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Monday, December 29, 2014

Merry HannaChristmas

A Reviewer's Work is Never Done

And that, when it comes to craft beer, is a good thing. There has been such an explosion of craft beers that even some of the more "mainstream" restaurants have begun including craft beers on their menus. I was in Carnegie's, a local restaurant that traditionally has offered only mega-brews. I asked if they had any IPAs, sort of knowing the answer. To my surprise, the waitress said they had Brew
Free or Die IPA from 21st Amendment. Fantastic! Smart restaurateurs are realizing that craft beer is not a fad, and the reason it is not just a fad is that once you develop a taste for good, flavorful beer, the mega-brews just don't measure up anymore. There's no going back.

For the first time, craft beer has outsold Budweiser. Now, lest you fear for Bud's livelihood, understand that it means that it took hundreds of craft beers to outsell one brand. I think Bud will survive. But as American beer drinkers' thirst for real American beers grows, restaurant owners are taking notice. Those that haven't? (I'm talking to you Olive Garden and Red Lobster) it's up to us to "educate" them. Ask if they have any craft beers. If they try to foist Shock Top, Blue Moon, or Stella Artois as a craft beer explain patiently that those are not really craft beers. Don't they have any beers from some of the local craft brewers? If not, order water! Enough people do this, and they'll get the point.  

Which brings us to December's Beer Club meeting at the beautifully decorated Riley home. It was originally Dan's intention for everyone to just bring a favorite seasonal beer to enjoy and not actually review them. In other words this would be a "drink the brew and eschew the review" meeting, so to speak. However, fate (and Shmalz Brewery) intervened. Dan made a recent visit to Shmalz Brewing Jewbelation, Hop Manna IPA, Messiah Nut Brown Ale, Genesis Dry Hopped Session Ale - you get the idea (see last month's post for some of my favorite beer names). Head on over to the Shmalz Brewing web site, it's one of those that's just a lot of fun to peruse. Anyway, we do have three of their
beers which we diligently reviewed for this month.
in Clifton Park, NY recently and after much schmoozing and a fair amount of drinking, the brewers decided to send us some beer to review. Shmalz brews the He'brew line of beers (He'brew - The Chosen Beer). They are one of those breweries that not only brews terrific beer, but has some fun naming the beers, playing off the He'brew name:

Beyond that, we have reviewed Christmas/Winter seasonal beers in the past, but because of the plethora of possible potent potables out there, it was no problem coming up with some new ones. We didn't have a whole lot of spiced beers this year - not that there's anything wrong with spiced beers!! So we'll kick off with a quick rundown of the seasonals we tried and give you our brief down and dirty impression of each. Then we'll get to the business at hand and we'll give you the in-depth scoop on the three He'brew beers we tried.

This year's Holiday Brews basics:

  • Christmas Ale - Bell's Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI. 5.5% ABV. Winter Seasonal ale. We found this to be creamy and smooth. Quite malty with hints of toffee. A very pleasant, easy-drinking beer.

  • Blizzard of Hops - Troegs Brewing, Hersey, PA. 6.4% ABV; 80 IBUs; Winter IPA. Citurs and piney hop aroma and flavor. An interesting and complex IPA, but not overpowering despite the 80 IBUs. It was nice to find an seasonal ale that was an IPA.
  • Slope Style Winter Ale IPA - Boulder Beer, Boulder, CO. ABV: 6.4%. Red IPA. Another seasonal IPA, this one was well balanced up front, with the hop kick on the back end. A satisfying piney hop finish with just a hint of lemon citrus.

  • Mastermind Double IPA - Fiddlehead Brewing, Shelburne, VT. ABV: 8.1%; Double IPA. This is a big beer with a big hoppy flavor. Unfiltered and brimming with grapefruit-hops taste combined with nice biscuit-malt and caramel underpinnings. The Guys were pleased, indeed. Alas, they are sold out for this year and won't have more until next Christmas.

  • Hibernation Ale - Great Divide Brewing Co., Denver, CO. ABV: 8.7; Old Ale style. Sweet aroma with a big malt backbone. The taste is nicely balanced with spicy hops and a lingering alcohol aftertaste.

