beer, History

Vermont: The Green Mountain State

Vermont

During the Colonial days, taverns were to the citizens what the internet is today. They were a place to check in on what was going on in town. A place to learn about the weather, hear the latest news, or play a quick game with friends. All while grabbing a beer, glass of rum, or some food.

Taverns were an essential component to the community as they were a place where local governments organized, formed and conducted business. Because of this, many taverns hold an important role in the history of the United States, like the Windsor tavern in Vermont. Now called The Constitution House, The Windsor tavern is where a group or representatives met in 1777 to adopt the name Vermont and to also create the states constitution.

Fourteen years after the crafting of the constitution, Vermont became the 14th state in the union, and our sampling state of the week.

When I mention to friends that lived in the state that this week was Vermont, the first thing they say is, “what beer is from Vermont other than Catamount?”  And the answer to that is, there are a few breweries and Catamount isn’t any of them! In fact, the Catamount brewery closed down in 2000 and the building is now owned an operated by Harpoon.

One of the easily accessible breweries (at least in my area) from Vermont is Otter Creek. A few months back, one of my local beer stores hosted a craft beer night, and while there I had a few people tell me that I had to check out the Otter Creek Black IPA, it was good stuff. But this week I went with their staple, easy to find Copper Ale.

Vermont Craft Beer

Otter Creek Copper Ale

In the wild world of beer, there are generally two major classifications, Ales and Lagers, and these classifications are established by the type of yeast used to make the beer, either top-fermenting (Ales) or bottom fermenting (Lagers). However, like anything else, the details are much more complex and placing all beer into two large classification buckets doesn’t come close to addressing all of the styles and creations that are coming out of the craft breweries today.

Classification of beer into styles based on fermentation is a relativity new phenomena. And with Ales, this is no different. For a style of beer that is considered older than England, The Oxford Companion to Beer states that the term “ale” only began to become synonymous with top-fermented beers generally as late as the 1980s.

Even within the Ale category, further classification continues, with Pale Ales, Amber Ales, and the list goes on, to include Copper Ales. Finding a definition of a Copper Ale required some digging. My typical source (OCB) has no mention of the style. There are questions on some internet brewing forums about the style, and I also ran across this definition

Copper Ale: This is an ale which is aged in oak casks to obtain its beautiful copper color and its unique wine-like taste. Primarily produced in Belgium.

Since the Otter Creek website is under construction, I was not able to verify if this beer was aged in a oak cask like the definition suggests. However I did not get any unique wine-like taste from the beer. In the glass, this beer has a nice copper color. As has been typical with most of the six-pack bottled beers sampled on this adventure, there was little to no head. This beer is good, but there isn’t anything special about it. The smell was slightly fruity, but it didn’t have any unique characteristics that made it easy to refer to. That taste was the same. It wasn’t boring like a big, mass produced beer, but it also didn’t have any distinguishing characteristics that have been observed in other beer this year. Overall, this is a beer I will buy again, but if you are looking for something that has unique character, this isn’t it.

Other beer from Vermont this week is another ale from The Shed which I just discovered is now part of Otter Creek. The beer, called Mountain Ale is a typical brown ale, in taste and color.

Vermont Craft Beer

The Shed – Mountain Ale

Brown Ales are a style that I have a hard time extracting descriptives for. They seem to rely more on the malt to carry their flavor, and I appear to be better at discerning the hops flavors. I think because of that I have spent more time this week with the Mountain Ale and the previous Copper Ale, trying to develop my tasting for this different malt styles.

So, as I develop my tasting palate for a malt, I would place the Mountain Ale in the same category as the Copper Ale. I like it, I will go back to it, but at the moment, I am struggling to better describe these styles of beer.

In the late 1990s, there was a popular sitcom on television. While this show took place in Ohio, not Vermont, it did prominently feature a tavern called the Warsaw tavern. That show was The Drew Carey Show. One of the plot lines from the show was the formation of a brewery in the garage of the central character, Drew Carey. The beer the brewed was called Buzz Beer and it was unique in that it was brewed with coffee. With a slogan of “Stay up and get drunk all over again,” the idea of a coffee beer hybrid provided for great comedy. Now, just nine years after the end of the show, actual coffee beer seems to be trending. And continuing with that trend, we will wrap up this week with another coffee beer (I think that makes 4 for the year now?).

