and spicy notes with aggressive bitterness. This bitterness is rounded out by the dark malty flavors, chocolate, black coffee, caramelized sugar and a touch of vanilla. The beer finishes solidly bitter, leaving a lingering sensation on the tongue. This is not surprising because Hop Noir has 98 IBUs (the human tongue can only taste relative bitterness up to 100-120 IBUs, so this is on the high end). At 8.2% ABV Hop Noir is pretty strong for a black IPA, and the alcohol combines with the pungency of the hops to make this a slow sipper. If you like your black IPAs balanced between dark malty flavors and a tart finish then Peak Organic Hop Noir is a good choice. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
White Birch Brewing has been making a variety of British, Belgian and American style ales out of their brewery in Hookset, NH since 2009. In addition to their flagship beers they offer a series of seasonal, small batch and barrel aged ales. One of the great things about supporting local breweries, aside from the delicious fresh beer, is their involvement in the community. White Birch is one of many breweries that is actively involved in charity work, aiding a number of New Hampshire based causes. White Birch also runs a unique apprenticeship program. In this program someone interested in learning about brewing and the craft beer industry can apprentice at White Birch, 1 day a week for 6 months. At the end each apprenticeship, the individual designs and brews their own beer, which the brewery bottles and sells. Due to the expansion of the brewery this apprenticeship program is currently on hiatus, but they hope to have it return in the summer of 2014. One of the beers to come out of the White Birch apprenticeship program is Nyx, an American Black Ale/Black IPA. Originally brewed by apprentice Adam in 2011, Nyx was so popular that it is now part of White Birch’s regular fall seasonal lineup. Nyx is named after the Greek goddess of night, and marries dark malts with bitter American hops.
White Birch Brewery Nyx pours a very dark brown with a small tan head. The malts come through strongly in the smell, with significant chocolate and coffee scents. This is followed by some light hop aromas which contribute some pine and earthy smells. The taste is initially malt forward too, espresso, dark chocolate, and some brown sugar. This maltiness is balanced by intense hop bitterness, with resin and citrus flavors that cut through the sweetness of the malts. The beer has a solidly bitter finish and medium body. It is easy to drink for a dark and bitter beer. Overall White Birch Nyx is a very solid take on the Black IPA style. I could have used a little more hoppiness on the nose, but there is great balance in flavor. I will definitely be checking out some of White Birch’s other offerings in the near future. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.