Saturday, December 3, 2011

Old Crafty Hen- A Vintage Ale from the UK

Welcome Back!

At the very end of October ( just before the dramatically early and unexpected birth of my second daughter), on a very rainy night just before Halloween, I had the pleasure  of meeting with brew master extraordinaire John Bexon, Head Brewer at Greene King Brewing and Brands of Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England.

How this humble blog caught the attention of a renowned British Brew Master is beyond me.

John was in town to promote the US release of Old Crafty Hen, a vintage ale that's been available in the UK for a few years, but is only just now available in the US. This beer is actually a blend of a mature, strong ale- Old 5X, which is age in oak vats for several years- and a fresh ale, Old Speckled Hen.

I meet up with John at the British Beer Company in Framingham. I got there early, and was on my second Old Crafty Hen when John arrived.

When he asked me what I thought of the beer, I told him that it was not what I had expected, that I found it a bit "harsh", to be honest. 

At this comment, he reached out,  grabbed my pint glass, and made two observations that only a brewmaster could make.

"First", he said, "this is too cold. It should be slightly warmer. And, it should be served in a wine glass." He explained that this would allow the aroma to better collect and not be as overwhelming, and would allow a drinker to better distinguish and appreciate all the elements of the beer.

John then gave me some of the malts he had used in the brew to chew on, something I'd never done before. This exercise really helps the taste buds understand what each malt used in the brewing process contributed to the beer.

We talked a bit about US beer styles vs UK styles, ( a topic for its own post, another time) and he was kind enough to send me home with a sample of Old Crafty Hen to sample for this post.

So, without further ado..

Old Crafty Hen
Green King Brewing, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England

This beer pours a deep red brown, bright and clear, with a tan head that dissipates quickly, leaving minimal lacing on the surface and rim.

Smell is complex and strong. Essence of oak and  dried fruit (raisins?) are detectable, as is a hop sweetness. Presence of alcohol is surprising, reminds me mildly of a port aroma.

Mouthfeel is full, with light carbonation.

Taste is as complex as the smell indicates- hints of oak, and a biscuity bread like flavor from the Pale and Crystal malts. This is followed by hints of vanilla, then hops (Challenger, First Gold, Goldings, and Target are used) and malt flavors that are strong but balanced. The "harshness"  I reported to John is definitely dried fruit-raisins, maybe plums- and these add a touch of sourness to the profile. Finish is surprisingly mellow.

This beer challenges the palette of the US craft beer drinker, which may not be prepared for the potpourri of flavors that are all so well balanced.  Not a session beer by any means, this beer is to be savored and enjoyed, I'd suggest in an easy chair by the fire.

I give this beer a 4 out of 5.

Note-When I learned that this was a blend of a strong ale and a fresh ale, I had expectations of  a taste similar to a Dogfish Head Burton Baton, which is also a blend of a strong ale and pale. However, these two blended beers are extremely different, and the differences really  showcase the stylistic and philosophical differences between European and US brewers.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

We interupt this blog due to a new baby....

My apologies for the long delay between posts, but I have a very good excuse. My wife and I are celebrating the birth of our second daughter, who graced us with her presence on November 2nd, an incredible and shocking 7 weeks early.

She gave us quite a scare, arriving so early and in such a hurry (water broke 1:20am, baby born 5:05am), but mom and baby are doing awesome.

I promise to start blogging about good beer just as soon as I can.


aka Man Drinks Beer 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wachusett Brewing- Ryde Beer

Rye beer is growing on me.

Harpoon brewed a Rye IPA for their 25th Anniversary Celebration, and it was awesome. So when I saw that another of my favorite local breweries, Wachusett Brewing of Westminster, has also created a beer with Rye, it was a must try.

Ryde Beer
Wachusett Brewing, Westminster, MA
5% ABV, 22 IBU's

This beer pours a light golden yellow, with a loose, wispy white head.

Smell is very yeasty and sharp, with a hint of spice and floral hops.

Mouthfeel is thin but very active, either from the carbonation, or more likely, from the spice of the rye dancing on your tongue.

Taste is very yeasty, accompanied by some really nice clean, distinct warm spice notes from the rye. Its not a balanced taste, as the rye spice and flavor is a bit overwhelmed by a yeasty essence that permeates the brew.  You get the rye and spice notes, but its almost secondary. Finish is super dry with little aftertaste. (The Wachusett web site does not list the hops or malts)

I liked this beer, it was very unique and flavorful. I wanted more depth of flavor and more spice from the rye, but I do prefer my beers super unbalanced, and this one is only mildly unbalanced. Overall I'd give this a 2.75-3 on my 1-5 scale.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Blue Hills Brewery- 'OktoBrau"

This time of year I am always conflicted by this dilemma- Octoberfest or Pumpkin Ale?

I love Octoberfest beers. The style is one of my all time favorites. Dramatically under appreciated and too limited in production, in my opinion, a good Oktoberfest beer is supremely drinkable, perfectly balanced between the malt and hops, and perfect for those cold fall evenings.

But lately it seems that the pumpkin brews have stolen all the shelf space from the Octoberfests. Now, I love fruit in my beer (yup, a pumpkin is a fruit, I looked it up!), but do pumpkin ales deserve to steal all the spotlight from the long standing king of fall beer styles?

Recently I set out to answer that question. I went to my local liquor store in the hope of purchasing the latest and greatest pumpkin ales, and was prepared to compare them to the undisputed king of all Octoberfest beers- Wachusett Oktoberfest.

