For a while I was convinced that the next “big thing” in craft beer would be hoppy saisons. American drinkers love their hops, and anything with a big dose of popular new varieties will probably sell well. This has led to a proliferation of sub-styles on the IPA, where wheat IPA, red IPA and black IPA are hopped up versions of American wheat ale, amber ale and porter. There have been a number of Belgian IPAs, but I haven’t seen examples that carry the buzz of a high end IPA (the one exception might be Brett IPAs, but I consider this a different sub-style). I’ve never understood this, the fruity and spicy flavors of Belgian style yeast can provide a perfect complement to the citrus and tropical fruit flavors of many hop varieties. My favorite examples are usually saisons with significant late/dry hop additions, when I get a chance to homebrew that is typically my focus. I was excited to see Idle Hands beers becoming regularly available, and intrigued when they launched Proeme, a dry hopped saison. Idle Hands Proeme is available year-round on draft and in 16 oz. tallboy cans.
Idle Hands Proeme pours hazy light yellow with a massive white head. The aroma is a mixture of floral hops with fruity and spicy yeast. The yeast leads the flavor, notes of apple, peppercorn and bubblegum. This is complemented by the hops, hints of lemon, grass and orange. The malts round out the flavor with touches of cereal and bread crust. Proeme is light and very easy to drink, sessionable at 5.0% ABV. The finish is crisp and dry with some lingering hop and yeast flavor. I really enjoyed Proeme, the flavors work well together. It’s nice to have Idle Hands beers back into the regular rotation! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Idle Hands Reviews:
Idle Hands Thing 1, Idle Hands Heide, Idle Hands Riding Shotgun, Idle Hands Adelais, Idle Hands D’aison, Idle Hands Triplication
Cambridge Brewing Company is one of the most under-rated breweries in Massachusetts. I can think of a few reasons that might have contributed to this. One is the styles of beers they brew. I am a huge fan of their barrel aged and wild ales, but beer geek buzz seems to only surround breweries that make 10 different types of IPA. Until recently they also had limited number of beers that made it to distribution, too many of their most creative beers were brewery only. It hasn’t stopped the accolades from flowing in, Cambridge Brewing Company brewmaster Will Meyers recently won the Russell Schehrer award for innovation in craft brewing. While I don’t make it to the brewery nearly as much as I would like, it has been nice to see the variety of CBC cans and bottles that now populate the shelves at bottle shops. Now that we are into spring and summer one of my go-to styles are saisons, so I was excited to try Working Class Hero an American saison brewed with citrus peel and a generous dose of hops. Cambridge Brewing Company Working Class Hero is available on draft and in 12 oz. cans.
Cambridge Brewing Co. Working Class Hero pours a hazy bright yellow with a solid white head. The scent is mostly fruity and spicy Belgian yeast along with a touch of citrusy hops. The yeast leads the flavor, notes of pear, clove and apricot. The citrus peel and hop flavors complement this well, adding touches of orange, lemon, and grass along with a crisp bitterness. The malts round out the flavor with touches of wheat bread and cereal. Working Class Hero is light and crushable, a session beer at 4.5% ABV. The finish is crisp and dry with some lingering yeast and citrus flavors. This is a delicious saison, after we tried it my wife exclaimed “I think I’ve found my summer beer for the year”! I agree and highly recommend grabbing some. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
Previous Cambridge Brewing Co. Reviews:
Cambridge Brewing Co. Arquebus, Cambridge Brewing Co. Pearls of Wisdom, Cambridge Brewing Co. Le Saisonniere, Cambridge Brewing Co. Hay is for Horses, Cambridge Brewing Co. Sgt. Pepper, Cambridge Brewing Company You Enjoy My Stout, Cambridge Brewing Company Remain in Light, Cambridge Brewing Company The Audacity of Hops
The decision to focus my reviews on non-IPA styles this year leaves some significant grey areas. Many different beer styles have “hoppy” forms, and some of these have been given the “IPA’ designation (usually for marketing purposes). For example some beers are labeled as hoppy amber ales while others are called red IPAs, even though they are essentially the same style. I think the proliferation of session IPAs, black IPAs, Belgian IPAs, red IPAs and all of the other variants has actually fueled some of the burgeoning anti-IPA backlash. So I will try to avoid anything with IPA on the label as part of this experiment. That being said, I still want to enjoy some bold hop flavors on occasion, especially when they complement other styles of beer. One of my favorite combinations is the citrus and tropical fruit flavors and aromas of New World hop varieties with aromatic and assertive Belgian style saison yeast strains. It takes careful work to find the correct combination of hops and yeast, but these beers can be amazing when done correctly. One example I enjoyed recently was Mosaic Sylph from Deciduous Brewing Company in New Hampshire. This dry-hopped version of their flagship farmhouse ale is available on a rotating basis on draft and in bottles.
