Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An EPIC ending to another holiday season

Were you lucky enough to cellar a few of these?

It's the most wonderful time of the year... the final post of the Beer411 12 Beers of Christmas!!  Katie and I spoke several times throwing out ideas for how we would tie a bow on this year's countdown.  I didn't know if the timing would work out, but lucky for us... I found a local packy that JUST got it in stock.  Yup, you guessed it, good ol' Murph from Southington Wine and Spirits to the rescue.  The envelope please...

This year's 2012 Beer411 #1 Beer on the 12 Beers of Christmas is...

Stone Vertical Epic 12.12.12.

I've talked about the Vertical Epic series before, so here's a quick story.  Dating back to February 2nd, 2002 - Greg Koch and the folks at the Stone Brewery had the idea to release a beer when the calendar numbers lined up. 02.02.02, 03.03.03, 04.04.04... all the way to 12.12.12.  This year's offering signifies the unfortunate end to a fantastic series of beers.  Each one would consist of a different recipe ranging from Belgian styles to Chile beers.  Categorized as a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, the Vertical Epic 12.12.12 seemed to be a perfect fit to our Christmas countdown.  Luckily, I also had my co-blogger here to help me with Part Two of our DUAL review.  Well, they say that all good things come to an end... but will it end with a good thing?

Brewery: Stone Brewing Co.
Style: Belgian Dark Strong Ale
ABV: 9.0%
IBUs: 50
Website: StoneBrewing.com

The pour is dark and thick, with a large tan fluffy head.  I'd say about two fingers.  It looks so inviting, I wouldn't be opposed to using it as a pillow on Christmas Eve as visions of sugar plums dance in my head.

The nose on this beer just SCREAMS Christmas.  Malty, spicy... hints of clove, black licorice, molasses and mulled spice.  Kate asked me if I was familiar with a coffee shop in Boston that makes a really good pumpkin spice latte... that's what this reminded her of.  We also both picked up a chai tea scent as well.

We got a roasty one on our hands.  No surprise here.  Burnt caramel, dark fruits, marshmallow.  Kate hits the nail right on the head with her connection to smores.  It's not overly sweet though... I don't want to paint the wrong picture about this beer.  The level of spices make it enjoyably bitter with great roasty, malty characteristics.

The dry finish is exactly what I wanted with this.  With every sip you go on this delicious spice-tastic journey of awesomeness.  A little overly spiced to fit the Belgian Dark Strong ale profile... malty and subtlety sweet on the mouthfeel, but dry on the finish which brings up the question... Did that just happen?  So you go back in for another sip... and then the smile hits your face.  Yes... yes it did.  That. Just. Happened.

Overall: A+  (What else could I have given this beer?)

Pairings are a little tricky with so much going on... it really does stand on it's own.  But Kate and I both agreed that this would be fantastic with some curry.  The spices would fit very nicely with each other making it, without a doubt, an enjoyable experience.  Or as we're in the holiday season, you could try this beer with some light cookies.  Pizzelles or maybe ginger snaps... stay away from chocolate or heavy stuff if you are sipping this delicious treat.

So from all of us at Beer411... Thank you everyone for your continued support.  Between Facebook, Twitter, the BeerCoasters Podcast, the CT Beer Trail, Beer bloggers from around the US and so many other forms of communication, we have a lot to be grateful for.  I hope that in our research, Katie and I opened up your eyes (and your palettes) to something new.  That's one of the main reason we are here.  To help, to teach and to grow.  There is a lot that we've picked up over the last 3 years, and so much more that we are ready to learn.  THANK YOU ALL!!

Have a healthy and safe holiday... CHEERS!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Brunch's New Side Kick: Founders Breakfast Stout

Founders Double Chocolate, Coffee, Oatmeal Breakfast Stout
ABV: 8.3I | IBUs: 60 | Availability: Sep – Feb

Christmas Brunch has never had a better partner.
Move over Bloody Mary, keep your mimosa to yourself and enter the Founders Breakfast Stout, our second beer of Christmas. This is a tag-team post for Beer411 from Connecticut.

A quick trip to the World Wide Web reveals the story behind Founders; two passionate beer guys from Michigan threw caution and their well-paying jobs to the wind, took out giant loans and decided to brew the kind of beer that got them excited about beer in the first place: complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body, and tons of flavor. Like most businesses, it didn’t come without bumps (nearly declaring bankruptcy) but we are happy that they were able to find success through their passion. You can tell from the pour on this beer alone, that it was made with love.

The label:
The label features what appears to be an Irish lad enjoying his oatmeal … but that’s one Irishman to another – perhaps my Italian cousin would have a different interpretation. Copy on the bottle -- The coffee lover’s consummate beer. Brewed with an abundance of flaked oats, bitter and imported chocolates, and Sumatra and Kona coffee, this stout has an intense fresh-roasted java nose topped with a frothy, cinnamon-colored head that goes forever.

The pour:
A dark chocolaty pour with some amber peaking around the top and bottom of the glass. A one-finger, tan head rests on top, leaving a ring and lacing around the glass.

The nose:
Like I walked into an Italian cafĂ©. A face-full of dark roasted coffee beans, chocolate, fresh baked bread, malts, vanilla and maybe a little anise and then alcohol. (If I had a biscotti I would dunk it in). My cousin likes black coffee… as he’s written. His hesitation for this beer is for those that aren’t coffee fans, but luckily for us, we are all in. The smell alone is getting us excited for the taste.

It’s velvety and creamy, with a sharp roasted Sumatra flavor front and center -- following suit with the nose and heeding Tone’s warning, if you are not a fan of coffee, this brew will not be your favorite. A warming dark chocolate follows after the coffee, it’s bitter but balanced, leaving a dry coating on your tongue. Overall this beer is assertive, and complex, something that will wake you up in the morning. It's a filling, full bodied stout that, at 8% ABV, will stay with you and stick to you.

Breakfast, in general. Specifically, French toast, Cinnamon Rolls or banana bread.

Friday, December 21, 2012

3 French Hens? Not if Genghis has anything to say about it.

Brewery: Clown Shoes
Style: Porter
ABV: 7%
Website: ClownShoesBeer.com

Several months ago, CT was invaded by 4 fantastic breweries:  Green Flash, Founders, Six Point and Clown Shoes.  As I stated in my post on Wednesday, it's not only a great time to get involved in craft beer because of our local breweries, but distribution is getting better and better.  Beers that I only remember having in NY and MA and Maine, are NOW available, in most package stores.  My first impression of Clown Shoes was their Black IPA called Hoppy Feet.  Loved it.  When they first came to CT, I believe they offered about 6 beers.  A few weeks later, I went back to the package store and it turns out, they now offer 7... then 8... then 9... Their lineup continues to grow and I have yet to be disappointed.  That being said, it made perfect sense to give their Pecan Pie Porter, known as Genghis Pecan a try in our 12 Beers of Christmas countdown.

As expected... the color is very dark.  Usually, I can get some red hues along the sides of the glass with this kind of style, but not this guy.  Dark, dark, dark.  There's no light shining through this.  It had about two fingers of tan head which quickly subsided.  There was some sticky lacing as it ran along the sides of the glass.

On the nose, there's the expected candied pecan smell.  However, I feel like maybe these pecans were left on the stove too long.  There's a roasted, almost burnt smell.  I'm picking up a little marshmellow sweetness too.  Then a little malted milk balls and vanilla perhaps.

Surprisingly, there's not a whole lot of sweetness in the taste.  I would think that something called, "Pecan Pie Porter", would be.  The label reads that it's an "ale brewed with natural flavor" which I have to credit Clown Shoes.  They relied on the sweetness to come from the added brown sugar and roasted pecans.  Nothing artificial was included in this beer to give it an overly sweet flavor.

There's a bitterness to this beer that could possibly be off-putting.  Again, I enjoy black coffee, so I don't mind it.  There's a malty sweetness that defuses the bitterness ever so slightly, but it's definitely present.  One thing that I enjoy about this is the smooth dry finish.  The high level of carbonation make the taste in this beer almost disappear moments after you have it.  Every sip builds up and goes away just like the last one.  Sometimes a beer will build off of the last sip... not this one.