However, my local package store was almost totally out of pumpkin ales. What was left was exclusively faux craft ale or pumpklin ales with exceedingly bad reputations, so I needed a new plan.

How about a battle of the Octoberfest beers? But, scanning the shelves again, this style too was woefully low in stock, and unfortunately, so was my wallet. So I decided to economize and grabbed a 22oz bottle of Blue Hills Brewery's Oktobrau. Blue Hills Brewery has given this blog some great beers in the past, so it wasn't a tough call to make.

So the answer of which style reigns supreme- Pumpkin or Octoberfest- will have to wait for now (write in with your thoughts, I'd love to hear them).

For now, lets take a look at....

Blue Hills Brewery, Canton, MA
5.8 % abv

This beer pours a nice honey brown color, appears slightly cloudy, with a thin, tan head that immediately collapses and leaves a light lacing on the glass and surface.

Smell is malty, yeasty, and bready. It's a modest aroma that doesn't want to leave the glass.

Mouthfeel is thick and substantial, very bubble on the tongue and pallete.

Taste is surprisingly sour and tangy (from the yeast?). Almost Belgian like, but without the fruity sweetness. I'm really missing the depth of flavor from the malts and conditioning you usually get in a marzen style brew. Finish is tangy and harsh. It overwhelms what should have been the wonderful taste of  the Hallertau hops and Munich and Vienna malts.

Overall, this beer really disappoints. A rare swing and miss from a usually strong brewery. I wouldn't consider this an Octoberfest style beer, and maybe its not even meant to be one. It has none of the drink-ability and smoothness you'd expect from the style. I give this a 1.5 on my 1-5 scale. To be fair, I've had many brews from the guys at Blue Hills, and this is the fist one that I'd call less than great, so that's a pretty good track record. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jacks Abby Brewing- Hoponius Union India Pale Lager

It's not often that a brewery opens near your home.

So when Jacks Abby Brewing opened in Framingham this past summer, I made it a point to show up opening day, on my lunch break, to check it out. I think it was a Thursday, and they only had two beers on tap, the Red Tape Lager, and Saxon Sons Pilsner.  Of course I sampled both, thought they were great (the pilsner, in fact, is waaay beyond great, but that's a story for another time), and I was immediately back on Saturday afternoon for a growler of each.

But it was only recently that I was finally able to get back there to try the beer I've been absolutely craving- the Hoponius Union India Pale Lager.

Yup, that's right, this is not an India Pale Ale, it's an India Pale Lager. If you've read this space previously, you know I love hops, and that I have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with IPAs.

But an India Pale Lager?I emailed Jack Hendler, the owner and brewer of Jacks Abby, with a few questions about the style and the beer itself, as I've never heard of an IPL before. Here's what he had to say about his Hoponius Union IPL-

"The Hoponius Union, like all the beer we brew here, is in fact a lager. The one small difference between the rest of our lagers and the HU, is that after primary fermentation we do condition this beer "warm" at 50-55 while we dry hop this beer...twice, before we crash down toward freezing to lager the beer further. This allows for a greater dry hop aroma. We don't filter any of our beers. We fine them to make them clear or bright. This process is most useful with our Hoponius because it allows all the hop flavors and aromas to stay in the beer. We like to call this beer and India Pale Lager. I know of at least two others, but its a non existent beer style. The goal was to create a harmonious union between west coast IPA hop flavor and aroma and lager fermentation."

You simply have to respect a guy who creates a beer style! 

Hoponius Union India Pale Lager
Jacks Abby Brewing, Framingham, MA

This beer pours a beautiful light copper color, with a nice two fingers of white head (the photo doesn't here doesn't do it justice). The head evaporated pretty quickly, and the remaining surface had a nice glossy sheen. 

Smell is awesomely hoppy, very sweet and floral. Its a big, beautiful hop aroma with hints of citrus.

Mouthfeel is medium bodied, feels more substantial than a typical ale.

Taste is big- hoppy and bitter, but not over the top. It's clearly unbalanced towards the hops, and this is a great thing.  It's very bright and crisp, with a touch of citrus, and a hint of spice. The Citra, Amarillo, and Centennial hops create a truly unique hop profile that is big on taste and surprisingly light on the bitter.

I loved this beer. Its huge on hop smell and taste, and very modest on the bitter side. There is something to be said for locally brewed beer that is made with great skill, quality ingredients, and an adventurous brewer. If you haven't been to the Jacks Abby Brewery in Framingham, do yourself a favor and check it out (just don't wear a t-shirt with a competing brewery on it, or they may give you some good natured grief). Check out their web site for tasting room hours and local bars that have their beer on tap. Currently their beer is available only by growler at the Framingham Brewery, or on tap at local bars and restaurants.

This beer gets a 4-4.5 on my 1-5 scale.

Special Thanks to Jack Hendler for his quick response to my questions. (And a huge apology for misspelling the name of the brewery in the initial posting.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Horseneck Golden IPA- Just Beer

Going wicked local with this beer review.

I'd never even heard of "Just Beer" brewing, in Westport, MA. My Uncle Jack and his wife took a day trip there, and he brought me back a bottle. So I consulted the Just Beer website. It looks like the beer is really distributed only very, very locally in the Westport area. Explains why I hadn't seen it anywhere.

Here are my thoughts on this brew-

Horseneck Golden IPA
Just Beer Brewing, Westport, MA

This beer pours deep golden orange, with a nice 2 fingers of off white head which quickly dissolved into an oily sheen.

