Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
With the variety of beer I try and the method in which I try them, sometimes all I want to do it drink a beer. Don’t get me wrong, I love analyzing a Bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout, or fanciful Belgian Strong Dark Ales, but sometimes I just want to drink a beer.
Over the Patriot’s Day weekend I had my refrigerator stocked with a couple beers I was intent on reviewing, but I also picked up a classic that has just recently been released in cans.
I once had a conversation about what beer I would choose to represent America. I naturally chose a beer that I felt embodied the truest character of flavorful American beer: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I chose this beer because it defines the style “American” Pale Ale. In the early 80s many brewers were trying to replicate classic English style beers with ingredients from the United States. The results were beers with pronounced citrus-like hoppiness from American ingredients such as Cascade hops—a variety Sierra Nevada employs adeptly.
As I popped open the first can and poured it into my tumbler pint, I couldn’t help but think how well this beer stands up. It pours a crisp, golden-orange with a fluffy just slightly off white head. The hops are citrusy, slightly herbal with hints of grain and light caramel malt. The finish is moderately bitter with just a lick of malt for balance. Each time I drink this beer it never ceases to impress.
Sierra Nevada is currently in the planning phase to construct a new brewery in Asheville, North Carolina with the aim to remove some of the fuel from each beer it brews. The cans contribute to this reduction as well since they are lighter to transport and take up less space than bottles. These environmentally conscious efforts as well as the incredible beer they produce is why I’ll keep buying beer from Sierra Nevada, well done indeed.
Monday, April 16, 2012
I happened to have a free Saturday—a rare occurrence—and I thought I’d make the best of it by driving over to Everett to see what was brewing. It was an impossibly beautiful, spring day and I rolled through Somerville and Medford with the windows down. After a few wrong turns, no thanks to the GPS, I found myself off the Revere Beach Parkway in what looked like some kind of post-Apocalyptic industrial complex. Had it been anything but a beautiful day, I might have felt uneasy, but as I’ve learned in the past, sometimes the best beer comes from the most unusual of places.
I pulled the car into the Charlton Place Small Business Center, but couldn’t see a clear sign of where to park the car, so I backed out to the street and slid in behind a row of cars opposite a large fenced lot. The Night Shift Brewing website indicated there would be a set of signs pointing the way, so I walked back towards the building and spotted one on a telephone pole. While the signs were helpful in leading me to an entrance, I was still unclear if I was in the right place.
I found a door that appeared to be correct and I descended down a ramp and into a hallway that continued the post-Apocalyptic theme with slightly flickering fluorescent lights, an abandoned desk and chair and a beeping smoke detector. I walked through the hall to an open loading bay of sorts where I found a few parked cars. At the far end of the bay I could hear music: a sure sign of life. I hastened across the rough concrete floor towards two open doors and two of the state’s newest production breweries.
Night Shift Brewing was my first visit and brewers Rob Burns, Mike O’Mara and Mike Oxton were there to greet me. As Rob showed me around the brewery he told me about a few bottle projects they had in the works including a 10.5% ABV Belgian Quad and a Berliner Weisse brewed with lemongrass. All three of Night Shift’s current releases were available to sample and Rob was kind enough to walked me through their line-up.
First up: Trifecta, a Belgian Pale Ale brewed with Chimay, Rochefort and Westmalle yeast, then aged on vanilla beans. The quality of each of the yeast strains is present in the beer, contributing spicy, earthy and fruity notes. The vanilla bean lingers on the palate well into the finish, contributed a unique sweetness that contrasts the herbal hoppiness. Their second beer is a Belgian inspired wheat beer brewed with honey and green tea. Bee Tea is earthy with just a hint of sweetness and a dryish finish. Finally, their Taza Stout, brewed with chicory root, a healthy dose of ginger, and cocoa nibs from local chocolate producer Taza Chocolate. Taza Stout is a complex beer that reminds me a lot of chocolate-covered candied ginger—I can think of few other beers I’d rather pair with dessert.