Overall: B

I like this beer... But it's somewhat forgettable.  It's more bitter than sweet on the taste, and has a roastiness on the finish that dissipates very quickly.  Here's my issue.  If I'm going to spend anything over $8 for a 22 oz bomber, I'd like for it to be something I want to come back to. Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike this beer, but with all of the full bodied ones out there this holiday season, I'll probably try something else next time.  I really like a lot of what Clown Shoes does, too.  Hoppy Feet, PIMP (collab), Muffin Top... all great beers.  This isn't one of their best... good, not great.

Pairings, pairings, pairings... One of my parents' friends stopped by earlier this evening and dropped off some delicious baklava. That works very well with this beer because there's hardly any sweetness on it.

Get all of your holiday shopping in this wkd!! Stay tuned for #2 and #1 on our countdown as @KayTeeStinch and myself get together for our FINAL reviews next week!!

...You know... if the world doesn't end n' stuff.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Heart of Darkness Brings out the Grinch in Kayteestinch

Clearly, Ghost is not impressed with Magic Hat's Heart of Darkness.
Magic Hat's Heart of Darkness
English Stout | 5.70% ABV

I’m a mean one … Kayteestinch.

I am just going to jump in - the three words I would use to describe this pint are as follows and I quote; stink, stank, stunk. (Ok, ok enough Seussisms) BUT seriously, who in whoville is drinking this and thinking it's good?

Apparently, I am alone in my thinking because a slew of folks on Beer Advocate loved it. I am a stout lover too, but our 4th beer of Xmas, the Heart of Darkness by Magic Hat, will remain in my “icebox” until I can find someone to take them off my hands.

From the label:
Our inky-black stout has a smooth, round palate with a dreamlike undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate. This dense liquid-silk summons hope from hibernation and balances winter's endless white snows with a rich swirl of creamy black rapture.

The Pour:
Heart of Darkness is an appropriate name for this brew. This stout pours jet black – no light at all is getting through this. A thin tan head dissipated into a flaky brown lace on the glass.

The Nose:
Oats and roasted malts followed by a smoky mocha aroma

The Taste:
It just tastes burnt, as if I tossed a handful of roasted malts into my mouth and chewed them – then tossed a piece of 90% cocoa chocolate in there too. Bitter, sharp and dry. Not my cup of beer at all. It has a milky finish that coats your tongue and sadly it’s unenjoyable. This is a filling pint too, heavy on the mouth-feel and low in carbonation, typical for a stout.

As a Magic Hat fan, I am sad that I couldn’t champion this brew. But I won’t let this review put me in a Grinchy mood this season. Remember, the holidays are in our grasp, so long as we have good beer to clasp (had to).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

At #5, We're heading Back East for a local Winter treat

Brewery: Back East Brewing Co.
Style: Amber
ABV: 5.0%
Website: http://backeastbrewing.com

Rule #1:
If you want to bring the RIGHT gift to a holiday gathering, everyone will like you if you bring craft beer.

Rule #2:
If you want to bring the RIGHT gift to a holiday gathering, AND look that much cooler make sure you bring LOCAL beer.

If you've been living under a rock these past 12 months, let me bring you up to speed...

It's a GREAT time to live in Connecticut and be a fan of craft beer.

The current CT Beer scene continues to get stronger and stronger: Hooker, New England Brewing, WilliBrew, City Steam, Calvary, Southport Brewing, just to name a few... Each place seems to be coming out with new amazing styles... oh, we only have like 10 new breweries that popped up within the last year: Two Roads, Half Full, Broad Brook Brewing, Relic Brewing, Beer'd Brewing, Firefly... and Bloomfield's newest brewtastic resident, Back East.

Let's talk freshness for a second here... It goes without saying at this point that a beer will probably taste better if you find it on draft versus in a bottle.  If you are REALLY driven, you can drive straight to the brewery to get a growler fill right at the place where it's BREWED!  But if you can't get there, your next best option is to seek out a local offering at a package store.  Think about it... this stuff was brewed within our beautiful state so it hasn't had that far to travel.  This is a great option to get some of CT's finest and freshest beer.  Most of Back East's lineup comes in growlers too, so they are GREAT for sharing.

Two cousins by the name of Edward Fabrycki, Jr. and Tony Karlowicz (Southington pride!), have both demonstrated a tremendous passion in the world of craft beer over the last few years.  It wasn't until recently, they opened their doors in Bloomfield.  While they are fairly new to the scene, they have quickly made a name for themselves. They offer 4 year round styles: Misty Mountain IPA, Golden Ale, Back East Ale** and Porter**. (**2012 GIBF Medal Winners!!) They also have an Imperial line which includes a delicious stout and a IPA (coming soon!).  In addition they offer two seasonal styles: Octoberfest and Winterfest. When I heard that they were making a Winter style, I knew that this would be on my list of things to look forward to.

There website reads:

Back East Winterfest is a deep chestnut-colored ale brewed with a touch of cinnamon and local honey. Its rich flavor and subtle spices make it a perfect choice for all of the seasons’ festivities.

On the pour, it has a dark amber, almost leather shade to it with about a finger of off white carbonation.

The nose is pleasant... not as spicy as I expected a Winter ale to be. I LOVE how they not only brewed this about 25 minutes away, but they also introduced local honey into this recipe. As if a beer couldn't get any MORE local.

While I am used to the bigger beers, I could drink this again and again. Totally sessionable. Mild roastiness, subtle spices, honey sweetness... Not filling in the least. A great local option.

Overall: B+. One of our goals with this whole countdown is to teach and expand the mind of people that decide to give it a read. Too many people these days stay in their comfort zone...

Oh, it's Winter time? I'll grab a Sam Winter Lager.

Now while there's nothing wrong with that option, there are SO many more choices out there.  LISTEN folks, there is no BETTER time than RIGHT NOW to branch out and try something new.  Imagine if you showed up to a party with a growler of delicious local beer... you're instantly a rockstar. And with Back East just introducing this style a few weeks ago, chances are people haven't had this yet. So lead the way and show them the path to drinking local (cause local is FRESH! Right, BeerCoasters?).

As far as pairings go, I would love to have this with some maple glazed chicken wings. As I mentioned earlier, this beer is subtle so bringing in some flavors that would complement the cinnamon spice and local honey is a great choice.

I hope @KayTeeStinch is proud that I FINALLY found a Winter beer that was 5% since I tend to review the higher ABV beers this time of year. And as far as Back East Brewing goes, I plan on stopping by for a tour sometime over the holiday. If you are in the area, I suggest you do too!!

...And tell them that Tony @ Beer411 sent you!!

Lock Me In With a Keg of Cabin Fever

Berkshire Brewing Company, Cabin Fever Ale
6.3% Alcohol by volume (ABV)
20 International Bitterness Units (IBU)

Here’s another brewery I need to tour: The Berkshire Brewing Company.
BBC are the genius creators behind our delicious sixth beer of Christmas, the cabin fever ale.

Located in South Deerfield, Mass., (meaning another sup-Ah fresh beer for me) BBC was launched in 1994 by a pair of homebrewers. The website states that they churn out 580 barrels (17,980 gallons) of fresh beer each week that is unfiltered, unpasteurized and contains no chemical additives or preservatives. Currently BBC brews nine styles of beer year round and seven seasonals.

I was late on my Beer411 homework and ran into my local liquor store tonight trying to find something different. I unfortunately don’t have the relationship Tone has with his local shop. I’d say it’s the small town versus city effect, but I think it’s just because the people that own the store on my street aren’t friendly.

I spotted a bomber of Cabin Fever Ale where the label features a picture of two dudes (the brewers?) toasting behind a frosted window and thought this could hit the spot on this rainy, cold, night (wishing it was snow).

The Label:
Cabin Fever is a well-balanced, medium bodied ale brewed to sustain you over the long New England winter. Its rich malt profile is reminiscent of an English Pale Ale, while the spicy and fruity hop finish, from German Tettnang hops, gives it a warming and welcoming feeling to bring you back in from the cold. Copper-amber in color, this offering is available all winter long.

The Pour:

A foggy, amber brown ale and big tan head

The Nose:
It’s bready and malty – I am getting a nice spice (clove & nutmeg?) it kind of feels like I put my face into a gingerbread loaf. It’s a sweet, vanilla delight.

