Thursday, March 21, 2013

Can We Talk?

I’m not angry with you, not really. I’m just…disappointed.

You know I love you, right? So I’m telling you this out of respect and admiration. I just can’t see you any more unless there are a few changes. I know it’s hard and I know you have your plans, but…

The fact of the matter is…I want to be seeing more of you. Right now I see you once every month or so, at home or out somewhere, special occasions, holidays. What I really want is to see you every day. Can we make that happen?

I’m going to be as pointed as I can be about this. I’ve often tried not to get too political about things in the beer world, but I really just want to drink good beer more often.

Yes, I’m talking about the 22-ounce bottle of beer, the so-called “bomber,” that has drawn the ire of beer geeks from Portland to Boston, New York to San Diego…
I’ve got a plan and here’s how we do it:

Don’t demand, don’t threaten, don’t whine, don’t cry, just…ask.

Every tasting you go to, every festival, every chance you get to bend the ear of a brewer or brewery representative, tell them what I’m going to tell them:

“I love your beer, but I just can’t buy and consume 22-ounce bottles every day.  What I can do is buy a 6- or 4-pack of 12-ounce bottles (or cans) and drink THAT every day.”

The real fact of the matter is that I’d drink more of their beer if it came in smaller bottles.

Here’s a real world example from my local market (Boston):

Pretty Things, you know I love you and I want to support the heck out of you. Jack D’or?  One of my favorite beers and not too outrageously priced per 22-ounce bottle. But at 6.5% ABV, I rarely get to drink it.  I save it for special occasions, or MAYBE when I’m out drinking. Now, if I could get a four-pack of 12-ounce bottles, well, I could drink like a king every night!

You know, it says something that I am more excited about Newburyport Brewing Company’s upcoming 12-ounce can production than anything else coming into my market.  I’ve never even tried their beer; I have no idea if it’s any good. Yet I’m thrilled that a brewery is releasing a beer in a 12-ounce medium.

I can’t begin to understand the business plan of any brewery and I approach this purely and whole-heartedly for selfish reasons, but I just want to drink their beer. I also want to have an open and frank discussion about this, so I’ll be Tweeting this and emailing this to as many breweries as possible and I would like them to please chime in.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Road From Bartlett

The road from Bartlett, New Hampshire through the White Mountains and into Vermont is long and winding. Passing mountain lakes and impossible villages and homes that seem to have been planted in place centuries before. Is it possible for a house to look like it’s grown out of the landscape?

This was the road we travelled in late summer on our way to Waterbury, Vermont in search of ice cream, coffee and beer. Three innocuous vices when handle separately, but cram them into one small town and cover them in maple syrup and you’ve got yourself the sweetest place in the nation.

From Bartlett, the road drives northbound through Crawford Notch, passing the Mount Washington Hotel, site of the Bretton Woods Conference, and finally turns west towards the Green Mountain State.  We opted to steer clear of the capital until the ride back and instead headed straight for Ben and Jerry’s in Waterbury. A fun tour, as always, but I can get Ben and Jerry’s almost anywhere. No, I was after a much more illusive confection, whose sweet ingredients were malt and hops…and hops, and hops.

To say that Heady Topper is a perfect beer is to misunderstand the meaning of perfection.  The truth of the matter is beer can be perfect, yet a certain beer, in a certain place, at a certain time can achieve a moment of theoretical perfection that cannot be replicated. I’ve experienced this phenomena several times throughout my beer-odyssey and it is as rare as it is fleeting.

After a quick nip of the beer in question and a look around the brewery, I walked out with several cases of the finest beverage brewed in Waterbury, Vermont. A thousand apologies to Green Mountain Coffee, who we also visited, but your libation will never find the same foothold in my heart. I secured my silver and black treasure in the back seat and Amanda scouted a place for us to grab some bread and cheese and a place to park for lunch.

A quick romp through Montpelier and with a loaf of bread, some cheese and grapes from the Hunger Mountain Co-Op in hand, we made our way up a gently sloping hill just outside the city.  If you know anything about Montpelier as a “city” you’ll know that we were quickly in the middle of nowhere. We discovered an impressive sugar shack with ample parking and backed our vehicle up to the neighboring field.

