Friday, July 20, 2012

QUICK REVIEW #1: Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat

About a year or so ago, Boulevard Brewing Company began distributing their Smokestack Series of beers in Massachusetts, much to my delight. Up until then, I hadn’t tried any of their highly acclaimed beers.  I think my first was Saison Brett, followed by Tank 7, Sixth Glass, Nommo Dubbel and my favorite Long Strange Tripel. I remember drinking Long Strange Tripel, turning to Amanda and saying something with a number of long pauses along the lines of, “this…might…be…one…of…the…best…beers…I’ve…ever…had.” For sure, they make some of the best domestic Belgian style beers I’ve tried. Long Strange Tripel might not be the best beer I’ve ever had, but it certainly ranks in the top 10.

Anyway, just this week, Boulevard started sending some of their year-round beers to the area and I, of course, had to give them a try.


Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat

Their website claims this is the most popular beer in the Midwest, I can see why.  It isn’t a blueberry wheat or an apricot wheat or even a wheat spiced with lemon and grains of paradise, no, it’s simply an American Pale Wheat Ale.  Those amber waves of grain? That’s what’s in this beer. Nothing too complicated and certainly a great brew.

It pours a light, hazy, golden-yellow with a lively white head. The aroma is incredibly bready with hints of citrus and a very mild tartness. Flavor is also bready, but less so, with a very mild hop contribution.  The finish is yeasty and bready and quite refreshing.

I picked up the other year-round beer from Boulevard: Single Wide IPA. It awaits my review, but if it’s anything like the other beers from Boulevard it should be nothing short of delightful.  Keep them coming!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Summerfest: Much more than just Saison

This passed weekend I had the opportunity to volunteer at Drink Craft Beer’s Summerfest. You may have seen me, I was passing out cups at the entrance during both sessions on Saturday.

Keeper of the Cups
From a volunteer's perspective I have to give a major thanks to Jeff and Devon and Jeff Lawrence for making it one of my favorites. I think it was the simple instruction to, “keep the brewers happy,” that made it such a great success.  Happy brewers make for happy patrons and happy patrons make for happy volunteers, so everyone wins!

Between handing out cups, emptying buckets and lugging ice, I had the chance to sample a few beers that have been on my list for a while, as well as a couple beers brewed specifically for the festival. Here are a few standouts:

#1.  Harpoon Saison. Brewed specifically for Summerfest with bananas, grapefruit and oranges, each of these ingredients added to the already fruity/citrusy Saison. I went back to try this one again later in the evening just to make sure I loved it…yup, I did.

#2. Night Shift Rose Au Poivre and Viva Habanera. Both of these beers were unique in their use of special ingredients. Rose Au Poivre is brewed with rosemary and aged on red peppercorns, which are both quite prominent in the flavor and Viva Habanera employs chili peppers, which provide flavor as well as a mild heat. Each time I try a new Night Shift beer I can’t help but think about pairing it with food.

#3 Pretty Things Meadowlark IPA. What else can I say that hasn’t already been said about this magnificent specimen of an IPA?  You’ll die and think you went to Citra heaven. Flavorful, juicy, Citra hops attack the palate with a monsoon of tropical fruit and citrusy flavors. I need to find bottles of this as soon as possible.

#4 Slumbrew Rising Sun. A little-known and under-produced style, Slumbrew’s take on German Dampfbier employs the same wheat beer yeast as their Happy Sol. Caramel malty with hints of earthy hops and subtle toastiness, man, am I a sucker for obscure styles!

At the end of the night the stage at the Armory was filled with pizza and Idle Hands and Night Shift opened their taps to the volunteers.  Cleanup was pretty quick with a lot of the staff remaining and I think I managed to get home well before midnight. I’d say “I can wait for next year,” but I hope Jeff and Devon don’t wait that long to host another festival…Winterfest anyone?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In Search of Burgers and Beer

I love flying westbound over the United States. Whenever I can, I book a window seat and an early flight so that I can entertain myself by watching green hills turn into golden plains turn into white-capped mountains turn into dusty red, brown and orange-colored deserts.

This flight was extremely early. The Cisco Brewery Brewpub in Terminal B at Logan Airport wasn’t even close to opening—not that I was looking for a beer at 5:15am. The only thing I would be drinking was a very large Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee. I was headed out to Los Angeles to visit with my friends Mike and Katie, but as is almost always the case, I was also on the lookout for good beer.