Aroma is mildly hoppy, with what I can only describe as minerally, citrus like hints.

Mouthfeel is very carbonated, moderate body.

Taste is hop bitter without a ton of flavor. There is a mineral like aftertaste, and a very bitter, distinctly grapefruit finish.

Overall this beer looks great, smells about average, and tastes about average for a craft IPA. It really needs something to counterbalance the minerally aftertaste and bitterness. Bitterness can be a great component of the craft  beer drinking experience,  if there is taste with it.

The Just Beer web site is a very old school, minimal info site, so I wasn't able to get any info on the varieties of hops used, or the IBUs for this beer.

I give this beer a 2-2.5 on my scale of 1-5.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Did you hear the one about the guys from Dogfish Head and Google making a beer together??

No joke, this is absolutely true. You really just need to watch the video. Its 13 minutes long, but it's awesome.

Not sure if the beer is available outside the Dogfish Head brew pub yet. I'll let you know if I hear more.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Stone Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout

It's Friday, and that means at 9pm, I'm watching "Fringe" on Fox!

The show is dark and complex, and it really pushes the limits creatively. When I watch a show this intense, this well produced, I want a beer that is equally well produced and intense. One that pushes the envelope of creativity, style, and most importantly, taste. I want a beer to challenge and please my palette in the same manner "Fringe" challenges and pleases my mind.

In the craft beer world, few, (if any any), push the envelope further, or more aggressively, than Stone Brewing.

While wandering the aisles of Julio's Liquors this afternoon, I noticed that they still had an ample supply of Stones odd year release "Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout". This beer had gotten great reviews in the press, and I love Anise, so I've been dying to try it.

Without further ado, here's the review!

Belgo Anise Imperial Russian Stout
Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA
10.5%ABV, 52 IBU's

This beer pours pitch black, with no head, only a thin, dark brown bavarian ring, with an oily sheen.

Smell is malty, with notes of dark roasted coffee, anise, alcohol, and even hops present.

Mouthfeel is full and oily, with alcohol warmth on the tongue, and sensations of vanilla and wood.

Taste is complex, very BOLD, yet oddly balanced- alcohol is noticed first, followed by woody oak and hops, dark roasted malts follow, with vanilla and anise and a spicy warmth overwhelming everything else. Vanilla and woody oak notes round out the aftertaste.

This is an excellent beer. Brewed with warrior hops and bavarian yeast, its aged on oak chips that mellow out all the strong personalities of the components and deliver a surprisingly drinkable 10% abv beer. I do wish that the ABV was lower so that we could get a better distinction between all the ingredients in this beer, but perhaps that would be too much flavor and taste, even for Stone. 

I give this beer a 3.5-4 on my scale of 1-5.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blue Hills Brewerys "Antimatter" Single Malt Series

Friday marked the return of my favorite TV show, the sci fi epic Fringe, on Fox. To mark its long awaited return, I wanted a beer that would fit the sci fi subject matter and the "push the limits" attitude of the show.

As I walked the aisle of Colellas  Supermarket in Hopkinton, I saw a bottle of Blue Hills Brewery's Antimatter on the shelf.
The little atomic symbol on the bottle spoke to me, and I knew I had found the perfect beer to enjoy while watching Walter Bishop save the universe.

Antimatter (First of the Series)
Blue Hills Brewery, Canton, MA
6% ABV

The concept behind this series is simple- only one type of malt, and only one type of hop is used in the beer. In this case, we have two row malt, and Amarillo hops. As there are no other malts and hops to mix and mellow the characteristics, what you should get is a really distinct beer with a lot of personality.

This beer pours a beautiful orange color, with the largest, puffiest cloud-like head I've ever seen. This photo show it after its come down a good 3 inches from the original pour.

Smell was reluctant at first. This beer really needs time to breathe, as no aroma can escape the huge head of foam it produces on the pour. So pour it and then walk away for about 5-10 minute before coming back. When it has had time to breath, the smell is very bready, fruity and spicy. Lots of spice in the nose, all thanks to the Amarillo hops.

Mouthfeel is full bodied and very fizzy. Lots of activity on the tongue, as the image on the label suggests.

Taste is very nice- bready and spicy, like the smell. Lots of malt, and warm, aggressive spice notes on the finish. Its a very clean, distinct, unique taste.

The label suggests that this beer is "destined to be a favorite of session beer fanatics", but I disagree. While I loved the taste, the aggressive spice of the hops and the abv make this beer "un-sessionable" in my opinion. Its just  got too much character- if the spicy doesn't ruin the palate, the alcohol content will.

This is one of the most unique beers I've ever had. I give it a 3.5

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Welcome Fall with Mayflower Brewing Companys "Autumn Wheat Ale"

Welcome back!

My apologies for the long delay between posts. We're still getting over IPA month here at Man Drinks Beer. So hard to say good bye to a month of delicious, over the top hoppy brews.

It was difficult to choose a beer to make the transition from summer to fall.

However, bringing your two year old with you to the "bottle store", (as she calls it), has a way of inspiring one to make quick decisions when selecting a beer.

For example, say you're foolish enough to put her down, thinking she'll stand still and be good while you carefully peruse the selection of craft beers. Because a store full of shinny glass bottles with bright colored packaging won't stimulate a two year to go running up and down the ailes of the refrigerated beer section, pointing to each door and yelling at the top of her lungs "beer beer beer beer beer" while other patrons laugh and try to walk around her.