Vermont Craft Beer

Long Trail Coffee Stout

The Coffee Stout from Long Trail was a nice find. A part of their brew master series, this was not on my radar when was out getting beer for this week. Each coffee beer we have tried this year have been fun, and each had a unique characteristic, like the pepper aftertaste of the Wake ‘N Bake. To date, I think the overall favorite was the coffee beer from Berkshire Brewery in Massachusetts.

Well, there is a new king in town. This coffee stout was great. The mix of coffee and stout was perfect, with neither stealing the show. According to a story earlier this year in the WSJ about coffee beer, getting the coffee to beer ratio is a critical factor in the success of this brew. I would say Long Trail nailed it. Get yourself a bottle of this beer as soon as you can, it is worth it. But don’t rely on this beer to help you “stay up and get drunk all over,” because coffee beer has less caffeine than a cup of decaf.

Last night while chatting over the Coffee Stout, Joel said it best The best beer so far have come from big brown bottles. While we have had some great stuff from the traditional six pack sized bottle, and cans are all the rage this year, it has been the growlers and the 22 ounce bottles that have left us excited at the end of most weeks. We will see how that plays out for the rest of the year, but at the moment, it is something to think about the next time you are in the market to try something new and exciting.

 

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beer, History

Rhode Island: Unwind the Ocean State

Rhode Island

In 1790, Rhode Island was the last of the original 13 colonies to ratify the Constitution, and the next state up on our beer adventure.

For this week, there are three different beers on the tasting table. Two from Providence, and one from, well, we will get to that.

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the United States, yet in 1914, it was home to the largest lager brewery in New England, The Narragansett Brewery. However as was more than common around that time, Narragansett fell victim to the

Rhode Island Craft Beer

Narragansett Bock

devastating effects of prohibition and barely made it out the other side. When prohibition did finally end, Narragansett was in financial distress, however with some help, the company came back and by 1955 it was once again the largest selling beer in New England. However after a series of mergers and acquisitions, typical of the industry during the late 60’s and early 70’s, Narragansett closed its doors in 1981. The early 1980s was a rough time for breweries in America, with about 100 breweries existing nationwide at that time, the lowest number in the history of the country, including the prohibition era.

It is a hard concept to grasp that the post World War II era was more devastating to the brewing industry than the Prohibition era. The blame for this devastation could easily be placed on the big national brewers that were growing fast at the time, and while partly responsible, the story is more complicated. Another factor that contributed to the decline was the change in the way consumers purchased their beer. Prior to the war most beer was purchased and consumed at local taverns and pubs, however post WWII, home refrigeration became more prevalent and the ability to bottle and can beer became more economical resulting in a decline of draft sales.

Thankfully, we have gotten beyond the low point of the 80s, and the beer industry is once again booming with each state providing a variety of choices from multiple breweries. Included in the list of thriving breweries is the reincarnated Narragansett brewery.

Rhode Island Craft BeerIn 2005, The Narragansett name was revived by a group of Rhode Island investors, and seven unique products are now available for consumers. Of those, two were part of our tasting this week, and that gets us back to the origin of this weeks selections. From ‘Gansett, The Lager and Bock were selected.  Narragansett is currently a contract brewery, and that means they are not brewing their beer in Rhode Island. According to their website, the Lager is currently brewed in Rochester, New York, and the Bock is brewed in Providence, Rhode Island. So, we can count one of the two as being from Rhode Island, same situation as we encountered in New Hampshire.

Each of these beers are what I would consider a summer, backyard, fire pit beer. They are not packed with the complex flavors and character as seen in other craft beers. To me, they are just typical beer. They are good but if I am looking for a single beer to enjoy with a meal, or to unwind with, this is not where I am going. However if I have to hang out after a long day of working in the yard, I wouldn’t mind a nice can of Lager or Bock.

