Sunday, October 25, 2009

Massachusetts News Roundup

Buzzards Bay to Close

Some sad (if not unexpected) news from Yankee Brew News:

"The South Coast of Massachusetts has lost its local beer brand. Buzzards Bay Brewing of Westport has stopped production on its Buzzards Bay line of ales and lagers. Owner Bill Russell made the decision due to declining sales and difficulties with distribution. The growing competition from national beer brands in the marketplace had become too much for the small brewery...

The brewers and staff at Buzzards Bay will still brew, however, for both Cisco Brewers of Nantucket and Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project of Cambridge, as well as partner with Irish brewer Strangford Lough. The major development in the works in a new line of beers named Just Beer, which will be self-distributed.

The beers in the Just Beer line are American-style ales brewed with a negative carbon footprint... They are currently only available on draft in the South Coast market. 'Twenty-two ounce bombers of these carbon-negative brews will be released sometime in the upcoming months,' [brewer Bill] Russell said."

Nano Breweries Opening in Western Mass

Western Mass has lucked into not one, but two micro-micro-breweries in the process of opening. The first is Element Brewery in Miners Falls, MA. They bill themselves as "the fusion of art, science, and beer." Interesting. They should have opened by now (as long as the final few papers are signed in time...)

Another town called Bernardston already has a nano brewery of its own: Lefty's Brewing. The list of beers seemed pretty conventional, and skewed to the darker side of the spectrum... not a bad thing. It is on tap and bombers are already on sale at sereral locations in the area. Wonder how long it will take these brewers to make it to the Boston area?

Sam Adams Obtains License to Sell Beers from Brewery

From The Globe:

"Until now they could not buy beer there [at the brewery], even though about half the visitors wanted to, Sullivan said. Instead, they were given a card with walking directions to nearby liquor stores.

That will change next week, when Boston Beer begins selling limited- edition Samuel Adams brews in its gift shop. The company received a license from the state in August, but it delayed the start of sales to coincide with the release of its new Barrel-Aged Collection.

“Our goal is to sell beers that are harder to find - the limited-edition beers and the beers we’re experimenting with - at the brewery,’’ Sullivan said. “We’re not going to be selling Octoberfest at the brewery.’’

The three beers that make up the Barrel-Aged Collection - New World Tripel, American Kriek, and Stony Brook Red - are certainly going to qualify as hard to find. Boston Beer will only distribute them in 750-milliliter bottles, the size of a wine bottle, in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and Denver, where Koch first won the Great American Beer Festival in 1985. The bottles, priced at $9.95, won’t be sold in six-packs.

Unlike the traditional brewing process, which involves metal tanks, barrel-aging includes an additional fermenting period in wooden barrels that each hold about 4,000 gallons. The barrel-aged beers are then blended with other beers. The company hopes the resulting hybrid brews will help it win over drinkers of wine and hard liquor."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Beer 101: Food Pairings

This seems long overdue, but the truth is that I still have a lot to figure out about food and beer pairings. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that, as is often the case in the world of beer, pairings are more of an art form than a science.

In general, lighter beers go with lighter foods, darker beers with heavier foods. But sometimes a beer with opposing characteristics can highlight the differing flavors in each. Other guidelines include the fact that lighter beers tend do a better job of washing down spicy food, although hoppy beers can sometimes do a better job of cutting the heat. An even easier rule is the idea of keeping ethnicities together; German beer and brats, rice lager and Asian food, etc.

The important part, of course, is that you enjoy both the food and the beer together. Below are a few of my favorite styles with some common types of beer; Beer Advocate has an even more comprehensive list. So with that in mind, try cracking open one of these styles over your next meal.

Salad: most Belgians, Fruit Beer, Hefeweizen, Rye
Cheese: depends on type of cheese. Beer Advocate divides cheeses into styles: buttery, earthy, nutty, peppery, pungent, sharp, and tangy. I think I will do a tasting soon and make a seperate post of this. I'd like to try a beer dinner too.

