My wife and I had a somewhat rare treat the other weekend, a child-free afternoon thanks to my in-laws, so we did a little date day (it was also the 6-year anniversary of our first date so we had a good reason to celebrate). We decided to head up to Salem, get some lunch and finally check out the new Notch brewery and tasting room. The brewery is beautiful, big and open, plenty of different types of seating, skee ball and an outdoor beer garden. My wife perfectly summed up my feelings when I asked her what she wanted and she replied, “pick anything, I’ve never had a bad Notch beer”. We sampled a few beers, got some more to go, and even met owner Chris Lohring. Chris explained that they were currently focused on hoppy pale ales and traditional Czech lagers, but would branch out from there. I like the initial areas of focus, hop-forward pale beers will always pay the bills and the non-pilsner varieties of Czech lager are underappreciated in the US. I wish I’d had more time to sample everything they offered. One of the beers we tried at the brewery and then grabbed to go was Dog and Pony Show, a pale American wheat beer with a generous dose of Citra hops. Notch Dog and Pony show is available on draft (including 1L pours at the brewery!) and to-go in 32 oz. crowlers.
Notch Dog and Pony Show pours a clear bright yellow with a solid white head. The scent is a big burst of citrusy hops. The flavor is also hop forward, notes of grapefruit, orange and mango with a very mild bitterness. A light malt backbone rounds out the flavor, hints of white bread and honey. Dog and Pony show is light bodied and crushable at 4.0% ABV, I had no issue polishing off a 32 oz. crowler in one sitting. The finish is crisp and clean with a touch of lingering hop flavor. This beer perfectly showcases Notch’s mission, low ABV bt still tons of flavor. Notch’s year-round releases are staples of my beer fridge, but the addition of draft only releases like this will necessitate regular visits to Salem. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Notch Reviews:
Notch Infinite Jest, Notch Cerne Pivo, Notch The Mule, Notch Hootenanny, Notch Left of the Dial, Notch Saison
I’ve been able to visit a number of new or new-to-me breweries over the last couple months, trimming down the list of places I needed to try for the first time (of course the list of places that I need to visit again seems to get longer and longer). One place that I still haven’t had a chance to try is the new Notch Brewery in Salem. This is mostly due to the fact that I don’t make many trips to that part of Massachusetts (a poor excuse), and that I only get a couple chances to visit breweries each month and I try to focus on beers I can’t find in bottle shops (I know, also a poor excuse). I know that Notch has a bunch of brewery only beers, and I’ll do my best to make the trek soon. I also want one of those kick-ass liter mugs. Even though I haven’t visited the brewery, there are Notch beers in my fridge all the time, I always like to have flavorful session beers on hand. The beer that has quickly become a staple is Infinite Jest, Notch’s hoppy American wheat beer. It is important to remember that this is a beer brewed with wheat but not a coriander/orange peel witbier or a German Hefeweizen with it’s banana and clove flavors. Actually, many hop forward pale ales and IPAs are now brewed with a solid dose of wheat, it helps accentuate the hop flavors and drinkability. Notch Infinite Jest is available year round on draft and in 12 oz. cans.
Notch Infinite Jest pours a hazy gold with a solid white head. The scent is a big burst of fruity new world hops. The flavor is hop forward, notes of orange, mango and lemon along with just a touch of bitterness. This is balanced by a solid malt presence for a session beer, hints of wheat bread and crackers. Infinite Jest is light bodied and super easy to drink, sessionable at 4.3% ABV. The finish is crisp and clean with a little lingering hop flavor. I’ve had Infinite Jest quite a few times now and it has emerged as my favorite beer from the brewery, which is saying a lot because I’ve enjoyed many Notch offerings! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Notch Reviews:
Notch Cerne Pivo, Notch The Mule, Notch Hootenanny, Notch Left of the Dial, Notch Saison
There is a misconception amongst some beer drinkers that dark colored beers are higher in alcohol than lighter colored beers. I still remember being shocked many years ago when I found out the Guinness Draught was lower in alcohol than Bud Light. Apparently some brewers also believe that dark beers need to be heavy and loaded with booze, the shelves are stocked with imperial stouts and robust porters, but have very few sessionable darker beers. I love some roasted malt flavor, especially during the winter, but I get burned out quickly on beers that creep into double digit ABV. Fortunately we have Notch Brewing Company in Massachusetts, you know when you see one of their beers on the shelves or on tap it will be 4.5% ABV or lower. Notch’s winter release is Cerne Pivo, a sessionable black lager modeled after the dark lagers of the Czech Republic. Cerne Pivo is brewed with a series of European roasted malt varieties along with the classic Saaz noble hop. Notch Cerne Pivo is available during the winter months on draft and in 12 oz. cans.