The other beer from Rhode Island was an IPA from Trinity Brewhouse. I couldn’t find any history about the Trinity Brewhouse online. This is a beer that I picked up at the Craft Beer Cellar because it was from Rhode Island and it was all they had (other than

Rhode Island Craft Beer

Trinity IPA

Narragansett) from the state. This beer was also ok, but it wasn’t anywhere near as good as other IPAs encountered during this project. It was just a typical, highly hopped bitterness, without the lovely citrus or piney smells and tastes characteristic of a better IPA.

Being a border state to Massachusetts  I was once again surprised at the limited availability of beer from Rhode Island. However with only 6 breweries in the state, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

Next week, we are still in New England, with Vermont.

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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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beer, History

South Carolina: Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places

1788 was a big year for the US, adding 8 states, the most of any year. One of those states was South Carolina, which became the 8th state to join the Union on May 23. South Carolina is also famous as being the first state to secede from the union in 1860, leading to the civil war. Finding historical beer information pertaining to South Carolina has been slow going (and I can imagine it will only get worse from here out), but I did run across a book: Charleston Beer, that had some interesting, albiet more chronological state specific beer history, gleaned from old newspapers. In glancing through the book, looking for a topic for this post, I honed in on a reference to various colonial beer styles. In Beer in America, there were many references to colonial beer, and one of the main points often mentioned is that a modern beer drinker would not recognize the beer styles of the colonial times, both in quality and in ingredients.

In the Charleston book, they reference a newspaper advertisement from 1766 that listed: Double brewed Spruce Beer, table and small beer. So far this year, we have had a table beer, and talked about small beer, but Spruce Beer is a new topic for us. Spruce, often used as a substitute for other ingredients during colonial times and brewed with molasses, was also employed by ship captains to ward off scurvy, however modern science has now cast doubt that enough of the vitamin C remained through the brewing process to aid the sailors. Had we done our research, we could have tried it back when we passed through Pennsylvania, oh well, add it to a future list, as we do not have any spruce beer from South Carolina this week.

Instead, we will be sampling two interesting beers from South Carolina, both of them brewed at the same brewery, but not by the same brewer. The first beer is from Westbrook Brewing in Mt. Pleasant, SC, called White Thai. The second beer, originally brewed in Denmark, under the name Williamsburg Hipster, is now called Hipster Ale, from Evil Twin Brewing.

South Carolina Beer

South Carolina Beer

Our first beer was the White Thai. The brewers website says:

This beer, inspired by the flavors of Southeast Asian cuisine, is a twist on the classic Belgian witbier style. Instead of the traditional coriander and orange peel spicing regimen, we add fresh lemongrass, ginger root, and a dash of Sorachi Ace hops. The result is a wonderfully refreshing ale with notes of lemon candy, citrus fruit, and a slight spiciness from the ginger. Best served at 45˚F in a tulip or wine glass.

It might not be spruce, but this beer does contain fresh lemongrass (vitamin C) and ginger root which makes it pretty unique, and so far I have not come down with scurvy this week.

Westbrook - White Thai

Westbrook – White Thai

This beer also contains a dash of Sorachi Ace hops. Named after an adminstrative division, or subprefecture, in Japan, this hops was developed in the 1970s for Sapporo Breweries, but was not made commercially available until 2006. When used as part of the brewing process, the resulting product will add a lemon aroma and taste to the beer, which sounds like it will complement the Southeast Asian cuisine theme quite well.

I drank this beer straight from the fridge, which was about 35 degrees, not quite the recommended 45° from the brewer. (I didn’t see the recommendation until later). In the glass, this beer had a slight floral smell, that became more apparent as the beer warmed in the glass. With the inclusion of lemongrass and Sorachi Ace, I was looking for a lemon smell and taste in this beer, however I didn’t pick up any lemon. The taste and the mouthfeel of this beer was nice, light and refreshing. This beer had hints of spice, but it was not overpowering. In the end I enjoyed this beer, but not sure if I could drink too many (its the spice thing). I will have to try it again as recommended by the brewer, at 45° and in a wine glass. Maybe with some spicy Pad Thai.

The next beer of the week has an interesting heritage, and depending on the rules you care to establish, it may or may not be considered a South Carolina beer. Brewed by Evil Twin Brewery, Hipster Ale was the second and final beer of the evening. Evil Twin brewery started in Copenhagen and now also lists an office in New York. However the Hipster Ale was brewed, and canned, at Westbrook Brewery in South Carolina.