Beef: Amber, Brown, Porter, Stout
Grilled meat: English Bitter, Porter, Smoked Beer, Stout
Poultry: Amber, Hefeweizen, Pale Ale
Seafood: IPA, Pilsner, Saison, Witbier

Chinese: American Lager, Pilsner, Rice Lager
Indian: American Lager, Czech Pilsner, Pale Ale
Italian: American Lager, Blonde, Pale Ale
Mexican: Amber, American Lager, Chile Beer, Wheat
Thai: Czech Pilsner, IPA, Rice Lager, Saison

Chocolate: Lambic, Porter, Stout
Dessert: Barleywine, Fruit Beer, Lambic, Stout


Earlier I mentioned my recent successful trip to Brasserie Beck in Washington, D.C. This was Franklin's idea, but my real ambition was the legendary Brickskeller near Dupont Circle. They boast over 1,000 different bottles of beer (but to be fair, they are inevitably out of a sizeable number of these, and even more surprising, had no taps!) The upstairs was definitely more spacious than the basement, and throughout there was lots of classic beer memorabilia up on the walls.

The list of beers was not as varied as I might have hoped, but there were definitely some gems and interesting regional beers. My favorite find was Bell's, that much respected and elusive brewer from Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Bell's Java Stout
Bottle -- Rick's Wine and Gourmet, Alexandria, VA
lots of burnt coffee with note of vanilla. not very drinkable.
Score: 5

Bell's Pale Ale
Bottle -- Brickskeller, Washington, D.C.
very clear with minor head. grassy / hay hops and quite grainy. was not impressed.
Score: 5

Bell's Porter
Bottle -- Brickskeller, Washington, D.C.
cola mouthfeel, primarily chocolate flavor, and very smooth. not bad.
Score: 7

Bell's Two Hearted Ale
Bottle -- Rick's Wine and Gourmet
good smell, but didn't blow me away. but the flavor -- oh, wow! piney, fruity, and balanced with caramel malts. leagues ahead of the other beers i tried from bell's. looking forward to the rest of this six-pack!
Score: 10

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thoughts on seasons

Those of you who have had the honor of getting a beer with me lately know that I always carry around a list of my complete beer ratings. (Some 900 beers long, the font is getting pretty small on that sheet of paper at this point!) As you can imagine, the guys would rip on me pretty good about that... until I got them a list of their own! They admit it is pretty handy.

So it is in that spirit that I am going to take George up on one of his suggestions: previewing seasonal offerings. Often when you walk into a liquor store there is a bewildering display of different seasonal offerings (about two months early, mind you, but that is a post for another day...) Now, it is pretty annoying when, looking for a decent winter warmer, you spend $9 on a six-pack of Harpoon only to find out that it is like chewing on a pine cone. With that in mind, here are a few winter beers with Josh's seal of approval.

Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale -- a lot happening in this full-flavored beer

Gritty McDuff's Christmas Ale -- brought a mini-keg of this to Christmas a couple of years ago... a great choice.

Rogue Santa's Private Reserve -- my favorite Rogue beer

Sam Adams Holiday Porter -- possibly the last Sam beer I really look forward to drinking

Shipyard Prelude Special Ale -- this might be its only year on the list since Shipyard is streaching the length of prelude's season every year...

Shipyard Longfellow Winter Ale -- leave it to Maine to keep the Porter as a seasonal alive

Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale -- an IPA as a winter seasonal? i love it!

It is worth noting that I limited this list strictly to seasonal offerings; strong ales (Geary's Hampshire Special Ale), barleywine's (Sierra Nevada Bigfoot), and just about any Russian Imperial Stout, also work well on a cold winter night. Now I am going to wait a couple more weeks before breaking out any winter beers, so let's wrap up with the last of the new fall seasonals.

Pennichuck The Big O Octoberfest Lager
22 oz -- Kappy's, Falmouth
kind of amateurish label but apparently this won a couple of medals at the great international beer festival. first impression upon sniffing this beer is: what is the abv on this one? still not sure, but i have to think it is on the high end for marzens... 6%? lots of malts but being a lager it doesn't bog you down. flavor didn't totally mesh for me, but i thought this was a solid beer.
Score: 6

Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin
22 oz -- Cork's, Mansfield
the great name and sharp label will probably be enough for this to be a runaway success for shipyard. (definitely a step in the right direction after their hokey summer ale with a lobster on the label...) freakishly clear pour with clean aroma of malt and spice. you actually taste some pumpkin, which may not seem like a big deal but most pumpkin beers are just heavily spiced. (cinnammon and nutmeg are still present though.) definitely taste the alcohol, but not off-putting. nice balance from what is typically a malty style. really good, i thought.
Score: 8

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumkin Ale
Bottle -- Gordon's, Waltham
dark pour with overpowering aroma of nutmeg. spice upstages pumpkin flavor in taste as well. alcohol is a little too strong for my liking at 8% even. good warming beer for a cold fall day though. relatively light and easy to drink.
Score: 7

Wolaver Will Stevens' Pumpkin Ale
Bottle -- Julio's, Westborough
named for the organic farmer who grew the pumpkins for the brew. so you have to like that. very powerfully spiced though and a little thin.
Score: 5

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

European beers

Most of this latest round of foreign beers came from two very different beer drinking experiences. The first was the closing of The Jury Room in Quincy, which I posted about earlier. I got some pretty amazing beers for $3 each, but let's just say the quality was a little lacking. Whereas, when visiting my sister in Washington D.C. we went to an excellent Belgian beer bar / restaurant called Brasserie Beck. Proper glassware, serving temperature, you name it. So it goes.

