Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Favorite "New" Beers of 2015

And now for the obligatory "best of" year end post, recapping my favorite "new" beers of 2015.

"New" in this case simply means  "new to me".

Jacks Abby Framinghammer "Italiano"
1. Jacks Abby- Framinghammer "Italiano"

This new, brewery only, draft only variant of the immensely popular Framinghammer Baltic Porter series is simply, absolutely, amazing.

The recipe was recommended by Italian workers who came over from Italy to help set up some of the brewing equipment at the new Clinton  Street facility.  Brewed with coffee, Star Anise, and lemon zest and packing an ABV north of 10%, this brew is stunningly delicious, super smooth, soft on the palette and absolutely perfect in every way.

How good do I think this is? Put it this way, I've been to the new brewery twice now, and of the 7 beers I've had while there, this has been 6 of them. And I don't regret passing up all of the other amazing beers on the menu one bit. If you have the chance to enjoy it before its gone, do yourself favor and go for it.

2. Backlash- Muerte

First, check out the bottle art- its absolutely beautiful. Art inspired by Mexico's "Day of the Dead" Holiday, with the Backlash knuckles incorporated so perfectly, I love it.

And the beer is just ridiculous- an imperial stout brewed with cold brewed coffee, vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, and scotch bonnet peppers.  Its an insane ingredient list. It honestly scared the hell out of me.

But it fucking works! In an amazing, amazing way. Major props to Backlash for taking this risk with these ingredients. Their web site describes this as being inspired by Mexican Hot Chocolate, and they nailed it. Its an awesome beer.

 Melcher Street IPA
3. Trillium- Melcher Street IPA

I don't know if this beer is new, or just new to me, but I love it.

Purchased at the new Trillium Brewery in Canton and brought home in a growler, this was my fist Trillium IPA. (I know, seriously, what was I waiting for? Tough to get Trillium where I live. Or, at last it was :))

4. Devils Purse Brewing- Handline Kolsch

Long story short, I'm a sucker for a good, classic Kolsch. It's an underbrewed, under appreciated style.

This is a great brew from a great new brewery on Cape Cod.

Check them out if you get a chance.

And yes, that is a glorious, ice cold, 32 ounces CROWLER in that photo! I love the Crowler, I really, really do.

(The mason jar was because I was on vacation. Really.)

5. Founders- Backwoods Bastard

Another dark ale packing an ABV punch- 11%- rounds out my list of new favorites from 2015.

It was a close call, there were a few other strong contenders for this list, but I kept coming back to this one. This is an old ale aged in oak bourbon barrels. Bourbon barrels do wonderful things to beer. Super smooth, moderate mouthfeel, and slight alcohol burn make this a great beer for a cold New England night.

What were you favorite "new" beers of 2015?

Have a happy, safe, and excellent new year all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015- The Year in Craft Beer, in 5 Words

Jacks Abby Framinghammer "Italiano"
2015 was a damn good year for craft beer.

Here are the 5 words I believe best describe the year 2015 in craft beer (your 5 words may differ):


The red hot craft beer industry continues to grow at amazing rates in every conceivable statistic/metric.

According to a recent IBISWorld report, the segment experienced
18.8 percent annual growth from 2010 to 2015; however, the company predicts that the segment will experience a much lower annual growth rate of 5.5 percent from 2015 to 2020, reaching $6.5 billion by the end of 2020

Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) highlights the segment’s market share as evidence of continuing  growth. “Craft continues to gain the highest share in total U.S. supermarkets compared to a year ago. It has gained 1.1 share of total beer dollar sales in supermarkets this year according to data ending July 5, 2015. Craft is now up to a 16.5 share of total beer dollar sales in supermarkets. This compares to a 9.4 share craft had back in 2010."

In line with this, in July, the Brewers Association released mid-year data indicating that craft beer production volume increased 16 percent in the first half of the year.

According to the association, from January through the end of June, approximately 12.2 million barrels of beer were sold by craft brewers, up from 10.6 million barrels in the first half of 2014.

Locally, craft brewers Trillium, Jacks Abby, and Wormtown all moved to new, significantly larger locations to allow them to meet the huge -and still growing- demand for their beers. 

In the case of Trillium, they opened a second, larger (16,000 square ft!) facility in Canton while keeping the original Fort Point location. The new Canton location will serve as Trillium's primary production facility, with a theoretical capacity for 35,000 BBL's annually. (BBL stands for "barrels." A barrel of beer is 31 gallons and the standard size for a keg is a half barrel.)

By way of comparison, when Trillium opened their 2,300 sq ft Fort Point brewery in 2013, they had a 10 barrel system and 30 bbl of cellar capacity. in 2014 they brewed just over 1,000 barrels of beer. And now they have the potential to brew 35,000 BBL's. 

That. is. GROWTH. 

Within Trillium’s first full year of production in 2014, they brewed 1,000 barrels of beer, and this year they’re on pace for about 1,500 barrels.