The Taste:
Follows suit with the nose. It’s a creamy, medium to full bodied ale with nice carbonation. It’s warming with cinnamon, malt and clove and leaves a dry hoppy bite at the end. It’s smooth and drinkable and the alcohol creeps up in the end that makes you feel cozy. This is a great winter brew and I could see myself kicking back with more than one of these and sharing with friends. Really tasty stuff here.


Anything with a sweet vanilla presence would be great with this beer. To be honest, I am craving a gingerbread muffin or cookie. I think all of the bitter hops and malts would counter nicely with a sugary sweet slice of pecan pie, or pumpkin.

Overall, I really love this brew. If you are local and love bold flavors you won’t be disappointed, look for it on tap and in a 22 oz or growler. BBC Cabin Fever makes the "Nice List" for this blogger. Enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Widmer's Brrrfect Beer for the Countdown

Brewery: Widmer Brothers Brewing Co.
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 9.4%
Website: http://widmerbrothers.com/

Lucky Number 7. I walked into the package store several days ago completely expecting to follow in the steps of my fellow blogger. Meaning, most of my posts revolve around high gravity beers, so I thought it was time to dial it back a bit. On Friday, Katie's post was a wheat beer... a delicious 6.4% offering. A little higher in abv than most people are used to, but nevertheless, fairly "average" level when compared to the 8% & 9% beers that we write about on occasion. Needless to say, I failed.

I remember seeing the Widmer Bros Brrrbon on the shelf last year, but I already had my beers picked out, so I never got around to it. But my new friend Mike, the beer manager from Locascio Liquors in Prospect, CT, was so adamant that this was a fantastic choice, he offered up the 2011 version that he had personally kept in his store cooler since last year. Anyone with that kind of drive to age a beer, appreciates the contents. How could I say "NO"? I decided on the 2012 version, since I really had no basis of comparison. Later that night, I ended up at a GREAT brew pub called the Ginger Man in Norwalk... Would you believe it... there it was, the Widmer Bros Brrrbon on draft. Knowing that a post was in my near future, I ordered one. Our server then tells us that, it was SO popular, they unfortunately ran out. Ok. #1, Mike from Locascio was a huge fan... then #2 I go one of the most popular brew pubs in CT and they've run out? Now I KNOW I've made a good choice.

On the pour, I get a nice dark orange color, almost burnt. Cloudy. It had about two fingers of off white head with sticky lacing along the sides of the glass.

The beer is called "Brrrbon" so I can imagine what I'm going to get on the nose. Hmmm... not as much bourbon as I thought, but I do get some. There's roastiness along with subtle vanilla, caramel... and some oakiness from the barrel aging as well.

Yum... this is a tasty, tasty beer. Clearly the bourbon is present here. I'm getting a pleasant dark brown sugar sweetness that balances with the maltiness.

You would think that with the caramel and sweetness up front, those flavors would linger more. But this beer is surprisingly dry on the finish. There's a slight hop bitterness that's there too.

Overall: A-

Much like my other reviews, this beer may not be for everyone. It's got bourbon characteristics, it's 9.4% and has some hop bitterness on the finish. If you're looking for something simpler, I would suggest the Brrrbon Winter Warmer that they also have this season. It's dialed back slightly at 7.2%, and is a little more session-able. However, between the two Widmer offerings, I would choose the one I'm reviewing here.

Fear not, Beer411 family... it's win-win here. The Widmer Bros will not steer you wrong.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Blue Hills Dunkelweizen Makes the Nice List

Style | ABV
Dunkelweizen | 6.90% ABV
“Wampatuck Winter Wheat” by Blue Hills Brewery
Brewed in Canton, Mass. (for me = SUP-ah fresh)

Now this is a wheat beer I can sink my teeth into this time of year. This 8th beer of xmas is everything I want a winter beer to be. Warming and friendly, not overfilling, but powerful and reminds me sip after sip – you are drinking craft beer.

This is a dark German Heffeweizen, better known as a Dunkelweissen (I learned that dunkel means dark in German) After a quick visit to the Blue Hills website (a brewery that is on my list to tour this winter) I learned that they brewed this with generous amounts of dark roasted malts, a grain bill that’s more than 60% wheat, German Noble hops and fermented it using a Bavarian yeast strain.

At 6.9% ABV, they describe it as a great balance between strength and grace, I’d have to agree. I grabbed this as a bomber from my local liquor store, but apparently you can get it on draught around here as well, which I am sure just kicks up the freshness and flavor.

The pour is a cloudy, maple color, darker that I imagined. I was thirsty and impatient, so the aggressive pour left me with a three finger white head. (Even now, I am halfway through the beer there is still a slight rim and some lacing on the glass)

The nose is fresh baked bread and malt, sprinkled with cocoa and burnt caramel.

The mouthfeel is on the heavier side of medium – (if that makes any sense), though not overly carbonated. It’s creamy and coats your tongue and wants to stay. I get a big bisquity taste with a spicy dark-dry finish. This is an easy drinking fireside winter brew for certain, my cheeks already feel flushed.

This beer has me craving salt, so I’d say a parmesan or asigo cheese would be great. Or let’s get crazy, a burger and fries. This beer screams pub food all the way. Nachos anyone?

Blue Hills – thanks for getting me out of my holiday beer drinking downward slope!
I’ll drink to that.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sammy's up to no good, on the 9th Beer of Xmas...

Brewery: Boston Beer Company
Style: Sweet Stout
ABV: 9%

Ok, so perhaps the title of this post is slightly misleading. After yesterday's White Christmas review, it became clear to both my cousin and I that there are SO MANY styles out there. Sam Adams has been at this for quite sometime now and they have a WIDE variety of offerings... from Sam Adams Light to their Griffin's Bow Barleywine. Listen, the White Christmas could be EXACTLY what you want in a beer. Not too aggressive. Light flavors. Subtle spices. Refreshing. If you don't like it, then you're not necessarily "cray, cray" (as Katie's older brother Johnny likes to think). I've had the White Christmas. It's good. If you had the Sam Adams White Ale (which is usually released in the Spring), I find that it's very similar. I think the White Christmas would be a great go-to on Opening Day of the baseball season. But, I'm with Kate on this one.  It's just ehhh, especially with all of the big flavors out there this time of the year.  But the bottom line is: different people like different beers. So, if you read yesterday's post Bing Does Not Come With Every Bottle: White Christmas and you agree with Katie and I, don't turn your back on Sam Adams just yet. Owner, Jim Koch has another trick up his Santa sleeve.

[Enter Merry Mischief Stage RIGHT]

A few years ago, Jim Koch decided to branch out into the 22 oz market of the craft beer world.  They released several "big" beers to their already wide distribution:  Double IPAs, Barleywines, Baltic IPA, Imperial Reds, Imperial Pumpkins, Gose... and now that we've hit the holiday season, they've introduced another offering that pushes the envelope, Merry Mischief.  I think this would also be the first time I've ever had a gingerbread stout.  Leave it to one of the oldest craft breweries to teach me something new.

On the pour it's dark brown, almost black... when I held it up to the light, you could see some red hues coming through near the bottom of the glass.  The head is thick, fluffy - tan in color.

Whoa... major spices on this one.  Their website claims to have gingerbread, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and I'm getting ALL of that... in addition to some roastiness.  Lots of gingerbread upfront (makes sense, it's a gingerbread stout, Tone).  There's a little sweetness towards the end too.  Once you get your nose past the spice, there's a maltiness that's very inviting.

This beer tastes like Christmas to me.  It's thick, roasty, full of the flavors you got on the nose and has this warmth to it near the end.  It has a wonderfully balanced heat between the spices and the booze.

The carbonation on this one was pretty low which can be expected for a stout.  Smooth, sweet and very enjoyable.

Like I said earlier, I've never had a gingerbread stout so I really have no basis of comparison.  This is a solid offering for a limited time.  It's very spicy... heavy on the gingerbread, cloves, allspice.  I'll be all set to move on after about a month or so but BRAVO, Mr. Koch.  Note that it's not a LET'S GET A BUNCH OF MERRY MISCHIEFS AND HAVE OURSELVES A PARTY type beer.  You split one... maybe two bottles depending on the number of people you are with.  I also wouldn't try to set up a game of Mischief Beer Pong either.  That's sure to get you on the naughty list.  This is great for those holiday or family parties where you're not sure what to bring.  Mainly because it's nothing anyone's EVER tasted and it's PERFECT to share, before or after a meal with the strong flavors and high abv.