Now, The Alchemist’s John Kimmich expressly demands that his beer be enjoyed directly from the can so I consented to do so and popped the top. The setting was beautiful, the company wonderful and the summer breeze light and easy. As I mentioned before, no beer can be perfect, but with the warm, summer breeze blowing in and the excellent company, this beer was as close to perfection as you can get. Thank you Vermont.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

QUICK REVIEW #3: Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest 2012

I've had precious little time this fall for anything but work, but things are starting to ease up. Amanda and I will be off to Dublin and London in less than two weeks for a much needed vacation and I'm really looking forward to that trip both culturally and zymologically. This will be our first trip together in nearly two years, and it just so happens to be our fifth wedding anniversary and the celebration of a full decade together.

My schedule, the way it is, and the planning for this trip have left me finding the moments in between to sample new beers. I've also been pretty well stocked for homebrew, so I haven't really seen the need to overstock the fridge with new finds.

So here I find myself with five dollars in my pocket, a well-rested palate and a hankering to give something new a try. And to top that all off, I'm mustering the will to review it, with words, on my blog!


Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest 2012 - Wet Hop Ale

24 Ounce Bottle into Tulip Pint

The beer pours with a deep auburn body with enough fluffy off-white foam to nearly overtake the rim of the glass.  A quick sip takes care that none of the sticky head pours out onto the countertop and allows a cursory evaluation of the flavor and aroma. Excellent lacing with a steady cap of foam rising from the lazer-etched hop cone emblazoned at the bottom of the glass, an appropriate emblem to say the least.

The aroma is pine-like with a deep earthiness, almost pitch-like. Citrus fruit rind, grapefruit with just a hint of spruce.  The malt is also present with a mild caramel malt sweetness, that helps to balance the aroma without detracting from the main event.

The layering of flavors is extraordinary, starting with grapefruit pith, fresh grass and evergreen with that same earthiness in the finish and finally a lingering resinous sap-like quality. Again, in the flavor, the malt doesn't exactly take a backseat, present in just a hint of grain and balancing sweetness, yet it never overpowers, it carries the hops along in a wash of bitterness that lasts from beginning to end.

Just the hop kick I needed.


It's been some time since I formally reviewed a beer like feels good. I'll have to remind myself to do it more often.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Emotional Drinking

Sam Adams Octoberfest is very dear to my heart (or should I say stomach). Back in 2002, I was fortunately enough to have been around individuals who cared less about falling down on the floor and more about having a good time with good drinks--some of them, anyway :^) Only a year before I had had my first experience with beer in Germany and I think it carried over into my drinking habits during college. I never did find myself on the receiving end of the ol’ red and white and I think I quickly found myself disgusted by anything light and in a can.

It also so happened that I had made the acquaintance of a young lady who seemed somewhat keen on this bright-eyed boy from the suburbs of Boston.  One evening during and outing with friends she asked me if I wanted anything from the “packie.”  I really had no idea…I think I ended up with some kind of whiskey and cola drink that was absolutely horrendous. The next time I was sure to get it right and asked her to pick up some beer, in bottles, that was good.  Again, I really had no idea what I was doing.

Group settings are always good for newly developing relationships.  You get to see the other person with their friends, it relieves the tension of having to talk one-on-one for an entire night and during this particular evening we were off to see a show and later a party, so there was plenty to do. The young lady who had graciously bought me drinks last time was kind enough to again pick up something for me to drink at the party.  This time it was Samuel Adams Octoberfest.

There was something about the beer, the time of year and the great memories associated with drinking it that has made it one of my all-time favorites and I look forward to it every year.

Five years later that same young lady and I would serve Sam Adams Octoberfest at our wedding and every year when it comes out we share the beer and the memories. So, cheers to Sam Adams Octoberfest and to emotional drinking!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Which Wheat Will Win?

One of my absolute favorite styles has to be the traditional Southern German wheat beer with its distinctive fruitiness and spicy notes. Unfortunately, my first encounter with the style was in the form of the “American Hefeweizen,” similar in almost no way to its Bavarian brethren, save for a grist of wheat and a stolen and abused name.  My first real Hefeweizen came many years later—I remember the deep, cloudy, golden colored beer with its lively white head of foam clinging gently to the sides of the glass.  The lightly tart and fruity flavors mingling with sweet clove-like notes pulled me in and didn’t let me go.

