While in New England, I had the exciting opportunity to sample some unique brews worth mentioning. On the East Coast, since hops are not in quite the abundance that they are here in the Pacific Northwest, brewers often rely on showcasing other nuances and complexities possible in great craft beer and often pay homage to the Belgian and English practices, yet with their own unique spin on things. Thanks a lot to my friends at 2 Beer Guys for providing many of these brews.
White Birch Belgian-style Saison Batch One: I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews about the beers of White Birch Brewing of Hooksett, New Hampshire. Brewer Bill Herlicka recently upgraded from a nano 1-barrel setup to a seven barrel at a time operation. Herlicka’s passion is evident, dabbling in the concoction of many barrel-aged brews, most of a higher gravity than your typical pedestrian ales. This series showcases a variety of barrels utilizes to impart a range of flavor profiles. I found some price bottles at Bert’s Better Beers in Hooksett just down the road. Three bottles of 750 ml beer totaled nearly $50 so, instinctively, my expectations were rather high.Within a cork and caged bottle, this bubbly Saison poured a hazy bright yellow-golden body with a thick white head. Bottle #408 of the first batch featured a 9% ABV ale with a funky sulfuric nose. Notes of grapefruit and pepper emanated upwards coupled with an unpleasant Chloreseptic, solvent, Pinesol essence. Lots of fusel alchols were present. Not a winning beer in my estimation. Two other wine-barrel-aged Tripels shared similar qualities and led me to believe that there wasn’t much more than the bells and whistles of the fancy packaging. In fact one Pinor Noir barrel-aged Tripel served as little more than a drain pour. Not sure I’d be willing to take a gamble on White Birch offerings in the future, especially considering the price point.
Samuel Adams Infinium: On paper this collaborative brew made in conjunction with the world’s supposed oldest brewery Die Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephaner of Germany. A fancy champagne bottles was indicative of the particular stain of champagne yeast used to ferment this peculiar brew. Pouring a bright orange-y hazed hue with a substantial effervescent whitish head, the profile of this beer in indeed very distinct. Notes of citrus and malt-o-meal radiated from the glass after some fizz settled. Flavors of malted milk and musky greens came up immediately. This was followed by a honeyed elderberry quality that exhibited a mild presence of oxidation. Sharp spiciness of Nobel hops and woodiness finished at the middle and back of the tongue. At $20 a bottle, its worth a try or two (I tried this beer on two separate occasions) but I wouldn’t characterize this as more than a novelty brew for the exploratory palate.
Pennichuck Backdraft Chocolate Porter: Formerly brewed at Milford, New Hampshire’s now defunct Pennichuck Brewery. It’s too bad the brewhouse recently shutdown because this particular brew was quite enjoyable. An English Style chocolately brown Porter with a balanced hop and malt character, the Backdraft would seemingly pair well with creamy or fruity cheeses, beef, barbequed meats, and desserts. With some mild roast and smoky tones, here’s a dark mahogany-brown brew with about a two-finger fizzy tan head that quickly dissipated. A bit turbulent, Backdraft puts forth noticeable waves of cacao and hearty malt. If you get the chance to score some Pennichuck, do grab it, what’s left is all that’s left.
Manchester Alt Ctrl Delete: Speaking of defunct breweries from New England, Manchester is another sad example of such. Once located in the New Hampshire town for which it derives its name, in my limited run ins with their beers, I was never disappointed. This Northern Dusseldorf style alt beer with one of the best names out there, made use of authentic German hops and was a summer release. On the lighter side for an alt, I’d liken it to a less hoppy rendition of Alaskan Amber. Rich crisp character with the malt in the spotlight, Alt Ctrl Delete is now sadly deleted from existence. R.I.P.