Overall: B+


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bing Does Not Come With Every Bottle: White Christmas

White Christmas by Samuel Adams
Witbier 5.8% ABV

Our 10th beer of Christmas is new to the Sam Adams line up and brewed in 2012 -- White Christmas was suggested by one of our faithful Beer411 readers who also happens to be my brother. After tasting it, I know why he recommended this beer for our Xmas countdown; he loves witbiers. His go to brew is Blue Moon, year round.

For the Belgian white lover when the temperature drops, this beer seems to be the best of both worlds. The intent is to marry together the crisp, malt, wheat flavor of a witbier with the seasonal winter spices of clove and cinnamon to create a lighter seasonal ale, a departure from the heavy, coffee, chocolate, porters, stouts and ales that are around this time of year.

The label:
As crisp as the first snowfall of the year, this unfiltered white ale is blended with holiday spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel. The familiar citrus and wheat characters of the ale are complemented by the warmth of the spices for a festive brew that’s perfect for the season.

I’ve seen this beer in the Sam Winter Seasonal Variety Pack and also as a solo sixer, so it’s pretty easy to find for those that are interested in wrapping their hands around this new brew. I grabbed a bottle of White Christmas at the Coolidge Corner Club House in Brookline. (You know, the place where the menu is 27 pages long and all the menu items are named after sports legends)

The Pour: A two finger fluffy white head settled on top of a cloudy, golden-yellow body

The Nose: Grassy and sweet with apricot and honey

The Taste: It’s a crisp and bubbly brew with a tart dry finish. Medium bodied. It has a well-balanced bready, malt flavor that is cut with citrus and orange. The beer overall is not as sweet as the nose would suggest, which is not a bad thing. My gripe with the White Christmas is that I am not sure it belongs in a holiday line up. The winter spices didn’t show up for me the way I thought they would. I checked out the reviews on BA to see what others were saying about it and I was surprised to read that some tasters thought the spice was too much. (hmmm?)

All in all, it was just ok for me, (sorry bro!). I felt like I was drinking a wheatier Magic Hat #9.

Like most wheat style ales, this beer would go great with any creamy, tart goat cheese. Sam also suggests cranberries or sweet desserts like cheesecake and tarts.

I’d say if you are like my brother and love Belgian whites, this holiday six pack might be the perfect gift for you.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On the 11th Beer of Xmas... Are we "Peaking" too early?

Brewery: Peak Organic

Style: Amber

ABV: 7%

IBUs: 22

Website: http://www.peakbrewing.com

Trust the people that know what they are talking about.

I've said it before... if you go to the meat counter at the supermarket, it's probably a good idea to ask the Butcher for recommendations. If you're at a restaurant, go ahead and ask the server what he or she would eat... or a bartender, ask what they like on draft... On the flipside, there are those individuals that could care less and aren't very helpful at all. If you encounter one of these unfortunate people, I advise you to steer clear. But, when you meet someone that's passionate about what they do... heed their advice.

If you find that you are passing through the Southington area, stop by Southington Wine and Spirits, located in the Walmart plaza on Queen Street. Ask for their beer manager, Joe Murphy, or "Murph" as most people call him. (A name that I know my co-blogger would appreciate.) Time after time, he's made some great suggestions for me... and this post is no different. I mentioned the blog and told me to give the Peak Organic Espresso Amber a try.

The website describes it as a robust amber ale brewed with locally roasted, organic fair trade espresso. Not sure if I've ever had a robust Amber. Robust porter, yes... but an amber?

I poured pretty aggressively and ended up with about two fingers of fluffy off-white head. It had a hazy amber color to it with some great lacing along the glass.

The smells on this beer were very pleasant. Caramel candy with a hint of coffee. Imagine the scent that you would get after pouring a little caramel flavored cream into your coffee.

Now the taste... Murph eluded to this when I picked this up a few days ago. You hear a lot about beers that include coffee, but rarely do you hear about espresso. Upfront, you get the sweetness. Amber, roasty, malty... similar to the topping of a creme brulee. Then, as the sweetness dissolves, that's when you get the espresso... not coffee. At first, it comes across as slightly bitter btw the espresso and the subtle hops used in the beer. However, the more you sip, the less you notice it.

One of the things I enjoy around the holidays is having black coffee with a sweet dessert. Normally people add creme and sugar to their coffee, but I don't feel like you have to in this case. The bitter notes in the java balance out the sweetness of the dessert. That's what this beer does with each sip. There's a lingering malty sweetness after each taste. This is probably why the bitterness disappears a little more with each sip. You're left with a that candied sugar taste which counteracts the bitter notes, taste after taste.

Pair this with some creme brulee and a roaring fire. Whoa mama.

Overall: B

Thanks to @KayTeeStinch for kicking off our Xmas countdown yesterday... stay tuned as we countdown all the way to #1!!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The 12th Beer of Christmas, not exactly a Lump of Coal

Happy Holidays Beer411 fans!

Tis’ the season to eat, drink and be merry and starting today we’ll be counting down the 12 beers of Christmas, taking the guess work out of selecting the perfect winter seasonal for your upcoming holiday dinner, ugly xmas sweater party or work gathering.

Tune in each weekday to learn about a new craft brew. We’ve chosen some New England favorites and are still accepting suggestions, so comment below and let us know what you’d like us to try. There are a lot of holiday brews out there that market toward seasonal lovers, but not all of them can make the nice list. We hope to weed out the subpar beers and save you from buying into the holiday hype.

Our first beer on tap is the, “Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout” (as the label states), Much More Than You Deserve for Christmas This Yearprobably true.

It’s an English Ale Imported by the Shelton Brothers of Belchertown, Mass with an 8% ABV

As always, I love to read the bottle:
Yet another bummed out holiday? Lump of Coal Dark Holiday Stout is liquid consolation. It’s a deep, rich, sweetly rewarding stout to take the edge off of that grim family gathering, that cheerless annual festival of alienation. This brew is as dark as it gets, as black as the lump of coal you’ll be getting for Christmas. Because, let’s face it, you’ve been pretty bad this year.

The Pour: Dark, like soot. No light is getting though this sucker. A dark red amber rim peaks through near the top and above it rests a small creamy head that dissipates quickly.

The Nose: Smells like toffee with a dark chocolate mocha after waft. Definitely a sweet, burnt sugary nose.

The Taste: A medium bodied brew, a bit more carbonation for a stout than I expected. It tastes like smoke, then a creaminess coats the tongue with a bitter, dark chocolate, boozy finish. (hey ABV – what’s up?) It’s malty and toasty, everything a winter stout should be. It’d be a great fireside warm up brew.

I like it, but it’s nothing I haven’t had before. It’s kind of a “so what?” beer. Drinkable and rich, but holiday? No. I would say it’s just another stout. So I’ll give it a solid B.

This beer would go great with sweets – caramels, chocolates and also roasts and stews. I would also say any soft-ripened cheese, blue or washed-rind would be delicious with this beer. Stay away from bitter cheeses but anything with a salty, sweet, and creamy flavor would pair up nicely.

Had it and loved it? Tried something better? Tells us below. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What are you waiting for?

From the depths of the internet... How you guys been?! I know it's been ages since we've talked last. Life has gotten a little bit in the way, but that's bound to happen from time to time. It's been a great few months in the CT beer community. New breweries have started popping up like Backeast and Half Full. Not to mention great new brew pubs like Dew Drop Inn (Derby) and Barley Vine (Bristol).

And in my world, I've FINALLY gotten myself on the home brew track. While I HAVE brewed with friends before, I'm always there just to help. You know, like when you helped your dad as a kid by holding the flashlight. You're not really doing anything, your just "observing". Well, this time - I took the lead. I ordered a very simple kit from NorthernBrewer.com for a Pumpkin Ale. They called it their Smashing Pumpkin Ale. I watched the video they posted and got some advice from friends, added my own roasted pumpkin puree... and as of a few days ago finally put it on tap at my house. Once it was carbed up it actually started tasting really good! It is still just a kit, far from the all-grain recipe.

Come on... don't give me that look. Let's focus on the positive. I'm here. You're here. There's a new post to read... giddy up.

