When Spencer Brewery was introduced as the first the first American Trappist brewery I had dreams of a constant supply of traditional Abbey style ales from a local source. They started with a single beer, their Trappist Ale which is a very tasty Belgian pale, and I was intrigued when they announced they were adding a number of new beers to the lineup. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed to see an IPA, imperial stout and Oktoberfest in the expanded lineup, not that the beers were bad it just wasn’t the styles I would expect from a Trappist brewery. The one beer that fit the bill (and I really enjoyed) was their Christmas ale, a delicious take on a spiced Belgian dark. I was really excited when Spencer announced that they were making a Belgian quadruple, this is one of my favorite Belgian styles and there aren’t enough quality local versions. I am hoping they follow this up with a tripel, my other favorite abbey ale. Spencer Monk’s Reserve Belgian Quadruple is available now on draft and in 11.2 oz and 750 mL bottles.
Spencer Monk’s Reserve Quadruple pours deep brown with a solid creamy head. The aroma features fruity and spicy Belgian style yeast. This is a complex sipper, just what you want in a quad. There is plenty of malt flavor, notes of fig, brown sugar, molasses, raisin and just a touch of booze. The yeast adds touches of apricot, clove and peppercorn. There is minimal hop flavor, fitting the style. Monk’s Reserve is full bodied and packs some punch at 10.2% ABV, it was nice to find this is a 11.2 oz bottle because a bomber would take a while to drink. The finish is rich with lingering malt and yeast flavors. This is a really nice quad, the type of beer I’ve been looking for since Spencer became the first American Trappist brewery. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Spencer Reviews:
Spencer Festive Lager, Spencer Holiday Ale, Spencer Trappist Ale
I love a well made bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout as much as anyone, but it is definitely not a unique beer style anymore. When they are well done the combination of bourbon and malt is delicious, but there are way too many mediocre versions on the market. Instead off adding to the glut, I would love to see more breweries take some risks with their barrel programs, branch out to different beer styles and different types of barrels. I mentioned last week that an under-utilized beer style, in general but also for barrel-aging, is the Belgian quadruple. Quads are big and boozy but also complex and there is a lot of room to play with malt/yeast combinations to make a delicious beer. Brewmaster Jack’s newest release is Tennessee Prinse, a quadruple aged in Tennessee whiskey barrels. While I love a quality bourbon, Jack Daniels used to be a staple of mine when I was younger and drank whiskey on a somewhat regular basis, and I appreciate the subtle differences in flavor that Tennesse whiskeys provide. I also think it’s appropriate that a brewery with “Jack’ in their name would use whiskey from Tennessee. Brewmaster Jack Tennessee Prinse is available now in 4-packs of 12 oz. bottles.
Brewmaster Jack Tennessee Prinse pours a deep brown with a minimal off-white head. The scent has plenty of whiskey along with some fruity esters from the Belgian-style yeast. The yeast hits the tongue first with notes of apple, pepper and bubblegum. This is followed by full malt flavor, hints of black cherry, date, molasses and currant. The whiskey rounds out the flavor with touches of oak, vanilla and some warming booze. Tennessee Prinse is a full bodied sipper, but drinks very smooth for a beer with 11.5% ABV. The finish has some fruity esters and just a little late alcohol. This beer is great, we really need more barrel aged quads, especially unique and well-crafted versions like this. Definitely worth a try. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Brewmaster Jack Reviews:
Brewmaster Jack Jan, Brewmaster Jack Ambrewsia, Brewmaster Jack Huell Melon, Brewmaster Jack Motueka, Brewmaster Jack Aquila
As more breweries open or expand and competition for the attention of drinkers continues to increase it is important for a brewery to have a calling-card beer. While flagship beers will make up the bulk of sales and be a good introduction to the brand, having a seasonal or rotating release that people look forward to trying each year helps keep the brewery on the minds of potential customers. Sometimes I’ll go months without picking up a beer from a particular brewery, and then their calling-card beer gets released and reminds me to grab a few of their flagships too. For the sake of clarity, calling-card beers don’t need to be whalez (hard to find/wait in line beers), many times they are widely released and readily available during the appropriate season. Three years after it’s initial release I think it’s safe to say that Yankee Swap has become a calling-card beer for Slumbrew. Yankee Swap is brewed with a different recipe each year, but it’s always a big beer aged in rum barrels. Aging the beer in rum barrels, instead of the bourbon barrels that have become omnipresent in American breweries, really sets Yankee Swap apart. I really enjoyed the imperial stout in 2014, and loved the idea of a Belgian style quadruple for the 2015 Yankee Swap release. Slumbrew Yankee Swap is released each year in the early winter on draft and in 22 oz. bottles. On a complete side-note, I can’t believe I don’t have any Slumbrew glassware yet, that is something I plan on fixing in the very near future.