Portsmouth Kate the Great Imperial Stout: One of the most hyped beers from North America, Kate the Great changed their MO for selling this beer known to induce long lines on Portsmouth’s once a year Kate Day of the winter. Instead of forcing the beer geeks to lineup outdoors in harsh conditions (last year’s Kate Day saw freezing rain to the dismay of early morning campers), the brewery has incorporated a lottery system in which scratch tickets are sold to ensure a more democratic and less chilly experience. The proceeds of the lotto sales are all donated to charity and the only money made by the brewery is through draught pours and bottle sales to the fortunate folks with golden tickets. The bottle sampled with 2 Beer Guys from last year’s vintage poured an opaque pitchy hue with a rustic gray-tan head. Abysmal dark chocolatey, malten milky tides of flavor hit the palate right off the bat. A warming 10% ABV was aligned with this mealy grain bill to give forth a well balanced, silky smooth texture. Hints of hazelnut and cacao were illuminant throughout this Darth Vader of beer luring me to the Dark Side. The hype may never be matched by the beer itself, but one thing is for certain: this is one hell of a brew!
Smuttynose Winter Ale: From a bottle purchased at Mass Liquors in Worcester, Massachusetts, this amazing winter warmer poured a hazy brownish, nearly opaque mahogany tinge with a creamy full white head. Robust subtle roastiness presented dark fruitiness that was a balance of sweet and dry mouthfeel. Hints of plum made themselves known as each sip unlocked a new take of this very drinkable seasonal. Bitterness was at an optimum level substantiating a special dry to wet that made for one of the finest winter warmers in recent memory.
Weyerbacher Winter Ale: I’ve always loved the beers of Weyerbacher of Easton, Pennsylvania. Seems everything they make is superb or at very least highly drinkable. A deep chestnut-brown body and thick frothy beige head beckoned my first impressions to be most positive. Crisp and nutty with a bready nose and hints of chocolate, hazelnut, and lots of rich malts allude to a quintessential winter ale. A++ in my books. After sampling a few Smuttynose Winter Ales, I was compelled to do a side by side comparison of the two. The results revealed a lot of similarities through excellent examples of the style. In the end, I had to give the nod to Weyerbacher for concocted a perfect example of what this sort of beer should be. All the qualities that you love and expect from beers like Deschutes Jubelale and Full Sail Wassail with just a tad less hop aggressiveness. Cheers!
Dogfish Head Punkin Ale: My mother sought out this beer due to affinity toward a proper spicy pumpkin ale. I’d enjoyed this beer in the past and a revisit of the brand further reinforced my love for it. Orange-y burnt sienna in color and with a subtle white head, Punkin brought a bright nose of nutmeg and allspice without being overbearing as many gourd brews tend to be. Hints of sugary pumpkin and cinnamon also besieged my taste buds. The result is a stalwart example of a pumpkin brew with a favorable balance of bready, nutty malts and sharp piquant hops. Hats off to Dogfish Head for this brew, one of the best from their impressive repertoire. Look for it each year in the autumn.
Brooklyn Sorache Ace: After gambling and losing on the pricey 750 ml bottles from White Birch, I was ready to move forth to a brewery known for meticulous attention to detail, a scrupulous innovative spirit. and the ability to wow at the drop of a hat. Upon uncorking this savory beer that I’d once enjoyed at the Lion’s Pride in Brunswick, Maine (same owners as the world renowned Ebenezer’s Pub in remote Lovell, Maine), I examined a golden-orange bodied element with a big rocky white head. A Saison of sorts, this is a beer with a few twists. Like Samuel Adams’ Infinium, the Ace is brewed with a champagne yeast that offers a spicy, earthy, lemon and pepper zestiness. This character couples well with a dry bitterness and sharpness imparted in part by the use of the Japanese experimental hops for which the beer gets its name. It’s nice to see a brewery go out on a limb with a somewhat zany creation and actually coming out of it with a spectacular specimen.
Pretty Things Hedgerow Bitter: On my last visit to New England I heard much abuzz about Pretty Things Ale Project based in Somerville, Massachusetts. Brewed on the system at Mercury Brewing and Distribution (known for their brand of Ipswitch Ales, Pretty Things simply uses Mercury’s system not their brewers) Pretty Things much like Upright Brewing of Portland, Oregon, has a seemingly unparalleled sense of adventure when it come to both traditional and hybridized brew styles. Brewed “with dwarf hop varieties” this Special Bitter pours a hazy orange-copper hue with a thick rocky white head. The bottle I scored was dated August 2010 so I wasn’t sure if it would still be winning. There was, in fact, some minor oxidation, but the onslaught of citrus and leafy hops paved the way for a dry and astringent personality that I would love to revisit with a fresher version.
