beer, History

North Carolina: A Better Place to Be

North Carolina

North Carolina Craft Beer

Highland Brewing Gaelic Ale

After New York, the young nation would have a 16 month wait until North Carolina joined as the 12th state. But for us, we only had to wait a week before a new beer joined the ranks.

Online beer history for North Carolina is sparse, as seen in this timeline which shows a large hole between the 1774 when North Carolina opened its first brewery and 1908, when North Carolina became the first southern state to enact a statewide prohibition. That was a full 12 years before the 18th amendment went into effect and in the end, it would be a total of 27 years before alcohol was allowed (legally) in the state again. Even with the 1935 repealing of prohibition, it would take many years for North Carolina to recover from the effects. And in fact, with dry counties such as Graham, it really hasn’t fully recovered. So it was surprising to learn about the prolific craft brewing scene in Asheville, on the western side of the state.

The Asheville brewing scene while relativity young, with the first brewery starting up in 1994, has grown up quick. Considered Beer City, USA, Asheville North Carolina is home to more than 12 breweries. When you compare that to the 7 breweries currently operating in Boston, a city with a population size 540 thousand larger than Asheville, you realize that there must be something special in the Asheville North Carolina water (pun intended).

Asheville is not the only place that craft brewing is surging in North Carolina. According to the brewers association, North Carolina had 58 breweries in 2011 (and probably has even more now). And despite that impressive number, I have yet to find North Carolina beer in Massachusetts. But I was prepared for this, and planned appropriately.

As I was collecting beer from states that I knew would be hard to obtain, I encountered an interesting problem. Space. There was only so much space in the car to transport back all these interesting brews, and as a result I had to start trimming back on the variety. Since this was mostly ad hoc, there was no systematic selection process in progress. And as a result, I ended up with only one style of beer from North Carolina. Oh well, there are worse problems to have, and after last weeks epic tasting adventure, the slower pace was a welcome break.

So, that brings us to this weeks selection. A six pack of Gaelic Ale from Highland Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina. The Gaelic Ale is an American Amber Ale not based on any particular style.

North Carolina Craft Beer

Gaelic Ale

In the glass this beer was not cloudy and had a nice amber color, it reminded me of honey. While the picture is deceiving, this beer was not heavily carbonated. In fact, it had a mild carbonation, making it really enjoyable to drink. The smell sweet with hints of honey, and that sweetness carried through in the taste, but was well complimented with a slight bitterness from the hops that help to balance out the sweet. Finishing with a clean, refreshing mouthfeel, this beer was a wonderful combination of flavors and smells.

Next week, we enter state 13, Rhode Island. See you then.

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beer, History

New York – The Empire State

New York

New York is considered home to the first brewery in North America, started in 1612 on the island of Manhattan, 176 years before New York became the 11th state. Since the opening of that first brewery, New York has maintained a rich history with beer and brewing, leading the way into the largest tasting of this project so far.

New York is home to the Hudson River. As essential today as it was hundreds of years ago, The Hudson River was a major influence in the settlement of New York. By providing easily navigable routes to the northern fur trading industry, the first trading posts, which eventually became cities, grew up on the banks of this mighty river. Originally there were three major settlements. Of these, New Amsterdam (New York City) and Beverwijck (Albany) are the most well known today. The third settlement, Kingston, became the first capital of New York in 1777, as it was considered safer from the advancing British who already occupied New York City, and were threatening to attack Albany.

New York Craft Beer

Six Point

Unlike the shortened duration of the government seat in Kingston (The British invaded a few months later and burned the city), the cities brewing history has endured. With the first known brewery opening in 1667, Kingston still maintains a connection with brewing today, and that connection is the seat of our tasting this week.

One of the fun parts of this project is the social aspect. Getting to share in the experience of the beer on a weekly basis helps to provide momentum and encouragement. So, when New York was on the horizon, I reached out to some good friends that live in New York, asking them to come and join us for this patriotic endeavor. Not only did they jump at the chance of a long overdue visit, they contributed to the cause, bringing along three different styles of beer from Keegan Ales in Kingston New York.

Not wanting to hog all the fun, I sent out a message to other friends to come and join us on this celebration of New York Beer. All attendees were presented with one request, if they brought a beer that was brewed in New York, I would provide some excellent homemade pulled pork to help wash it down. The convergence of these events set the stage for an epic beer tasting event.

