More and more, we're seeing craft beer represented in mainstream media. Recently, food stylist Louise Leonard brought her love of craft beer to ABC's "The Taste", where she not only talked a big beer game, she won the whole darn thing. I found Leonard when the New York City bar "The Blind Tiger" tweeted her a note of congratulations. Leonard tended bar at the Blind Tiger for 10 years, graduated culinary school, and is now a food stylist for magazines and television, among other gigs. She spoke with me this week about cooking with beer, doing a show with Anthony Bourdain, and more.
Question: On the show you were an advocate for craft beer. Has beer gained traction in the media?
I don't look at beer as trendy. I always thought it was under-appreciated in terms of pairing, and in terms of cooking. I was super happy to represent that on the show in a beautiful way. My job is to make food delicious and make it look good. Long gone are the days of beer drinkers as bearded, fat men sitting around eating a bunch of fried food.
Hopefully people watching said, "Wow this is cool, here's this chick who cares about and elevates this blue collar ingredient to something more."
Q: What kinds of beers do you like to drink?
Sours are awesome with food, especially with really rich, buttery foods. Butter-poached lobster paired with a nice salad, that sounds so delicious right now. It used to be difficult to find sours in bars and bottle shops, but now you're seeing them more and more.
I like west coast IPAs. Funky, earthy ciders. those are amazing paired with food also. If someone throws me a can of PBR at a BBQ, I'm not going to say no, I'm going to drink it. But if you care about food and care about things that taste good, why would you sit around drinking Budweiser?
Q: One of my frustrations watching the show was that you did a cooking challenge involving beer without beer being talked about in any kind of depth. I sensed that was frustrating for you as well.
You couldn't say any of the names of the beer on the show. When I would talk about beer, it was completely beyond the producers. They didn't know what I was talking about, so they didn't edit any of it in. The beer challenge, I was literally livid. They had given us 10 [crappy] lagers from around the world, one stout, and Lagunitas IPA. It would be like giving someone a challenge and saying, 'The only ingredient you have to work with is 10 different kinds of baloney.'
They didn't get it. I realized during the beer challenge that I'm not going to get a chance to geek out and talk about it because that's not what they're looking for.
Q: I'm a big fan of Anthony Bourdain's other shows (he was one of the hosts and judges on the show), but it's always annoyed me that he's never given more thought to beer.
Now every hipster and their brother is into good beer. He must think it's too pretentious, and he's a down-and-dirty sort of guy.
I feel like if you could sit Bourdain down in a room with some really cool beer people and show him all the things going on, he'd dig it. Not all craft beer drinkers are hipsters. There are awesome women brewing beer. I think he'd really like it.
Q: For the beer challenge you made a chili. What would you have done on the beer show had you had a full arsenal of beer to choose from?
I wanted to do some sort of lamb. I love, love, love braised lamb shanks. "Lamb-ic shanks." The judges would have felt it was interesting and creative and a little out of the ordinary. At the end of the day you still have to make due with what you've got.
I feel like this is a message I've been trying to relate for years and years and years. It's great that I won, obviously, but the biggest thing I wanted to do was wow them with this beer challenge. The more that we put it out there in the media, the more people will get it.
In the next logical step for humankind, Jelly Belly has launched the world's first beer-flavored jelly beans.
Jelly Belly sold out of its entire stock of "Draft Beer" flavored beans earlier this year, but the beans are back, along with a St Patrick's Day counterpart, on March 14. They'll be available in limited supply at the company's tour centers in California and Wisconsin.
How do the beans taste? Jelly Belly was kind enough to send me samples of both colors of beans. The beans smell slightly bready and taste of sweet caramel. Beer drinkers will notice that the flavors are similar to the malt profile in a beer (think something like Samuel Adams Octoberfest). The beans don't actually replicate the feeling of drinking a beer, and they're non-alcoholic, which is good because I just downed 8 of them at work. Each bean is four calories.
We've launched a new feature here at 99 Bottles, and judging by the response so far, I think it's been fairly successful. Each week, I select a "beer of the week" for myself and readers to taste. We'll sample that beer together one night the following week (usually Wednesdays) at 8 p.m.
Quick programming note: We're off this week (Weds. March 12) while I'm out on vacation. Returning Weds. March 19 with Harpoon's new spring seasonal, The Long Thaw.
While my selections will often skew local, I'll choose some widely available beers sometimes so others can participate. I'm always open to suggestions.
How to participate: There are two ways to follow along. I'll give my thoughts on Twitter, with the hashtag #99Bottles. Anything I tag, or anything you tag, with #99 Bottles will flow into the handy live blog below.
You may also comment directly in the chat itself using the widget below. If you can't find the beer but want to follow along and chime in anyway, you're more than welcome to. Loose tasting directions will be given at the start of the chat. We may stray off topic from time to time, especially if there's a Celtics game on.
Have at it, hipsters: Beer from Pennsylvania's D.G. Yeungling & Son hits Massachusetts liquor stores today. Yuengling has been making the rounds in Boston bars for the last several weeks.
Yuengling Lager, Light and Black & Tan will all be available in the state. The beer was sold in the state 20 years ago but was pulled from the market to focus on the mid-Atlantic and Midwest. Massachusetts becomes the 15th state to carry the beer.
Yuengling has achieved something of a mythic status in New England in part because you haven't been able to buy it here. It will be interesting to see how beer from America's oldest continually operating brewery (Yuengling was founded in 1829) fits into the local scene. Short of adding more tap lines or shelf space, it doesn't seem possible for Yuengling to enter without displacing someone else. Yuengling's price point is more in line with macro-beers, but it's hard to see anyone taking Bud or Coors off the shelf for it.
Is a Del's frozen lemonade-inspired Narragansett shandy destined for a store shelf near you in the near future? Probably.
A tweet yesterday from the account of Narragansett's Boston sales and marketing manager Peter Boyd (and later @GansettBoston, which it turns out is run by one Peter Boyd) set the New England beer world abuzz with the possibility of the release of the lemony drink.
A PR representative for the company confirmed to me Thursday that the news being in the works was indeed true, but Narragansett CEO Mark Hellendrung tells me the talk is "premature" until the company tweaks the recipe and receives government approval. If all goes well, the beverage, a combination of ‘Gansett’s award-winning lager with Del’s lemon concentrate, will be released sometime in April. It will be sold in six-packs of 16-ounce tallboy cans and weigh in around 5 percent alcohol by volume.
In 2011, with graduation looming, Bates College seniors Ross Brockman and Tyler Mosher did what many others their age do when facing a decision on their future: they put it off. Amid deciding on whether or not to go to graduate school or look for a job, the pair (along with Ben Manter, who is no longer with the company) founded Downeast Cider House.
"We had no prospects at all," says Brockman. "That was one of the driving forces in starting up."