Anyways, some pretty amazing beers on this list once again. Can you believe I hadn't tried La Chouffe yet? Unibroue La Fin Du Monde? Chimay Blue? Crazy. One of the joys of waiting to get into foreign beers, I suppose. Let's do this.

Affligem Blond
Bottle -- Brasserie Beck, Washington, D.C.
leaves wall of lacing on chalice... yeasty aroma with solid spiciness and pale malts in flavor. easy to drink. very good.
Score: 8

Chimay Grand Reserve (Blue)
Bottle -- Jury Room, Quincy
served in chimay chalice. malty with dull edge to it, and slightly sour flavor. taste alcohol but only in subdued way. didn't blow me away as expected... which is sure to rile dan up. so it goes.
Score: 7

Harp Lager
Tap -- Fenway Park
brewed by guinness. as watery as you would expect. not really offensive or anything, but plays a role all too similar to bud light.
Score: 2

Houblon Chouffe Dobbelen IPA Tripel
Bottle -- Jury Room, Quincy
i was surprised to come home and see on beeradvocate that this beer has actually been rated more than what i thought was the better known la chouffe. anyways, it was served to me almost frozen, but after the wait i got some big piney and sweet hops on the nose. bready malts check in to taste as well, wrestling with the hoppy bitterness. taste hint of alcohol too. fantastic notching on glass too. nice.
Score: 7

La Chouffe
Bottle -- Brasserie Beck, Washington, D.C.
poured into tulip glass... billowy head... yeast is fruity with well-placed spice, medicinal. thought this was fantastic, and significantly better than their ipa.
Score: 9

Troubadour Obscura
Bottle -- Brasserie Beck, Washington, D.C.
a "mild stout." taste all of 8.2% abv, and something that is close to burnt hair... hops play on tongue more than factor in flavor... very textured. hil and franklin thought this was closer to a brown ale, something that has a degree of truth to it.
Score: 6

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde
Bottle -- Jury Room, Quincy
drank this out of a water glass... after i had to ask for a glass. i mean, come on. opaque golden-peach color... great head produced on pour with a definite liveliness to mouthfeel... fruity and spicy, with no sign of 9% abv... flavor starts sweet and finishes slightly sour... almost gave this one a 10.
Score: 9

Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier
Bottle -- Luke's
billowy head, pale color... saison yeast nose... tasty yeast and fruit. sweetness is only thing that prohibits this from being uber-sessional.
Score: 8

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Jury Room Bar Closing

I got a sad email today; The Jury Room in Quincy is closing. I don't think the owner would mind if I include the email below:

After a year and a half of trying to get people to drink beer other than bud light, I'm throwing in the towel. My last day of biz will be oct. 17th (sat) between now and then i am blowing my entire beer inventory out at dirt cheap prices. Starting on weds any beer on my list (85 types) are all 3 bucks. Yes, even the Chimay Blue.

Let your readers know if you would like or just drop by yourself. The next 2 Weds. nights I'm doing a beer tasting starting at 8. My name is Clint, stop by and say Hi! Later, Clint Smith Soon to be ex owner, Jury Room Bar.....

This was, without question, one of the best beer bars on the South Shore. I must have gone here 3 or 4 times in its short existence -- the first trip was a little rocky (check the archives...) but I had much better luck on successive visits.

Overall though, I really liked how they attracted a young audience and stayed committed to offering craft beer. Great effort, Clint, and you will definitely be missed. I plan on being there tomorrow for the Chimay Blue!

Monday, October 5, 2009

New states

As of my last complete rankings I have tried 872 beers from a staggering 271 different brewers. Nevertheless, these brewers only represent 30 of the 50 states. Wow, I've only tried beers from 60% of the country? Kind of unimpressive. To be fair, these states are largely in areas not known for their craft brew scene (the south and middle America) and are not available in New England. But still.

The states I am still seeking out are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Perhaps its time for a road trip.