Deciduous Mosaic Sylph pours a clear bright yellow with a massive white head. The scent is a mixture of tropical hops and expressive Belgian style yeast. A fruity strain of yeast leads the flavor with notes of apple, apricot and pear. This melds well with the Mosaic hops which add hints of pineapple, mango and grapefruit. A mild malt backbone rounds out the flavor with hints of white bread and crackers. Mosaic Sylph is very light bodied and effervescent, but packs a little punch at 6.3% ABV. It has a dry finish with some lingering fruit flavors from the hops and the yeast. I love a thoughtful combination of New World hops with expressive Belgian style yeast, and this is a very good example of the style. I’ve been impressed with the Deciduous beers I’ve tried and this one is definitely worth picking up. Hoppy Boston score; 4.5/5.
Previous Deciduous Reviews:
My son and I both got crushed by a nasty virus this weekend, so I did the responsible adult thing and abstained from beer (or any other form of alcoholic beverage). I actually missed a blind tasting event that I was really looking forward to, being sick sucks. Fortunately the little man and I are both on the mend, we should be fully recovered and rested for the big weekend ahead. It’s also a good thing that I always try to stay a week or two ahead on tasting notes so I can still write some Hoppy Boston posts if things like this come up. One beer I tried recently is Thing 1, a mixed fermentation farmhouse ale from Idle Hands Brewing. Idle Hands has been re-opened for a little while now, and it is good to see their beers making it back onto store shelves on a more regular basis. I visited their new taproom right after it opened, and I really need to make another trip. Idle Hands Thing 1 is available for a limited time in 750 mL bottles.
Idle Hands Thing 1 pours hazy straw yellow with a minimal white head. The scent is all from the fermentation, fruity, funky and acidic. The yeast leads the flavor, notes of green apple, barnyard, apricot, lemon and pineapple. There is a little sourness, but it isn’t overwhelming. This is complemented by a mild malt backbone, hints of bread dough and crackers. Nothing in the flavor screams hops, but some of the fruity flavors from the fermentation could be from hops too. Thing 1 is very light and refreshing, and not too boozy at 5.1% ABV. The finish is complex with a little tartness and yeasty esters. I really enjoyed Thing 1, it’s very different from any of the Idle Hands beers I’ve had in the past but very high quality. It’s good to have them back brewing interesting and delicious beers. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Idle Hands Reviews:
Idle Hands Heide, Idle Hands Riding Shotgun, Idle Hands Adelais, Idle Hands D’aison, Idle Hands Triplication
I used to drink a considerable amount of whiskey, it is the only spirit that I’ve ever had much of an appreciation for. Now it’s pretty rare that I enjoy a glass, I drink a lot less than I used to and most of my alcohol consumption is in beer form. With this in mind it’s no surprise that my favorite barrel aged beers are mostly coming out of whiskey barrels. While there are many delicious beers aged in this way, the vast majority are imperial stouts and it would be nice to see a little more variety. I’ve started to see a few barrel aged saisons make their way onto shelves, although they are mostly aged in wine barrels. This makes sense, as the bold flavors imparted from aging in liquor barrels could overwhelm some of the more delicate flavors from saison yeast strains. One exception that I found recently is Trucco, a saison aged with Brettanomyces in whiskey barrels brewed by Smuttlabs, the experimental arm of Smuttynose Brewing Company. Smuttlabs Trucco is available on a rotating basis in 500 mL bottles.