Pretty Things Baba Yaga Sylvan Stout: Named for the witch-like, chicken-legged character in Slavic folklore that flies around on a giant pestle and feeds on small children, this midnight black 7% ABV stout with a speckled bubbly tan head features a thick coffee presence. Innuendos of cherry fruit and medicinal twang amalgam with peppery and nutty notes. In the end I was left fully sated with a further positive impression of Pretty Things.
Troegs Flying Mouflan Ale: Troegs is another East Coast brewery of the highest quality. Hailing from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, like Weyerbacher, they are in a sense, another can-do-no-wrong producer of the highest quality brews. The Mouflan is a 9.3% ABV barleywine-style ale with lots of chocolatey (yes I have used chocolatey as a descriptor a lot here, but it is quite a desirable and oft found quality in many cold weather-appropo brews) and resinous piny girth. I am lead to believe that this particular vintage, also located at Mass Liquors in Worcester, is a 2009. This is due to a faint and acceptable level of oxidation evident. A dapper murky, foggy brown-purplish body and towering off-white head leads into the fitting descriptor on the bottle that reads: “(T)astes like hops dipped in candied suger and rolled in dark chocolate nibs.
Geary’s Pale Ale: In Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, the beer options are not so conducive to the wants of the seasoned artisan beer enthusiast. Still, there’s got to be something said about a craft brewery that has endured the myopic scope of so many Bud Light drinkers in the Central Maine wilderness. Geary’s, New England’s oldest microbrewery is known for its signature use of the highly attenuating English yeast strain known as Ringwood. This light amber-bodied pale ale is a soft yet prevalent spicy flowery hops. The yeast offers a bone dry finish that becomes amplified thought the hops bitterness resulting in a melding of biscuit grit and lush aromatics. I would have no bones about reaching for this sessionable brew at anytime throughout the year.
Maine Beer Company Spring Peeper Ale: Portland, Maine’s Maine Beer Company is one particular nano brewery to be aware of. The Peeper is an “American-style ale brewed one barrel at a time.” It might be more accurate to categorize this wonderfully hoppy beer as a West Coast IPA, one of the few to be found not only in Maine, but in the Greater New England Region. The malt bill is built on American two-row malt and accented by crystal 10, Vienna, and white wheat malts. Magnum hops give the beer a nice clean bittering and Amarillo, Cascade, and Centennial hop varieties provide a pleasant floral and citrusy hop flavor. A healthy dose of additional Amarillo and Centennial are dry hopped to give this beer an inviting hop aroma. The beer is fermented with a neutral yeast strain and allowed to dry out so it finishes crisp and clean. Hop heads from Cascadia who desire something along the lines of Laurelwood, Hopworks, Barley Brown’s, or Double Mountain should be happy to discover this particular beer while in Maine. I found my bottle at Whole Foods in Portland, Maine.
Allagash Dubbel Reserve: According to Allagash Brewmaster Jason Perkins, the Portland, Maine brewery is no longer distributing in Oregon. This makes the beers of Maine’s best craft brewery even more desirable as the remaining specimens grow extinct from shelves around the state (behold, you can still find Allagash in Washington state). At Shaw’s Supermarket in Dover-Foxcroft, I found a bottle of their Dubble, batch #84 (they also had a few #83’s, too). On my last night in Maine, I decided to make this my ode to my time in Maine brew. As expected, I was certainly not let down. Dark malty flavors within a nutty dark brown body played like a dessert in a bottle. Each sip was pure heaven. Figs, currants, and dried prunes married with that one-of-a-kind mildly phenolic yeastiness and resulted in me contemplating if I should’ve ever leave Maine.
Stay tuned for more reviews…