The goal of Downeast was to "make cider that tasted like the farm," says Brockman. For a while, it was more of a hobby than a way to make money. Living in Waterville, Maine at the time, the founders would make cider in their down time. Brockman, a philosophy major, and Mosher, an economics major, thought they wanted to get MBAs. They would spend their mornings buried in GMAT study books before making cider in the afternoon. One morning, Brockman looked over at his friend and asked, "Are you still doing the whole GMAT thing?" When the answer was "no", the pair drilled down into making cider full time, moving the operation to an apple supplier in Leominster before settling in the Boston area.
Downeast now operates from a 9,000 square-foot Charlestown warehouse directly beneath the Tobin Bridge. The space is about as tidy as a college dorm room, bare concrete interrupted by several massive holding tanks and palates of cans.
"Ugly' might be the word. Maybe 'industrial'?" offers Brockman.
Downeast currently cans two ciders, an original and a cranberry blend. Two key features of the cider are that its unfiltered and fermented with ale yeast. The wort, McIntosh-based from Massachusetts farms, is trucked in. It consists of excess apples not sold at family pick-your-own farms. Brockman filtered one batch and said he wasn't happy with the final product.
"It was too clean," he says. "It got rid of all the funk. It's the difference between drinking apple cider and Mott's apple juice."
Most of the major hard ciders are made from concentrate. Downeast's founders hope to fill a niche in the market for people who want better cider. They produced 1,000 barrels of cider in 2013 and plan to double that this year. Getting off the ground was tough. For two years they borrowed from family and friends before being able to secure a loan from a bank.
"I'd call and they'd laugh at me," says Brockman. "Multiple banks laughed at me. ...The day that we turned two-years-old we finally had financing options open to us."
While Brockman is proud his cider doesn't start with frozen juice, he admits making cider is easier than making beer, where malt and water and hops must first be boiled to make the wort.
"There's significantly less overhead, significantly less space needed."
A new canning line has the capacity to do 29 cans-per-minute. For such a young company, they're not shy about growth. Forbes recently named the pair to their 30-under-30 list, prompting a calls from folks suddenly willing to fund their venture.
"It was crazy. They don't know anything about us," says Brockman. He adds, "We see the market for hard cider like the market for beer 30 years ago. There were tiny little hobbyists that make good cider, but nobody got to taste them because they didn't have commercial ambitions."
The company now has eight employees, and the cider is distributed in New York and in every New England state except Vermont. Noah Burke, who graduated with Mosher and Brockman and worked in the tech field in Boston, came back on to join his friends at Downeast. The business plan, now much more developed, is to drive the flagship, at any given time putting that plus one seasonal cider on the shelf.
"We want to make it available for everybody," says Burke. "People see the big guy as the bad guy, but driving that SKU helps others in the industry."
I sampled the flagship this week. It pours cloudy. Bits of sediment bob around the bottom of the glass. It tastes and smells like something you'd buy in a gallon jug at a farm stand, starting out tart and finishing sweet. Sold in 12-ounce cans, it weighs in at 5.1 percent alcohol by volume.
Downeast is experimenting with a Saison cider and a "session mead", among other one-offs, but unlike Bantam Cider in Somerville or Urban Farm Fermentory in Portland, Maine, the focus at Downeast will be on growing the flagship brand and maybe a seasonal or two. As for future plans?
"We bought a doughnut machine, to make cider doughnuts" said Brockman. "It's probably the most ridiculous thing we've ever bought."
Having recently been granted a pouring permit, the founders hope to make Downeast a destination for tours and samples in the near future.
-- Some brief notes:
-- On March 4, author Tom Acitelli will discuss his book, "The Audacity of Hops", at 7 p.m. at the Belmont Public Library. The talk will be accompanied by a tasting of beers from Craft Beer Cellar.
-- Narragansett beer is on tap at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, just in time for Red Sox spring training.
-- 99 Bottles weekly tasting
We’re getting more interactive at 99 Bottles. Each week, with your help, I’ll sample a new brew. If you’d like to participate in the tasting, pick up that week’s beer, log into Twitter, and tag your tweets with #99Bottles. You can follow the progress of the tasting and see what others and myself are saying at: www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/blogs/99bottles. This week’s brew is Left Hand Milk Stout. The tasting will start at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, March 5. Cheers.
In 1516, the Bavarian Duke Wilhelm IV issued a decree stating in part that, "in all our towns and markets and in the countryside, no other items be used for beer than barley, hops, and water." This beer purity law, which came before yeast's discovery late in the 17th century, influenced centuries of beer making in that country and beyond. Mostly to our benefit, beers today are brewed with a wide array of ingredients. It's no longer novel to see a beer made with fruits, spices, or something sweet, though not all brews are enhanced by their presence.
Very few foodstuffs have the appeal of chocolate, but in my experience chocolate beers have often missed the mark by being too sweet, too literal. Extensive winter research, however, has brought me to three chocolate beers I think you'll enjoy.
The most easily accessible of the three on New England store shelves, Sierra Nevada Brewing Narwhal is a Russian Imperial Stout from the Chico, Calif. craft brewing pioneer weighing in at 10.2 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). It's named for a type of porpoise with two teeth, the more prominent of which spirals into sword-like protuberance that can reach 8.8 feet long (Thanks, National Geographic).
Like many similar brews, Narwhal gets its chocolate flavor from roasted malt, which is base malt roasted in something not unlike a coffee roaster to bring out notes of espresso and cocoa. Pale, Caramel, Chocolate, Honey, and Carafa malt varieties were also used, and as you might expect for a Sierra Nevada, this beer is hoppy (60 international bitterness units). No chocolate was added to this beer.
My bottle of Narwhal pours black as the icy depths. I smell: cocoa nibs and booze, a warning to take it slow with this one. I sampled this beer with my wife, and the first word out of her mouth was "chocolate." This is a "malt-forward monster" as described by Sierra, expressing the depths of flavor roasted grain can bring about.
Our second beer, Boulevard Brewing Chocolate Ale, takes the opposite approach. While literal in ingredient -- there's chocolate in here -- the final product is not a beer that hits you over the head with that fact.
"I think it’s hard to make any beer where a featured ingredient is a bit restrained," says Jeremy Danner, Boulevard's Ambassador Brewer. "We designed a beer that would serve as a vehicle for the expression of chocolate flavor and aroma, but we also wanted the base beer to be a really good beer.
"Drinkers will immediately notice that Chocolate Ale is definitely not a stout or a porter."
As ill-prepared as I typically am, I cracked my bottle of Chocolate Ale expecting a stout or a porter and was taken by surprise. A little reading revealed that the Kansas City brewery sought the help of chocolatier Christopher Elbow, who contributed a rare variety from the Dominican Republic for the brew. Nibs of chocolate are steeped in the finished beer for a minimum of five days. Danner suggests you drink the beer fresh as opposed to aging it, stressing that "it is definitely not a candy bar in a bottle."