Of course I shared.
The flight was lovely with my window seat and blue skies clear across the country.  The six-hour flight had put a hunger in me that no $7 snack box would satiate, the only cure coming in the form of made-to-order, all-beef patties from, what should be everyone’s first stop in LA: In-N-Out Burger. Luckily the closest is located just a few minutes from the airport where Mike and I met up with Katie.  The plan for the day, that was hatched from this bastion of burgerdom, was to spend a little time at Venice Beach, take a quick hike up Runyon Canyon to work up a thirst, culminating with happy hour at my favorite watering hole in LA, Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood.

There are a number of satellite Barney’s in Los Angeles that play on the same theme as the original: magazine clipping collages on the tables, breweriana on the walls, a tap selection of a several dozen domestic and imported beers and a mile long list of bottles. The satellite locations are fine if you can’t get to the original, but with a storied 90-year history that includes a gallery of Old Hollywood legends and notoriety for having been the last place Janis Joplin sipped a drink, Barney’s position near the end of old Route 66 just has a different vibe.

Katie and I ordered up a first round that, for me, had to include a West Coast IPA. Bear Republic Racer 5 was up first: juicy, mouth-watering, citrusy hops balanced by a 7% ABV maltiness really hit the spot after that hike up Runyon. Next up was Stone Brewing Company’s Arrogant Bastard. I remember my first time trying this beer was on a trip several years ago to LA and Barney’s Beanery. I’m not sure I was worthy then for the, frankly, arrogant amount of hoppage…but I might be now. I finished the night at Barney’s with another Racer 5 and despite my jetlag and my better judgment, Mike, Katie and Katie’s roommate Matt and I ended up hanging out well passed midnight at her apartment where I sipped on some Firestone Walker Pale 31, a dry-hopped beauty of a California Pale Ale. Having been up for something like 26 hours I was, shockingly, remarkably chipper but fading fast. The next day we had plans to meet up with former London pub-crawl champion Alex, who had moved to LA shortly after our meet-up in England, so we gulped our last sips and packed it in just before 2am.


With temperatures in the low 70s and a breeze all week, I couldn’t have picked a better time to visit. Mike and I stumbled out of the house just before noon with plans to meet Alex at the newly established Golden Road Brewing just off Interstate 5 (I know, The 5). Beer industrialists Tony Yanow and Meg Gill opened Golden Road Brewing in 2011 and it seems that it’s already garnered quite a loyal following. The place was packed at lunch, but Alex, Mike and I found some room at the bar. I ordered up a round that started with one of two flagship beers: Point the Way IPA. Citrusy, slightly earthy with hints of grapefruit pith and tangerine, the hops are not overly aggressive, but they certainly make their presence felt. 

As Mike and Alex got in line to order lunch, I considered trying their other flagship, Golden Road Hefeweizen. But since I had already seen this beer a few other places I opted to try something of a rarity on their menu, a Berliner Weisse. I can count on one hand how many different Berliner Weisse style beers I’ve had over the years.  It simply isn’t a style produced with any regularity these days. With only a few breweries still producing this style in Germany it’s the type of beer that when I see I have to try it. Golden Road’s Berliner Weisse is very low in alcohol (2.8%) with an assertive tartness in the aroma and a balanced tart/bready flavor.  I chose to try it straight up with a sidecar of woodruff syrup that I added after the first few sips. The woodruff takes the edge off the tartness while contributing a mild herbal character. As I’ve mentioned before, this style was one of the first beers I ever tried and it brought me back to that sunny summer in Deutschland when I was 17.


Mike was a fantastic tour guide.  When I told him I was looking to sample the best new beers that LA had to offer, he mentioned Eagle Rock Brewery. I had to admit that this brewery hadn’t been on my radar, but when we arrived at their tasting room, I could tell that it was the type of place that I’d enjoy. Several tables and benches throughout with a bar serving beer brewed only 100 feet from the taps. I tried a sampler of four beers including a roasty English Dark Mild and a perfumy Witbier that was light on both orange peel and spice. That evening we caught the midnight screening of what has become know as “the worst movie ever made,” Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.  If you’ve never experience this gem I highly recommend seeing it. The viewing didn’t make for an early night, but this was a vacation after all and I was going to make the best of every minute.