  • Embrrr Rye Porter - Ithaca Beer Co., Ithaca, NY. 6.6% ABV; 80 IBUs; Rye Porter. A rich, creamy, full-bodied Porter redolent of roasted malts, dark chocolate with rye spiciness.

  • Fireside Chat - 21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, CA. 7.9%; 45 IBUs; English-style Ale; A bit spicy with perhaps subtle notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove at the finish. Spices don't overpower, but nicely supplement the beer. Easy drinking for a 7.9%.

  • Winter Warmer - Harpoon Brewing, Boston MA and Windsor, VT. 5.9% ABV; 23 IBUs. Spiced Ale. Cinnamon and nutmeg - pumpkin pie flavor. Medium bodied formed from caramel and pale malts. No real hop presence.


He'brew Hop Manna

The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Shmaltz Brewing, Clifton Park, NY; STYLE: IPA; ABV: 6.8%; 65 IBUs; MALTS: Specialty 2-Row, Wheat, Munich, Vienna, CaraMunich 40; HOPS: Centennial, Cascade, Citra. 

What The Brewer Says: "Craft Beer worshippers, wander no more! Witness Hop Manna IPA - our beloved single IPA from He'brew Beer and a gift from our new Promised Land in upstate New York. Hop Manna is the answer to hop heads' prayers for a delicious IPA bearing floral and citrus goodness...Hop Manna IPA  is crafted to provide session after session of hop nourishment, from our Tribe to yours."

Color: Liquid Gold

Pour: Decent head that receded fairly quickly

Aroma: Citrus hops

Body: Leaning toward full bodied

Taste: Hop bitterness with notes of pine, citrus, lemon and grapefruit

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!

Comments: "You can taste the Citra hop right away; This is going to find its way to my fridge; It's a damn good IPA; How can we get this in Central New York?; YES!!!; One of the best IPAs I've ever had, and may I turn to a pillar of salt if I'm lying; There's a great and lingering aftertaste; It just cries out for another sip; There's lots of hops taste; It's an exceptional IPA; And it has a nice bitter, dry finish."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Shmatz Brewing; STYLE: Nut Brown Ale; ABV: 5.2%; MALTS: Specialty 2-Row; Carapils; Dark Crystal, Chocolate, CaraMunich 60, Kiln Amber; HOPS: Warrior, Cascade, Liberty; AWARDS: Silver Medal - World Beer Championships.

What The Brewer Says: "A complex yet smooth blend of bold dark malts revealing hints of chocolate, coffee and toffee paired with a lovely hop character."

Color: Appears brown at first pour, but is a reddish color when held up to the light.

Pour: Decent short-lived head

Aroma: A little malty, but not a big nose

Body: Pretty full bodied

Taste: Toward the sweet side with tastes of malt and nuts, with hints of toffee and chocolate.

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This

Comments: "This tastes like a great holiday beer to me, what I would expect from a holiday beer with the chocolate and the toffee and the nuts; There is a deep roast flavor, like a Porter; It's an easy-drinking beer; Tastes like more than 5.2%; I like it better than most of the Brown Ales I've had; There's a nutty aftertaste; A very pleasant tasting beer; This really works well for a winter beer."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Shmalz Brewing; STYLE: Double Rye IPA; ABV: 10%; MALTS and HOPS: See Brewer Comment Below; AWARDS: Best in Show - Saratoga Beer Festival; Best International Ale - Calgary Int'l Beer Festival.

What The Brewer Says: "Brewed with an obscene amount of malts and hops."

Color: Copper

Pour: Decent head

Aroma: Toffee/Caramel

Body: Full

Taste: Initially a big malt flavor, then a nice hops/alcohol taste follows with notes of spice, nuts, toffee..

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough - but be careful.

Comments: "This is loaded with hops; It's a beauty!; Your first impression is that it's sweet, then the hops hit you; Full taste; It's definitely a complex beer; You can definitely taste the alcohol presence; It's a real winter warmer; There's a spicy rye taste - the rye kind of mellows out the alcohol; A 'sit back and sip on it' beer; you need to drink it like a nice glass of wine; They've made some great beer for a long time - since BC?; It's got me looking for my helmet!"

