Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017- The Year in Beer ( THATs' where my money went!)

2017 was a year of beer "firsts" for me.
  • My first ever Bourbon County brand Stout in February
  • My first Ever trip to Treehouse Brewing in July.
  • My first time standing in line for a beer (see above)
  • My first ever time ever ordering a sour beer, at the Springdale Barrel room on opening night.
Yes, I was a busy beer geek, even if I wasn't writing much about it. As it often does, Life interrupts, and 2017 may have a set a record for untimely life interruptions. 

But I'm still here!

While I started out attempting to be "IPA Free" for 2017, I failed in July, succumbing to the inevitable IPA weather. But seven months IPA free is no small feat in today's beer world, and the experiment did push me out of my beer comfort zone and got me to try beers I'd NEVER typically try, like sours. While I'm still not a sour fanatic, I have found several that I sincerely love, and thanks to Meryl at Springdale, I have a serious appreciation for how light and delicate a great sour can be.

Pro-Tip- When a great bartender/beer expert offers a tasting, take it. Meryl led me on a guided flight that went through several sours and an IPA and it blew my mind. A properly ordered, guided tasting can be so damn educational.There is so much cool stuff in the beer world, it never ceases to amaze me.

So, 2017, \the year in beer. What was it?  How would I describe it? Easy, for once.

In my mind the year in beer 2017 was very clearly the year of the New England IPA

Yes, I want to gouge out my eyes for saying it, but it's true. The style has been popular since its inception, but this year it just seemed to go to another level. Want a non-hazy IPA? Good luck with that. Want some hop bitter? Sorry, its all "juicy" IPA now. 

(Did I ever tell you that I've never had a Heady Topper? Seriously.) 

Yes, 2017 was unquestionably the year of the Hazy, "Juicy" IPA.

My favorite? It was this one, right here:

Exhibit "A" Demo Tape 12. My "NEIPA of the Year" 
 Exhibit A Brewing's outstanding "Demo Tape 12", which, coincidentally, they just re-released!

This is the original, photographed in the brewery. Brewed with Mosaic and High Oil Cascade hops, with a grain bill of American 2-Row, Warthog Wheat, Golden Naked Oats, and Caramunich III, THIS beer blew my mind. Think West Coast style meets NEIPA.

Not just the best IPA I had this year. Possibly EVER, and I am not kidding. The flavor in this beer is absolutely amazing and unlike anything I've ever had.

If you get a chance to try this beer, its a must. An absolute MUST.

About that other NEIPA, that I'm sure some of you may have thought I was going to place as my favorite....

Tree House Brewing's legendary "Julius" NEIPA. It is good.
Julius is very, very good.

Just because I prefer a different take on the style doesn't mean I don't like it or appreciate it.

So please, spare me your hate mail. It's a damn good beer, but I don't love the "juicy" side of IPA.

I like more malt balance, some bitter as well. Julius has great flavor, I'd definitely buy it again, but I wouldn't stand in that line again.

Standing in line once to experience the craze that is Tree House was a fun one time thing. Their beer is excellent. 

There were many other NEIPA's I enjoyed this year, but to name one would require me to name another, and well, frankly, there are so damn many.

Let's hope this NEIPA thing sorts itself out in 2018. "Hazy", after all, is not an actual flavor (although yes it contributes to it). Great beer can in fact, be clear.

What did the year in beer mean to YOU in 2017?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Tree House Brewing Company- Standing in line for beer?

Tree House Brewing Company "Julius" IPA
Tree House Brewing Company, the famous Charlton, MA brewery known for long lines for purchasing cans, fanatical fans, and great "juicy" "New England" style IPA's, was a place I had never visited until this past August.

Why hadn't I ever visited? Because I have a very firm, long standing rule against standing in line for beer.

A little context is probably needed here- why would a self-avowed beer geek intentionally avoid one of the most renowned, revered breweries that was right in his own back yard?  Well, for one, I am 43 and have 3 kids. As you might imagine, this takes up a lot of my time. Spending an hour to drive there, then an hour in line, is not something I can do without ignoring family.

So, despite the fact that I've been drinking craft beer since the early 1990's- when the only real "craft" beer in Boston was Sam Adams, Pete's Wicked Ale, and The Boston Beer Works lone Fenway location- I had NEVER stood in line to get beer.  Until August.

I decided that it was time to give it a shot. I admit, all the Twitter and Facebook beer feed finally got toe me and compelled me to make the drive to Charlton one Friday evening. Here are my impressions.