When I was able to catch her and pick her up, she happened to be standing next to a display of Mayflower Autumn Wheat. It was within arms reach, and I like Mayflower Brewing, so that was my pick. As the clerk rang us up and placed the 6 pack in the paper bag, my daughter pointed to the bag and informed the clerk "beer in there".

I think maybe I bring her with me too often to the liquor store, but she has a ball. Anyhow, lets welcome fall and talk about....

Autumn Wheat Ale
Mayflower Brewing Company, Plymouth, MA
ABV not given, (guessing 5%)

 This beer pours a dark, dark brown color- which when held up to intense light appeared deep, deep red- with two fingers of loose, puffy, off white head.-

Smell is bready- yeasty and malty. A few swirls of the glass releases more aromatics- more roasted malts, and a burnt coffee aroma. There's also an unexpected hint of something sweet- maybe bananas, some kind of fruit note. Its very nice.

Mouthfeel is full bodied and active. Almost rich, but not quite. Definitely has the characteristic feel of a wheat beer, despite the slight heft. Very smooth and warm.

Taste seems to be built by the roasted malts- lightly burnt toast-like at first, then very yeasty, with hints of coffee. There is a very subtle sweet, fruity aftertaste.  That's gotta be the yeast,  but the Mayflower web site doesn't reveal the yeast or hop varieties used, so we're left to wonder.

This beer has a very unique taste- earthy burnt coffee and bread, followed by an unexpected, subtle, sweet, fruity aftertaste. And there is no bitterness. Its very smooth and drinkable. This is a great fall beer. Not a heffewiesen type wheat beer.

I give this beer a 3.5 on my 1-5 scale.


Monday, September 5, 2011

I'm goin' back to Cali- for another damn fine IPA from Stone Brewing

West Coast IPAs are quickly winning me over.

Harpoon IPA has long been my "go to" beer. Its a superb IPA- great hop aroma and taste, very well balanced by the malt, with a modest ABV- which, in my humble opinion,  makes it the ultimate session beer. And of course its brewed in Boston, which never hurts, as I'm a lifelong Bostonian.

Fellow east coast brewers Sam Adams and Dogfish Head likewise make outstanding IPAs.

But as I close out IPA month in this space, I must acknowledge that the west coast is making some damn fine IPAs as well. And as I look over the brief history of this blog, I noticed a glaring omission among the many great breweries mentioned here.

Where the f*ck is Stone Brewing, of Escondido, CA?

How could I neglect to include Stone in this blog! This is beer blog blasphemy.

I first discovered Stone Brewing while working a security gig. My job this fateful night was to watch the bar. As I sucked down sodas and "escorted" over-served patrons from the establishment, I noticed that all the beers on tap this night were from Stone Brewing, which I had never heard of before. I also  noticed a very attentive sales rep from Stone checking the taps every few minutes. So I did what any good, thirsty security worker would do- I talked up the sales rep. All night.  I ask him about Stone, where they were from, if the beer was good, etc.

Fast forward to 1am- the event is closed, venue is empty, and I've talked the sales rep into letting the security staff help drain the taps (can't let that beer go taste!).  We're drinking Stone Smoked Porter, IPA, Arrogant Bastard, and talking about how great it is to get "good beer" after a gig.

Fast Forward to 2am- After we offer to help him lug the empty kegs to his van, the sales rep is now literally giving Daupha and I case after case of samples from his personal stash of Stone. And he invited us to a Stone Tap Takeover the next day.

All in All, he made quite an impression, as did his beer. I've been a huge fan of Stone Brewing ever since.

Stone IPA
Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA
6.9% ABV, 77 IBUs

This beer pours a beautiful golden orange color, with a nice foamy white head.

Smell is citrusy hops, strong and vibrant, maybe grapefruity. The aroma actively seeks out the nose, you don't need to swirl the glass to release the aromatics.

Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich and creamy on the tongue and palette. A slight warming sensation from the alcohol is also detectable.

Taste is excellent- strong, bitter grapefruit hops (Columbus, Chinook, and Centenial Hops are used) come first,  followed by a light malt/yeast backbone to give a slight and unsuccessful attempt to balance off the overwhelming bitterness of the hops. Then a warm alcohol sensation and a very bitter but clean, dry finish.

An excellent IPA. Excellent citrus hops taste and follow through. A solid 4+ on my 1-5 scale. Almost sessionable, but the ABV (6.9) and IBUs (77) probably make it just a bit too bitter to be a true session beer.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Lagunitas IPA kicked my ass, Hurricane Irene can kiss my.....

Hurricane Irene visited the east coast this past weekend, wrecking havoc with my plans to end the month with reviews of several awesome IPA's.

While stocking up for a major storm, I found it difficult to justify including more than one beer on my list of essential supplies. Along with food, and batteries, one beer was a no brainer, but buying two, at the expense of, say bread and canned goods, was probably not a good idea.

So after the power went out, (while I was first attempting this post), and after I watched Irene do this to my car (see photo), and after I sat on the couch hoping the blue screen of death would eventually go away and let my computer live (it did, finally!), it is with great pleasure that I share with you my review of....

Lagunitas IPA
Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma, CA
6.2% ABV, 49 IBUs

The bottle thanks you for choosing to spend time with this "homicidally hoppy" brew, and also states "beer speaks. People mumble", which immediately endeared the folks at Lagunitas Brewing to me, before I even opened a bottle.

This beer pours a beautiful copper color, with a finger of loose, white head that dissipates some, but still leaves enough to maintain a constant cling to the interior of the glass.

Smell is fantastically hoppy, almost pungently so. If you're a hop head like me, this is beer nirvana.

