I am a bit behind on my reviews, I did a major stock up run in mid-August and then my trip to Maine, and while I’ve sampled and taken notes on all of those beers I haven’t written the reviews yet. Need to get used to this two articles a weeks schedule, it’s just too hard to consistently do three with my new commute/job/schedule. Anyways, one of the stops I made in Maine was to Marshall Wharf Brewing Company in Belfast, easily the closest brewery to my parent’s house. This wasn’t my first visit to Marshall Wharf but it’s my first review, last year their canning line was down and the growler I bought didn’t make the trip back. Marshall Wharf is a throwback in many ways, while many breweries are building state of the art taprooms with décor by local artists the Marshall Wharf taproom is on the lower level of a building, with furnishings that are scant and clearly second (or third) hand. The location of the brewery couldn’t be better though, right on the waterfront of Belfast harbor. The brewery is only open during the early afternoon, by 4 you can sample their beers upstairs at Three Tides, an affiliated restaurant and bar. In August I stopped by and did a tasting of their eclectic selections, leaving with a four pack of Bitter Truth, a traditional English ESB. The one downer from the trip, I also grabbed a pint glass but it broke on the trip back south. They don’t appear to have an online store, so I guess this gives me a good excuse to go back the next time I’m in Maine!
Marshall Wharf Bitter Truth ours a clear deep copper with a pillowy off-white head. The scent is a mixture of bready malts and herbal hops. The flavor is balanced, just what you’d expect from an ESB. There is a solid malt presence, notes of toast, biscuits and caramel. This is complemented by the old world hops, touches of cut grass, flowers and pine along with a little bitter bite. Bitter Truth is medium bodied, smooth and not too boozy at 5.5% ABV. The finish is a mixture of crisp hop bite and just a hint of malt sweetness. Marshall Wharf Bitter Truth is a well done take on an underappreciated style, and the brewery will continue to be part of my routine when I visit family in Maine. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
The older I get the more I appreciate a well done session beer. I love double IPAs and imperial stouts, but if I’m out with friends and having more than a beer or two it is nice to have a craft beer that is full on flavor and lower in alcohol. Banner Beer Company is a contract brewery based in Grafton, MA that focuses entirely on session beers that combine full flavor with low alcohol. Banner is headed by Todd Charbonneau, previously the long time head brewer of Harpoon. Banner makes a series of year-round and seasonal beers with the hope of developing a diverse and delicious profile of flavors from lighter beers. Banner Beer’s new winter seasonal is called All Nighter, a British style ESB (Extra Special Bitter). It combines a full malt character with traditional British hops.
Banner Beer All Nighter pours a clear deep copper with a mild off-white head. The smell is mild, with some aromas of baked bread and earthy hops. The taste starts with the medium malts, caramel and grain with touches of butter and roasted nuts. The hops provide nice balance, some pine and earthy notes and solid bitterness. The beer has a nice light mouthfeel, it’s very easy to drink but still full in flavor. At 4.5% ABV Banner Beer All Nighter is sessionable, low enough in alcohol so you can have more than a couple. The finish is a little malt flavor balanced by some bitterness that lingers on the tongue. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
My wife loves Christmas, it is her absolute favorite time of year. I’ve never been a big seasonal decorator, but our apartment now has a large and fully decorated tree, stockings and a host of other festive Christmas ornamentation. My wife is also a craft beer drinker with a very respectable palate, she loves IPAs and most Belgian beers. One of her all-time favorite beers is Gritty McDuff’s Christmas Ale, you can usually find some in our fridge in November and December. I think the tie-in to Christmas helps, but this is also a very solid beer on its own merits. Gritty McDuff’s Christmas Ale is an ESB, a British style that balances medium colored and flavorful malts with a solid hop bitterness. Christmas Ale uses crystal malt and roasted barley for the deep color and malty flavor, followed by four varieties of hops to add bitterness, flavor and balance. While many Christmas ales are spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and other seasonal flavorings, Gritty’s Christmas Ale is brewed without any adjuncts.
Gritty McDuff’s Christmas Ale pours a clear and dark reddish/brown with a small white head. The smell is malt forward, brown sugar, toasted bread and a touch of raisin. The taste starts malty, with notes of toffee, biscuit and molasses. The hops provide nice balance to the flavor, there is a solid hop flavor of pine, earth and spice. The bitterness from the hops is in balance with the dark malt sweetness. There is a touch of warming alcohol in the finish, at 6.2% ABV it isn’t an overly heavy beer, but you get a touch in the flavor. Despite the alcohol the beer goes down pretty easy, it has a medium to full body but it is delicious to sip. The aftertaste is a good mix of malt sweetness and some hop bitterness. Overall this is a very well executed version of an English style ESB, with an even balance of malt and hops. Grab a six pack and enjoy a few with your Christmas dinner or leave it under the tree for someone special! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Gritty McDuff’s opened their first brewpub in Portland, ME in 1988, with the mission of making great small-batch ales and serving them in an English-style pub atmosphere. They now have brewpubs in three Maine locations, Portland, Freeport and Auburn. Gritty’s also bottles and distributes their beer into six states in the Northeast. Gritty’s beers are based on traditional British ale styles, from their year-round bitter, brown and IPA’s to seasonal offerings including Halloween Ale. Gritty McDuff’s Halloween Ale is an ESB, or Extra Special Bitter, a traditional English style that blends medium/dark malt character, solid hop bitterness and higher alcohol content than British bitter or pale ales. Despite the “bitter” in the description, ESBs aren’t hop-bombs like IPAs, ideally they are slightly darker and more balanced between malt sweetness and hop bitterness.
Gritty McDuff’s Halloween Ale pours a clear amber/red, lightly carbonated with a small off-white head. The smell is pretty balanced, some spice and earthy notes from the hops combined with some malt and light brown sugar. The first taste is slightly malty, notes of caramel and toasted bread. This sweetness is nicely balanced with a solid hop bitterness. The hops add some pine, spice and herbal flavors. The mouthfeel is on the lighter side, with effervescent carbonation, and the beer goes down smooth. The finish has a nice bitterness, it’s not going to pucker your mouth like a hop-bomb IPA, but the aftertaste has a tartness that makes you want another sip. Overall this is a very solid version of an English style ESB, appropriately balanced between malty and bitter, and full at 6.0% ABV. This is a great beer to have on hand in the fall, solid enough to hold up to the chill, but not overly heavy. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.