I arrived at the Tree House just after 2:30, the parking lot was packed and super busy. I found a spot in the lower lot. The police officer directing traffic told me that they had a shuttle running up the hill, which I was very grateful to know as I had a back injury and walking was a bit painful. I waited maybe 2 minutes for the golf cart, which shot me up the hill quickly. I got in line at the back corner of the parking lot, right by the shed at the back right of the upper lot. The line was loooong! I'd guess 300 people or so. I thought of taking pictures, but I really wanted to take in the "experience", watch the crowd, see how the brewery staff managed the line, and really just enjoy what was a really perfect day weather wise. People were cool with waiting in line, and the line really moved fast. I was inside in just under 40 minutes, which I found impressive.

The days limits were 6- Curiosity 40, 3- That's What She Said Milk Stout, and 3- Julius IPA. So of course I bought my limit, and two tulip glasses as well. If you're going to enjoy a Tree House beer, do it right, right?

I'd be remiss if I didn't pause here to compliment the Tree House Brewery Staff. Every single person I interacted with just AWESOME! Great attitudes, ready to get me what I needed, and super knowledgeable. I was so damn impressed, I cannot tell you. I have 21 years of retail experience, and this staff was possibly the best performing floor staff I'd ever seen.

But what about THE BEER!!???

Yes, yes, I'm getting to that. Indulge me, visiting Tree House is really an experience, and I want to share it all!

OK, so obviously when I got home, I unpacked my haul from the cooler and cracked open a Julius, and took a seat outside.

The beer pours a hazy orange juice like appearance, and an aroma that I found understated for an IPA, almost sweet with citrus notes.

Mouthfeel was the first "wow", as it was super, super soft, not something I am used to in an IPA.

Taste was superb, bright, fruity, but not bitter. I got notes of peach and mangoes, and a clean finish. I loved it. There is no bitter hop finish, but I didn't miss it.

So, the big question- does it live up to the hype?

Tough question, for a beer so hyped up. It really depends on your own preferences. But it is a great IPA, worth seeking out.

My next Tree House offering was the That's What She Said Milk Stout.

Now, THIS was my favorite beer of the three offerings that I was able to get my hands on.

Pouring a dark, oily black, this beer is a viscous, thick, malty dream in a glass!

Such an incredibly thick, creamy, soft mouthfeel, coupled with an incredible depth of malty, roasted flavor make this beer a top 3 all time stout in my opinion. Any further attempt at description here won't do it justice.

This beer is world class! Why it doesn't get the hype of Julius astounds me.

And lastly, we have Curiosity 40- an IPA with Galaxy and Simcoe.

This is a great beer. Super drinkable with great hop flavor, I hope they revisit this version of Curiosity again. It's a great session brew, although at 7% abv its not really a "session" beer at all.

So, to sum up my Tree House experience- waiting in line for beer is not bad if the brewery you are waiting at knows what they are doing.
The fine folks at Tree house know what they are doing.

I can't wait to try more of their beer, and I am very anxiously awaiting the day when they do pours during all hours! The facility is gorgeous, and I long to enjoy a beer at the pavilion and take in the view.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

"IPA Free 2017" is Dead. Thanks to this IPA....

Night Shift "Morph" IPA, Batch #50. Tremendous. Worth it.
I caved.

I knew summer would be tough, but the end came fast. Very, very fast.

I was at Crafted, searching for a beer, and kept coming back to the cooler and staring at the pretty blue cans of Night Shift "Morph", (Batch #50 for those of you keeping track at home).

Sometimes the heart just wants what the heart wants.

In the end, the good weather, great offerings, and my love of drinking seasonally appropriate beer did me in. It was time to get back on the IPA wagon.

But also, the last few weeks had grown frustrating, and for the exact reason that I started this "IPA Free" experiment. I had given up IPA's to expand my beer experience, and in that regard it was a huge success. I tried beers and styles that I never would have before, and much to my surprise, I liked a lot of them. I now drink sours. That NEVER would have happened had I not given up the hops. I also drank several goses, also not a style that ever intrigued me. I actually found two I liked!

But in the end, limiting my beer choices by eliminating an entire style just got too hard. I felt overly restricted, and after almost 7 months (I actually started at the end of December), I had had enough. My beer experience widened, I felt it was finally ok to start enjoying IPA's again. Because honestly, if you are NOT enjoying your beer experience, you're doing it wrong! 