Another late night found us in late afternoon at Tony’s Dart Away in North Hollywood, another beer venture by Tony Yanow. This California beer centric home of draught-only, full-pour pints provides food and drinks at the bar and board games and beer books along the walls. I was told that it can get pretty busy during the evening, but on this early Saturday afternoon we found ourselves amongst a smallish crowd at the bar. We ordered a round of root beer-braised pulled-pork sandwiches as well as a couple pints of Golden Road’s Hefeweizen.


The rest of my time spent in LA was filled with an equal amount of good times and good beer.  Katie, Mike and I spent Sunday afternoon in the backyard of Mike’s Van Nuys apartment grilling up burgers In-N-Out style and chatting. The burgers were accompanies by a mix 12-pack of New Belgium beers: Dig Pale Ale, 1554 Black Ale and of course Fat Tire, each one of these Colorado beers a new taste treat for this New Englander. Later in the evening we caught a show at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and enjoyed a couple Ranger IPAs from that New Belgium 12-pack as we watched.

After the show, while cruising around Hollywood, I was somewhat disappointed that I hadn’t been able to find any Russian River beer, in particular Pliny the Elder. I had tried it a number of years ago at Monk’s CafĂ© in Philadelphia on a vacation with Amanda, but I was eager to drink it in its native land.  We had just missed the tapping at Tony’s the day before and I was unsuccessful in my search for any bottles. I figured it was a lost cause but I had one more place to try before giving up the hunt so Mike and I parked the car just off Hollywood Boulevard and strolled the Walk-of-Fame until we came to The Blue Palms Brewhouse.

It was nearing last call and I thought for sure that I’d end up drinking a Stone something-or-other, especially this late on a Sunday night. As we walked in, I glanced up at the large screen that was projecting the current tap list, and there it was!  I couldn’t believe it! This nearly empty pub on a late Sunday night was serving Pliny the Elder. I’m sure you California-types don’t get as excited, but I was rather stoked. “Pour me your freshest pint of Pliny my good man,” I thought, “right away sir,” I imagined. With the frothing glass down on the bar and my bill settled, I sat down with Mike at a high-top table in the corner. Golden with just the slightest of haze, Pliny the Elder is the epitome of a hop-forward Double IPA.  Where some versions tend to leave a bit of sweetness from the malt to balance, Pliny the Elder packs in the hops for a citrusy, piney, resinous bitterness that dries in the finish and lingers for the rest of the evening.


This account is nowhere near exhaustive, there were many beers snuck in between, almost too numerous to mention. I’m always impressed that each time I visit Los Angeles I find something new and interesting and I’m not just talking about the beer. The culture of Los Angeles is variety, as evident in its people and neighborhoods as in its beer. My very sincere thanks to Mr. Michael Tocci and Ms. Katie Curley for their hospitality and their skill in driving me around some of the most hazardous highways in the country, your metering skills are sharply honed, I’m sure it won’t be too long before I return.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer Beer Round-Up #8 and #9: Bell's Oberon and Great Lakes The Wright Pils

Now that summer is upon us it's time to start drinking autumn beer! Just kidding, but I'm not too far off. I'm sure you'll see Sam Adams Octoberfest by mid-August or even sooner. But that isn't going to stop me from drinking seasonally and on a resent trip to the lovely state of North Carolina I was able to indulge in a few "out-of-market" brands from two of the nation's larger better beer brewers.

Number 8 and number 9 in this series are Bell's Oberon and Great Lakes The Wright Pils. These two Midwest breweries are quite prolific, just not in New England...

Oberon pours a golden yellow with a lively white head. Slightly hazy with hints of mild peppery spice and citrus. Very slightly tart with some lemon pith-like hops and a pleasantly grassy finish. I drank this one after unloading a moving truck in near 100 degree heat, so I might be slightly biased as to the refreshing nature of the beverage, but it cannot be overstated that it provided said refreshment while delivering fragrant and flavorsome hop characteristics.

The joke I made at the time (mostly to myself) while drinking Great Lakes The Wright Pils was, "is there a wrong Pils?" If there is you'll not find it in this beer. I deeply respect brewers who produce Lagers, mostly because it shows me that they're willing to tie up a fermentation tank for a longer period of time to brew the beer that they want. The Wright Pils is a Bohemian or Czech style Pilsener with a prominent noble hop character, slightly spicy, herbal with a rounded earthiness. The overall effect is crisp, drinkable with a slightly grainy finish.

Once again, I'm glad to have sample two fine out-of-market products. These two beers are great examples of summer brews at their finest.