So WHY am I back... well, I'm here today to give thanks. Last week, most of us celebrated the holiday that forces us to look around, take a step back and be thankful for what we have. Maybe you are looking forward to the food surrounding Thanksgiving... or it might be that you missed the traffic on the Mass Pike... or you just destroyed your Personal Best at the gym... or you just GOT to the gym... or you get to see some friends... For me... it's my FAMILY. We pile into one house for the holiday, visit, snack, love, laugh, play board games, watch football or a classic movie, make fun of each other, maybe even get on each other's nerves a bit, eat some more, then go out to eat, take a walk, or a run... and drink. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I say it every year, and every year I get reminded of how blessed I am.

That's great Tone... But, seriously, what does that have to do with me?

Well, I'm glad you asked.

Over the last year or so, I've been doing a great job cellaring some special beers in my basement. Some of my prized bottles are a Dogfish 120, Anchor Steam Merry Xmas/Happy New Year Ale from 2004 (along with '07, '08, '09, '10 & '11), and the New England Brewing Imperial Stout Trooper from 2008 (with the barrel on the label before they put the Groucho Marx glasses on the Storm Trooper). I'm not sure what I'm really waiting for, but over the years my stache has grown and grown.

Among these offerings was a bottle that my sister had gotten for me a few years ago. The Manchester Dubbel from the Marble Arch Pub (UK). It was before I really knew what beers or breweries to look for... but I knew it was special. There it sat in my cellar. Waiting for "the perfect time to open". Maybe a birthday, maybe a holiday... then it hit me. I was doing some reading on good beers to pair with Thanksgiving dinner from Dr. Bill Sysak. What goes good with turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, squash, cranberry sauce, etc. The good doctor brings up some great options including saisons, strong ales, lambics, stouts... and dubbels. So there I was at Thanksgiving dinner... opening my bottle of the Manchester Dubbel. I shared it with my sister and we love it. Sooooooo good. And thanks to Dr. Sysak for a great suggestion.

Note: When I was taking the cork out, I nearly took my eye out with the amount of gas that had built up in this bottle. I didn't even take the cage off the cork and it just exploded off the ceiling. Then I read the first review of BeerAdvocate and it looks like I wasn't alone!

Another event that got me thinking on this topic was the Stone Vertical Epic Tasting that took place a week or two ago. Quick background check: Since 2002, Greg Koch, Steve Wagner, Mitch Steele and the masterminds behind the Stone Brewery have been developing a yearly release that they called the Vertical Epic. Each release fell on the Month and Day that reflected the year on the calendar. 02.02.02, 03.03.03, 04.04.04... and here we are this year, only about a week away from 12.12.12. Every release had a different recipe as well. Each beer was designed to age slightly so that they could achieve optimum deliciousness THIS year. Now, crazy beer geek heads like me can open each one and enjoy the fruits of their cellaring labor (not to mention, applaud each one for having the restrain NOT to open them before this year!). The guys from Stone did a live tasting which included Dr. Sysak, the Brothers Alstrom from Beer Advocate as well as the guys from New Brew Thursday.

A lot of people asked Greg... "What's next? Are you going to do another Vertical Epic series?" And his response was plain and simple, "No."

I thought to myself, we ask ourselves that a lot... What's next? What's coming up? Or we'll catch ourselves saying, "I can't WAIT until [insert event here]..." How about we just live in the the moment? Sit down with a few friends or maybe just one friend... and open a bottle of something fantastic.

As a craft beer enthusiast, I always have the tendency to wait until the perfect moment for that special brew. Now I'm not saying you should deplete your hard-earned cellared beers. It's always good to keep a few things on reserve. I'm only saying, don't be afraid to live in the moment. There will be more moments. There will be more delicious rare offerings. There will be more times to celebrate.

So the next time you're in the store and there's a beer that's a few bucks more... GO FOR IT. Don't settle for the bargain bin. Or if there's a nice dinner coming up with a few friends or family, or even if it's just a quiet night at home with a bud, dust off that saison that you're sitting on or that stout that's been aging for the last year. Why again are you saving that Double IPA? Carpe Diem. Seize the Day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Name change suggestion: Happy Monk?

Grumpy Monk by Boston Beer Company | Samuel Adams
Belgian IPA
5.7% ABV

Have you worked your way through the Sam Adams IPA-Hop-Ology pack yet?
You should.

Unlike my co-blogger, I usually shy away from IPAs all together. Scratchy, tongue shredding hops are not something that I enjoy drinking. That said, I learned a ton about IPAs working through this sampler and… I LOVED THEM ALL!

The Hop-Ology Pack includes six limited release IPAs; The Third Voyage IPA, which takes its inspiration from Captain James Cook, whose titular third voyage took him from England to New Zealand to the Pacific Northwest. The double IPA contains hops from all three of those locations to give the brew a citrusy, earthy character.

The Dark Depths Baltic IPA is inspired by an English variety, the Baltic IPA transformed a mild ale into a dark and complex lager, with dark, roasted malts and a citrus hop character.

The Tasman Red IPA contains hops from Tasmania, the Australian island state. The beer has the grapefruit and pine flavors typical of IPAs, but the hops also have a flavor of roastiness with a hint of toffee to balance the normal IPA flavors. This is a strong bold red, more so than I was used to, but still enjoyable.

The Latitude 48 IPA contains a blend of five different hops, all originating from the titular 48th latitude line. The hops come from the Hallertau region of Germany (Hallertau Mittelfrueh), the East Kent region of southeastern England (East Kent Goldings) and Yakima County, Wash. (Ahtanum, Simcoe and Zeus).

The Whitewater IPA combines the white wheat, sweet citrus and spicy coriander of Belgian-style white ale with the grapefruit flavors of an IPA and last but not least the Grumpy Monk … (we’ll get back to this one)

I was weary with every pour, and to my surprise I enjoyed every brew. The sampler came to about $22 and was well worth it. The art overall with this sampler is awesome. Each bottle ties together the series with hand drawn chalk design on the case. It's unique and inviting. Well done BBC design team -- gotta love marketing!

My favorite of the sampler had to be the Grumpy Monk. The name on its own sells the beer.
I turn to the bottle for a description:

“The long held brewing traditions of Belgian monks aren’t meant to be broken. Yet, to the monk’s dismay, the distinctive character of Belgian yeast with its spicy clove and fruit notes can be reimagined when combined with the brazen hop character of an IPA. These hops impart a citrusy, piney, and earthy flavor that’s balanced by a roasted malt sweetness for a complex and playful brew."

Well, this monk has nothing to be grumpy about.

The Pour: Gorgeous amber color with a creamy two finger head. I also had some clingy lace to the side of my glass.

The Nose: It’s grainy and bisquity with dominant notes of clove

The Taste: light-to-medium bodied and well balanced with citrus, pine and earthy flavors that all meld together creating one of the best Belgians I’ve had in a while. It’s well carbonated, bready and delicious. My only negative comment – I only got two!

Do you know what else the Monk’s make that goes great with beer? Cheese!
This would pair up nicely with any stinky, gooey washed rind cheese you can get your hands on.

Well that’s my IPA lesson for today kids. Hop heads and those in training can get behind this variety pack, I promise. Keep an eye out!

What are some of your favorite IPAs? Tell us below:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Anderson Valley's Summer Solstice Out Shines other Seasonal Brews

Anderson Valley Summer Solstice
Style | ABV
Cream Ale | 5.60% ABV

This is my second time trying Anderson Valley’s offerings and I really enjoy their unique style. Would you ever think to put cream ale and summer together on one label? It sounds crazy, but man, it’s delicious and different!

I found a sixer of this beer in a can. (Is that a bear/moose on the front??) A lot of craft brewers are thinking about canning their products and I am all for it. It’s portable for beach and lake side excursions, lighter to carry and keeps the beer just as fresh. I always pour my beer into a glass anyway so it doesn’t take away from the drinking experience for me. There is also a lining inside each can that keeps the beer from touching the aluminum so don’t worry about that “metallic taste,” affecting your suds. Drop the stereotype and give craft in a can a chance!

Pour: A hazy amber color with a creamy, two finger fluffy head. A tiny ring of lacing hung out for good.