Mouthfeel is full bodied, with moderate carbonation and fuzziness on the tongue.

Taste is strong piney hops. Its a full blown hop flavor- the Centenial and Cascade hops overwhelm the sweet malt backbone, in a good way. There's a mild spice as well, not sure where its coming from, but all the elements play wonderfully in the glass.

Finish is mildly bitter, grapefruit like I'll say, but its balanced off by the sweetness of the malts.

The Lagunitas web site will say this beer is nicely balanced, but I found it awesomely unbalanced in favor of the hops.

This is an AWESOME IPA. I love the color, the smell, and the taste. You get a full hop taste experience in smell, color, taste, and finish. This might be my new favorite session IPA, its that darn good. An absolutely delicious beer.

I give this beer a 4-4.5 on my 1-5 scale.

We interupt this blog due to Hurricane Irene....

I was attempting to write the latest IPA month post when Hurricane Irene rudely knocked out my power, bringing the awesome blue screen of death to my home computer.

After that, she knocked a tree down onto my car. While I was looking out the window, so I could see the whole thing happening..

So, I poured myself a Lagunita's IPA, seen here,  (which is totally awesome by the way- full review is forthcoming..) and sat my butt on the couch, where I listened to my 2 year old repeatedly yell at the wind to "be quiet!".

More beer blog coming at you as soon as we resolve our technical difficulties...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dogfish Head Burton Baton- Oak Aged Imperial IPA

IPA month on Man Drinks Beer continues with one of my favorite breweries- Dogfish Head, and their outstanding Burton Baton.

My mother in law actually brought this beer up on a recent visit. Its becoming a habit of hers to bring good beer for us to sample. She may have to visit more often.

Burton Baton 
Dogfish Head Brewery, Rehoboth Beach, DE
10% ABV

This beer is actually a blend of an English Style Old Ale and an Imperial IPA. The two beers are fermented separately in stainless steel tanks, and then blended together and aged in a 10,000 gallon oak tank. They age for a month on the oak. Its brewed three times a year, according to the Dogfish Head web site.

This beer pours a brackish, cloudy brown, with a tight, thick white head. (Oak aging tends to produce a cloudy appearance, so this is expected)

Smell is sweet. I suspect its the vanilla notes that the beer drew out of the wood in the oak tank, and also perhaps, from some darker roasted malts that really bring out the sugars in the malts, but I'm guessing here. Alcohol is also detectable, but its not a big alcohol smell, just a hint.

Mouthfeel is full bodied, creamy, with some warm alcohol and vanilla sensations on the tongue.

Taste is, in a word, smoooooooth (not a typo). This beer is super mellow, with a mild vanilla sweetness from the oak aging. Malt and hops are completely mellowed by the wood tanks. Hops are flowery, although hard to detect, and their bitterness is gone. Malts are sweet, with a woody spiciness. Its a complex taste, but awesome nonetheless. Beware of the alcohol as well, as the oak tanks also subdue the alcohol taste, but not the percentage.

Overall, I give this beer a 4+ on my scale of 1-5.

The English Style Pale Ale really gives a richer, fuller body to the Imperial IPA, and the oak aging mellows them both. This is a really tasty beer, almost a desert type beer thanks to it's sweetness. 

Note-Hop and malt varieties used in this beer were not listed on the brewers web site, so they are not included here. My apologies.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

IPA Month Continues with Leatherlips IPA- Haverhill Brewery

I began this entry with great expectations.

Haverhill Brewery's "Leatherlips IPA" came to me highly recommended by an employee of an excellent craft beer store.  I was vacillating between this and another IPA, and the clerk said the Leather Lips was the better brew, so I bought it.

Leatherlips IPA
Haverhill Brewery, Haverhill, MA
5% ABV

Along with several other Haverhill brews, this one has an image of a woman on the bottle. And, once again, it should have been a warning. Specifically, it should bring to mind this warning-

If they need a chick on the bottle to get attention, perhaps the stuff inside isn't quite up to par?


The beer pours a nice amber/orange, clear, with a thin white head.

Smell is very nice- moderate floral hops are intriguing, but not overpowering. It smells like an IPA should, albeit a bit more modestly than some.

Mouthfeel gives me my first warning- it feels... flat, despite the bubbles I can clearly see in the glass. Its got a very light body, with a lack of texture. Its not flat, but it feels that way.

Taste is disappointing. For a brew with such a good hop smell, the hop taste, for me,  is surprisingly meek. They are there- Chinook, Newport, Nugget, Cascade, and Centennia, according to their web site- but its almost as if they've been watered down. You get some grapefruit like citrus bitterness, which is the strongest component, and even that, at 50 IBU's, isn't strong for an American IPA. Finish is mildly bitter.

This beer bummed me out. I just can't reconcile the discrepancy between the nice hop smell and the weak, watery taste. After some thought, I'm thinking that perhaps this is designed to be an entry level beer for non craft drinkers, an attempt to bring them into the craft world and not over whelm them. In that regard, it works very well and makes a lot of sense. Its the only way I can explain how such a hyped brew can be such a downer. I give this beer a 2 out 5, and I give you a warning....

Beware the Red Head...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Julios Belgian Beer Fest

I attended Julio's Liquors annual Belgian Beer fest on Sunday.

This was my first Julio's event, and I wasn't sure what to expect. I mean, c'mon, it's a liquor store, how big can this thing be?