Evil Twin - Hipster Ale

Evil Twin – Hipster Ale

The first thing you will notice when you reach for a can of Hipster Ale, is the eye catching pattern, with its patchwork of multi-colored triangles.  In the glass, this beer looks wonderful. It has a very nice honey color and a beautiful head. This beer is an American Pale Ale, a style of beer that highlights the citrus flavors of US hops, and that is clearly the case with this beer, with its strong citrus and piney aroma. The mouthfeel and taste of this beer was excellent, with a slight bitterness, but not an IPA bitterness. It is very enjoyable and I have found myself going back for this beer often. I am still struggling with the name of this beer. I would be shocked to see a beer of this quality with so much character replacing the slot usually held by a PBR in the hands of a hipster. But do not let the name deter you, this is a wonderful beer worthy of space in anyones refrigerator.

See you next week, as we are allowed to live free and die in New Hampshire.

 

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beer, History

Maryland: Maryland Of Opportunity

Maryland Craft Beer

Maryland Craft Beer

Maryland

Week 7, brings the Province of Maryland into the United States on April 28th, 1788, just 5 years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, declaring the end of the Revolutionary War. It would be only another 24 years before Maryland found itself as a major player in yet another international war, this time the War of 1812. For most people, the War of 1812 is known by a famous song. No not this one, this one! That’s right, during the defense of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Francis Scott Key wrote the poem that would become our national anthem. Observing the battle, Key was inspired by the large American flag called the Star Spangled Banner, flying over the Fort. In anticipation of the forthcoming battle, military leaders asked Mary Young Pickersgill, a Baltimore flag maker to make a flag to fly over the Fort. The resulting flag 30 ft by 42 ft in size. It was so large that she didn’t have the space to make it in her house, so she used the malthouse floor of the nearby Brown’s Brewery to assemble the flag. 

Brown’s Brewery, founded in 1783, was preceded by a few other production breweries in Maryland, such as the Fordham Brewing company, which opened its doors in 1703. However Brown’s had a good run, remaining in operation for 96 years and at its peak in 1850, it was the largest brewery in Baltimore producing 50k barrels of beer. However like in so many other states, prohibition decimated the brewery businesses. Some stayed alive with the production of near beer, while others closed up shop. In Maryland, fewer than half of the pre-prohibition breweries survived. One of those survivors was another Baltimore company, National Brewery Company. Started in 1872, the brewery modernized and reopened after the forced prohibition shutdown, and it wasn’t long before they were selling upwards of 230K barrels a year and in the late 1940s became the first brewery in the nation to sell beer in six-pack cans. While no longer in operation, shutdown due the the mergers that effected many American breweries of the 1960s and 70s, one of National Brewing’s products is still available due to mergers and acquisitions and is currently brewed by Pabst. In 1963, the Baltimore Colts had a running back named Jerry Hill, and he was number 45. It was his team number and affilation that led to the beer Colt 45.

No longer brewed in the state, Colt 45 is alive and well, and so is the Maryland brewing industry. Clawing its way back from the horrible bad beer years that American suffered through, Maryland is now home to quite a few unique and successful craft brewers. This week, there will be four different beers from three different breweries (and not one is a Colt 45!).

Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Baltimore Maryland

The first beer of the evening is a Belgian Pale Ale called Beer Table – Table Beer from Stillwater Artisanal Ales in Baltimore. Table beers are a style of beer that are low in alcohol. Real low, like 1-2.5%. However in this case, the ABV was a bit higher, ringing in at 4.7%, pushing the boundaries of table beer a bit. One of the more interesting components of this beer is the inclusion of Brettanomyces yeast, also referred to as Brett in the craft brewing world. Brett is a strain of yeast often called a wild yeast in that it has the ability to introduce off putting aromas, such as a barnyard or a wet blanket to the beer. And when not purposely used, the beer is often considered contaminated. However some beers, such as Belgian Ales rely on Brett for creating their unique flavors.