Nose: It’s sweet with toasty grains and caramel, followed by vanilla and ginger. It’s like a cream soda mixed with fresh baked brown bread. Fantastic.

Taste: Follows suit with the smell. It’s so unique. It’s a light to medium-bodied brew with a smooth velvet flavor that covers your tongue like a ginger-cream-soda. It actually reminded me of a ginger bread cookie. It’s biscuity and sweet, but balanced through the malts and just plain delicious. Despite the creaminess, it’s not overly filling and very drinkable. No bitterness to speak of.

Anyone that has ever had a Kilkenny and enjoyed it will like this beer.

Ok Anderson Valley, you have my attention. I’ll keep an eye out for some more of their craft-canned products in the future.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Up Otter's Creek with a Delicious Summer Bottle

Otter Creek Summer
Style | ABV
American Pale Wheat Ale | 4.90% ABV

What is up with the Bros from BA not liking any of my beers lately? Bummer!
Well like we always say, drink what YOU like, and this one I like.

Otter Creek is one of those great “under the radar” breweries. They put out some great stuff and I am never afraid to order their latest pour when I see it on the draught list. They are situated in Middlebury Vermont and it’s pretty easy to get to if you are thinking of touring some New England breweries this summer or fall.

Otter Creek summer is currently on tap at Five Horses in Davis Square and I have seen it at some other good beer bars in the area. Otter Creek Summer is a yummy bready brew that pairs easy with almost everything. I’ve had it with a bunch of different menu items; mussels, salad, a cheese plate, white bean hummus, chili – and it paired nicely every time.

Pour: Golden, with a little fluffy white head – it left a little lacing on the glass

Nose: Not overwhelming but it’s grassy with a lot of oats and wheat hanging out, smells like fresh baked bread to me

Taste: It’s light-bodied and drinkable with toasted malts, wheat and a slight sweetness. It finishes with a little bite of citrus and honey at the end. Overall very palatable. The brewery describes it as “crisp and clean” and I would have to agree. It’s a safe bet.

It’s a nice change from the heavy heffs and lemonade type beers that are normally floating around. No need for a wedge of lemon in this brew.

Cheers to summer!
What is everyone drinking? Tell us below:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I love Betty Weiss! (Not to be confused with Betty White)

Elder Betty by Magic Hat
Style | ABV
Hefeweizen | 5.50% ABV

It’s August – can you believe it?
Pretty soon the shelves will be full of October beers and pumpkin ales and while fall is my all time favorite beer drinking season, I am not ready. I am drinking in the last weeks of summer while I still can.

Some really great seasonal beers launched this summer including Magic Hat’s Elder Betty, and I have to say it’s my favorite this year.

I just can’t get enough of it. I would describe it as:
“The best blueberry beer you will ever have.”

The Elder Betty is a weiss-style ale with a bready malt flavor. It’s well carbonated, refreshing and a little tart. Betty got a beat down on beer advocate, ranking in the 70s … but I would say that if you like blueberry suds this will not disappoint you.

Bottle: The art is very cool and whimsy. It falls right in line with Vermont’s hippie vibe. Totally man.

Pour: Light golden orange color with a one finger, white fluffy head

Nose: Like you stuck your face in a field of blueberries, seriously. It’s a fresh, inviting, grassy- blueberry smell.


It’s a light mouth feel made for very easy drinking. The tart, crisp berry flavor is followed up by a nice wheat finish. What I love about this beer is that it’s not super sweet. I don’t feel like I am drinking jam or sucking on a jolly rancher. The flavor is there without making my cheeks pucker. The one drawback – like most fruity beers, it really wouldn’t pair with much other than desert.

I haven’t seen the Elder Betty listed at any bars in Boston and Magic Hat site says it’s only available through July 31, so if you are interested in giving it a-go I wouldn’t wait to snag a sixer at the liquor store if you see it.

Tried it and liked it? Tried it and hated it? Comment below:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Your Guide to the Fourth!

As we turn our calendars to July, and make plans as we sit on the eve of the 4th... the All-American holiday for lawnmower or specialty beers, cookouts, sports, and fireworks. But before I get into my guide to help you pick out something special for the All-American Holiday, I want to get into something that got me thinking this morning.


While I dig deeper and deeper into the world that is craft beer... I have to admire the level of respect that people have for one another. For example... last year, I tried a few sour beers and was NOT a fan at all. What's my first instinct? To say, "This beer is gross!! Yuck! Who would EVER like this??" No... I just said, "Umm, yeah... I don't think this beer is for me." But, I'll admit, I think my tastes are changing a bit. Just two weeks ago I sat on the patio of the Willimantic Brewing Company, and enjoy a Dogfish Festina Peche. Last summer, I wanted NOTHING to do with this tart/sour beer. And I like a lot of DFH stuff... but this time around - it was real refreshing. I had friends that hated craft beer... now they can't get enough. Some of them are even telling ME about new Double IPAs on tap or new Bourbon-Barrel Aged offerings. Bottomline... keep an open mind. You might not like something at first... but you never know how your opinions might change!

Ok... the reason you clicked on the link. My good buddy, Matt asked me the other day about some beers for the 4th of July. So as you count down that final hour at work... or for all of my teacher friends that are already on vacation... here's my little guide to some beers that could make you impress your friends/family. Just tell'em Beer411 sent ya (in no particular order):

1. Cisco Bay Whale Tail Pale Ale

2. Six Point Apollo or Righteous

3. New England Brewery Elm City

4. Dogfish Tweason Ale or Festina Peche

5. Hooker Watermelon

6. Blue Point Blueberry

7. Narragansett Summer Ale

8. Pyramid Apricot Ale

9. Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp or Clementine

10. Baxter Celsius **Only found in ME**

So respect your fellow Americans and raise a cold one on the 4th to this beautiful country. And a special thanks to those that fight for our freedom day in and day out. Cheers!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Maine Event Part 2: The Rematch

So much time to drink... so little time to blog. I recently was scolded the other day about my blog. Yes, I admit... I'm not as consistent with my posts as I wish I was. Hopefully, it's about the QUALITY, not the QUANTITY. I HAVE been much more consistent with my tweets though... I mean, that's what a blog is in a sense. To enlighten people that read your blog about things that they might not have known about. When you tweet something, you're pointing your followers in a direction that they might not have if you didn't. My friends over @RelicBrewing and @RandomPink coined the term, "Nano-Blog" this last wkd. It works, right? Alright... let get to it.

I've had some fantastic... umm.... BREW-tastic adventures the past few weeks, all over New England. The next few posts might be a bit out-dated and a little out of order... But I saw a tweet the other day the sparked an idea to get this post up.

It was a link to this article titled, "Top Ten Craft Beer Cities to Visit". I quickly clicked through the obvious choices here: Fort Collins, CO... Portland, OR... San Diego, CA... and then I saw it: Portland, Maine. About two weeks ago, two of my sisters and I decided to head out and tour Portland, Maine for the day. One of my sisters lives IN Maine, and Portland is only about 25 minutes away from her. Since it's so close to her I've been meaning to check it out for some time now. Given the rest of our wkd's activities, we could only devote one full day to our BREWtastic Voyage, but it was well worth it. And I'm already looking forward to the next trip.

We were focused. Our first stop was one of my favorite breweries, the Allagash Brewing Company. Our tour was scheduled for 12:30 so my OTHER sister departed CT around 8:30am without a minute to spare. We picked up our Maine sister got to the brewery JUST in time for the tour... and as if I couldn't LOVE Allagash any more, they STARTED with the tasting. They led off with their flagship, Allagash White... then the Victor (brewed with cabernet franc grapes), followed by the Tripel and lastly... (drumroll)... the Curieux. If you don't know the Curieux, you are MISSING out. It's a beautiful sweeter beer aged in Jim Beam barrels. They explained that in order for bourbon to be considered bourbon, it can only sit in the barrel once. Allagash has an agreement with Jim Beam that when the bourbon is done aging, the barrels get shipped up to Portland. Allagash uses these barrels only once and there you have it... Curieux. And after one sip... you can taste all 11% of this tasty treat.

Along the tour, our awesome tour guide, Ashley, took us into the CURIEUX ROOM (also known as Heaven). There are barrels from floor to ceiling and as you walk in, you're instantly hit with the sweet smell of bourbon.