Conveniently located one door down and to the right of Night Shift Brewing is Idle Hands Craft Ales. Proportional in size to Night Shift, Idle Hands has a similar setup, and I found brewer and owner Chris Tkach behind the tasting bar. He had quite a few beers on draught for tasting and for growler fills ranging from a Patersbier brewed with 100% Pilsen malt to a fascinating Belgian Stout aged on a variety of wood chips. Patriarch, the Patersbier, is only available on draught for growler fills, a tradition, Chris says, he is unwilling to change. Patersbier is still brewed by monastic brewers as a drink only available at the brewery for the monks and their guests. To release this beer formally would go against that tradition. Patriarch is wonderfully drinkable with hints of grain, spice, and mild fruit—a hidden gem if there ever was one. The other standout was certainly the Belgian Stout, with hints of vanilla and wood from the oak chips, and a sweet, chocolate finish—another dessert beer for sure.
As I thanked Chris and headed back out to the loading bay, I thought about these two breweries and their unlikely location. I guess it isn’t dissimilar to the idea of a brewery being housed in a Belgian farmhouse or a windmill or something, and places like the Charlton Place Small Business Center are plentiful around the city of Boston. With the relatively low overhead in neighborhoods such as we find here, breweries like Idle Hands and Night Shift can produce world-class beer without charging too high a premium to drink it. As I said before, there is a revolution in brewing happening right here in Massachusetts and I’m only too eager to participate and watch it grow.
*I seem to remember Mystic hitting the shelves, then Slumbrew. Then, of course, there’s been a steady stream of new breweries including Notch, Backlash, Blatant, Jack’s Abby, etc., etc. But we’ll save those for another time.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
I popped over to the New England Real Ale Exhibition (NERAX) on Thursday to sample some cask ale from the UK and US. I had previously avoided NERAX after hearing about cramped conditions and malfunctioning toilets, but since it had moved from the Dilboy VFW Post in Davis Square to larger accommodations at the American Legion Post near Union Square in Somerville, I thought I might give it a go—am I ever glad that I did.
It was a drizzly sort of early evening, not enough for an umbrella, but just enough so I got marginally wet as I walked the block or so to the hall. Since I was unfamiliar with the proceedings, I made a loop around the block to scope it out and returned to find myself in the cash only line; the other line was reserved for will-call patrons. It wasn’t long before the will-call line began to move and not long after that that our line was ushered through the doors and down into the hall to purchase our tickets and to pick up a cash refundable nonick pint glass.
I came with a plan of attack, I had printed the list of beers and breweries the night before, and while not all of the beers I had highlighted were pouring on Thursday evening, it helped me focus my efforts. I knew I wanted to start in the UK since it wasn’t everyday that I had the choice of so many beers from England, Scotland and Wales at my disposal.
The first beer of the evening was a deliciously malty 80/- ale from Stewart Brewing, a brewery located just south of Edinburgh. Poured at just the right temperature with a hint of natural carbonation, it proved to be a great start to the proceedings and was actually one of my favorite beers of the night.
Over the course of the evening, I drank my way from London to Southwold, up to Leeds, and into the heart of Yorkshire, back down into Wales and all the way to the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland. I did manage to take the slow boat back to the states, just to start closest to home with an excellent representation of local breweries. I particularly enjoyed the Scottish Milk Stout from Notch Brewing Company. Brewed with lactose sugar and dark malts, this 4.3% American session beer was drinking incredibly well on Thursday evening, with hints of sweet milk sugar and cocoa notes from the dark malts balancing magnificently on the palate.
As the evening wound down, so did I. I grabbed a quick pulled pork sandwich from Redbones Barbeque, sipped on my last beer and looked around at all the happy campers. Overall, I had an excellent time, and it seemed that all those around me did as well. Earlier in the evening I overheard the police detail assigned to the event say into his radio that it didn’t appear to be too rowdy a group, “more like the wine and cheese crowd, if you know what I mean.” He was probably right, we cask ale fans aren’t really there to get “rowdy,” just don’t try to over-carbonate or serve our beers too cold and we’ll be perfectly respectable.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Well, I made it through Lent having fasted FROM beer for 40 days—it’s sort of the opposite of what medieval monks would have done. I celebrated Easter and the break from my fast by eating a variety of pork products, cheesecake and indulging in a few of my favorite beverages.