I met my erstwhile drinking buddy Daupha at the door. After getting my BRIGHT lime green wristband (at a liquor store tasting? Hmm), I was handed a tasting glass, a pencil, and a list of all the beers available for tasting.

It was quite the list:
  • 13 tables. 
  • at least 50 some odd beers. 
  • food from the new restaurant across the street
  • All free...
This made me understand the need for a wristband.

We consulted the list. Slightly overwhlemed by the options, we did what anyone would do. We started with table #1, which listed among its many offerings an intriguing Belgian IPA that I wanted to try. As the attendant handed me glass, he asked me for a "ticket".

What ticket I asked? The one on my wristband I was informed. I took a look, and sure enough, there were 10 numbered, pull-off tabs on my BRIGHT lime green wristband. D'oh! So there's the catch. There was a 10 sample limit. This was bad. The first guy barely lined the sample glass, I got minimum taste, and I was down to 9 tabs.

We needed a strategy.

We observed the lines more closely. Proceeding more strategically, we focused our efforts on lines that served more.. reasonable samples, and perhaps, maybe, didn't remember to always take a ticket from you.

After 2 hours of sampling, here's what I've learned about Belgian beers:
  1. "wild" yeast makes beer taste disgusting.
  2. Garlic is pretty good in beer.
  3. "Gale" is a savory herb that is also very good in beer.
  4. unless the beer has garlic or gale in it, all I ever taste in a Belgian beer is the yeast
  5.  After all that sampling of Belgian beers, I went over to the craft beer section and purchased an American IPA 6 pack to bring home.
All in all this was an awesome event- exceptionally well run, with absolutely no issues (an amazing feat given the volume of alcohol consumed), and very educational.

At the end of the day, I learned that without a shadow of a doubt, I just don't like Belgian style beers. I tried in good faith to find one that I could review and recommend, I really did, and while some of them were ok, I can't say that there was even one that really made me want to buy it.  But that's my personal preference. So you probably won't see any Belgian brews in this space in the future. But don't let it stop you from partaking in a Belgian Ale. And if you find a really great, let me know. Maybe that's the one that will convert me. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Harpoon Brewery Celebrates 25 Years- "Rich and Dan's Rye IPA"

I've spent many a happy hour drinking at the Harpoon Brewery.

I love the beers. I love the brewery staff. I run in the annual Harpoon 5 Miler every year. I attend every 100 Barrel release tasting that I can possibly attend (always with my buddy Daupha. Always).

One of my first dates with the woman who would eventually become my wife began when she came to visit me one afternoon while I was working at Harpoon Summerstock back in 2001. (she asked if she could buy me dinner after I got off work. How could I say no? Fast forward 10 years, and now we take our daughter to the 5 Miler and watch her dance to the music at the after race party.)

It's truly a special place for me.

So naturally, when I saw that they had brewed a special beer in celebration of their 25th Anniversary, it was a "must buy". And, as it was an IPA, it fits perfectly with my August Theme- "drink all the IPA I can".

Rich and Dan's Rye IPA
Harpoon Brewery(ok, it's technically the Massachusetts Bay Brewing Company, but who knows them by that name?)
Boston, MA
6.9% ABV

This beer pours a lovely deep orange/gold color, clear, with a thin, wispy white head.

Smell is obvious- HOPS. The famous, signature Harpoon hop aroma that greats you every time you open a classic Harpoon IPA is also present here. Its exactly what I want when I buy a Harpoon IPA. Its very floral, but unlike the classic Harpoon IPA, this has hints of a warm spice in the nose.

Mouthfeel is creamy, medium bodied, with a lot of fizz on the tongue. I'm thinking its probably rye spice settling into my palette.

Taste is bitter citrus hoppy, and spicy, with a sturdy malt back. Finish tastes more rye spice than malt or bitter.

According to their web site, they brewed with Centennial, Willamette, and Chinook hops. Dry hopped with Falconer’s Flight. Malted grains were-Pale, Maris Otter, Rye, Caramel 60, Flaked Rye, Vienna.

I loved this beer. It presents with that awesome Harpoon IPA hoppy aroma, but the rye keeps it in check and neutralizes some of the hop kick one might expect in the taste department.  Its a great, great take on Harpoons best beer. I give it 3.5+ out of 5.

Love beer. Love Life. Harpoon!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Brew Free! Or DIE IPA- 21st Amendment Brewery

In keeping with my newly designated August theme of "drinking all the IPAs I can", I once again turn to 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco.

I first discovered these guys back in the early days of this blog, when I stumbled upon their wonderful dark Belgian Ale "Monks Blood".

These guys brew serious beers, they un-apologetically put them in cans (better for the beer, and the environment, according to their packaging), and put interesting, in your face copy and images on the cans ("monks blood"?)

Brew Free! Or DIE IPA
21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, CA
7% ABV, 70 IBUs

The can modestly proclaims this: "Brew Free! OR die IPA. IPA with a solid malt backbone & hoppy flavors"

That's all. Just "brew free". or DIE.

Then there's the cartoon caricature of Mt Rushmore, with Lincoln breaking free, fist raised defiantly, as if he's on his way to punch you in the face you if you don't "Brew Free"!

This beer pours a clear Orange/Gold color, with an inch or so of off white, wispy head. There a lot of bubbles in the glass.

Smell is piney hops with a subtle, warm malt undertone and hint of warm spice. Its very nice.

Mouthfeel is light, as you would expect, with a lot of bubbles on the tongue. There is also a very mild alcoholy warmth on the tongue, but its very, very subtle.