Hosting a beer tasting is an interesting task. When assembling a group of friends, you are guaranteed to have a wide variety of tastes and preferences. To make the event enjoyable, and educational for all, I decided to print out rating cards that could be used to help guide the experience.

Eleven weeks ago, when I started this journey, I had little knowledge about beer tasting, or the technical aspects of beer beyond just enjoying it. But I have been learning more each week, and one thing I have learned so far was that there are certain characteristics to look for in a beer, and knowing those characteristics goes a long way towards beer appreciation. So I wanted to provide each guest with a card to help establish a vocabulary that they could use to communicate with the other guests. By sharing experiences like mouth feel, and carbonation level, everyone was able to describe what they did and did not like about all the beer sampled.

So what was all the beer sampled? That is what sort of turned this gathering of friends into an epic event. As has been chronicled here, it is not always easy to come upon beer from different states. And I have learned first hand that entering a store with a goal A beer brewed in New York, requires either a knowledgable staff, or plenty of time to peruse the shelves. New York has a few well known craft breweries. Brooklyn and Ommegang quickly come to mind, and they each have a few different selections in local stores, so I was expecting, 10, maybe 12 different beers to arrive, with many duplicates. So imagine my surprise when we finished the evening with 21 different beer selections sampled (22 if you count the Black IPA the night prior).

Twenty Two. That is an impressive number. Just last week, I highlighted how 35 different beers have been sampled in the first 10 weeks. Now in one evening, more than half of that number was reached. The details of the evening are still getting compiled, and will be a part of a second post, however the first New York beer of the week will get covered here.

With the event planned for Saturday evening, Friday was set aside for welcoming our New York guests and getting the pork on the smoker. To help with prepping the smoker and getting caught up, we started the weekend off with a Growler of Black IPA from Keegan Ales. Called Black Eye, the brewers website describes it quite well:

This is a black I.P.A (Get it? Black Eye P.A.) that first hits you with a big floral hop aroma that really invites you in.  Upon tasting this beer, the chocolate malty flavor overtones take over the forefront of the pallet.  It then returns to you and finishes with a traditionally big I.P.A. hop character.

New York Craft Beer

Keegan Ales Black Eye

The first black IPA to make the tasting this year, this beer was an excellent representation of the style. This beer was dark like a stout, with a beautiful head. This combination, along with the hopiness of a traditional IPA made this beer an enjoyable drink. This beer was excellent, and started the weekend in the right direction.

Look for a part two post some time this week, after I review everyones notes.

 

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beer, History

Virginia: Virginia is For Lovers

Virginia

After New Hampshire ratified the Constitution, all eyes were focused on New York and Virginia, two large and wealthy states that sat in the middle of the newly forming country. Luckily, the wait was short, and Virginia ratified only four days later, on June 25, 1788, becoming the 10th state of the Union.

Wow, with Virginia, we are now 10 states into this project, so this might be a good time to reflect on some data. To date, we have sampled 35 different beers from 25 different breweries. Of the 10 states, half have at least one product available in Massachusetts. At only 50% availability, we do not have access to a wide variety of craft beer and it will most likely get worse from here out.

When beer production started in the new colonies, brewing was a neighborhood business. At that time, distribution was geographically limited due to constraints like the lack of refrigeration, and poor road networks for shipping. In the modern global economy, where businesses like Amazon can have a book on our doorstep the next day, it is hard to grasp the fact that we can’t get beer from other states. This project has started to make clear that the craft beer industry is still mostly a regional business.

This raises the question, what influences what beer is available where? The logical thinking would be that as a brewery grew, its distribution range would spread out in an expanding circle from the brewery, as it might have in the colonial days. Following this pattern, a beer from Virginia would first expand to neighboring states, like North Carolina and West Virginia, prior to getting in a state like New York, or Massachusetts. But so far, the data doesn’t help craft that story.

10 Week summary

Some statistics at the end of week 10. 17 styles of 35 different beers, from 25 breweries.