My bottle of Chocolate Ale smells spicy with hints of cocoa powder. I get dark fruits, pepper, and a subtle hop bitterness on the first sip. It's only after the beer lingers in my mouth for a few seconds does a wave of dark chocolate come in. If you took the chocolate away, this would still be a good beer. Maybe it's this complexity, or maybe it's the lure of the word itself, that drives it off store shelves.
Boulevard Chocolate Ale weighs in at 9.1 percent ABV and sells in 750-ml bottles.
The last beer, Heavy Seas Beer Siren Noire, lies somewhere in between the first two. Real chocolate is added -- three pounds of Belgian cocoa nibs per barrel, in fact -- but this is also a stout, brewed with Chocolate, Crystal, and Roasted malt. When that's done, the base beer is aged in bourbon barrels for five weeks as part of the Maryland brewery's "Uncharted waters series", exploring the "unique changes that happen to a beer when exposed to wood."
Siren Noire pours thick with a dirty-brown head. I smell vanilla, then chocolate, then figs. The beer tastes sweeter and smoother than many stouts, the sharp edges rounded out by the barrel aging. This is a decadent beer, spectacular in its depth but comfortable within itself. At 9.5 percent ABV, it falls in line with the heft of the other two beers and the sinful expectations of the ingredient.
Look on any shelf of a well-stocked beer store these days and it's apparent that the art of brewing is more diverse than ever. Even consumers well-versed in craft beer have a hard time staying on top of the array of stouts, IPAs, wheat wines, and barrel-aged Baltic porters being churned out by nearly 3,000 craft breweries across the country.
In a cavernous warehouse a stone's throw from the Mystic River, Mystic Brewery founder Bryan Greenhagen is stretching the boundaries of brewing. A former MIT researcher with a PhD in plant biochemistry, Greenhagen likes to push the edge of what yeast can do. Mystic's most complicated beer, Entropy, is fermented in four stages with four different yeast treatments. A house Trappist strain "brings out earthiness and dark fruit, amplified and rounded by a French white wine yeast." A six-month fermentation with Sherry yeast follows, and the beer is completed with an English barleywine yeast. This year-long process produces a final product weighing in at 14.5 percent alcohol by volume.
"Since the idea with our brewery was and is to bring yeast back into the brewing equation in our beers, we wanted a beer that really pushed the limits in that aspect," says Greenhagen. "Its absolutely about taking the fermentive aspect to its limits and really seeing what can be done with a beer."
A still, uncarbonated ale, Entropy does not fit into a neat category or beer style, though Greenhagen makes it clear that its still a beer. Entropy starts with malt and is not distilled. Greenhagen describes Samuel Adams Utopias as an "East Coast original" that "also pushed the limits of what a beer can be and was inspiring in our own efforts."
I pop the cork off my bottle of Entropy, and by the time I grab my glass whiffs of vanilla find my nose several feet away. The beer sits still and cloudy-brown in my glass.
A deeper sniff of my 3-ounce pour reveals sherry, vanilla, and toasted almonds. It would be fun to linger over the glass, but it's time to take a sip. Sweet figs are prominent up front, but the beer quickly diverges away from the dark fruit flavors of a barleywine and toward the dryness of a sherry. I get dry earth, toffee, white grape skin, and tobacco. The mouthfeel is not as decadently thick as a stout; this sits more delicately on your tongue.
The natural comparison here is Utopias. Entropy tastes a little younger than the 2013 version of Utopias, and that's because it is. Utopias has an alcohol content approaching 30 percent and includes barrels of beer aged 20 years or more. Greenhagen will continue to blend beer from older barrels into future batches of Entropy, but there aren't any 20-year-old barrels yet.
For proper research, I poured myself two ounces of Utopias later on and immediately noticed how much more honeyed and viscous it is. Another obvious comparison point is the price. Samuel Adams suggests $199 for a bottle of Utopias; I paid $35 for my bottle of Entropy.
Two more notes on Entropy. A small pour will go a long way, but despite the ABV, the levity of the drink makes it perfect for pairing with sweeter desserts. Also don't fret about this being an uncarbonated "still ale". There's so much going on here you won't miss the bubbles. Greenhagen suggests aging the brew for up to 20 years and watching it evolve.
One of the fun parts of writing on craft beer is the knowledge gained by talking to smart, engaged people in the industry along the way. Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow, whom I profiled in the Globe in December, are two of those people. The founders of the Craft Beer Cellar stores and their employees are sharing their knowledge in a series of events they're calling the "BEER SMART Academy" starting next week.
The academy is a series of four sessions "designed to improve beer knowledge for both current and aspiring beer industry professionals, as well as interested consumers." The sessions take place at Craft Beer Cellar's Newton store starting Monday, Feb. 17 and running through Monday, March 10. Complete schedule information can be found on the event's website. Topics range from intensive study of major beer styles to glassware, draft systems, and historical trends. The fee for each session is $25.
Members of Team Canada's Olympic team have a frosty, secure way to relax during the Sochi Olympic Games. A tweet from Molson Canadian reveals a beer fridge at the Team Canada House requiring a Canadian passport to open.
Is this a marketing gimmick from Molson? Of course. Is it a good one? Yup.
The craft beer boom has a not-so-distant cousin. Mirroring the growth of the exploding specialty beer industry is the hard cider market. In 2012, Boston Beer launched cider brand Angry Orchard; it has quickly become the beer company's fastest-growing product, according to a recent Globe story. Cider production grew 70 percent from 2011 to 2012, attracting major players like Anheuser–Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer, who now distributes the Stella Artois Cidre line.
Cider may be big business, but just as in the beer sector, small-batch, artisanal cider makers are getting their say. Cider makers are dry-hopping, barrel-aging, and spontaneously fermenting their product just like their brewing brethren. The resulting ciders are drier and infinitely more complex than the mass-marketed ciders showing up on tap at and in the beer fridges of your local tavern.
Michelle da Silva and Dana Masterpolo founded one of those small batch cideries in 2012. Named for the word referring to a lightweight boxing class and also a small breed of chickens, Bantam Cider's first commercial product was Wunderkind, a cider featuring local apples fermented with a sparkling wine yeast and a hint of flower blossom honey. The drink tastes more like a white wine, hanging lighter on the palate than the ciders you might be used to.
"The experience most people have had with cider is limited," says Masterpolo. "Our whole goal is to open people's eyes to everything cider can be."
Later this month, Bantam will open the first tap room dedicated to cider in its Union Square, Somerville headquarters. There, the duo will showcase eight taps dedicated to oak aged, smoked, sour, and other experimental ciders.
"Cider has a huge spectrum, on one side being more akin to a fine wine and on the other side being akin to a sangria," says Masterpolo. "There are so many products that we make that people don't get access to. People can come in and try the most interesting thing we just made, whether its commercially viable or not."