Smuttlabs Trucco pours a clear amber orange with a minimal white head. The scent features a little whiskey mingling with estery Belgian style yeast. The flavor here is complex, no one component stands out over the others. The fermentation adds substantial character, barnyard funk, pear and apple along with a touch of tartness. The whiskey and oak from the barrel aging are noticeable but subtle, which is key with a lighter beer style like a saison. The malts add body along with notes of biscuits, honey and bread crust while the hops are minimal. Trucco is medium bodied and drinks very smooth for a beer with 10% ABV. The finish is dry with lingering yeast flavors and a little puckering bite on the tongue. Smuttlabs Trucco is a very good beer, lots of different flavors but they all work together. I like seeing some barrel aged saisons, and this is a great version of the style. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
Previous Smuttynose Reviews:
Smuttlabs Thelema, Smuttynose S’muttonator Dopplebock, Smuttynose Vunderbar Pilsner, Smuttynose Bouncyhouse IPA, Smuttynose Durty Brown Ale, Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA
I’ll be traveling up to Maine for Thanksgiving again and hopefully stopping at a brewery or two as part of the trip. One place that I’ve been meaning to visit is Oxbow Brewing in Newcastle. I’ve heard great things about their eclectic Belgian style beers, but the brewery is a little off of the beaten path and it’s tough to justify the detour, especially when we are traveling with an 18-month old. Fortunately, Oxbow has opened a second location in Portland, which could be a little easier to visit. They have also started distributing to Massachusetts, which makes their beer much easier to come by for those of us in the Boston area. I’ve now tried a couple Oxbow selections, most recently their Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale. The name tells most of the story, this beer is an American saison fermented in stainless steel and then aged in oak barrels with Brettanomyces. Oxbow Barrel Aged Farmhouse Ale is available on a rotating basis in 500 mL bottles.
Oxbow Barrel Aged Farmhouse Pale Ale pours a hazy golden yellow with a massive white head. The scent is a complex mixture of fruity esters, barnyard Brett and acidity. The diverse flavors from the fermentation and aging also dominate the taste. The Belgian style yeast adds notes of green apple, pear and lemon that mingles with funky Brett, a solid hit of tart sour flavor, and just a touch of oak. There is also some citrus fruit flavor that I assume is from the hops, hints of orange and mango. A light malt backbone rounds out the flavor with a little bread crust and honey. The beer is light and easy to drink, moderately boozy at 6.5% ABV. The finish is dry with a little lingering acid and some yeasty esters. Oxbow Barrel Aged Farmhouse Ale is really good, incredibly complex but still easy to drink and approachable, diverse flavors but everything works together. Wild/barrel aged saisons are becoming a favorite style and this is a stellar example. Hoppy Boston score: 4.75/5.
I am a somewhat regular participant in a twitter beer chat on Thursday nights that starts around 9 PM EST. It’s a fun place to chat about beer, anyone is welcome to chime in, just follow the hashtag #beerchat and answer the questions posed by whomever is hosting. A recent topic was coffee beers, with questions about good/bad examples and different beer styles that can/should/shouldn’t be infused with coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker, not because I dislike it per se I just try to limit my caffeine intake, but I enjoy the occasional coffee stout or porter. Someone (and I really don’t remember who or I would give them credit), suggested that a coffee saison could be interesting or terrible depending on the execution. It seemed like a strange idea to me, but the next time I was at the bottle shop I noticed a coffee saison and needed to give it a shot. Fortunately it was from Mystic Brewing, if any brewery knows how to make unique and delicious farmhouse ales it’s Mystic. Mystic Kanzu is a farmhouse ale brewed with Rwandan coffee, it is available now in 375 mL bottles.
Mystic Kanzu pours deep orange with a moderate off-white head. The scent is a mixture of coffee and esters from the expressive Belgian style yeast. The coffee is well represented in the flavor but doesn’t overwhelm. The yeast is also present, notes of apple, apricot and clove. Light malts round out the flavor with hints of cracker and bread dough. Kanzu is light bodied and easy to drink, not too boozy at 5.4% ABV. The finish is dry with lingering coffee flavor. I don’t know if I would have even tried a coffee infused saison if it wasn’t from Mystic, but years of drinking delicious beers from that brewery have led to an inherent trust that I will enjoy the beer. If you are interested in trying a different style of beer with coffee this is a good place to start. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Previous Mystic Reviews:
Mystic Sauvignon Blanc Barrel Saison, Mystic Vinland 4, Mystic De Varenne, Mystic India Wharf Pale Ale, BREWERY OVERVIEW, Mystic Flor Z, Mystic Melissa, Mystic Descendant, Mystic Vinland Three, Mystic Brewery visit and Day of Doom, Mystic Hazy Jane, Mystic Mary of the Gael, Mystic Vinland Two, Mystic Table Beer