The BOTB Guys

Saturday, November 22, 2014



Bugnutty Brewing Company - This little brewery tucked away in a strip mall on Merritt Island has a surprising number of beers on tap - their own as well as "guest" brewers. We stopped in to check them out. It is a brewery with an intimate tap room. Looking at the chalk board behind the bar I saw three IPAs right at the top: Zeus Will Smite Thee IPA, Black Falcon Black IPA, and Red Falcon Red IPA. I opted for a flight of these four beers and included a beer called Snickle Fritz just because of the name (though some of the other names, particularly Mike's Milf Stout - no, that's not a typo - and Camel Toad Pils, were intriguing as well, though for altogether different reasons).

Snickle Fritz is a California Common beer, similar to Steam beer. It's a very tasty beer with a much bigger hop presence than I expected. It's 5.41% ABV and 37.4 IBU, yet the clean finish gives it a nice bitter bite you wouldn't expect.

Black Falcon Black IPA - 7.4% ABV and 82 IBUs. Nice strong flavor of dark chocolate and coffee with a very strong hops presence. It's like a nice chocolate Stout paired with an IPA. Kind of gives you the best of both worlds. ****

Red Falcon Red IPA - 6.83% ABV and 67.8 IBUs. A hopped up Red Ale. Hint of caramel and toffee. A really good beer. ***

Zeus Will Smite Thee IPA  - 7.24% ABV and 76.2 IBUs. Terrific beer brewed with Galena, Zythos, and Antanum hops and Pale and Rye malt. Really hoppy with spicy citrus hops nose. ****

You can check out their whole line up at

In case you were wondering about the name Bugnutty, here's how they define it:

Bugnutty, adj. \'bug-'nut-te\

1. To have feelings of discouragement, disappointment or frustration.
Example: "Not having a great selection of locally brewed craft beers makes me Bugnutty."

2. Being in a state of overwhelming emotion; especially: rapturous delight
Example: "I am so Bugnutty now that I have fresh craft-brewed beer right here on Merritt Island!"

Florida Beer Company - I've seen some of Florida Beer Company's beers around throughout the South and even occasionally up North. But it seems to always be their Key West Sunset Ale or their Florida Lager. Many bars seem to have the Sunset Ale on tap. I had begun to wonder if they brewed anything else. Indeed they do. We visited the Florida Beer Company for drinks (no food) and found they had a pretty  good selection. The tap room is large with an enormous circular bar. The walls are all glass looking into the working brewery.
Their beer selection is broad enough to include at least one to please any category of craft beer enthusiast from the newbie first dipping a wary tongue into something other than Bud Light to a craft-y veteran of the Beer Wars. Their beers the night we were there included: an Amber Ale, a Belgian Wheat, a Porter, a Stout, a couple of Pilsners, an Amber Lager, and a Red Lager as well as a couple of seasonals - Gourd Shorts Pumpkin Ale and Conchtoberfest (their version of an Oktoberfest). They also had a couple of hard ciders. Oh, and by the way, they had three IPAs: Devil's Triangle (a beer they called a Southern American India Pale Ale -SAIPA?), Swamp Ape,  a double IPA and Smoked Swamp Ape.
I tried the three IPAs (surprise!). Here's what I found:

Devil's Triangle  - ABV: 6.66% (Get it? - Devil - 666); IBUs: 66; SRM: 10 - A delicious IPA full of the spicy hops you would expect from an American IPA. Brewed with Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Warrior hops, it's a beer that won't disappoint hop hounds.

Swamp Ape Double India Pale Ale - ABV:10%; IBUs: 85; SRM: 12 - A big, bold slap-you-up-side-the-head beer. Five hops: Tettnang, Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, and Amarillo give this beer a
powerful punch with a nice warming alcohol-fueled bitter finish. A great sipping beer.

Smoked Swamp Ape - Same as above with a smokey aroma and subtle smoke flavor.


While some of us got the opportunities in recent months to sample some beers from various places around the country, we decided to look close to home for this month's series of samplings. We thought it might be interesting to pick an IPA from within 100 miles of the host's (Ron) home base - Pulaski, NY.