Slumbrew Yankee Swap 2015 pours a deep amber brown with a massive off-white head. The scent is a mixture of fruity Belgian ale yeast along with a little malt and rum. The flavor is complex, but the components work well together. The malts add robust notes of date, raisin, cherry and cocoa. The Belgian style yeast isn’t overly expressive, but adds hints of pear, apricot and peppercorn. The rum is present, especially as the beer warms, adding some boozy sweetness without overwhelming the beer. Yankee Swap 2015 is full bodied and you get a little alcohol in the flavor, but not too boozy for a beer with 12% ABV. The finish mixes fruity esters, sweet malt and a little rum. This is my favorite version of Yankee Swap so far, the inherent malt and yeast flavors in the quadruple work really well with the rum. I will definitely be grabbing a few more bottles for the cellar! Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Slumbrew Reviews:
Slumbrew Seasonale Creep, Slumbrew Yankee Swap 2014, Slumbrew American Fresh Tap Room, Slumbrew Attic and Eaves, Slumbrew Island Day, Slumbrew Snow Angel, Slumbrew Trekker Trippel, Slumbrew Sittin’ on Hop of the World
There are many reasons to love quality beer including the diverse flavor profiles, sharing bottles with friends, the excitement in finding something new and delicious and the great memories that come rushing back with the first sip of an old favorite. That last one is a big reason that I was so disappointed to hear that Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project was closing. Jack D’Or will always be a special beer for me, I was anti-Belgian beer styles for years (didn’t like the first few I tried, needed to develop a taste for the estery yeast) and that was the beer that changed my mind. The review that convinced me to try Jack D’Or, and the subsequent exploration of Belgian styles was a turning point that eventually led to the start of this blog. Meadowlark also brings back a number of memories. My wife and I started planning our wedding over pints of Meadowlark at Sunset Cantina after a Red Sox game, a memory that we discussed while we shared one of our final bottles last week. I will also always remember my first taste of Pretty Things Baby Tree, a friend shared a bottle with me and I was blown away by the complexity and how easy it was to drink. At that point I was trying beers at random, just grabbing things off the shelf. Baby Tree convinced me to do more research about breweries and the beers they produced, and made any beer produced by Pretty Things a must-buy. Baby Tree is a Belgian style quadruple and was one of Pretty Things year-round flagship beers. I highly recommend buying some if you still find it around, I have a number of bottles aging and I might need some more.
Pretty Things Baby Tree pours a deep amber with a mild off-white head. The scent is a mixture of fruity Belgian style yeast and some rich malt. The beer is very smooth and well balanced, no one part dominates the flavor. The expressive yeast contributes notes of apple, apricot and pear. The malts add touches of raisin, date, caramel, honey and just a hint of booze. The hops are minimal, just enough to keep the beer from being too sweet. Baby Tree is full bodied but drinks very easy for 9% ABV. The finish is clean with a little lingering fruity yeast and malt. Baby Tree is an amazing example of a Belgian quadruple, tons of flavor but not overdone, easily one of my favorite takes on the style. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Pretty Things Reviews:
Pretty Things East Kent Saison, Pretty Things Babayaga, BREWERY OVERVIEW, Pretty Things Jack D’Or, Pretty Things Lovely Saint Winefride, Pretty Things Bocky Bier, Pretty Things/Naparbier There’s No Place Like There, Pretty Things Grampus, Pretty Things Barbapapa, Pretty Things Meadowlark, Pretty Things/Yeastie Boys Our Turn, Your Turn.