Using the website DistanceFromTo, I calculated the distance between Massachusetts and every state covered so far. And while beer from Georgia, the farthest state away so far is not available in Massachusetts, neither is beer from Connecticut, which is a border state. When prohibition ended, the alcohol laws in each state became vastly different, and these different controls really impacted the overall distribution system. This disruption to the distribution system is becoming more apparent as the project continues.

Virginia, 516 miles away does not have any breweries that sell beer in Massachusetts so I had to bring some back from the road trip. Virginia has a total area of 42,774 square miles, and for some reason, it really never seemed so large to me. Probably because most of my experience with the state involved driving down its eastern seaboard towards North and South Carolina. So imagine my surprise the first time I drove Interstate 81 from border to border. This section of highway feels endless. Travelling as co-pilot on the most recent trip back, I was recounting the journey on Twitter with tweets like:

Driving 81 across Virginia should be part of a Mars mission training. Of course the Mars trip is shorter and more scenic.

and

Never been so happy to see ‘Welcome to West Virginia’ sign.

Surviving a long car trip (this one was 23 hours, one way), requires stamina, coffee, good conversation, coffee, and an iPhone full of music. One thing that makes for good conversation is interesting scenery, and drives like this are never a let down. And this trip was no exception, with its 75 foot tall crosses on hillsides and giant cow statue standing watch over a baby Jesus in a nativity. However we always find the Virginia stretch to be pretty bland, and wanting for something interesting to discuss. So it was, on the journey south, at about midnight that we saw a sign for Devils Backbone Brewery, next exit. That sign, the first (and last) that we saw on the highway for a brewery, gave the rest of the nights drive a purpose. Given that it was the middle of the night, we figured the brewery wasn’t currently open, so with a fresh cup from Starbucks and Tom Petty coming out of the speakers, we set about finding Devils Backbone beer on the return trip through Virginia.

On the northward drive, the search was on for locating Virginia beer, and more specifically, something from Devils Backbone. It wasn’t until we got to Blacksburg Virginia that we finally found a place populated enough to possibly have a craft beer store. Being a college town, home to Virginia Tech, our chances for finding beer were much higher, so we were excited. One observation that we made earlier in the week was that the Walmart’s in the south actually had a small, interesting selection of craft beer. And so there we were, on a Friday night in Blacksburg Virginia, searching the shelves of Walmart for Virginia beer.

Nestled between the expected Walmart big name, flavorless brands, we discovered two different Virginia breweries. Starr Hill and Devils Backbone. Victory! On that particular evening, all we found were IPAs from both breweries. So this week we will be sampling interesting Virginia IPAs

Virginia Craft Beer

Starr Hill

The first beer we cracked into this week was the Northern Lights IPA. Drinking two different IPAs back to back really provides insight into the variety of this style of beer. In this case the differences were very apparent. In this glass, this beer looked a bit darker than most IPAs. It had an almost honey color to it. And the smell was of sweet citrus. The taste was also sweet. Much sweeter than I have ever tasted in an IPA, and all the others at the tasting agreed. As expected with an IPA, there was a bitterness from the hops, but the sweetness (maybe from the malted barley?) was the defining characteristic of this beer.

Devils Backbone

The next beer we opened was an Eight Point IPA from Devils Backbone. The beer had a great smell, very piney, a characteristic that I personally love in an IPA. This beer was excellent. It was much hoppier than the Northern Lights, and overall had more structure. Well loved by everyone in the group, and a few bottles were consumed during the tasting.

Next week, we move into New York, and it is building up to be a special tasting. Come back and read about it.

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beer, Special Report

Craft Beer Summit at Riverwalk Brewery

Special Post: Craft Beer Summit

Craft Beer- Riverwalk Brewing

Riverwalk Brewing Company

I can’t think of a better way to start off the week, then with great craft beer and conversation. On February 25th, Riverwalk Brewery hosted a mini craft beer summit at their Newburyport brewery, bringing together a small group of local brewers, craft beer bloggers and enthusiasts to discuss the current happenings in the craft beer industry, all the while sampling various selections of local craft beer.

In general, the public still held to several beliefs about beer drinking. First, that it was better than drinking water. Second, that beer was a foodstuff and a healthful supplement to the entire family’s diet. And third, that beer drinking was an acceptable way to promote social discourse, with an overall positive impact on the community.