I started the day with Froach Heather Ale, a delightfully sweetish Scottish ale brewed with heather with just the hint of honeyish sweetness and a floral nose. It paired well with our breakfast of stone-ground cheddar grits, thick-cut bacon and deviled eggs.
I drove to Easter lunch with Amanda and Abigail where I paired a Green Flash Rayon Vert with my meal. A Belgian Style Pale Ale conditioned in the bottle with Brettanomyces yeast, Rayon Vert is one funky beer. I passed the glass to my father for a sip, Amanda having refused, knowing all too well that when I say funky it usually involves descriptors such as cheesy, barnyard, goaty of horsey. There was a little bit of each of those in this beer, with a moderate hoppiness to boot.
I rounded out the afternoon with a few Jack’s Abby Jabby Brau Session Lagers. I picked up a couple after having tried it a while back. It was just as good as I had remembered with hints of tangerine-like citrus in the flavor and aroma, hints of grain in the finish and an altogether unbeatable drinkability at 4.5% ABV.
When we came home I ended my night in front of the television with a large glass of Oskar Blues Deviant Dale's IPA, a massively flavorful Imperial with loads of citrusy, resinous hops and that chewiness that provides the malt backbone necessary to support all those hops—a great finish to the day.
This week I’m heading over to NERAX (New England Real Ale Exhibition) in Somerville for some cask conditioned beers from the UK and US. Should be a great time, I’m sure I’ll have a few reviews from the festival to share—‘til then.
Friday, April 6, 2012
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
I had a pretty busy weekend so I didn’t get to post anything on Saturday and Sunday. I did, however, drink some terrific beer. Sunday is a day free from fasting during Lent, so I indulged in a couple beers that have been in my fridge for some time.
I picked up a couple of Belgian Witbier, and interestingly enough neither happened to be Hoegaarden. It’s been a while since I’ve done a side-by-side comparison, so I poured Blanche de Bruxelles and Wittekerke into a pair of balloon tulip glasses from their 11.2 ounce bottles.
Blanche de Bruxelles poured a hazy, grayish yellow with a lively off white head. Beautiful clinging lace lingered as the head fell down the sides of the glass. The Wittekerke was just a hint brighter in color without that sort of dull gray—wonderfully bright yellow with a craggy cap of foam. The head wasn’t as lively as the Blanche de Bruxelles and it fell faster into a thin layer of bubbles around the sides of the glass.
For beers of the same style, the aroma and flavor could not be further apart. While it is true that the brewers employ many of the same ingredients, it is the use of the traditional coriander and orange peel that sets these beers apart.
The Blanche de Bruxelles was quite perfumy with a big dose of coriander in the nose with hints of orange lingering. The Wittekerke was altogether more subtle in aroma, with just a whisper of spice. The citrusy nature of Wittekerke was also well incorporated with more of a hop presence in the aroma. I also detected a hint of honey (although none is used in brewing) and a lemony tartness in the aroma from Wittekerke.
Both beers were both quite far apart in flavor as well with the more robust spiciness of the Blanche de Bruxelles dancing around the palate and the more mildly assertive hoppiness of the Wittekerke playing through to the finish.
It’s great to compare these two beers side-by-side. It exhibits the range that Belgian beers can have even within the same style parameters. If I were to award a winner of the taste test it would have to be the Wittekerke with its subtle spicing, refreshing tartness and aromatic hoppiness. While I did not prefer the Blanche de Bruxelles, it certainly had plenty of character with an abundance of spice and citrus and lively effervescence. Both beers would prove to be wonderful refreshers on a warm summer day and a great companion to seafood and other light fare.