Masterpolo and da Silva's cider-making story reads like that of many craft brewers. The pair were working in architecture and real estate, respectively, before quitting their day jobs to make cider full-time. In their Somerville space they have the capacity to make 4,000 barrels of cider annually (a barrel is roughly 31 gallons). For perspective, the new Trappist brewery in Spencer plans to produce 4,000 barrels of ale this year, while Harpoon shipped 205,000 barrels in 2013. In addition to Wunderkind, Bantam has released two other products, Rojo, aged with sour cherries and black peppercorns, and La Grande, aged in bourbon and rum barrels. A smoked saison cider will be released later this month.
Masterpolo admits Bantam entered the booming cider market at the right time. She aims to put the beverage "on par with a fantastic bottle of wine", while also keeping the price point accessible. She feels a kinship with craft brewers and often abuts their tables at beer festivals around the region.
The Bantam Cider tap room is an industrial space with a comfortable feel. The bar has views of fermentation tanks and racks of barrels. It is expected to open March 1 and will offer flights of cider as well as full pours. Merchandise will be available, as will tours of the facility. The tap room is located at 230 Somerville Ave., Somerville and will be open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays to start.
An obscure provision in a 1937 Maine law has become a hindrance to a booming craft beer scene in the state, the Portland Press Herald reports.
The provision prohibits bars and restaurants from listing the alcohol content of the beers they serve on signs and menus.
“(The law is) absolutely asinine,” Greg Norton, owner of the Bier Cellar, told the Press Herald. “It’s an important piece of knowledge for a customer, to plan how many beers they’re going to have that night.”
Both the original intent of the law and the recent enforcement of it remain unclear. According to the paper, state Rep. Louis Luchini of Ellsworth has proposed an emergency bill to repeal the language in the law about alcohol content, but the change could take months.
From afar the law appears not only antiquated but potentially dangerous. Beers vary wildly in alcohol content, from the relatively low 4.2 percent ABV of Coors Light to 6.5 percent for a common IPA and 10 or 11 percent for stronger, increasingly common craft beers. Considering one beer could be three or four times as strong as another, not listing these percentages is a potential public safety issue.
The big brewers may be rolling out their spring seasonal releases, but here at 99 Bottles we adhere to a more faithful definition of the seasons. When it's cold I tend to drink heavier beers, and when the weather warms up the beer in my glass gets lighter. There should be no hard-and-fast rules to anyone's beer drinking, but February also isn't the time to abandon stouts and porters.
Two very different local stouts can help you occupy the space between now and Memorial Day. Death, an imperial stout from Backlash Beer, and Absence of Light, a Belgian stout from Idle Hands Craft Ales, offer different takes on the style that keep it interesting.
Last January, Backlash founder Helder Pimentel e-mailed me with some bad news. Death, at that time an imperial stout brewed with chipotle peppers, did not meet the brewer's standard and had to be dumped.
"We’ve been pretty lucky up until now, but I guess it was only a matter of time before something like this happened," Pimentel wrote. "It just so happened to be the last beer in a series we’ve been really vocal about and had especially high hopes for."
Conquest, War, and Famine, were the first three beers released in Backlash's Apocolpse series. Pimentel was happy with this year's version of Death, an imperial stout without chipotle that weighs in at 9 percent alcohol by volume and 70 IBUs (international bitterness units).
The label is basically a call to live life to the fullest now because, "Apocalypse or now, this SOB is always just around the corner. ... all the more reason to enjoy it while it lasts." Death pours motor-oil thick into a tulip glass. I smell cocoa powder and booze. The first taste is heavy on bitter coffee and chocolate, and the beer finishes with a chalky-dry finish. Let this brew warm up and the chocolate gets much sweeter.This is an imperial stout in the vein of Alesmith's Speedway Stout and Founders Breakfast stout, an aggressive beer that manages not to be cloying or uninteresting.
Idle Hands Absence of Light is a different animal but no less delicious. The beer is brewed with Belgian Ale yeast and a spectrum of malts ranging from pale to chocolate to black. Brewer Chris Tkach originally made the beer as a test batch in April of 2011, but the response was so great that its become a standby.
"Devoid of anything light", the beer smells brighter than the first. I get dark fruits and hints of the chocolate I know is hidden inside.
At a relatively low 36 IBUs, Absence of Light showcases the coffee, fig, sweet cocoa, and spicy, yeasty banana flavors in a subtle way. To me this tastes more like a Belgian Quad than a stout, with the dark fruits playing a starring role. There's nothing similar about these two beers despite the stout designation, and that's perfectly alright. There's plenty of time to try both before the weather turns.
-- Looking for a beer-y place to watch the Super Bowl this Sunday? Row 34 in Fort Point has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants. Beer director Megan Parker-Gray masterfully crafts the draft list, bringing in an eclectic range of brews ranging from rare German-style beers brewed in Italy to sought-after pales brewed at Trillium Brewing next door.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Row 34 invites the guests to watch the big game on their screens, while enjoying special game day treats and a freshly tapped cask of Domaine Dupont French cider. Salty snacks, including lobster roe popcorn and crispy glazed fish collars, will be served.
On Sat., Feb. 1, brewers around the world, including at least two locally, are celebrating International Gruit Day. What is a Gruit, you say? Centuries ago, before German purity laws legislated that beer should be made only with water, barley, and hops, beers were brewed with dozens of herbs. These German Gruit or Grut (German for herb) Ales were spiced with plans such as juniper, heather, and yarrow. The beers are making a comeback among craft brewers today.
Cambridge Brewing Company in Kendall Square is tapping three gruit beers for the occasion: the award-winning Heather Ale, Weekapaug Gruit, and Hay is for Horses, a "Nordic pale ale " brewed with hay and heather honey.
Over in Chelsea, Mystic Brewery is pouring seven Gruits starting at noon. The beers include Eldergold, a pale beer brewed with edible flowers Elderflower, chamomile and calendula, and Radix, a light amber beer aged on sassafras root and cedar.
"Gruits have an awful name and are virtually unknown in the marketplace but when we put them on at the tasting room in Chelsea they fly out the door," says Mystic founder Bryan Greenhagen. "They are really interesting beers."
This week, beer from the first Trappist brewery in the United States began to hit Massachusetts store shelves. The monks at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer are known for making preserves, but around five years ago they put into action a plan to build a 36,000-square foot brewery in the hopes of securing their finances to support the aging facility and the community within. Brother Isaac Keeley, who oversees brewery operations, says the monks plan to brew and sell 4,000 barrels of Spencer Trappist Ale in 2014. They have the capacity to brew 40,000 barrels annually.
Only 11 monasteries worldwide are certified to brew beer under the Trappist label. St. Joseph's became the ninth active Trappist brewery in the world selling beer to the public (there are currently 10) and the first outside of Europe. Despite their modest lifestyle, or maybe because of it, the monks at St. Joseph's have generated quite a bit of hype for their new product.
For a beer to be certified as Trappist it must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery by or under supervision of the monks themselves. There are no stylistic requirements, but because six Trappist breweries are located in Belgium, many of the beers produced, including Spencer Trappist Ale, are Belgian-style ales.