— Gregg Smith, Beer in America

When I started on this blogging project, I wanted to share in the adventure with anyone crazy enough to appreciate the undertaking. One evening, while picking up a weekend Growler at Riverwalk, my local brewery (Doesn’t everyone have a local producer of great craft beer?), I mentioned my blog, and almost immediately, I was offered assistance, if I needed any. I knew I would require some help later in the year, when the states get far away, and the distribution system vanishes, but I thought it would be fun to do some collaboration earlier in the year, so I asked them if they would like to host week 6, Massachusetts. The idea was that it would be interesting to have the brewers select craft beer from the state and talk about it.  From that idea, the craft beer summit was born, however due to scheduling issues, we couldn’t all get together until I was covering New Hampshire.

The evening started out with the requisite introductions, and then we dove straight into sampling a few different breweries from New Hampshire. One of the things I wanted to get out of this sampling was a better understanding of how a brewer would approach sampling a craft beer. Brewers spend their days, perfecting their art, monitoring the quality of their own products and as a result, they develop a unique eye towards the product that the general public does not have. I was looking forward to a glimpse into this world, so I asked Steve, the head brewer at Riverwalk, what he looks for when evaluating a beer. Just like you or I, most times, a brewer likes to just sit back and enjoy a beer. It can’t always be about work. But when he does turn his focus to the product, he likes to get into what a beer is all about, and this starts by classifying the beer.

Sampled Beer Spotlight: Riverwalk Brewery – Uncle Bobs Bitter
Craft Beer - Uncle Bobs Bitter
As he was honing his craft, Steve from Riverwalk spent many hours traveling through Europe, experiencing, studying and learning from their brewing traditions. Uncle Bobs Bitter, a session ale, grew out of these travels. While in England, Steve experienced a variety of cask ales. A style of beer that is generally low in alcohol, at 4%, low in carbonation and very enjoyable. This beer is brewed with a lower carbonation to help establish a thicker mouthfeel, and coming in at 4.5% ABV, you can enjoy many pints of this beer.

Humans have a strong tendency to categorize. When we encounter something new, we like to place it in a category so we can better comprehend it, and craft beer is no exception. Walking down the beer isle, we are confronted with a large variety of craft beer styles, ranging from pale lagers to imperial stouts. It is these styles that help us establish a set of parameters so that we can communicate with each other about the beer. When someone tells you they had a wonderful IPA with dinner, you can easily picture what the beer was like, with its hop heavy taste and golden color. Using these parameters we can quickly get into the spirit of the beer, and better appreciate what it is all about.

The question about sampling craft beer was then turned to Matt from Review Brews, to see how as someone that writes about beer approaches the topic. Matt explained how his focus was less about the spirit of the beer, and more on the story of the beer and the brewer. His goal is to get to the inspiration of the beer and let the brewer tell the story. I loved hearing about this approach. There are plenty of review sites on the web today, but finding ones that look beyond the technical aspects of the beer and provide that link between the brewer and potential consumers, is a rare and necessary niche.

One of the things that makes this year-long blogging project interesting is that I am often constrained in the craft beer available from a specific state, and more than often I am forced to go with a beer style I wouldn’t normally choose for a typical weekend. In some instances, I have discovered amazing bottles of beer, but in others, I have found beer that I just couldn’t get into. Some of those hard to handle brews fall under the category of extreme beer, the next topic to come up at the summit.

The extreme beer movement is exemplified by Dogfish Head Brewery, with their slogan Off-centered stuff for off-centered People, Dogfish has brewed some crazy beer. Incorporating ingredients such as blue-green algae (to make a naturally green beer) and Botrytis-infected grapes, Dogfish has consistently pushed the boundaries of what could and should be included in a beer. It is this boundary exploration, and the use of  atypical ingredients, that established what is now referred to as extreme beer. This branch of craft beer brewing has increased yearly and has now grown large enough to have its own festival.

The general opinion of the brewers at the summit was that the extreme beer movement, while not a direction they intended to take any of their products, was definitely an important area for craft beer to explore. Brewing beer has always been, and always will be a healthy mix of art and science. And it is the art component that the extreme beer movement addresses. By constantly pushing the boundaries and testing the limits, new discoveries are made. And from the consumer point of view, there will always be a market for individuals willing to experience these boundaries, no matter how far they extend.