One of the "cool"er parts of the tour actually happened AFTER the tour itself where we got to check out the Coolship. It resembles a small one room shed with an flat shallow pan that takes up most of the room. Hot wort is added to this pan and allowed to cool overnight (rather than forced to cool using wort chillers). Along with the opened air cooling, the natural occurring yeast from the air gets into the wort. This is what ferments the beer. The interesting thing about this whole process is that it's the first known one outside of Belgium. There you go... Allagash, yet again, pushing themselves to achieve great things.

That was the START of our adventure. We then checked out the much, much smaller, newer Maine Beer Company. That was a quick visit but still cool to walk in, meet some very cool people and try some tasty beers. I even bought their "Thank You, Allen" that's only available at the brewery.

After about two hours of sampling and empty stomachs... we needed a base. So we headed over to The Great Lost Bear. A measely 60+ beers on tap. SAY WHAT?! Shut yo mouth. We had some delicious teriyaki mushrooms with a pepper dipping sauce, and some cajun style wings. And with over 60 beers to choose from, we had to jump into a sampler:

Green Flash Hop Head Red

Six Point Spice of Life: Crystal Hop

Geary Special Ale

Baxter Stowaway IPA

Allagash Odyssey

Never had any of these beers in my life... all very good. Loved the Allagash... my favorite might have been the Six Point. Green Flash was good, but very complex.

As the black clouds started forming, we quickly found shelter at another staple in the Portland Beer Diet... Novare Rae Bier Cafe. This wonderful place touts 25 rotating drafts, 2 hand pumps, and over 500 bottles. And look... we were there on the day of a Green Flash Takeover. Ok... Let's go.

I kicked things off with the notorious IPA known as the Palate Wrecker, which has over 100 IBUs (International Bittering Units). The bartender warned me that this would kick the @#$* out of my tongue, and I loved it! And with Green Flash making a name for themselves in CT now, this is one to look for, especially for you hopheads out there. This is also a great place to get a little nosh. We had a nice cheese/meat plate and some duck tacos. They also have a mug club / dungeon looking place. Basically you get a "scorecard" and have one year to try all of the beers on the card. If you fill it out, you're awarded a mug that's kept in this dungeon looking type place. Complete with lock and chain and heavy iron door. Very, very cool.

And since we were in the area (once the rain had stopped)... we walked over to one of Maine's Original Brew Pubs, Gritty McDuff's. After wrecking our palates, and trying all sorts of crazy brews, it was nice to get a balanced Vacationland Summer Ale and an IPA.

I have to admit... after Gritty's we were beer'd out. But what a day it was. So if you are looking for a place that's only a few hours from CT where you won't break the bank... head up to Portland, Maine. There are SO many other places to check out including Geary's, Shipyard or restaurants like Nosh or 3 Dollar Dewey's. You could EASILY spend a wkd up there. Just make sure you stretch out your liver first.

As the Welcome to Maine sign reads, "The Way Life Should Be." Cheers... and safe travels.

So on the heels of my Maine excursion... word JUST came out yesterday that one of my favorite brew pubs is having... wait for it... an ALLAGASH BASH!! It's one thing to find a great Allagash beer on draft... it's COMPLETELY other thing to take over 10! Mark your calendar, kiddos...

WHEN: Thursday, June 28th @ 6pm

WHERE: Backstage, 84 Main Street, Torrington

Allagash continues to establish themselves as one of the BEST in the craft beer industry. And to have them come all the way to CT for this is nothing short of incredible. Just two weeks ago, I drove over 3 hours to try some of these beers... and come next Thursday, 10 of them will be in little ol' Torrington. Check out this lineup:











Food pairings, giveaways, and MORE. A craft beer lovers dream and a night not to be missed.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Harpoon Catamount Maple Wheat (100 Barrel Series)

Harpoon Brewery
American Pale Wheat Ale
Alcohol by Volume: (ABV) 6.8%

My colleague recently visited the Harpoon brewery and was thoughtful enough to bring me back a fresh growler of Harpoon’s 100 Barrel Series, Catamount Maple Wheat for me.

(Yum! Beer for breakfast?)

I did a little research to learn that this is Harpoon’s second attempt at this beer and it’s made with genuine Vermont maple syrup. Got to love local products using local products. The website reads:

“The balance of malts and hops allows the distinct flavor and aroma of real Vermont maple syrup to take the lead. The maple sweetness and body blankets this velvety amber beer showcasing one of New England’s most beloved traditions.”

Sounds awesome and different - let’s dive in.

The pour: A nice fluffy white head and the color of the beer, as to be expected it was an amber red, maple color

The nose: Not much going on. I am getting a little bit of sweet, bread notes, but it’s not overly sugary, or woody like I may have thought

The taste: A very bubbly brew with burnt caramel flavors and a strong bitter malt flavor. The finish is somewhat medicinal. It’s interesting because it doesn’t have that light crisp wheat flavor that I expected. It's more of a lager. Also, I hate to say it – but where’s the maple? Had it not been in the name I wouldn’t have been looking for it. I was expecting a sweet, grassy, wheat beer but got something much different instead.

It’s drinkable, but had I not had a growler and just ordered a pint at the pub, I would have grabbed the beer list and changed it up.

I always appreciate new recipes that bring together New England, but this was just ok for me. Grade: B

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Customize Your Brew

I hope you all are enjoying your American Craft Beer Week as much as I am. Monday, my friends and I did a vertical tasting of the Anchor Merry Xmas Happy New Year Ale from 2007, 2008 and 2009... Tuesday, I picked up my Hefeweizen home brew and hooked it up to my kegerator... then, we enjoyed some Hatch Plug Ale and Marauder IPA from Cavalry Brewing... and yesterday we kicked the night off up at Backstage up in Torrington. Yea, its been a good beer week.

Speaking of... I have to admit, there are a lot of cool things about this beverage. In case you haven't gathered the idea that I enjoy a beer from time to time. (Hint: I have a blog devoted to the suds!) And given my new found obsession, er... hobby, the important thing I've learned over the last few years is that you can NEVER stop learned new things. But here's the main thing: HAVE FUN. You might know more than someone else, but it's all in the name of beer. So compare notes, check your ego at the door and let's all drink some beer and have fun. Now between craft beer and home brewing (which I'm attempting to get into), there is SO much I need to learn and continue to pick up. Styles, hops, varieties, history, releases... What's an Ale? What's a Lager? Why is it called Witbier? What would this beer go with with...? What type of glass should I pour it in? It's all in the name of fun. So don't forget in the explosion that is been CRAFT BEER... to have fun with all of this.

And in the name of fun... I give you something that kinda, well... yeah, I'll say it - it BLEW my mind. Revolutionary. The first time I heard about this new found discovery the first thing I thought of was: How have I never thought of doing this?! I admittedly still have not attempted this... but with a little planning, you could really impress your friends or perhaps just surprise yourself!

If you know ANYTHING about craft beer, you must familiarize yourself with Dogfish Owner and Brewmaster, Sam Caligione. Since its inception, Sam has become one of the true pioneers of the craft beer movement. A few months ago, I started hearing about a new invention down at Dogfish called the RANDALL. It appears to be a somewhat simple filtering device. It's stuffed with some type of flavor enhancer (hops, coffee beans, nuts, etc) that'll change the profile of the beer you are drinking... then it's hooked up to a draft line... and the beer runs through... and BOOM... you have your very own infused beer!

The problem is... most people don't have a draft system... or the space... or even a RANDALL... Until, Sam and the Dogfish crew came out with the RANDALL JR !!! It's basically a 16 oz container with a screen at the top. Just like it's big brother, you stuff the Randall Jr with whatever floats your boat, add beer... place in the fridge for about 10 minutes... and VOILA!! An IPA could just be an IPA... but with this sucker, you could have a Sorachi Ace Hop Infused IPA... or a Hazelnut Coffee Infused Imperial Porter... the possibilities are ENDLESS!!

So let me guess... you're reading this blog... went right to the Dogfish website... and noticed that the Randall Jr is SOLD OUT. (Cue Price Is Right "Horns of Failure"). Yeah I did the same thing... When they get more on their site... I'll probably order one too... but in the meantime... take matters into your own hands!