So, how did it taste, my first IPA in seven months? It was awesome. The batch tasting notes are accurate, so I'm simply copying them here from the Night Shift web site: Morph Batch 50- "A monumental Morph! Idaho 7, Citra, and Waimea hops, plus oats; hazy and soft, with massive grapefruit and orange flavors. (4.5% ABV)". This was a great beer to break my IPA fast with.

I have more IPA news to share, including a new "demo" IPA that- honestly- might be the best IPA I've EVER had, but that will come in a later post.

(How's that for a big time teaser?)



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

It's Almost June, and I'm still IPA Free for 2017!

Notch "Session Pils"
OK, I can't lie, it's getting hard to keep up this whole "IPA FREE 2017" thing. As the weather warms, those dank, luscious, hoppy, bitter beers call to me. And it is getting harder and harder to resist.

But so far, I can still say that I am IPA Free for 2017.

And honestly, it's been worth it- very, very  much so. I've had many beers that I would NEVER had tried otherwise. Also, some great beers that I have had previously are getting more attention, like Notch Brewery's excellent "Session Pills".

I cannot overly state how absolutely EXCELLENT every single Notch beer IS.

But as they really only have the one IPA (Left of the Dial, which is great, incidentally), and specialize in true, low ABV session beers, they don't get the attention in a craft beer world that far too often gravitates to the new, overly hyped, 10% ABV, "juicy" IPA. (Also, I loath the term "juicy" when describing a beer. If you want juice, you are drinking the wrong beverage folks). But if you truly love great beer, and not just IPA, you need to experience Notch Brewing's beers.

Exhibit A's "LeitMotif"
I've also partaken heavily of sours. I was never a fan of sour beers. Not even remotely. But I gave in and have been trying them frequently lately, and there are some truly excellent ones out there. I won't lie, I haven't enjoyed them all, but I have liked far more than I expected. Had I not given up IPA's, I doubt I'd ever have ventured down the sour path.

My favorite sour right now is from Exhibit A brewing in Framingham, their rotating "Leit Motif" sour series.  This particular version is  #03, is made with Cara Cara Oranges and is outstanding. With a low abv and superb refreshing taste, this is go to summer brew if ever there was one.

Of course I've had other beers as well, but no IPA's!

I have been really enjoying this little experiment in beer. I do love IPA's, I really do. But sometimes we need to try new things. We are living in the golden age of beer, don't limit yourself to one style all the time.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

New Brewery Alert- CraftRoots Brewing in Milford, MA

 CraftRoots Brewing opened in Milford in March.

We now have another great brewery for the amazing craft beer scene we have here in Massachusetts. Founded by Brewer Maureen Fabry, CraftRoots is "passionate about connecting craft beer back to local agriculture and crafting superfresh community-inspired brews" (this is taken straight from their web site).

I tried stopping by on opening day, but the line was very long and I was sorta pressed for time, so I had to bail. Turns out the long lines were very much justified, as I learned when I stopped in just after opening on the Sunday right after opening day. 

CraftRoots Brewing "Dry Irish Stout"
As it was nearing St Patrick's Day, I (of course) started with the Dry Irish Stout. 

Served on Nitro, this beer was excellent! Smooth, roasty malts, with hints of cocoa. I may have had another, and I may have taken two squealers home. After all, it was almost St Patrick's Day.

After the stout, I moved onto the Pale Ale. There were two versions available, one with Apricots, and one straight up. So of course I had both. 

The regular Pale was great, the apricot was as well, but the apricot was very, very mild, so much so that it almost got lost. Still a great brew, but not much apricot comes through, and as this was a one time brew, don't expect it on tap should you visit.
CraftRoots "Blonde" Ale

Next I moved onto the Blonde, which was excellent. 

There were a variety of IPA's on tap as well, but.... as I'm still trying to go "IPA Free for 2017" I had to pass on them. 

I'm betting they are excellent, judging by the crowds, people were really enjoying the beers. From my seat at the bar, I heard a lot of IPA's being ordered by the same folks over and over, and I spoke to a few folks who spoke very highly of the IPA's.  

So do yourself a favor and head on over to CraftRoots Brewing in Milford. Tell 'em Bill sent you! (I'm kidding, they'll just look at you funny. But do go and enjoy some great beers!)