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Brewery Ommegang , Copperstown, NY; STYLE: Belgian-Style Pale Ale; ABVs: 6.0%; IBUs: 21; HOPS: A blend of Cascade and European hops; WEBSITE:

What the Brewer Says: "Pale and hoppy with notes of citrus and tropical fruit. Our Begian-American love child."

Color: Cloudy wheat

Pour: Better than "Decent" but not quite "Guinness Class."

Aroma: Toward the malty side. Somewhat bready, but not a big aroma.

Body: Slightly less than medium

Taste: Fairly balanced. A bit spicy up front with a dry finish, notes of fresh bread

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This!

Comments: "this is the best tasting Belgian I've had; The aftertaste suffers a little bit - it's not a clean finish; This is an Ommegang I'd certainly buy; There is a bit of hops in it; Ommegang really got this one right - hops come to Cooperstown; Belgians are a little out of our wheelhouse, but his is one that crosses into the hop universe; A moderate alcohol content - maybe not quite an IPA, but definitely not a session beer; a somewhat complex taste, I like it."


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Cortland Beer Company, Cortland, NY; STYLE: IPA; ABV: 6.8%; IBUs: 79.9; WEBSITE:

What the Brewer Says: "IPA descends from the late 18th century when beer was exported from London to India. Typical of India Pale Ale, this ale is bold, assertive, and full of hop flavor. It has a medium to dry finish and a fantastic citrus overtone"

Color: 14.9 SRM, Unfiltered buckwheat honey

Pour: Better than decent off-white head with good lacing

Aroma: Grassy hops

Body: A touch more than medium

Taste: Bitter, especially on the aftertaste, it fills the mouth and is heavy. there are notes of toffee and caramel.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough

Comments: "It's a little sweeter than many IPAs; It has a big "industrial" taste; It's a good tailgate beer; This has a complex taste; There is a little more alcohol presence - it announces itself, but not overly; The aftertaste is almost like 'give me another taste'; This is a good local beer that rivals the national beers; It compares well with the West Coast IPAs."


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Empire Brewing, Syracuse, NY; STYLE: IPA; ABV: 7.2%; IBUs: NA; WEBSITE:

What the Brewer Says: "Our American IPA, hopped heavily w/ 6 kettle additions of Falconers Flight. It has a citrus aroma and a bright earthy flavor, with just the right amount of malt balance."

Color: Unfiltered buckwheat honey

Pour: "Guinness Class"

Aroma: Neutral

Body: Medium

Taste: fairly balanced with some bready notes

Overall Impression: I could drink this!

Comments: "There's a nice little bitter finish to it; It's a pretty good IPA; It starts out a little sweet; It has a taste like sawdust smells (in a good way); I drink it when I can find it; We say 'bottle it!'; It should be at the MBT Stadium, the Dome and at Crunch games."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Lake Placid Craft Brewing Company, Lake Placid, NY; STYLE:India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.0%; IBUs: 70; MALTS: Pale Munich, Carapils; HOPS: Amarillo, Simcoe, Chinook, Citra. WEBSITE:

What the Brewer Says: "Walking through the forests around the Olympic village you experience the enormity of the Adirondack Mountains. We offer this big, slightly piney brew in tribute to both the 27th High Peak and our ski jumps, which rise high above the trees. Here's to the heights!"

Color:Cloudy golden

Pour: Slightly better than Decent head

Aroma: Quite a ways toward the Hoppy end with hints of pine

Body: Between Medium and Full

Taste: Leans to the hoppy, with notes of pine resins

Overall Impression:  Can't get enough!

Comments:"It has a big nose; And a promising aroma; This is my favorite Lake Placid beer; I hope they start selling it in the Syracuse area; This is one delicious beer; It has a fireplace and easy chair written all over it; Delicious; It's full all through to the swallow; This is truly a find; It aggressively invites another sip; so far, this is the find of the day."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Ithaca Beer company, Ithaca, NY; STYLE: IPA; ABV: 7.5%; IBUs: NA; MALT: 2-Row Pale, Honey Malt; HOPS: Simcoe, Chinook, Citra, Ahtanum, Centennial; DRY HOPS: Simcoe, Amarillo, Centennial; AWARDS: Silver Medal - Tap NY 2008 / National IPA Championship Final Four 2008, 2010, 2011; WEBSITE:

What the Brewer Says: "Enjoy the clover honey hue and tropical nose. Simultaneously punchy and soothing with a big body and a finish that boasts pineapple and grapefruit. Flower Power is hopped and dry hopped five different times throughout the brewing and fermentation process."