I don’t quite remember what brand I was drinking then, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was Weihenstephan. I year or two later I drank my first draught of Weihenstephan at a Cambridge, Massachusetts bar, and a day later with a bottle in my fridge and a vase-shaped glass in hand, I found myself properly dissecting the style. Over the ensuing years I’ve tried many others, but have never found the quality to be as satisfactory as that of my beloved Weihenstephan.  That’s why when I decided to do a blind taste test of four Bavarian Hefeweizen I was a little scared.  I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between what I considered to be the best and just another Bavarian Wheat beer, what if I liked another one better?

Putting my fear aside, I picked out four pretty common Hefeweizen to compare: Paulaner, Hacker-Pschorr, König Ludwig and, of course, Weihenstephan.  I asked Amanda to label each cap with a number and pour them each into a corresponding stemmed tulip glass—I didn’t have enough Weizen glasses :^(

I assessed each beer on several criteria that I thought crucial to the perfect Hefeweizen. The color could range from light golden to dark golden orange. The head had to be white, light and fluffy, like frothy milk on a cappuccino. The aroma had to balance fruitiness and spice. Mild hints of noble hops where okay, and some smoke and/or bubblegum could be present as well.  The flavor had to have the same balance as the aroma with a light body, and a slight tartness that leads to overall refreshment.

Okay, go!

As you can see from the photos, number one and number two were the darkest with the other two on the lighter side of the color spectrum. Three clearly had the liveliest head and nice retention; it was also the most effervescent.  Number three was in the lead as far as appearance was concerned.

The first three all presented slightly varying degrees of fruit and spice in aroma; number four had a mild fruitiness with little spice. I was struck by number one’s almost banana-toffee aroma and assertive (for a Hefeweizen) hoppiness with some detectable caramel malt. Number three, however, outperformed the others in aroma with a fantastic balance of banana, clove, and a whiff of smoke.  You can probably see where this is going, with number three leading in both appearance and aroma, the flavor naturally followed suit and we had ourselves a winner.

I guess it was a foregone conclusion as to what the best Hefeweizen would be, after all, the criteria was based upon my all-time favorite, Sacred Stephan’s own and my ideal. With its intricate balance of flavor, aroma and appearance, Weihenstephan Hefeweizen wins hands down.  As the self-proclaimed “Oldest Brewery in the World,” I suspect they’ve had some time to perfect the recipe.  I’ll continue to explore potential successors, a number of domestic Hefeweizen have piqued my interest. I’ve tasted notable versions of the style from Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweiss to Tröegs Dreamweaver Wheat to a local favorite, Cambridge Brewing Company’s Hefe Weizen. But for now, with Weihenstephan plentiful on shelves almost everywhere, I’ll more often than not just reach for the best.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Summer Close-Out

Boy, has it been a while since I've thrown something up on the old Tippling House blog. The end of summer sort of slipped away and instead of spending time inside drinking beer and tip-tapping away on the keyboard, I was out and about drinking great beer, travelling hither and thither and soaking up the last rays of sun before the equinox takes them away.

I spent a great deal of time brewing this summer. I had a good five week run brewing every Thursday and bottling every Sunday. I managed to get in an Amber Ale, a Blueberry Wheat (for Amanda), a Belgian Session Amber, a Session IPA and a Belgian Dubbel. Abigail was a great help on brew days. While she crawled around in one half of the kitchen playing, Daddy ran around in the other half brewing. I found out that she's actually quite keen on the smell of hops--I can't wait until she's old enough to REALLY help me brew. It's always good to have an extra pair of hands on brew day, no matter how small they might be.

Beer at the Durham Bull's game.
In June I visited Los Angeles and I was also in North Carolina helping Reilly and Nicole move into their new place in Durham. Reilly and I visited North Carolina back in January 2011 and I was very impressed with the beer scene.  Since then, both New Belgium and Sierra Nevada have announced plans to build new facilites in the state, thus reinforcing my original assessment of the state as a new mecca for beer-lovers. The trip in June furthered my appreciation for the Tar Heel State as I enjoyed many a tipple from the likes of Foothills Brewing, Natty Greene's, Fullsteam and Carolina Brewing. Look for a post about North Carolina soon, 'tis a wondrous beerplace.

July was hot, but we had fun. Abby turned one and we had a pool party and cupcakes. This part isn't about beer, but it really meant a lot to me to see how happy Abby was and to see how much she's grown in a year.