Notch Cerne Pivo pours pitch black with a solid tan head. The scent is mild, just a hint of roasted malt. The first sip packs some solid malt flavor without being sweet, touches of coffee, toasted bread, tobacco and black licorice. Some earthy hops add a crisp bitterness and balance out the malts. The beer has a clean and crushable lager body, and at 4.0% ABV you can put back a few with ease. The finish is smooth with just a hint of roasted malt on the aftertaste. Cerne Pivo is very well done, there is enough of the dark malty flavor you crave in the cold winter months but you will last much longer drinking these than boozy imperial stouts. Grab a six pack to get ready for the Patriots playoff game on Saturday! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Notch Reviews:
Notch The Mule, Notch Hootenanny, Notch Left of the Dial, Notch Saison
Craft beer drinkers can be a particular bunch when it comes to beer style, and also when it comes to beer ingredients. Certain ingredients have gained a reputation as not worthy of craft beer. Some of this is the fault of “big beer”, who has used lower quality filler ingredients as a way to save money and or to up alcohol content without adding much flavor. One ingredient that ended up on this list was corn. For years the Brewers Association wouldn’t recognize a beer as craft if corn was used as an ingredient. Craft beer visionary Chris Lohring of Notch Brewing wants to change this misconception. He argues that corn was an important ingredient in pre-prohibition beers in the U.S., and can be an important part of the mash in a quality craft lager (See his full argument and more info HERE). As he usually does, Chris put his money where his mouth is, and brewed a corn lager, called The Mule. The current version of The Mule is brewed with malted and flaked corn from local provider Valley Malt, along with Santiam hops. The Mule is mostly sold on draft, but you can find 22 oz. bottles at some local beer stores (I found some at Craft Beer Cellar in Newton).
Notch The Mule pours a clear straw gold with a solid white head and significant carbonation. The smell is very hoppy, some fruit and resin – not IPA level hoppy scents, but you get a nice hit in the nose. The taste also starts with the hops, floral with hints of lemon, guava and pine. the malt profile is very clean, a mild grainy and nutty flavor that really lets the hops shine without overwhelming the palate. Like every Notch beer I’ve tried The Mule is incredibly easy to drink, and at 4.2% ABV a 22 oz. bottle goes down with ease. Grab some to enjoy on the last few warm days of 2014, or really any time. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Notch Reviews:
Notch Hootenanny, Notch Left of the Dial, Notch Saison
I continue to challenge my palate and expand my repertoire with sour beer styles. Many beer drinkers, who I respect, love sour beers. They rave about the diversity of flavors and count many sours amongst their favorite beers of all time. The sour style that has resonated the most with me (so far) is the Berliner Weisse. The Berliner Weisse combines spicy wheat malts with a mild and refreshing tart acidity in a light bodied and easy to drink beer. Many Berliners are then mixed with fruit syrups, combining the sweet fruit with the sour acid. The Berliner Weisse style traditionally has low alcohol (3-5% ABV), so it came as no surprise that session beer experts Notch Brewing Company decided to try their hand at this style. Notch named their Berliner Hootenanny, it is available in 22 oz. bottles and on draft. At 3.3% ABV it is a session beer by any definition, perfect for the last few warm weeks of summer.
Notch Hootenanny pours a very pale yellow, slightly hazy with a moderate but quickly dissipating white head. The smell is pretty mild, combining a little wheat with some acidity. The taste starts with some spicy wheat malts followed up with some gentle tartness. The beer is very well carbonated, which works well with the light body and low alcohol. This beer reminds me of a brut champagne in a way, bubbly, refreshing and dry in the finish. I’m still getting used to the sour style and I really enjoyed the drinkability of this beer. Notch Hootenanny is a great starter sour beer. While some other Berliners I’ve tried have had mouth-puckering tartness, the mild flavor in this beer can help you get used to the flavor profile. Or you could just enjoy it as a refreshing low ABV beer over the last few days of the summer.