Beer Table - Table Beer

Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Beer Table – Table Beer

In the glass, this beer was nice and light, with a decent amount of carbonation. I could smell hints of a barnyard, or maybe a horse, but it wasn’t off putting. I enjoyed this beer, but the distinct taste of the Brett was very noticeable and took some work to get used to. Someone in the tasting party described it as Having a nice bite, woody and pleasant. Overall this was a fun beer and once all of the sampling was done, this was the first bottle grabbed for a second pour.

Heavy Seas Brewery, Halethorpe, Maryland

Based in Halethorpe, Heavy Seas Brewery mission is:

… an attitude of risk-taking, a touch of the playful rogue, a desire to stretch the boundaries, all wrapped in an appealing costume of possible impropriety with a twinkle in the eye. I believe this is an attitude that we can all embrace …

The first beer from Heavy Seas is their flagship beer, an IPA called Loose Cannon. Made with a blend of four different types of hops:

Heavy Seas - Loose Cannon

Heavy Seas – Loose Cannon

Warrior, Simcoe, Palisade and Centennial, added at three different times during the brewing process, thus earning its nickname Hop³. I felt that Loose Cannon has an interesting flavor and a distinct bitterness that hung around long after the drink. It wasn’t bad, but it was there. During the tasting, this beer was described as pleasing and good. 

Flying Dog, Fredrick, Maryland

Now based in Fredrick, Flying Dog originally started as a Colorado brewery. From their stable, we will be trying an American IPA called Raging Bitch. One of the more interesting components of Flying Dog is the Ralph Steadman art for all of their labels.

Flying Dog - Raging Bitch

Flying Dog – Raging Bitch

This was the least liked beer of the evening. The taste was different, and I couldn’t place it. The hops gave off a noticeable citrus smell, but overall, this wasn’t that great of a beer and didn’t generate much commentary other than whats next?

The final Maryland beer of the night is another beer from Heavy Seas, a Imperial Chocolate Stout called Siren Noire. On their website, they list three categories for their beer: Year round, Seasonal, and Uncharted Waters — the Siren Noire is currently the only beer in the Uncharted category. Aged for three weeks in bourbon barrels, they claim it is chocolately, due to triple the amount of chocolate nibs (crushed raw or slightly roasted cocoa) without the sweetness and has notes of black currant. And to round it all off, a vanilla bean is added to the mix.  

Heavy Seas - Siren Noire

Heavy Seas – Siren Noire

This beer was nice in the glass, dark with a nice white head and had an aroma and taste of dark chocolate. We quickly described this as a dessert beer, if there was such a category. It was looking for accompaniment, like a nice slice of pie, or maybe a cheesecake. I enjoyed this beer, but it should be reserved for special occasions. If I were planning a beer meal, with a different beer for each course, this is my go to for dessert.

Next week, we dive a bit deeper into the south to visit South Carolina. Be sure to grab a glass of your favorite beer and join.

(Note: I have been trying to use the State slogan for the blog title, and with this week, I am starting to realize, some slogan are pretty horrible. Seriously, what does that even mean?)

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beer, History

Massachusetts… Make It Yours

Massachusetts

January is gone and we are now entering February and 225 years ago from this week, on February 9th, 1788, Massachusetts became the sixth state in the Union.

From the Mayflower landing at Plymouth because of low beer supplies on the ship (a storyline left out of the Charlie Brown special), to the meetings of the Sons of Liberty at the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston, as they planned the start of the Revolution, Massachusetts has maintained a healthy relationship with beer.

Well known as the start of the American Revolution, Massachusetts,  it could be argued, was also the start of the extreme beer movement. As early as 1622, brewers in Massachusetts, dealing with a shortage of traditional supplies such as malt, turned to local ingredients, like Indian corn to produce beer. That being said, we didn’t dive too deep into the extreme beer this week, instead keeping it a bit more traditional. Due to an up coming special Massachusetts post later this month, the samplings for this week were indented to be keep short, however a Blizzard, and a few hours of snow removal might have voided that goal.