One point raised, that I completely agree with is that extreme beer should be sold in smaller bottles, making it easier to have the experience without the concern of wasting an otherwise expensive beer if the experience is unenjoyable.

While the extreme beer movement is on one end of the spectrum, the session beer movement sits on the other side of the craft beer movement, establishing its own fan base.

Beer Advocate has defined a session beer as:

Any beer that contains no higher than 5 percent ABV, featuring a balance between malt and hop characters (ingredients) and, typically, a clean finish – combination of which creates a beer with high drinkability. The purpose of a session beer is to allow a beer drinker to have multiple beers, within a reasonable time period or session, without overwhelming the senses or reaching inappropriate levels of intoxication.

In my experience, the session beer movement is really starting to take-off, and there are a few craft brewers in this area that have really embraced it. One particular beer that was mentioned at the summit was Tafelbier from Notch Brewing, and Riverwalk provided a sampling of their own session beer, called Uncle Bobs Bitter to help keep the topic on track.

Sampled Beer Spotlight: Cape Ann Brewery – Fisherman’s Sunrise Saison
Craft Beer - Cape Ann Brewery
Nothing brings about excitement at a tasting more than an corked bottle, with no label. And that is just what TJ from Cape Ann brewing offered up (along with other tasty selections). We were presented with not one, but two different versions of their Sunrise Saison, a summer seasonal beer. Brewed with a blend of Strawberries and Rhubarb, this beer was fun to drink. The first version we had was a special concoction, brew specially for an area synagogue, for Purim. This version contained fresh pomegranate juice. The second version, without the pomegranate juice was aged for a year in Bordeaux barrels. Both of these beers were excellent and worth the trip to Cape Ann Brewery.

Another topic that came up, multiple times actually, was sales and marketing, and we covered a full range of sub-topics here, from labeling to availability to tap lines, and it was very interesting to hear about the issues, constraints and concerns within the industry. One of the more interesting conversations pertaining to sales was the various constraints imposed on the brewers within each state.

This region of New England is small, and with just 2 hours of driving in almost any direction, you can quickly be in a different state, making it simple for even for a small craft beer business to sell their product in multiple states. This does present a problem, as each state has completely different laws regarding alcohol sales. We heard stories about unknowingly trying to make sales in Maine without proper approval, to a brewer not being permitted to pour their own product at events in New York state.

This topic really hit a cord for me, and gets at the spirit of this blogging project. As I have been trying to acquire beer from each state, I have also had the opportunity to experience first hand the odd rules and regulations each state applies to alcohol. The quote that summed it up best was: We are a bunch of small countries.

Overall, the biggest theme that cut through every conversation was education. For too many years, the options available for beer has been very limited and controlled by a few very large breweries. By educating the bar and restaurant staff, and not just the customers, about craft beer, the brewers can help the consumers establish a better categorization of what this movement it is all about. Through these educational efforts, the craft brewers win in the end, because not only did they develop a better, more enjoyable beer. They also helped to free us, the consumers, from having to settle on a tasteless beer designed for satiating a large market audience.

All in all, it was a great night, with 13 different beers sampled, and a wide range of topics about the craft beer industry discussed, I am looking forward to doing it again soon.

Thanks to Matt from ReviewBrews, for the excellent conversation and the IPA from Tree House Brewery, that was some good stuff.  And thanks to Ryan from 2beerguys, for bringing in a barely 12 hour old Royal Impy Stout from Portsmouth Brewery, and providing insightful and excellent conversation. Be sure to check out both of their sites, for plenty of content on local craft beer and the craft beer industry.

Also, thanks to TJ and his wife, both from Cape Ann Brewing, not only did they bring along 3 excellent craft beers for us to try, they also kept the conversation lively, providing insight into the daily live of brewery work.

And a very special thanks to Alyssa and Steve at Riverwalk Brewing for organizing and hosting the event. The group of people they assembled made the night fun and educational, and the beer they provided was excellent.