Taste is suprisingly malty (yes, yes, I know the can said it said it had a "strong malt back bone", but I expected it to be secondary taste, following the hops). There's a nice subtle spice in the malt that gives it some warmth, then a citrus bitter hop follow through and finish that balances it all out nicely. 

Malts used in the brewing were two row pale & imported Munich, and the hops were warrior, columbus, cascade, amarillo, ahtanum, & simcoe. (See all those hops? I am NOT crazy for expecting more hop flavor)

Overall this is nicely balanced, with a slight malt advantage in taste. I like it- a lot- but I was really hoping for more hops from a brew that calls itself  "brew free! or DIE IPA". I found it very drinkable and enjoyable.

I give this a solid 3.5 on a 1-5 scale.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Happy International IPA Day!

It's August 4th- Happy International IPA day! (ok, by the time anyone reads this, it will probably be the day after)

I have no idea who created this day, but I'd like to shake their hand.

Not that I need another reason to drink an IPA mind you. But, it is August, the weather is cooling (oddly), and we're staring down the barrel of Oktoberfest and the fall beer season, which, to me, means drink all the IPA you can NOW- while it's still summer!

I posted earlier this week about my mishap at the packie- my error in purchasing an Imperial Pale Ale rather than my coveted India Pale Ale. Yeah, I'm an idiot. Let this be a lesson to you all- read the dang label!

But luckily, I did make another accurate purchase that day, an actual IPA! Please welcome to the blog....

Peak Organic Brewing Company, Portland, ME
8.2% ABV

The label on this beer caught my eye, mostly because it has that little half green, half white "USDA Organic" seal. The idea of drinking good beer and being environmentally responsible is very appealing (I've been reading a lot of Michael Polan books lately, its having an affect, I can't lie).

The label says this about the beer- 
"Hop Noir is a delectable Black IPA, dripping with piney, aromatic Centennial hops. The malt base is dark and rich, anchored by organic black malt. This provides a strong foundation for the extravagant kettle hopping and dry-hopping that this beer experiences. Enjoy with a night-light."

Hmm..a black IPA? 

Holy Dark! This beer pours BLACK. I caught hints of dark, dark cherry red when I held it up to intense light. Head was thick and tight and brown. It looked stout thick during the pour.

Smell is malt- dark roasted malted, with an intense sweetness that I couldn't quite identify- Fruit? Candy? Chocolate? I'm not 100% sure, but there is something super sweet hidden in the nose. Overall it was very...earthy, with hints of hops on the back.

Mouthfeel is much lighter than expected- This beer may pour like a stout, but it feels like a porter. Much more carbonation that is indicated in the pour. Slightly creamy on the palate.

Taste is very... GOOD. I taste dark roasted coffee, almost burnt, with a sweetness I still can't articulate (maybe a dunks dark roast with extra extra?). Its very malty, with a hop flower bitter finish.

This beer keeps you guessing. It pours like a stout, feels like a porter, yet finishes like an IPA. What the hell is this?

Overall, it's a very good beer. I'd classify it in the category with the current IPA/porter combos that seem to be the hot trend in craft beer. Call it a "black IPA" or an East India Porter". I give this beer a solid 4. Black IPA = good drinking!


Sunday, July 31, 2011

"IPA" Does Not Always Mean India Pale Ale

I have been jonesing for an IPA. All week, and all weekend, I have been craving hops.

Today, I finally had the cash and time to hit the liquor store. In a frantic attempt to save both time and money, I scanned the prices and labels, paying more attention to the price (apparently) than to the style or name on the bottle.

This is how I came home with an Imperial Pale Ale instead of an India Pale Ale, which is what I really, really, really wanted.

(I also, intentionally, picked up a black IPA, as I thought I had my traditional IPA covered. More on that beer later this week)

My selection this week is nonetheless a worthy beer to quench your summer thirst. And it is locally brewed.

Ipswich 20th Anniversary Imperial Pale Ale
Ipswich Ale Brewery, brewed by Mercury Brewing Company, Ipswich, MA
8 % ABV
22 ounce bottle

I popped this bottle open and poured it into a tall pilsner glass.

This beer poured a nice brackish brown cider color, hazy and brown, with a nice tight, off-white head.

Smell was strong- malt, alcohol, and hops. All three aromas were strong, but not quite pungent, and all were in balance and nicely followed each other out of the glass in perfect order.

I took a sip. This beer is full bodied, thick and alcoholy on the tongue, with low carbonation.

Taste is very strong malty sweet up front, followed by a very strong flowery hop bitter finish. It is extremely well balanced between the strong, alcoholy malt and flowery, hop bitterness. It reminded me very much of  a beer they used to brew at the Boston Beer Works called the Eisbock. ( The "Eisbock" was this beer, only turned up to 11- the alcohol vapors coming off an Eisbock were so strong that you had to keep the glass moving on the table or the fumes would peel the paint on the ceiling. And the taste was so strong it made you gag, but in a very good way)

All in all I enjoyed this beer. I'd give it a modest 3.5-4 range on a 1-5 scale.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Great Divide Brewing Companys "Denver Pale Ale"

When suffering though a heat wave like the one we just endured, I look for lighter, more drinkable beers to quench my thirst. Big, ten percent ABV beers are awesome, but when its 103 and humid, I just want a refreshing, well made small beer that won't make me pass out in the heat.

But finding a really good small beer, aka a 5% ABV beer, can be a challenge these days. Everyone is brewing big beers. Not a bad trend, but size isn't everything. And often times the simple basics of a great beer get lost (or masked) in the high alcohol taste of bigger beers. I wanted a small beer, damn it, but it had the have "big beer" flavor.