All you REALLY need is a container with some type of straining setup like a loose leaf tea infuser... or do what our friends over at Relic Brewing did a few weeks ago at their Friday Open House. The Brewmaster, Mark, took his popular Fortnight IPA and poured it into a french press that was loaded with whole leaf hops (I forget exactly which type he used). After about 10 minutes, he pushed down the screen only far enough so that the hops would get strained out and BAM, there you had a hop infused Fortnight IPA.

With a little planning... a french press... tea infuser... or if you were lucky enough to snag a Randall Jr from Dogfish... you can really revolutionize the way you enjoy craft beer!! Remember... add your ingredients... add beer... put it in the fridge for 10 minutes... and there you have it.

Enjoy the rest of ACBW!!

For more information on any of the breweries mentioned above, check out their websites below:

Cavalry Brewing: cavalrybrewing.com

Relic Brewing: relicbeer.com

Dogfish Brewing: dogfish.com

American Craft Beer Week: craftbeer.com/pages/news-and-events/american-craft-beer-week

Check out the DOGFISH commercial for the Randall Jr: http://youtu.be/OhP7NVrVEfA

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Can't We All Just Get Along??

Why yes, yes we can.

But that's not how it used to be...

Not long ago... Anheuser-Busch stormed its way to the top of the Beer Mountain. They were one of 3 games in town along with Miller and Coors. AB dominated so much of the beer world, it forced a merger between Miller and Coors. Even with that merger, AB still controlled most of the beer in the US. It was a dog eat dog world out there.

As I've mentioned before, if anyone is every curious about this - check out the beer-umentary called BEER WARS. These days, most people have a form of Netflix so check out the streaming movies and you can find it there. It gives you some great insight on what's our there... and explains why passionate craft beer drinkers are as passionate as they are.

That was then... this is now.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again... this is a great time to be a craft beer drinker. I mean, you've also heard it said, "Life's too short for... [fill in whatever applies to you]. So WHY can't the same be said about beer?

Admittedly, the big dawgs are still doing their thing. I am beer. Here me roar. Grrrr. They're making sub-par beer at best... no taste... blah... buying out the little guys and trying to continually dominate the market. But if you look closely, some of the top notch craft brewers are doing some pretty amazing things.

Here are some popular craft brewers, just to name a few: Sam Adams, Dogfish, Stone, Victory, Avery, Russian River, Green Flash, Sierra Nevada... Maybe you've heard of a few, or even all of them. All are doing well enough to stand on their own. But here's the kicker... they're not. What you are seeing these days is a new era of collaborative beers... and those that are paying attention are enjoying all the benefits.

In CT, Sam Adams beer is huge. Owner, Jim Koch is doing a lot of smart things. For "Joe Beer Drinker" most times, people will start the season by drinking a Sam Seasonal. It's nice out... Sam Summer. It's autumn, Sam Octoberfest... it's cold out, Sam Winter. You could easily see him try and dominate the market as well with what they're offering...

Or take, Sam Caligione of Dogfish (Head Brewmaster/Owner). Dogfish offers up a great lineup of beers, Raison d'Etre, My Antonia, Red and White, Punkin Ale, World Wide Stout, 60 Min, 90 Min, 120 min (if you can find it!) just to name a few. He doesn't really have to go beyond the walls of the brewery in Delaware to be successful...

But they do.

Check out the correspondence that I found thanks to http://beerstreetjournal.com:

I’m psyched! I love your idea of a collaboration beer for Savor! Can I throw out an idea to the get the process started? We still have some of the original barrels from 1993/94 used for Samula Adams Triple Bock. I think they were the first oak barrels used for beer with this barrel aging thing was just beginning. I think it would be cool to use those same barrels for our collaboration. We should think of something different to do with them this time around. And maybe some other boundaries of brewing to mess with. Any thoughts? Just brew it! -Jim

Barrel one? High gravity flower tinctures? You’ve got some sweet tools in your brewer’s utility belt Jim. As the Joker said of Batman, “Where does he get those wonderful toys!?” Sounds like a great direction for this recipe. I found some yummy rose syrup made with lemon juice and rose pedals in Turin, Italy. I will send some up for you guys to play with in the lab. I think we could add some in the whirl and it will marry-up to your muti-flower tincture in a sexy way down steam. I like what you wrote about the power of the flowers Jim. In fact, I suggest we simply call this beer Savor Flowers. By interweaving the beer and event names we can drive home the point that craft beer and beautiful foods belong together. - Sam

Taking two brewers who OBVIOUSLY know what they are doing based on the success of their respective breweries over the years... and having them get together to collaborate is a gift to us all. So Jim and Sam got together last year and concatenated a beer called Savor Flowers. Sadly, most of these collabortive beers have limited distribution, but if you are lucky enough to come across one, don't delay.

I'm sure there are a LOT more collaborations out there, so please excuse my CT East Coast bias... but other breweries that I have to showcase here are Stone Brewing Co and Victory Brewing. Along with Dogfish, they came up with a beer a few years ago called Saison Du Buff. Check out the video below:

Stone Brewing Co, as I mentioned a moment ago, is also leading the charge for collaborations... Chocolate Cherry Stout, Highway 78 Scotch Ale, Japanese Green Tea IPA. Follow this link to see what else they're offering up: STONE COLLABORATIONS

I'm so glad that the mindset of these craft brew front runners is not to take their ball and go home... but cooperate with one another and push the envelope of what there is to offer. Just because you do things a certain, doesn't make it right all the time so why not learn something new from your fellow brewer? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: It's a great time to be a craft beer drinker.

On the local front... Goose Island Brewing Company has stormed into CT with a vengeance. This week they are tap-ually taking over ALL FOUR Plan B Restaurant: Simbury, Glastonbury, Milford and West Hartford. In addition they were at Eli Cannon's last night in Middletown. They'll feature (5) of their featured drafts (and each restaurant will also have their top-of-the-line offerings). Here's their schedule moving forward for those that want to go check it out for themselves:

Milford Plan B, April 18 @ 7:30 p.m.
Simsbury Plan B, April 19 @ 6 p.m.
Wood-n-Tap Hartford, April 24 @ 6:30 p.m. (Beer & Food Pairing, $48)
West Hartford Plan B, April 26 @ 6 p.m.

From time to time, I've had the pleasure of having Goose Island when visiting friends in NYC... so this is GREAT news for the residents of CT. For those that can't make the above events, keep an eye our for the Goose at your local packy.

There's also rumor that Brooklyn's own Six Point Brewery will also be invading the beer fortress of solitude known as Connecticut. If this is in fact true... you don't want to miss out on what these guys bring to the table. Great things are on the horizon for good ol' CT.

For more information on all things CT Craft Beer related... check out the CT BEER TRAIL.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Paddy's Edition: Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale

Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale
4.30 ABV %

As the Irish half of Beer411, I thought it was appropriate to weigh in on one of my favorite Irish pints, and remind everyone that while green beer is festive, it still tastes like Budweiser, because it is. It just has green food coloring in it - gross.

Instead, tap into the wealth of the Irish drinking season with a REAL brew from the country; Guinness, Smithwick’s, Murphy’s, Kilkenny or Beamish.

My favorite of late would have to be the Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale. It’s tough to find, but a good Irish pub usually has it on tap. For Instance the Burren in Somerville, where every other person in the bar has a Gaelic accent, is known to pour this from time to time, especially around St. Paddy’s.

This beer has an amazing history and is older than some countries, with a heritage dating back to the fourteenth century. Until recently, a pub in Washington, D.C. was the only place in the US that carried it, thankfully that’s changed.

The beer pours amber red with a creamy white head that dissipates quickly. The nose isn’t powerful, but you definitely pick up a toasty aroma with caramel malts, and some earthy tones.

The taste is refreshing and light. It feels very creamy on the tongue, but it’s not heavy. It’s sweet with caramel flavors, roasted barley and notes of tea and honey. It has that great malty-red after taste that I love.

This beer makes for easy drinking and it reminds me of the cross between a red ale and a stout, two of my favorite beers. The bartender described it as Smithwick's with less hops and creamy like a Guinness.

Happy St. Paddy’s to all my Irish and wannabe Irish kin out there. Be safe and remember cab drivers are your friends.

I leave you with one of my favorite Irish proverbs:
“May you have the hindsight to know where you've been, the foresight to know where you're going and the insight to know when you're going too far.”