Several weeks ago I visited Saint Joseph's with another reporter and talked to several of the monks involved in preparation for a Globe story on the brewery. I left with a four-pack of the beer. Here's how that brew stacks up against four other well-known but very different Trappist brews.
-- Westmalle Trappist Tripel
9.5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)
When people think of Belgian beers they often think of Tripels. Highly alcoholic but light in color and flavor, the style is accessible and smooth. This is a fine example; hints of ripe pear and banana in the nose don't fully reveal the complex secrets cloistered in this beer's taste. Bright apricot, spice, and warming alcohol blend together well. The mouthfeel points toward the champagne side of effervescent. A hint of vanilla, which the brewery's website says develops in 75-cl bottles, is also evident.
-- Spencer Trappist Ale
6.5 percent ABV
The monks at St. Joseph's took careful consideration in crafting their debut beer, brewing a golden "refectory ale" to drink with Sunday dinner. A Belgian family yeast strain developed for other Trappist breweries in the middle of the 20th century gives the brew delicate banana and spice notes. Smooth and easy to drink, this honeyed brew is never cloying on the palate. Provided people will pay upwards of $17 for a four-pack, it has all the makings of a hit.
-- Chimay Red Cap
7 percent ABV
Chimay brews several styles, but the Premiere or Red Cap was the first beer brewed by the monks at the Notre-Dame de Scourmont Abbey in 1862. It's a Belgian style Dubbel smelling of brown bread and sweet cherries. The taste is malt forward and a bit cloying, even for the style. A slightly bitter finish seems out of place given how this beer starts. There are a lot of good Dubbels out there (Allagash makes a great reserve Dubbel); this one is not my favorite.
-- Orval Trappist Ale
6.9 percent ABV
This is the Trappist Ale that breaks convention. It's dry, slightly sour, and a little bit funky, three polarizing qualities in a genre of beer that's usually sweet and easy to drink. Poured into a glass, my bottle of Orval formed a structured head that would not go away. I stick my nose in and get lemon and a stinky, horse blanket smell that would give any drinker some pause. This beer's bark, however, is louder than its bite. It doesn't taste as sour or funky as it smells. The finish is dry and peppery. I'm reminded more of today's American Saisons than the other beers in this category. This is truly a standout beer.
-- Westvleteren XII
10.2 percent ABV
The most celebrated Trappist beer is also one of the hardest to get. Outside of a one-time release to the United States to raise money for monastery repairs (that's where my bottle came from), Westvleteren XII is only available by pulling up to St. Sixtus in Belgium and loading a 24-bottle crate into the back of your car.
Westvleteren XII is a Belgian Quadruple, high in alcohol but darker than a Tripel. Plums, candied sugar, toffee, and other seductive flavors form a wonderfully complex brew. What sets this one apart is that it manages to avoid being sticky or sweet despite the flavor profile and alcohol content. Once ranked as the No. 1 beer in the world, it's certainly right up there.
To celebrate the official kickoff of Bentley Brewing Company, brewers Mike Lynch and Adam Golka will be hosting a tasting of their beers on Sat., Feb. 8 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at 12 Crane Street in Southbridge. They will be filling growlers and offering samples of their Bentley IPA, Southbridge Ordinary Bitter, and select brewery-only releases.
Bentley’s Southbridge Ordinary Bitter combines traditional British Maris Otter malt with Sterling hops.
“It balances plenty of flavor and drinkability,” says Lynch. Bentley IPA is an American style IPA, with Nugget, Columbus, Chinook, and Apollo hops.
Bentley Brewing shares the same building with the Dark Horse Tavern, who is hosting the grand opening. The brewery operates in a 10-barrel capacity brewhouse tucked into the corner of the 12 Crane building in downtown Southbridge.
You can purchase Bentley beer by the growler from the brewery or by the pint at The Dark Horse. You can find more info on Bentley's website.
Barleywines are "the strongest of beers", according to Garrett Oliver's trusty "Oxford Companion to Beer". While not quite brewed to strengths approaching actual wine, barleywines can reach 10 percent alcohol by volume or more. The style has roots in British tradition but has become a winter regular for American craft brewers.
There are many variations on the style, but in general, these highly-alcoholic ales tend toward the sweeter side. For that reason, and after years of peppering my palate with bitter IPAs, the style is not a personal favorite. Double IPAs, whose ABVs can sometimes approach 9 percent or more but aren't so cloying, better represent the kinds of beers I like to drink.
So along comes Avery Brewing's Hog Heaven, a barleywine by name weighing in at 9.2 percent ABV but packing 104 IBUs (international bitterness units). It's that last number that catches your eye, a number that many very bitter IPAs don't even approach. So what's going on here?
The bottle description of Hog Heaven reads, "Or is it hop heaven? This dangerously drinkable garnet beauty was designed to satisfy the most zealous of hop devotees. Intense bitterness and the dankest of dry-hopped aromas are intertwined with a rich caramel candy-like malt backbone."
Hog Heaven pours a reddish amber with a big dirty brown head. It smells like a fragrant, citrus-y IPA, but I also get brown sugar and biscuits.
Take a sip and the first thing you notice is the mouthfeel, thick and chewy like a barleywine should be. The flavor, however, is more about pine and bitter hop resin than caramel and brown sugar. The hops really balance the sweetness of the style; do they go so far as to alter it? I'm immediately reminded of Avery's Maharaja double-IPA. That beer is brewed with Columbus, Cascade, Centennial, and Chinhook hops. Hog Heaven is brewed with all Columbus hops, but both brews are heavily hopped and heavy on your tongue.
So what is this beer exactly, a sweetish-barleywine or a hoppy-double IPA? IPAs are big business, the fastest growing craft beer style according to the market research firm GuestMetrics. Would it be better to market this brew as a double-IPA? Style definitions are changing all the time, which might not matter much for the beer drinker but are interesting to think about nonetheless.
-- Long Trail Brewmaster Dave Harmann and John Holl, author of "The American Craft Beer Cookbook", will host a seminar at the Mohegan Sun Winefest on Fri. Jan. 24 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Attendees will be lead through a five course tasting and pairing event
featuring a Grafton Village Cheese Course. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased here.
The first Trappist brewery outside of Europe has started production of beer that is expected to hit retail stores early next week.
The monks at Saint Joseph's Abbey in Spencer are rolling out bottles of Spencer Trappist Ale brewed in a 36,000 square foot facility on the monastery grounds. The brewery became the 9th Trappist brewery in the world, joining Chimay, Orval, and other well-known brands. Brother Isaac Keeley, who oversees brewery operations, calls Spencer's beer a "refectory ale" in reference to the dining hall in which the monks take their meals. While the 63 members of the abbey community usually eat quickly and read with dinner, they will be allowed to drink beer with their food on Sunday nights.
The monks had help in developing their recipe. One of the monks brewed with Dann Paquette and Martha Holley-Paquette of Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project for two years. Two of them traveled to Belgium. Harpoon's Dan Kenary had early input into the project.