As I wandered the aisles of the liquor store last week, I walked by the shelf with the Great Divide Brewing Company beers several times. I stopped and pondered. I've had several beers from Great Divide before, and they never disappoint.  And I mean never. While my favorite brewers-Dogfish Head, Harpoon, and Stone Brewing- have all brewed art least one beer that I've not liked, I can't say the same for Great Divide. I've LOVED everything I've drank from them- the Hercules Double IPA, the Oak Aged Yeti stout, and the 17th Anniversary Wood Aged Double IPA. So why don't I buy more Great Divide I thought? Great question, to which I had no answer. So I picked up a 6 pack of their signature beer.

Denver Pale Ale
Great Divide Brewing Company, Denver, CO
5% ABV

The label calls this an "English Style" Pale Ale. I think this means its going to be more balanced in comparison to American style pales. I particularly like the logo on the bottle that says "great minds drink alike".

The label also says that "Denver Pale Ale is a world renowned classic pale ale with a malty middle and equally hearty compliment of hop aroma and bitterness".

World Renowned? Talk about tooting your own horn! I wondered if they could back it up.

The beer pours a light amber color, clear, with a tight white head. Its a nice color, but it definitely doesn't look like a "pale" ale. (I guess its time I learn that "pale" refers more to the style than the color.)

Smell is, in a word, AWESOME. It smells like warm white bread coming out of an oven- yeasty, doughy, with a malt back. I get no hop smell, but I don't care.

Mouthfeel is light, crisp, wet. Moderate to light carbonation on the tongue.

Taste- Yup, same as the smell, which is to say AWESOME. You get the taste of warm, freshly baked white bread, followed by some maltiness, then a moderate hop bitter finish, and its all in perfect balance. Its amazing. Its refreshing. Its comforting. Its super satisfying and thirst quenching.

I tried to look up the malt and hops used in this beer, but the web site didn't seem to list them. Several additional online searches also revealed nothing about the recipe. I guess they want to protect their "world renowned" status by keeping it a secret, and I can't blame them.

This beer is an easy 4.5 out of 5. And I think I now believe the "world Renowned" claim.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vacation recap, Weasling out of things, and why the posts are lacking lately

I wanted to take a moment to catch up on a few beer related thoughts from vacation, and to also explain why the posts have been lacking lately.

1) Why the posts are lacking

My wife and I are expecting our second child in December. In preparation, we need to move our daughter into a new bedroom. This requires me to remove the 3 layers of ancient wall paper from this room so we can paint and decorate it appropriately for a 2 year old. In an effort to motivate myself, I pledged "no beer until all the wallpaper is down"!

Yup, I gave up beer again. This time for only about 14 days. This also explains why I stayed up until past midnight on Monday to finish the job. I wanted a beer, damn it! The reviews I've posted recently have been from notes I took over vacation. (I thought it was a good idea to have some reviews in the bank in case I suddenly lacked time/energy to write.)

Luckily, the job is done, and I have an awesome new beer for you later this week.

2) Weaseling out of things

"Marge, don't discourage the boy! Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It's what separates us from the animals! Except the weasel."
-Homer Simpson

So, that deal I made with myself above? I found a loop hole last week and weaseled out of it. It was so hot last week, and the wallpaper scraping was so bad, and the pinched nerve in my back was hurting sooo bad, that I desperately wanted a beer. However, I had made that promise to myself about not having a beer until all the wallpaper was down.

Luckily, I made no such promise in regards to WINE! Now, I'm not really a wine guy, but I had a cold bottle of Yellow Tail Riesling in the fridge that we had never opened. So, I popped it open and had a few glasses. A few sips in I understood why it was on sale- it was not good. Yellow tail makes a great Riesling, but this one was skunked. After the 3rd glass (it wasn't too skunked, after all), I dumped the bottle.

3) Vacation Beer recap- I drank a few beers on vacation. You saw the post about the Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA? That was the best. But there were other awesome contenders- (lets see if you can guess where I went drinking???)
  • Boston Beer Works "Habanero Stout"- What a phenominal beverage! All the creamy smoothness and roasted malt sweetness of great stout, with the tasty heat of a Habanero Pepper, and without the mouth burn.I seriously considered getting growler and grabbing a straw.
  • Boston Beer Works "India Pale Porter"- Whats up with IPA/Porter combos lately? This was a great brew as well, nicely balanced malt and hops, very similar to the Pretty Things East India Porter I reviewed a few weeks ago.
  • Boston Beer Works Watermelon Ale- simply the best Watermelon Ale on the market. Possibly the most thirst quenching beer in the universe.
  •  Harpoon IPA- First thing I did on Saturday of vacation was buy a 12 pack of the legendary Harpoon IPA. My favorite "anytime beer". I had to restrain myself from buying a case. It was awesome. Best session IPA on earth.
Basically, the rest of my vacation was spent watching the Tour de France. No, I'm not joking. I freaking LOVE this event. I got into it a few years ago, when my daughter was a newborn, and my wife and I would be up at all hours of the night feeding her. The only thing constantly on tv late night was tour coverage on Versus, and I watched very night. And I still do! I'm really rooting for Andy Schleck to finally win this year after finishing second the last two years, but it isn't looking good.

Anyhow, that's what I've been up to lately. I'll have a review of an awesome English style Pale Ale later this week.

Cheers, and thanks for reading!