For this week, our Massachusetts beer come from a variety of brewers, some small and local, others more well known. The first beer is from

Massachusetts Craft Beer

Berkshire Brewing Company – Dean’s Beans Coffeehouse Porter

the west-central region of the state, a Porter from Berkshire Brewery. Two weeks ago, we had a coffee Porter from Georgia, and again this week, another coffee Porter joins us. Dean’s Beans Coffeehouse Porter is a blend between a Berkshire Brewery Porter and coffee from an organic coffee maker in Orange, Massachusetts, Dean’s Beans. In the glass, this beer was nice and dark with a thin light brown head. The taste, with its clean mouth feel, resembled that of the Terrapin Stout from Georgia, but in this beer, the hot pepper taste didn’t linger and wasn’t as prominent, making this a very flavorful and enjoyable beer to drink.

The next Massachusetts beer of the week comes from Notch Brewing, located on the eastern edge of the state. Notch Brewing has an interesting model for a brewer in that they have no physical space, instead, they use the resources of other breweries to make their products. Since the brewery they use for making their bottles is just three towns away, I discovered this brewer pretty quick, and loved them from day one.

Massachusetts Craft Beer

Notch Saison

The beer I chose for this week, was their Saison. Saison is considered a farmhouse beer. Originally brewed by French farmers for consumption while working the fields, a Saison (saison is French for season) served three major purposes: Provide beer for the field hands as they tended to the farm duties, Provide work for the farmhands in the winter months brewing the beer, and producing feed for the livestock from the spent grain of the brewing process. As anyone that has been around a farm can attest, as a farmer, you make due with what you have, and the brewing process of the Saison was no different. As a result, providing a strict definition of a Saison is very hard to do, however in the craft beer world, it has evolved into a beer that is fruity in character with high carbonation and often produce a dry mouth feel. This beer from Notch captures all of these characteristics quite well. In the glass, the beer has a nice, light color, slightly lighter than an IPA, and a totally different taste. While hoppy in nature, the dry mouth feel makes this really unique. This is a fun beer and worth checking out anytime.

In the early days of colonization, breweries were very regional. Because of the lack of refrigeration, and other modern conveniences that we take for granted today, brewers back then didn’t have the resources to distribute their product over large distances, as a result it was very common to have a local brewer that everyone frequented. Riverwalk Brewery is just that for me. With their operations only about a mile, at most, from my house, they have become one of my favorite local beers. Brewing only growlers at the moment, Riverwalk currently has three different styles of beer available. I have a hard time making a choice when  I stop in on a Friday night growler hour, however for this week, I went with the Gnomad, a Belgian Style Ale. This beer is very flavorful, with a fruity, almost citrus smell and a slight IPAish mouthfeel, from the hops. In the glass it has beautiful colors and a nice head. All around a wonderful beer, and don’t be too concerned about where to store that growler, because it will not last long.

Massachusetts Craft Beer

Element Brewing – Red Giant

At the end of this week, Massachusetts got hit with a Blizzard, and it kept everyone busy for most of the weekend, digging out cars, and clearing walkways. So after a days worth of snow blowing, I opened a bottle of Red Giant from Element Brewing. This was an interesting beer. In the glass, it was almost a honey color and due to the high carbonation, had a really thick head. There wasn’t much of an aroma for this beer, but that might have been due to the temperature, it was very cold when it was opened. The taste of this beer was clearly that of hops, with a strong hoppy bitterness. I really enjoyed this beer, and even when I came back to it after it had some time to warm up, it was very complex in flavors, and an enjoyable ale.

Since there was plenty of snow to move, the Red Giant needed some company, and that company was the final beer of the week, a Wheat Wine Ale from Mystic Brewery called Old Powderhouse. This beer is part of their 24° series, and it was definitely the most extreme of the week. In the glass, it was a nice amber color with not much of a noticeable head. The mouth feel on this beer thick, that of syrup. The beer let off fruity aromas, and had a taste much better than I ever expected. In the end, I enjoyed this beer. I knew going in that it wasn’t something to be consumed in large quantities, but when slowly consumed over the course of dinner, it was a pleasant beer.

This week, there was so much to choose from, I didn’t even know where to begin. As a result, I just grabbed a few that looked interesting and enjoyed the adventure. I still have some Harpoon Directors Cut in the fridge, that didn’t make it for this post, but I have heard great things and look forward to checking it out.

Next week, we head slightly south again, into Maryland.

 

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