Sampled Beer Spotlight: Tree House Brewing – Julius
Craft Beer - Tree House Brewing
If there was one bottle at the sampling that brought intrigue, it was the bottle of IPA from Tree House Brewing. Brought to the event by Matt from ReviewBrews, this bottle, holding court at the center of the table, caught the eyes of everyone that entered the room. It was the most coveted sample of the night, and everyone couldn’t wait for the top to open. Oh, and when it did, it lived up to the expectations. The aroma from the hops was mind blowing, and amazed everyone on the room. The taste, oh, that wonderful taste, put this brewery on the top of my must visit brewery list. The brewers website says it all:
Bursting with 1.6 oz per gallon of American hops, Julius is loaded with notes of passionfruit, mango, and citrus.  At 6.5% alcohol, it is refreshing and freakishly drinkable.

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beer, History

New Hampshire: Live Free or Die

We are now nine weeks into this project, which brings New Hampshire into the union and along with it, the official ratification of the Constitution. New Hampshire, much like the other coastal New England states, was settled in the early to mid 1600s. One of the towns settled during the formation of New Hampshire was what is now the city of Portsmouth. Located on the western bank of the Piscataqua River, Portsmouth, originally called Strawbery Bank, was home to Captain John Mason, who is considered the first brewer in New Hampshire, with records showing his possession of malt as early as 1635. However, the first brewery in the state wouldn’t open for almost another 200 years, with the Frank Jones brewery eventually becoming one of the largest breweries in New England.

This doesn’t mean that the good residents of the state went without their daily libations. Far from it. If fact, the 200 year window without a recognized brewery was filled by taverns and home brewers, where the taverns brewed their own beer. At that time, taverns were essential to the health of a community. They were the social hub, the place people went to get news and gossip, and in some instances, they also doubled as churches and courtrooms. Call them the original brewpubs, taverns provided both food and drink to locals and travelers alike, welcoming in anyone passing through the area.

While the similarities are strong between taverns and brewpubs, the brewpub is a modern invention, popularized in London during the late seventies. With a brewpub, the patrons become immersed in the brewing process, separated from the product and equipment by nothing but a glass window, the patrons are given complete insight into the origin of their beer. While brewpubs are common across the US today, with 1072 existing in the US in 2012, this was not always the case. In fact, New Hampshire didn’t get its first brewpub, The Portsmouth Brewery, until 1991, just 22 years ago, 378 years after Captain John Mason was brewing beer in his house at Strawbery Bank.

The Portsmouth Brewery was my first experience with New Hampshire beer. The city of Massachusetts I live in is very close to the NH border, and closer to Portsmouth than Boston. That being the case, I have made many visits to Portsmouth, and have been to the  brewery many times. The Portsmouth Brewery is also the sister company to New Hampshires largest brewery, Smuttynose, making Portsmouth the brewing capital of NH. Both the Portsmouth Brewery and Smuttynose are represented in this weeks tasting.

Because I live so close to NH, I have always had access to their beer. Smuttynose is often found in my refrigerator, and everything from them is great. From their Shoals Pale Ale, to their Star Island Single, I often have such a hard time deciding that I usually just grab the variety 12 pack. So it was a huge surprise to me when I went to grab a few different varieties of NH beer for this week, to find out that getting beer from NH, in MA is actually quite hard. And that there are really only 4 (um, err, 3?) different breweries that are available for purchase, and to make things worse, the store I was in was out of one of them.

So for this week, the tastings came from Tuckerman, Smuttynose, their sister brewery, the Portsmouth Brewery and Woodstock Inn. To make matters worse, I found out mid-tasting that Woodstock, while based in NH, brews their beer in Maine, so making the true number of NH brewers available in MA 3. The missing brewery, White Birch Brewing from the three listed above did not make it into the tasting this week, however I did have their Indulgence Ale last week, and enjoyed it.

This weeks tasting was interesting in that it coincided with a mini-beer summit at Riverwalk Brewing. Because of these overlapping events, all but the Smuttynose beer was sampled amongst the attendees at the summit, (Look for the complete write up about the summit in a forthcoming post.) providing some interesting commentary and insight into each beer.

The first beer we tried was the Headwall Alt from from Tuckerman Brewing Company in Conway. The Headwall, is an altbier, which is a German beer style defined as having a nice cooper-brown color and malty flavors, so these were the characteristics we were looking for. In the glass, the first thing that stood out to me was the darker color of the beer than I expected. I think this was partially due to the fact that I misread the label and thought that it was an ale.