The final recipe chosen is a beer which weighs in at 6.5 percent alcohol by volume. Most of the ingredients in the beer -- and there are only four of them -- come from the United States: water from a well on the property, malted barley from New York State and elsewhere, and Willamette and Nugget hops from the west coast. The key ingredient, Belgian yeast, comes from a family of yeasts cultured for other Trappist breweries in the middle of the 20th century.
Colleague Megan Woolhouse and I toured the facility (below) this week and wrote about it for Friday's Globe. The brewery is massive, with the capacity to brew 40,000 barrels a year. By contrast, Smuttynose brewed 42,000 barrels of beer last year, Jack's Abby 6,000 barrels, and Enlightenment Ales 150 barrels. Spencer Brewery will start out brewing twice a week for a total of 4,000 barrels in 2014, equivalent to 56,000 cases or 1.3 million bottles, before increasing production to 10,000 barrels five years from now. Keeley calls the initial production "a drastic under-use of this facility."
Poured into a glass, Spencer Trappist Ale pours an effervescent golden color with a stubborn white head. Keely spoke about limiting the influence of the yeast on flavor and aroma in test batches of the brew, but the first whiff a drinker gets is of that familiar banana; sniff more deeply for a wave of Fruity Pebbles.
Finding the hop character is always a challenge with Belgian beer. This one is no exception. The beer begins with soft sweetness balanced by white pepper and cloves. It's highly drinkable, the kind of beer that turns so many craft beer newcomers onto more brews.
"We had a keg on New Year's night," says Brother Damian Carr, the abbot at Saint Joseph's. "It was very well received."
For now Spencer Trappist Ale will be sold in 11.2-ounce bottles, though the brewery has the capacity to bottle the beer in a larger 750-ml size and to ship it to bars and restaurants in kegs. Distribution will start in Massachusetts and expand outward. An industry source says the beer is expected to retail for between $17 and $19 per four-pack.
In-state distributors for the beer are Atlas Distributing, Inc., Burke Distributing Corporation, Commercial Distributing Co., Merrimack Valley Distributing Co., and Colonial Wholesale Beverage Co.
Pairing food and beer, once limited to washing down your pizza pie with an ice cold pitcher, has evolved from afterthought to accepted practice to art form. An increasing number of chefs prefer beer to wine when pairing their dishes. It is now difficult to find a fine dining restaurant without a well-curated beer list.
Some chefs are even getting into the brewing act themselves. Jamie Bissonnette, chef and co-owner at Boston restaurants Coppa and Toro, recently collaborated on his own beer with New Hampshire's Smuttynose Brewing Company.
Bissonnette met Smuttynose director of brewery operations Dave Yarrington in Aspen three years ago, and the pair had been kicking ideas back and forth ever since, On his brewing day, chef brought with him kaffir lime leaves, spruce tips, and 25 pounds of grapefruit zest. Those unorthodox ingredients replaced the traditional coriander and orange peel used in a Belgian witbier.
"We bounced a ton of ideas around, and thought this was interesting and had some of the flavors and ingredients that we could get and have fun with," Bissonnette says.
There are elements of fun in most of the food at Bissonnette's Boston restaurants and at a newly opened Toro in New York City. Dishes with ingredients like sea urchin, beef heart, and sweetbreads dot the menus of the Italian and Spanish tapas joints respectively. Not always adventurous eaters, my wife and I have fallen in love with the food at both establishments.
It's with that backdrop of unfairly high expectations that we get to Bissonnette's beer. The smell of banana, characteristic of Belgian yeast, is the first scent coming off this brew. It took me a few whiffs, but on one noseful I got a strong smell of fresh pine, just a hint of what was to come.
The first sip skews toward a traditional Belgian witbier, but the variations quickly creep in. Sappy pine, without the sticky fingers, make its presence known. Lime essence butts into the taste in the middle and lingers into the end of the sip. Both flavors are noticeable but not overpowering.
One quibble: the grapefuit zest doesnt fully make up for a lack of citrus-y hop character in the brew. A little more bitterness would have been welcome. Belgian witbiers generally aren't hoppy, but 15 IBUs (international bitterness units) seems like too little. Not everything Bissonnette has a hand in can be as spectacular as the grilled corn at Toro. Still, this is a tasty beer, one that would pair well with that dish and other eclectic items from the menu. Bissonnette describes diners' reaction to the beer so far as "wicked good."
This is Smuttynose's third chef collaboration. Thirty barrels of the beer, which weighs in at 5.4 percent alcohol by volume, were brewed. Bottles are available at both Toro locations and at Coppa, and the beer is making rounds in kegs and bottles around New England.
-- Rhode Island Brew Fest
The second annual Rhode Island Brew Fest winter event takes place on Feb. 1 in Pawtucket. Some 125 beers from 40-plus breweries will be available to sample at the event, which takes place at the Pawtucket Armory (172 Exchange Street). Beers will be poured from Cisco Brewers, Uinta Brewing, Finch Beer Co., Shebeen Brewing, and many more.
There will be two three-hour sampling sessions (1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.) There's a VIP banquet the night before. Tickets for the tasting sessions are $55 and can be purchased here.
In 2006, almost 10 years after Stone Brewing Co. released the first batch of Stone Smoked Porter, Laura Ulrich, one of the company's brewers, had an idea to make it better. Ulrich added whole Madagascar vanilla beans to a small batch of the finished brew, and a new beer was born. After that, Ulrich decided to combine the sweet vanilla into the brewing process of the smoky classic.
"It was an instant hit, as the resulting flavor combinations -- rich vanilla melding with the malty, chocolatey, coffee-like characteristics of the beer --were practically made for each other," Stone says in a press release.
Originally created as a limited, growler-only brew available at special events, the vanilla version of the beer from the Escondido, California brewery has been released in bottles since 2012. I recently grabbed a bottle and gave it a test drive.
The beer pours dark brown with a full finger of dirty, frothy head. I stick my nose near the glass and get the smell of faint sauna, without the sweaty occupants, but also coffee beans and vanilla.
When done right, the smoked porter style is an exercise in restraint. At 5.9 percent alcohol by volume Stone's beer is not strongly alcoholic, nor is it too smoky. It's a hint of smoke that dries out the brew and keeps it from being too sweet. That's even more important with the addition of sweet vanilla beans.
There's a really nice smoke-vanilla interplay with this beer, which does a great job of balancing the two disparate ingredients. My one wish is that it had a little more bite. That's something you don't say often about a Stone beer. This one has 53 IBUs (international bitterness units), which is a lot for a porter, but I wished the finish were crisper. Still, for a beer with so much going on I found it to be highly enjoyable.
Stone Smoked Porter with vanilla bean is distributed in 22-ounce bottles all over New England.