Having a beer from every state is definitely a goal of mine (and not an easy one to achieve since by my count neither Wyoming nor the Dakotas have an actual brewery...) Visiting the Brickskeller in Washington D.C. next weekend and its 1,000 some beers should definitely help to shrink this number... In the meantime, here are a few new states.

Joseph James Red Fox
Bottle -- Beer of the Month Club
thanks goes to devon from for bringing most of these out-of-town beers to a party a little while back. he got all of them from a beer of the month club -- something i am going to have to start looking in to... this is a russian imperial stout from nevada. coffee flavor, cola mouthfeel, with alcohol just below the surface. not bad.
Score: 6

Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale
Bottle -- Shoreline Beverage, Huntington, NY
my first beer from hawaii. and it is a "Hawaiian-style pale ale." oh come on now, hawaii has three microbreweries but its own style of pale ale? seems unlikely. i found this to be a little scattered: biscuit malts, an odd touch of smoke in the middle, and quite a bit of the 6% abv. probably had more in common with a scottish ale than a pale.
Score: 6

Laughing Dog Alpha Dog Imperial IPA
22 oz -- Julio's, Westborough
a double ipa from idaho. didn't find this while in oregon but snapped it up as soon as i found it at julio's. clear organge color with latte head. hops are sweet, citrusy in smell and tangy, fresh, with a hearty bitterness in flavor. soft mouthfeel. very nice.
Score: 8

Millstream Colony Oatmeal Stout
Bottle -- Beer of the Month Club
from iowa. drinkcraftbeer inspired me to try to pair this with some chocolate. i thought it worked, but i suppose i would have liked a little more sweetness this being an oatmeal stout and all. oatmeal does impart strong smoothness though.
Score: 6

Millstream John's Generations White Ale
Bottle -- Beer of the Month Club
this was my favored of the two from millstream. a very nice witbier with lots of yeast and spice. very sessionable.
Score: 8

Bottle -- Chili Head BBQ, W. Bridgewater
finally tried this texas beer at chili head barbeque. real bitterness in flavor, but still crisp and smooth. i drank quite a few of these. almost on par with pbr (fitting since they are owned by pabst...) and far better than the macrobrews. try it.
Score: 5

Friday, October 2, 2009

Updated Beer Scores

One thing that I have been remiss in on this blog is not updating beer scores as time goes on. My taste in beer has continued to mature and at this point some scores in my complete rankings are downright inaccurate. Let's start to correct that with a few beers I have returned to recently.

Anchor Steam Beer
Bottle -- Canterbury Ales, Oyster Bay, NY
i remember being unimpressed the first time i had this, but have returned to it a number of times since. the style (california common) definitely grew on me. its got a real earthy bitterness. i often recommend it to friends.
Orignial Score: 5, Score: 8

Atlantic Coal Porter
Bottle -- Ellsworth, ME
heavy roast, vanilla, cola carbonation, and smooth. i didn't find it too burnt like last time though. very good.
Orignial Score: 5, Score: 7

Cape Ann Fisherman's Pumpkin Stout
Tap -- Lower Depths, Boston
this is a real stout with some nice pumpkin and spice flavors fitting in. one of the few seasonal beers that i genuinely look forward to each year.
Orignial Score: 8, Score: 9

Ipswich Original Ale
Growler -- Cork's, Mansfield
this past year ipswich original ale has become my go-to session beer. flavorful, balanced, easy-drinking. what more can you ask for?
Orignial Score: 8, Score: 10

Ommegang Hennepin
750 ml -- Julio's Liquors, Westborough
spicy and medicinal, lemon and grassy hops, and quite dry. more sophisticated than your typical farmhouse. one of my favorites.
Orignial Score: 9, Score: 10

Smuttynose IPA "Finest Kind"
Bottle -- Union Brewhouse, Weymouth
i don't know why, but i have found this to be a very inconsistent beer from an otherwise reputable brewer. flavorful, bitter, piney hops... almost to the point of puckering the mouth. not bad -- when there aren't all kinds of floaties in the beer...
Orignial Score: 3, Score: 6

Sam Adams Octoberfest
Bottle -- Weymouth
like many people, i cut my teeth with sam adams and have some fond memories. but i have grown and jim koch has not. (i could swear this used to be a bolder beer, but it is probably just me...) little too sweet and a lot too bland. i can think of a dozen better octoberfests off the top of my head... from new england. i am going to seriously downgrade this beer, something that probably should be done for most of the sam beers i rated in the early days...
Orignial Score: 8, Score: 4