Previous Notch Reviews:
Notch Left of the Dial, Notch Saison
Americans love their hop-forward beers! Many people who make the transition from macro-lagers to craft beers quickly gravitate toward IPAs. It should be no surprise that this style has become the most produced variety of craft beer. The popularity of the IPA, and the increase in sales resulting from a beer being labeled an IPA, has led to an explosion of IPA spin-off beers. This includes Black IPA, White IPA, Belgian IPA, and the newly popular Session IPA. While American IPAs traditionally have 6-7% ABV (or higher), there was a demand for hop-forward beers with lower alcohol. Now there are a huge number of local and national offerings labeled “Session IPAs”. The proliferation of this new style led to an inevitable backlash from many craft beer enthusiasts. They call Session IPAs a marketing gimmick for mislabeled American Pale Ales, and in many cases this is true. One beer that seems to be above criticism is Left of the Dial, the Session IPA from Notch Brewing Company. Notch specializes in session beers. All of their offerings are 4.5% ABV or below. So instead of taking a 7% ABV IPA and reducing the malt in the recipe to lower the alcohol, Notch carefully crafted a balanced ale that showcases popular American hops. Notch is brewed with Fawcett Golden Promise along with a small amount of caramalt and oats. Restrained addition of popular hop varieties Simcoe, Citra, Palisades and Crystal add the distinct flavor associated with American IPAs without adding overwhelming bitterness. Left of the Dial is now a year-round offering, available in 12 oz cans and on draft (rumor has it that you can occasionally find it on cask as well, looking forward to trying that).
Notch Left of the Dial IPA pours an orange tinted yellow, slightly cloudy with a solid white head. The hops are present in the smell without being overwhelming, scents of pine and citrus fruit. The taste is also hop forward without being overdone, notes of lemon, orange and resin. Unlike many “session IPAs”, there is noticeable malt providing balance to the beer and contributing touches of biscuit and light grain. The beer is very easy to drink, there is a little bitterness but not as strong as many hop-forward beers. At 4.3% ABV this is a session beer by most definitions, perfect for day drinking. As the invitations to summer BBQs and lake houses start to pour in, Notch Left of the Dial is going to quickly become one of my go-to summer beers. Full flavored, hop forward but well balanced, and very easy to drink. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Notch Reviews:
It seems like many craft breweries are focused on bigger and bolder beers. Imperial stouts, barleywines and barrel aged strong ales can top out at over 12% ABV. Beers that would have been double IPAs just a few years ago are plain IPAs now. This makes it difficult for some beer lovers to enjoy more than a beer or two in a sitting, especially those of us who are starting to get old and don’t have quite the tolerance we used to. This has led some brewers to embrace session beers. Session beers are well crafted, full on flavor but low in ABV. The definition of a session beer varies a little depending on who you ask. Beer Advocate says it is any beer at or below 5.0% ABV, while others set the maximum alcohol content as low as 4.0% by volume. Notch Brewing company of Ipswich, MA only makes session beers and all of their brews weigh in at 4.5% ABV or below. Even with the lower alcohol content Notch is able to make a wide range of flavorful lagers and ales, great to bring to BBQs, the beach or tailgating. Notch beers are available on draft, in bottles, and now in cans. One of their flagship beers is Notch Saison, a light and flavorful Belgian style farmhouse ale.
Notch Saison pours a clear gold with solid carbonation and a full and sustained white head. The smell is dominated by the Belgian yeast, with notes of clove and must, followed by some subtle maltiness. The taste is also yeast-forward with tastes of spice, funk and green apple. The malt contributes some baked bread and grain flavors. The hops are subtle but present, adding a touch of pine and earthiness. All of the flavors are in balance, present but none dominate the flavor. The beer goes down smoothly and finishes slightly dry with a mild lingering crispness. At 3.8% ABV the beer is very light, but still full on flavor. Notch Saison is a great beer to have if you’d like to drink a few without getting drunk, the ideal of a session beer. It’s a perfect beer for a night like New Year’s Eve. You’ll have a much better chance making it to midnight drinking session beer! Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.