The IPA is evolving. Since Boston Beer Company's launch in 1984, the India Pale Ale has taken on many iterations. The original pioneers of the style as we know it in this country were largely on the West Coast. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is technically not an IPA, but that beer and IPAs from Stone Brewing Co. and Lagunitas Brewing Co. set the standard of brews where bitter, earthy hop character was balanced by a heavy malt content.
Recently, up in Vermont, brewers like John Kimmich (The Alchemist), Shaun Hill (Hill Farmstead), and Sean Lawson (Lawson's Finest Liquids) have started something of their own IPA revolution, helping to loosely create the category of "East Coast IPAs". While these beers can be as bitter as their counterparts out west, they're generally less so, focusing on aromatics and perceived bitterness rather than actual pucker-factor. These brews are heavily dry-hopped and lighter on the palate, forgoing malt sweetness for levity in the quest for balance. Since trekking up to ski country to try brews like the Alchemist's Heady Topper and Hill Farmstead's Edward (technically a pale ale) last summer, it's a style I can't seem to get enough of.
The distinctions between "East Coast IPAs" and "West Coast IPAs" are loose. Plenty of beers west of the Mississippi are heavily dry-hopped, and today's en vogue Vermont brewers didn't invent the technique. Still, the descriptor functions as a useful jumping off point for discussing one of America's most popular beer styles. It comes in handy when describing Samuel Adams Rebel IPA, a beer brewed entirely with West Coast hops, in the trendy style of aromatic East Coast IPAs, by one of the East Coast's craft beer pioneers. Got it? I'll do my best to explain.
Rebel IPA is brewed with five hop varieties grown in the Pacific Northwest: Cascade, Simcoe, Centennial, Chinook, and Amarillo. It's not overly bitter. At 45 international bitterness units (IBUs), Rebel IPA clocks in well below Stone IPA (70 IBUs) and Bear Republic's Racer 5 (75 IBUs), two popular examples of the style from California. While the hops in the new Sam Adams brew are all from the West Coast, stylistically this beer falls in line more with Hill's creations in Vermont than it does with any of Stone's aggressively hopped products.
Rebel IPA was born in Samuel Adams' 10-gallon nanobrewery system, which operates within the walls of Boston Beer's Jamaica Plain facility. Brewer Seth Adams was in charge of the experiment, and the hops are some of his personal favorites. The goal, says Adams, was to create an IPA that "isn't based solely on bitterness level, like many other West Coast style IPAs, but pays homage to the aromatics and flavors of these West Coast hop varieties."
Boston Beer sent over a couple of test bottles of Rebel before its official release. It pours a bright copper color with an active white head.
The aroma on this beer really is something; tons of grapefruit, tangerine, and clean pine waft up from the glass. Sam Adams' ale yeast also imparts some fruity flavors. The first sip is awash in tropical fruit. As expected, there aren't a lot of pungent pine or damp earth flavors here. The mouthfeel is light-to-medium, and the bitterness of the brew is countered by the lack of a closing bite rather than malty sweetness. This one goes down very, very easily.
Boston Beer has struggled to produce a flagship IPA (though I'd argue that people are constantly overlooking the tremendous hop character in Boston Lager). With this beer they're attacking that problem head on, from the bold label, sans swigging patriot, to plans to roll out the beer all over the country. Samuel Adams makes a decent IPA mixed pack, but none of those beers, including Whitewater IPA and Latitude 48, have taken off as their own brand. While it's the preferred style of those who are already fans of craft beer, IPAs are a tougher sell to those that aren't. Rebel's aggressive branding, as well as its not being too bitter, give it a chance to approach more potential IPA drinkers.
Rebel IPA has been making appearances all over Boston in recent weeks, but Samuel Adams officially launches the beer nationwide on draft in January. Bottles will follow in February, for a suggested retail price of $7.99 to $9.99 per six-pack.
It's stout season.
In my house Halloween is the point where we start reaching for heavier beer, so by the time the first snowfall hits we're fully immersed in it. If you're a calendar adherent, Saturday's winter solstice knocks over the final barrier between you and thicker, maltier brews. You can put the pumpkin beer away now.
Stouts can be intimidating for folks in large part because of their appearance. Many incorrectly assume a dark beer is a heavy beer.
"Color can tint perception," says Joshua M. Bernstein, author of "The Complete Beer Course". "Sometimes the darkest beers will drink feather-light, while pale brews may sit on your tongue like a sack of bricks."
He's right, which is why it irks me to no end when someone asks of an unfamiliar brew, "Is it heavy like Guinness?" An Irish Dry Stout, Guinness is not a particularly heavy beer, especially compared to the spectrum of porters and ales and double IPAs which have become so commonplace now. A Budweiser has more calories per ounce than a Guinness. It's time to seek another metric.
The three stouts I've chosen to ease us into winter vary greatly in heft. They're all stouts by name, and they're dark in appearance, but that's where the similarities end. Hopefully by the end you can dial into your favorite style as you crank up the dial on your furnace.
-- Magic Hat Heart of Darkness
English Stout, 5.7 percent ABV
The term "stout" first evolved in the 17th century to describe the higher-alcohol, bolder flavored beer of any style. Over time it became closely associated with the porter style. The lightest of the three here, Heart of Darkness falls in line with today's porters more than it does today's high-octane stouts.
It pours less viscous than most stouts. I smell chocolate but also dark fruits. The first sip is nicely balanced, with plenty of coffee and dark chocolate notes followed by more raisins and burnt sugar.
Magic Hat describes this beer as "inky black" and "dense"; I found the mouthfeel to be much lighter. That doesn't mean it's a bad beer. On the contrary, if you're looking for all the roasted goodness of a stout without it sitting too heavily in your stomach, this is a great brew.
This Maine brewery's stout starts with a wheat beer base. Ursa Minor pours inky black with very little carbonation. It looks thicker than the previous brew. Plums and dark chocolate dominate the nose.
German yeast introduces clove and banana flavors into the mix, which cut some of the "roasted-ness" of the brew. There are two beer styles melding together here, but it works well. Bitter chocolate, coffee, and molasses are complemented but not overpowered by the unorthodox yeast backbone.
-- Speedway Stout
American Imperial Stout, 12 percent ABV
This last one deserves its own writeup, but including it with the other two is illustrative of just how varied stouts can be.
San Diego's AleSmith Brewing Company makes a lot of good beer, but Speedway Stout may be what they're best known for. This is a big, bold, imperial stout, brewed in the tradition of big, bold West Coast craft beer. It's packed with coffee from Ryan Brothers, an artisanal purveyor in San Diego. On various beer rating websites it ranks as one of the handful of best beers in the world.
The beer flows like cookie batter into my tulip glass. Strong roasted coffee, chocolate, and a seductive vanilla cookie scent waft up from the nose.
In Madrid my wife and I sought out the best hot chocolate in which to dip our churros, a doughnut-like snack. The intense chocolate in Speedway Stout reminds me of that chocolate, which let me tell you ain't Swiss Miss. I had to double-down my faith to convince myself something could taste this much like chocolate.