Framingham's Jack Abby moved down the road from their original Morton Street location to a larger facility on Clinton Street. The new 67,000 sq. foot space (up from the Morton Street locations 12,000 sq. ft) features state-of-the-art brewing equipment including a canning line and a 60 bbl brew house for initial brewing capacity of 50,000 bbls annually, with opportunity to scale up to 125,000 bbls. 

The expansion to 100 Clinton St. required a $6 million investment in equipment and site improvements, Jack’s Abby told the BBJ earlier this year. And, now they have a restaurant on site as well. 

Wormtown Brewery started out in 2010 in an old ice cream shop adjacent to Peppercorns on Park Ave in Worcester.

In January of this year, they moved into a brand new facility on Shrewsbury Street. The new facility currently has a 6,000 barrel brewing capacity that is easily expandable up to 15,000 barrels. In addition the new brewery incorporates a modern packaging line which has allowed Wormtown to expand their distribution to include package stores.

Want more local craft beer growth?

Castle Island Brewing finally opened (although in Norwood, not Castle Island).

Cold Harbor Brewing opened in Westborough.

Devils Purse Brewing opened on the Cape.

and that's just off the top of my head.


As the craft beer market soars, it steals market share- and dollars- from the older, bigger, mass brewed conglomerates.

And this does not go over well with the Board Members who run these conglomerates, believe me.

But rather than dedicate their considerable brewing resources to crafting better beer, they've started to simply buy up the smaller craft brewers they compete with. It's a somewhat disturbing trend, albeit a legal- and often very smart- business practice.

Santa came early for ABInBev, delivering them 3 shiny new craft breweries for Christmas 2015.

Breckenridge Brewery (CO), Four Peaks (AZ), and the UK Camden Town Brewery were all acquired by the global giant in a span of only 5 days this month alone. They purchased Elysian and Golden Road Brewing earlier this year.

THAT, my craft beer drinking friends, is buying power.

And don't forget, Bud already owns Goose Island, 10 Point, and Blue Point as well. 

But it not just Bud buying up all the breweries.

Heineken, the world's third-largest brewery, bought a 50 percent stake in Lagunitas in September.

 Ballast Point was purchased by massive conglomerate Constellation Brands for an unprecedented $1 billion in November.

So why is this happening? Many reasons. Sometimes it's simply money. Sometimes the craft brewery needs the resources of the acquiring company to grow. As I understand it Bud has left Goose Island pretty much alone, the beer hasn't suffered, and judging from the lines I saw on Black Friday, Bourbon County Stout is still as popular as ever. So being acquired, it's not always a bad thing.

But ask yourself this- who really brews your beer? 


Have you noticed a LOT more cans on the shelves of your favorite bottle shop these days? I sure have.

According to Nielsen data, 88 percent of case volume in the craft beer segment is comprised of bottles, clearly dominating the segment. However, cans are quickly growing and saw a 39 percent increase in case volume in the past year.

The brewers will tell you that the packaging offers a more event friendly and sustainable option for their consumers. They are not wrong. A beverage industry November report notes : "One of the worst things beer can be exposed to is light. Many brewers look to cans to, No. 1, remove light, and No. 2, because consumers can take cans a lot of places they can’t take bottles".
And with cans comes one of my favorite new beer things- the "Crowler"- a massive, 32 ounce can of craft beer. (see photo, left). There's something cool about holding a giant, cold can of brew in your hand. 

4. PrettyThingsBeerandAleProject (ok, this is really 6 words in itself, cut me some slack, its my blog!)

These are the first two sentences on the Pretty Things web site:

"Welcome to Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project. Pretty Things is an idea, not a brewery."

And they were not a brewery. They were gypsy brewers, didn't own a brewery, and only sold their awesome, awesome beers in 22 ounce bombers.

From the first time I discovered them in 2007, I have loved their beers. Absolutely loved them. Their portfolio, from top to bottom, was the best in the business. Everything they brewed was a winner, in a big, big way. Not a loser in the bunch.

Sadly, true to their word above, Pretty Things decided to end the project this year. It saddens me greatly, as I sit here drinking a "Our Finest Regards" Barelywine.

Dan and Martha, thank you for the awesome, outstanding brews. I will miss them greatly. I wish you the very best, and I hope you keep brewing!


This one is personal, as Crafted is the new craft beer (and wine) store to open in my town.

Finally I have a place locally where I can buy great beer! Technically they opened in 2014, but 2015 is their first full year of operation, so congrats Kenny! My new favorite beer store!

Have you noticed more craft focused beer shops opening in your area?  They are popping up everywhere, and this is a good thing. And this has a domino affect of forcing the existing liquor stores to up their beer selection in order to compete, and I've definitely noticed this occurring in my town.

So, that is my 2015 year in craft beer.

What 5 words would you use to describe the year in beer for 2015?

Tomorrow- my favorite beers of 2015!