The website RateBeer.com put out their annual list of the best breweries in the world at the end of January (see the full list HERE). This list is compiled based on the scores given to individual beers by their website users and weighted by a whole bunch of factors that I don’t care to learn. I take all of these types of ratings with a gigantic grain of salt, I’ve written at length about how many of the users on these websites overrate hard to find beers and particular beer styles. Regardless, I couldn’t help scrolling through the list and checking out which local breweries were honored. Most of the breweries from New England were predictable, The Alchemist, Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Allagash, Maine Beer Company, Smuttynose, Treehouse, Trillium and Jack’s Abby are all on many of these “best” or “favorites” lists locally and nationally. The one name that caught me a bit by surprise was Clown Shoes brewing company in Ipswich. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed a number of Clown Shoes beers, in particular they make some boozy and flavorful imperial stouts. I think part of my issue with Clown Shoes are some of their beer names, particularly early releases like Muffin Top, Tramp Stamp and Lubrication. I find that some breweries who resort to suggestive or borderline offensive names as a way to sell beer do it because the product alone is subpar (I know that isn’t always true). It is possible that I’ve underrated Clown Shoes a bit and need to try some more of their beers, so I’ll try to knock out a few reviews over the coming months. Clown Shoes 5th anniversary beer is a Belgian style quadruple aged in bourbon barrels named The Peace That Money Can’t Buy. A long name like this seems appropriate for a big beer. The Peace That Money Can’t Buy is available for a limited time in 22 oz. bombers.
Clown Shoes The Peace That Money Can’t Buy pours a deep amber with a solid off-white head. The scent is mild but complex, some dark malts, fruity esters from the yeast and a little bit of bourbon. The yeast comes through stronger in the flavor, notes of tart cherry, sour apple, pear and pepper. This is complemented by bold malty flavors, notes of fig, date, brown bread, toffee and plum. The barrel aging adds some subtle oak and whiskey notes but takes a back seat to the malt and yeast. The beer is very full bodied and clearly a slow sipper at 11.5% ABV, but the booze doesn’t come through too strongly in the flavor. This beer is nicely done, tons of flavor without being overkill. For a brewery that has built it’s reputation with bold to the point of brazen beers, it is nice to see a little restraint here. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Clown Shoes Reviews:
Clown Shoes Undead Party Crasher, Clown Shoes Swagger
The last stop on my birthday brewery tour was Mystic Brewery in Chelsea, MA. I am kind of embarrassed to admit that this was my first visit to Mystic, kind of surprising since I am a big fan of their creative and flavorful Belgian style ales. The brewery itself was very impressive, a big open tasting room with a sizeable bar and plenty of seating. The décor ranges from old brewery equipment to a sizeable collection of craft beer bottles from around the world. The bar serves a selection of Mystic brews, available in full pours, tasting flights, and growler fills. They also sell a selection of bottled beers. We tasted a number of Mystic brews (Mary of the Gael is always a favorite), and then I grabbed a few things to bring home. One of the beers I purchased was Day of Doom, Mystic’s big and boozy quadruple ale. Day of Doom is nicknamed an “ale for the end of the world”, and named after an epic poem that depicts the fate of the un-pious.
Mystic Day of Doom pours the color of molasses with a large off-white head. The smell is a mixture of dark fruit and cocoa followed by a solid whiff of alcohol. The taste starts with the malts, notes of plum, raisin, currant and a nice hit of chocolate. The malt flavors are much stronger than the Belgian yeast, but you get some touches of spice and must. The yeast starts to assert itself a little more as the beer warms. There is no hoppiness to speak of in the flavor (typical for the style), just malt, yeast and booze. The alcohol is actually pretty mild in the flavor for a beer that weighs in at 12% ABV, but you feel the effects if you sip the beer too fast. Notice I said “sip” not “drink”, the full mouthfeel helps encourage you to drink this nice and slow. This is a really well done version of the style, some brewers overdo their quads and all you taste is alcohol, but Mystic gives this beer great balance. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Mystic reviews:
Mystic Hazy Jane, Mystic Mary of the Gael, Mystic Vinland Two, Mystic Table Beer