Speedway Stout is maybe not the most idiosyncratic of the popular imperial stouts, but there are layers here. Licorice and tobacco and dates are all secondary flavors. The coffee comes in up front but blends into the background, giving way to a bitter chocolate finish. This is so boozy! Sit with it for a while and see how the flavors change when it warms, and by all means share it. 'Tis the season, after all.
Craft beer drinkers rarely need an excuse to seek out the latest and greatest brews. Knowing exactly what they like, however, can present a challenge, especially if you're not as versed in beer as your favorite aficionado. Below is some holiday gift assistance for the beer drinker in your life.
-- Three books
Drinking beer is all about learning new things. Who brewed it? Where do the ingredients come from? What is the history of the style?
In my journey as the Globe's beer writer, one book has been immensely helpful in answering these questions. "The Oxford Companion to Beer" edited by Brooklyn Brewery brewer Garrett Oliver, `is my bible, a reference for any question on what's in my glass. (960 pages, $42.84 on Amazon).
"The Complete Beer Course" by Joshua M. Bernstein was released this year and is a similarly good reference. The book is a journey through various beer styles, with specific examples of good ones currently available. (320 pages, $14.97 on Amazon)
One other book to consider is "BeerTerrain: Field to Glass from the Berkshires to the Maine Coast" by Jonathan Cook. The author interviews locally conscious New Englanders in the industry, from a pioneering artisan malt house in Hadley to a contract brewer telling farmers that he'll buy all the organic ingredients they can grow. (156 pages, $15.81 on Amazon)
-- A brewery "subscription"
Breweries call these by different names, but essentially this is a farm share program for beer. Locally, Everett's Night Shift Brewing and Chelsea's Mystic Brewery offer a buy-in to a year's worth of special releases. Just like with your CSA, you pay up front to receive a product in future installments. Unlike your local CSA, the best beers aren't fresh but rather painstakingly crafted and aged for months or years.
"The club is really becoming a great way of working directly with our biggest fans to craft the most adventurous things we can dream of," says Bryan Greenhagen, Mystic Brewery founder.
For $295, Mystic Friends of the Barrel Club members get two bottles each of nine beer releases, plus a discount on growler fills at the brewery and invites to special release parties. Night Shift offers a similar program with three tiers. For $150 you get one bottle of each of 7 releases; two bottles for $250, and four bottles for $450. The brewers admit the prices are high but allow them to create better beer for the most ardent customers.
"It's really a great way to raise capital up front and pay the investment back to our supporters," says Michael Oxton, a Night Shift co-founder.
-- Hop candy
If your beer lover likes IPAs, 'B-Hoppy' hop candy might satisfy her fix. The hard candies are available in Cascade, East Kent Golding and Saaz flavors. I tried all three, with the Saaz being my favorite.
Like with alcoholic hops, the flavor of these hops stick with you long after eating. My tongue detected spicy for close to 45 minutes afterward. Not meant for the traditional sweet tooth, they're a great gift for your favorite hop head.
You can find "B'Hoppy" on Facebook and Twitter.
-- Make your own beer
Got an e-mail this week from a reader looking to get her son started in homebrewing. Two suggestions:
Hopsters in Newton and Barleycorn's in Natick are brew-on-premises operations allowing you to make a beer on site and take it home a couple of weeks later without purchasing any equipment. I wrote about the concept last month in the Sunday Globe. For $150 to $200 a session you can choose from a variety of recipes and get assistance in brewing your own beer.
Alternatively, you can get someone started brewing at home. There are plenty of kits out there, but I recommend taking a visit to a homebrewing store and getting some expert advice. There are Homebrew Emporium (beerbrew.com) stores in Cambridge (2304 Massachussets Ave; 617-498-0400) and Weymouth (58 Randolph Street; 781-340-2739). There, you can pick up all the supplies you need to brew a batch of beer and take home equipment you can use again. Do a search for "Sierra Nevada IPA clone" or whatever your favorite brew and take the recipe with you to pick up ingredients for your first batch.
Pairing beer and food is a must this time of year. Pata Negra LLC, a New York company based at the foot of the Adirondack Mountains, makes traditional Spanish-style cured meats. Their chorizo pairs well with German doppelbocks and Belgian dubbels; the spicy chorizo goes well with Scotch Ales. The product retails online for $14.95.
If your beer lover really does have everything, check out this thing. The Kegerator Pro 60 Arcade Machine from DreamArcades.com has a built-in fridge with three taps and two built-in cup holders.You can play various arcade games on a 60-inch display. It retails for $4,999.00.
Like open-source software, beer recipes today take on tweaks and variations depending on the hands they're in. The London brewery Fuller Smith, & Turner closely guards the recipe for Fuller's Extra Special Bitter (ESB), but over the years the style has exploded in popularity among American brewers. Pubs across this country are happy to serve you an ESB.
At least by today's American standards, Extra Special Bitters are not particularly bitter. India Pale Ales -- especially Americanized ones -- set you up to expect a puckering, bitter brew. Many of us like these beers; they're some of my go-tos. True ESBs, however, are largely malt-forward, though a measured combination of hops is a must.
Fullers first brewed its ESB as a winter beer. Baltimore's Heavy Seas Beer riffs on the style with their winter offering, an imperial (read: higher alcohol) ESB they call Winter Storm Category 5 Ale. The beer weighs in at 7.5 percent alcohol by volume, decidedly stronger than the version safeguarded across the pond.
Category 5 Ale pours into a tulip glass with a full ruby hue. I smell vanilla cookies not unlike the ones I picked up at Harrod's in an overpriced tin for my grandmother at Christmas last year. Dark fruit notes mix with this sugary scent.
The first sip is nutty, biscuity. There's an herbal quality to the hops, which finish with a firm bite. This beer gets better as it warms up. It'll warm you up, too, but it's not too heavy to drink more than one of. I enjoyed this one very much.
Narragansett Beer announced this week the release of a limited-edition Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout, a collaboration between the two iconic Rhode Island companies. The beer is a blend of Narragansett’s bittersweet milk stout with dark, Autocrat coffee. Lincoln's Autocrat Coffee has been a staple in the Ocean State since the 1890s. Similar to chocolate milk but made with Autocrat coffee syrup, coffee milk is the official drink of the state of Rhode Island.
“I’ve been a big fan of Autocrat since my Little League days, so I’m especially excited to introduce this brew to the market,” says Mark Hellendrung, president of Narragansett Beer. “My Little League coach worked at Autocrat and drove one of the big delivery trucks -- we would try to aim homers toward the truck."
Narragansett’s Autocrat Coffee Milk Stout will be available the week of December 16 in six packs of 16-ounce tallboy cans throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The beer is 5.3 percent Alcohol By Volume and 30 IBUs (international bitterness units). The beer retails between $8.49 and $8.99 per six-pack of tallboy cans.
About 99 Bottles