“It was nice, but it didn’t seem to have any character”.

The taste was nice, but it didn’t floor me. I would drink this beer again if it was around, but I am not sure if would seek it out.

Tuckerman's  Brewery in New Hampsire

Tuckerman – Headwall Alt

The next beer we drank was from Woodstock Inn. Right from the start, this beer hit us with a slight technicality. Woodstock Inn is located in NH, our target state for the week, but the bottle indicates that the beer was actually brewed in Maine. On the brewery website, you can find news about how they are currently expanding their on premise brewery, however at the moment, their bottled beer is not actually brewed in NH. So, if I wanted to be an extreme purist I could disqualify this beer, but, it was already in my hand just waiting to get consumed.

From Woodstock, we tasted two different styles of beer, a Brown Ale and a Red Ale. A Brown Ale is a warm fermented ale with colors similar to an altbier. While altbiers come from a German heritage, a brown ale hails from Britain. Woodstock Inns brown is called Pigs Ear Brown. The Pigs Ear Brown Ale is an award winner.

Pigs Ear Brown Ale won Grand National Champion for brown ales at the United States Beer Tasting Championships in 2004 and 2006. Medium bodied with a balance of roasted and crystal malts creating a hearty nutty flavor. Medium bitterness with a slightly sweet finish.

Woodstock Inn Brewery in New Hampshire

Woodstock Inn Brewery

The first thing I noticed with this beer was a higher carbonation than the previous altbier. And the beer had a taste of butterscotch. This taste is a result of diacetyl, a natural by-product of the fermentation process. In the Oxford Companion to Beer, they say that “at low to moderate level, diacetyl can be perceived as a positive flavor characteristic in some ales and stouts“, however for me, it because the driving force of the beer and I could not over come it. In the end, I was not thrilled with this beer, however others at the tasting really enjoyed it. That is one of the wonderful things about different beers and styles, there is something out there for everyone.

Following the Brown Ale, we dove into the Red Rack Ale. The brewer lists this beer as: Amber in color with slight caramel sweetness. Medium hop bitterness. Malty up front with a nice hop / malt balance. Maybe I drank this beer too close to the Pig’s Ear, but again, the strength of the diacetyl was the dominant feature and I quickly moved on from this brew.

After Woodstock Inn, the next NH beer was a beer brought to the beer summit by one of the attendees. This beer came from The Portsmouth Brewery and was a new beer released for Portsmouth beer week, which also happened to kick off on the same day. This beer was a Russian Imperial Stout called the Royal Impy Stout. This beer had an amazingly nice and smooth mouthful. The flavor was nice, with no one component overpowering the beer. I enjoyed this and would love to have more.

Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire

Portsmouth Brewery – Royal Impy

Finally, at the end of the week, to help prime the writing pump, I picked up some Smuttynose. Not only did I grab an old stand-by, Old Brown Dog, but I also grabbed a beer from their big beer series, called Zinneke Belgian Stout.

The Old Brown Dog is a Brown Ale brewed year-round at Smuttynose. This beer is an excellent go to beer and is well loved by everyone I know. I enjoy the malty taste, and supple hops. This is a very enjoyable beer, and if you can get your hands on it, I highly recommend it.

Smuttynose Brewery in New Hampshire

Smuttynose – Old Brown Dog Ale

The Zinneke Belgian Stout, was the first time I tried anything from the big beer series. I have often seen the bottles at my local store, but I guess I have never been intrigued even to deter from the variety 12 pack. In the glass, this beer was dark, it almost looked like a cola. It was aged in bourbon barrels, which seems to be a trend among many of the beers we have encountered lately, however the character of the beer didn’t seem to pick up the traits of the bourbon as much as some other styles have. It was nice, enjoyable beer. The mouthfeel was thicker than an IPA, or an Ale, but it wasn’t syrupy. The roasted-ness of the stout really stout out on this beer, overall making it a pleasure to drink.

Thanks again to Riverwalk Brewery, Cape Ann Brewing,  ReviewBrews and  2beerguys for all of their great comments and a fun evening. Look for an upcoming special post on our mini beer summit soon.

Next week, we head into Virginia, thanks for reading.

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