CraftRoots "Pale Ale "
CraftRoots Brewing
4 Industrial Road, 
Milford, MA 01757

Hours of Operation:

Wednesday - 5:00pm - 9:00pm
Thursday - 5:00pm - 9:00pm
Friday - 4:00pm - 10:00pm
Saturday - 12:00pm - 10:00pm *
Sunday - 12:00pm - 6:00pm

* Brewery Tours will be held on Saturdays at 1:00pm

Cheers! MDB

Friday, March 31, 2017

"IPA Free 2017" Update- It's March, Still IPA Free!

My quest to go "IPA Free" for 2017 has successfully progressed through March!

Sure, the unseasonably great weather has made this a major challenge, I mean, who doesn't love an IPA on a bright sunny day (even it is, say FEBRUARY)? And we've had quite a few recently. But I made it through.

The secret to my success? Pale Ales, Pilsners and Stouts. There are a lot of them around right how, and they are a great alternative. Add the recent, wonderful addition of New Belgium Brewing to Massachusetts, and there is a bounty of great, Non-IPA options to meet your beer drinking needs.

Here's some of what I was drinking in February:

Mo' Pils
Castle Island Brewing
4.7% ABV

I finally got around to visiting the new brewery in my old hometown, and boy am I glad I did. Even if I did lock my keys in my car. No full pours yet, but the samples were all top notch, and this pilsner is excellent. I nearly drank the 4 pack while waiting for Triple A in the parking lot. But they got there too fast, I didn't even have time to open one. Good stuff happening in Norwood folks, get on down there.

Voodoo Ranger 8 Hop Pale Ale
New Belgium Brewing
5.5% ABV

My first ever New Belgium beer, and it will not be my last. I loved this beer, great citrusy hop flavor, almost an IPA, but no bitterness. Can't wait to try more from New Belgium.

Saxony Lager
Jack's Abby
5% ABV

The crew over there in Framingham simply does not make a bad beer. The overall quality and consistency of their entire portfolio is insane. Saxony Lager is no exception. Light, uber flavorful, low abv, its just a superb beer.

So yes, I am still "IPA FREE" for 2017. No regrets at all.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

IPA Free 2017- January Update- Still IPA Free!

I am happy to report that I am still IPA Free as of January 29, 2017!

I am less happy to report that I am also suddenly, unexpectedly unemployed. Yup, I got laid off a little over a week ago, along with several of my co-workers. It was not expected, I was a bit surprised, but I'm moving on!

So, what have I been drinking if I haven't been drinking IPA's? The answer is... a lot of stuff.

Jack's Abby's House Lager has made a triumphant return to the rotation, and we are very happy about that. The day I got laid off, I was given the ax just before lunch, so I headed straight to Jack's Abby for lunch and a Framinghammer Baltic Porter (OK, so it was two, c'mon, I just lost my job!)

Nightshift Brewings great coffee porter, Awake, has made several appearance's in my fridge.

And to the joy of craft beer lovers in Metrowest, another brewery received their full pour permit and began serving full pours last week, so of course I had to be at Start Line Brewing's ribbon cutting ceremony last Thursday! In my glass is their excellent hazelnut coffee stout, which was of course followed by the great Homestretch Chocolate Stout.

So to sum up, 2017 sucks so far, but I am still IPA free. I am enjoying the heavier, darker beers, which of course are perfect for the season and weather.

How is your 2017 going?

Monday, January 9, 2017

IPA Free 2017- Week One

I survived my first week IPA Free.

It wasn't easy. I honestly nearly caved on January 1st. We ordered pizza for dinner, and we wanted beer to go with it (of course!) and my normal beer shop was closed. So I ventured into a new shop, and the craft beer selection was...well, lets just say slim pickin's. But I found something good....(read on! )

For those who may be new here, some background-  in hopes of expanding my beer experience, I am going "IPA Free" for 2017. (not a typo)

I love IPA's, I really do. But I do also think that we as craft beer fans drink them too often, and often at the expense and detriment of ourselves, as well as the many other excellent styles being brewed right now. This is the golden age of brewing, why let your experience be dominated by one style? 