I visited both Samuel Adams and Harpoon. I have to admit, as much as I enjoyed drinking Sam Adams Octoberfest, it was a little strange doing so in the heat of the brewery's beer garden...and in August.  The Harpoon Brewery holds several tasting hours throughout the week, reserving tours to only the weekend.  The Seaport District on Boston's waterfront was teaming with life as I drove to Harpoon and it appeared that everyone had heard about Harpoon's tasting.  I managed to wiggling into the back for the one-hour sampling of half a dozen or so offerings on tap in the tasting room. They certainly give you your fill of beer for the low, low cost of absolutely nothing.

Amanda and I wrapped up the summer with a quick trip to New Hampshire and Vermont and a pop over to Waterbury for some ice cream and beer. After a quick tour 'round Ben & Jerry's, we pulled off Route 100 into The Alchemist Cannery for some fresh Heady Topper. That was a pretty good day. We ended up on a hillside outside Montpelier eating cheese and bread and drinking Vermont's greatest natural resource, Heady Topper. Special thanks to Grammie and Granddad for watching Abby for the day.

It looks like I'll have a bit of a busy fall at work (and play), so I'm not sure how often I'll be updating the blog. I'll do my best to post reviews of some of my favorite fall beers and I still have a couple beer travelogues to jot down.  So for now, happy journeys and good beer to you all.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

When in Rome, Brew as the Romans Brew

Amanda and I were in Rome and I was getting a bit tired of wine. The mass-produced Birra Moretti seemed to be prevalent at almost every restaurant, but that was absolutely not going to satisfy me.  The day before, we had walked until our feet were raw finding ourselves across the River Tiber in Trastevere. I had made a note about a beer bar in this area of Rome called Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà that served Italian craft beer, so we made a point to visit that day.

It began to rain as we crossed the river and we ducked inside the Church of San Bartolomeo on the Isola Tiberina, the small island in the middle of the Tiber. As we often had during our visit, we toured the beautiful church, sat in the pews, and contemplated the ornate interior.  The rain had finally let up and we ventured back outside after making a modest donation, a small price to pay for asylum from the weather.  We walked the narrow streets of Trastevere popping in an out of a shop here and there taking in this quieter part of the city.

The troubled Tiber.
Down a small cobbled street we came across a lovely little bakery with dozens of treats in the window.  As we walked inside it was apparent that, although most of the metropolitan Italians we had met spoke impeccable English, this kindly baker and the woman shopkeep did not. We tried our best and pointed to the snacks we were after. The very animated baker scooped them up into a bag for us as he said something lively and laughed. And we laughed. Some confusion arose at the register when the women indicated that they had run out of change. We promptly held out the euros we had in hand and she picked what she need. Gratzie was the best we could do and we left with smiles on our faces as the baker waved us good day.

We ate our snack and strolled. A while later we found a nice comfortable restaurant with walls lined with wine bottles for a lunch of pasta and Frascati.  It was all quite lovely, but I was looking forward to trying some good Italian beer.  As the skies once again began to cloud over, we arrived at the bar on the other side of Trastevere. The street outside appeared to be empty save for a few old Italian women with umbrellas strolling about with bags. Oh no, I thought, I think it’s closed! I imagined myself pounding on the door. I did not (you’re welcome Amanda). I guess I would be drinking Chianti again that afternoon (I know, poor me). I would be saved, however. As we neared our hotel, we took a side street where, low and behold, there was a German beer bar serving Paulaner! Naturally, I drank a Salvator, I needed saving from all these crushed grapes.

Amanda's beverage of choice, cappuccino decaffeinato.
We did eventually return to Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fà when it was open later in the week. I enjoyed a few wonderful Italian beers served by a decidedly “Roman” bartender who was little in the ways of idle chatter, preferring instead to drive around on a scooter and smoke cigarettes, I supposed. No matter, the beer was excellent. I particularly enjoyed a Saison from a brewery called Extraomnes from the north of Italy.  Peppery spice notes enveloped in waves of yeasty fruitiness and a bready softness around the edges made this the best beer I had in Italy.

I realize I frame all these travelogues around the beers I drink.  That’s natural in a blog about beer, I suppose. But these are merely snippets of a total. The people I meet, the places I see and especially the lovely companions I choose to travel with make up a much larger part of the total experience.  This trip in particular could not have been made complete without my favorite travel companion who got to drink no beer, or wine for that matter, due to a little something that would present herself but several months hence.  Our next trip (two years since the former!) will be this November to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary and a decade of companionship, so…


I promise, I’ll buy the first round.

Love, MIKE