Anyhow, here's the run down of excellent, local, non IPA's I enjoyed this past week:
  1. Newburyport Brewings wonderful "Plum Island Belgian White".- This beer saved my new years day. We need more Belgian's brewed locally. 
  2. Notch- "Session Pils"- One of my goals for 2016 was to drink more session beer. Accordingly, I told myself I would drink more Notch. I didn't. In 2017 I will make up for this in spades. This is the poster beer for session beers. I intend to drink a ton of this in 2017. It's excellent. I'm becoming more and more convinced that the measure of a great brewer is if they can make a truly excellent pilsner. Notch does this and makes it look easy. 
  3. Spencer Brewery "Imperial Stout"-Americas first Trappist Brewery (and the only one outside Europe!) makes a great stout! No special aging, no barrel aging, just a great, roasty malty stout.
  4. Jack's Abby- Pilot Pilsner- from a growler provided by my lovely wife. This reminded me a lot of the Saxony Pilsner Jack's brewed when they opened. I was a big fan then, and I'm a big fan on this pilot brew. I hope it makes the cut and gets a name!
This first week was a big challenge. Looking in the cooler and seeing all these great IPAs just staring back at me, it was second nature to want to grab one. I had to be very, very deliberate when shopping for my beer. I checked shelves I don't usually look at, which was fun. It was also the point of this experience. Normally there would be 2 or 3 IPA's on this list. Removing that as an option forced me to think more about what I was buying and forced me to look at brands and styles that I might not normally consider. It made me uncomfortable, to be honest. Who wants to buy a beer and not love it? Heck, that's why we have "go to" beers. But for me the "go to's" always seemed to be IPA's. Maybe I'm an abnormality, or just a bad, undisciplined beer geek. I guess we shall find out...

On two week #2.....Cheers!


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Making 2017 "IPA Free"

In pondering the year in beer for 2016, I was scrolling through my twitter feed when I found Norman Miller's "THE BEER NUT: Three Wishes for 2017" column from the Metrowest Daily News.

Now if you are a craft beer fan, you are probably familiar with The Real Beer Nut. I typically agree with most of his beer thoughts, but one of his wishes for 2017 really hit home, and it was this: "Appreciation for other styles" the third wish in his column. 

IPA is the undisputed king of the beer world in New England, and as far as I can tell, everywhere else in the USA. And for good reason, its a great style with many wonderful brewers putting their own spin on it.  India Pale Ales (and Lagers, looking at you Jack's Abby..) are widely available, and more than one brewer and bottle shop owner has told me that "IPA's pay the bills".  Heck, I love IPA's.

So why give them up at all, much less for a whole YEAR???!!!

Because it is my opinion that we as craft beer drinkers drink far too much of this one style. Check the cooler at your local craft beer shop and calculate the ratio of IPAs to all other style combined. It may shock you.

We are literally living in the golden age of beer in the USA, we have more brewers making more great beer than ever before. States are updating old laws to allow brewers to sell beers for consumption on site! Do you know how crazy this thought was just 15 years ago, when I could count on one hand the number of places where this was possible? Why deprive ourselves of the joy of discovering these other great styles! More porters, pilsners, bocks and saisons for all! More Hefeweizens! More Stout! 

I had a major beer revelation recently at the Springdale Barrel room, the great new spot operated by Jack's Abby in Framingham. Springdale was opened to allow the talented staff at Jack's  Abby to move beyond lagers and into the world of sours and ales and age them all in a massive collection of wine, bourbon, sherry, and god only knows what other kind of barrels. 

Now, I am not a fan of sour beers. In fact, I hate them. I'd never had a single one I even remotely liked. But, being the huge fan of Jacks Abby that I am, I had to try out Springdale on opening night. I did two flight that were masterfully prepared and guided by the woman running the bar ( I am really sorry I cannot remember her name, she was just awesome.) I made my choices, including sours, and she arranged them in a specific order, based on the characteristics of each beer. Slanting Light was first. Wallace IPA was last. In between I had Kreik Mythology, and something else I can't recall.

Let me just tell you, it was eye opening. Not only did I find a sour or two that I really, really liked, but having the IPA as the last beer in that flight really made it stand out for its heaviness and uber strong flavor. It was great, but compared to the relatively delicate and light flavors of the sours, the IPA came down like a hammer on my palate. I immediately began to wonder what I was missing by not trying beers outside my normal comfort zone. I loved the Kreik Mythology, and Single Shot Sherry on my second flight was equally amazing. Had I not ventured outside my comfort zone, I never would have discovered these great beers.

And that's a really long winded way of saying that I am going to give up IPA's in 2017 and explore all other styles of beer. Bring me your bocks, porters, stouts, pilsners and saisons! Dubbles, Tripples, and Quads, come forth! 

And should I fail, well, the penalty is likely a very public mocking while I drink an IPA, so really, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain!

I will try to post weekly updates on this experiment.