Color: Cloudy pale yellow

Pour: Decent head

Aroma: Hoppy pine and grapefruit

Body: A bit beyond Medium

Taste: Well toward the expected IPA bitter end with notes of            grapefruit, citrus and pine

Overall Impression: "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "This is one good beer; A real no-brainer; This is always in my fridge; It (the logo design) reminds me of the late '60's; This has been a standard in the area for a very long time; In my opinion, it is the best East Coast IPA; It stacks up well to the West Coast IPAs as well; It is arguably one of the best beers on the market; It's definitely a staple."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Hopshire Farms and Brewery, Freeville, NY; STYLE: IPA; ABV: 7.5%; IBUs: 74; MALTS: Pale and Caramel; HOPS: A lot of them; WEBSITE:

What the Brewer Says: "A hop farm needs a big American IPA. We start with a solid malt base...and then add hops (a lot of them!) five times during the boil. We don't stop there.We add to the serving tank in a process we call 'laced with hops.' Hopheads - find your NearVarna."

Color: Unfiltered copper

Pour: Some lacing with slight head

Aroma: Quite hoppy - grapefruit and pine

Body: A bit past medium

Taste: Well toward the bitter end with notes of citrus, grapefruit, nuts and pine

Overall Impression: Just a whisker shy of "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "This beer has a complex flavor; The color is typical of my vision of an IPA; It's a little sweeter and fruitier than many IPAs; Lots of hops flavor throughout; It has a nice malt body as well."


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Good Nature Brewing, Hamilton, NY; STYLE: Imperial IPA; ABV: 8.5%; IBUs: 95; SRM: 5; MALT and HOPS: NA; WEBSITE:

What the Brewer Says: "Our Imperial IPA was originally brewed to celebrate our second anniversary in 2014. We were so taken with her that we decided to keep her on as one of our first bottled beers. A complex IPA that delivers on many levels. The simplicity of the grain bill allows the hops to really shine. Tropical fruits and lemon on the nose with a spicy finish that tickles the taste buds."

Color: Cloudy clover honey

Pour: Between Decent and Little Head with lacing that clings to the glass

Aroma: Hoppy with hints of citrus

Body: Well toward Full Bodied

Taste: Bitter with notes of pine resins and the "Seven C's" hops

Overall Impression: "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "A West Coast hops cocktail; Similar to lagunitas; Smells like a pine tar road; it's a 'let-the-designated-driver-drive' beer because you know you are going to have another one; There is a malty start, then a nice bitter hops finish; It reminds me of Malicious Intent; This is dessert; It's sweeter than most; The strong malt backbone lets the alcohol rise; It really does taste like another; The taste lingers; It's definitely West Coast style."


One of the fun things about craft brewing is the word play many of the breweries employ when naming their beers. Brewers pay homage to everything from songs (Brown Shugga') to writers (Hunter S. Thompson at Flying Dog) to athletes (Larry Bird's Haircut) to TV shows (My Other Brother Darryl)  to literature (Long John Lager, Raven Stout, Tell Tale Pale Ale), to villains (Hoptimus Prime) to heroes (Cap'n Kickass) to landmarks (Nippletop Milk Stout) to movies (Apocalypse Cow) to monsters (Nosferatu) to saints (Yeastus Christ) to devils (Arrogant Bastard, Duvil in Ms Jones).  And that really just scratches the surface. Take a look at some of these actual beer names:

William Holden Belgian Golden from Drake's Brewing
Pandora's Bock from Elysian
Live and Let Rye from Empire
Spruce Willis from Dogfish Head
Cascazilla from Ithaca
Citra Ass Down from Against the Grain
Those Candies Your Granny Loves Brown Ale from Cigar City
Groundskeeper Spilly from Sixpoint
There Will Be Black from Brooklyn
Hell and High Watermelon from 21st Amendment
Yippie Rye Aye from Sierra Nevada
Wailing Wench from Middle Ages
Gourd of the Rings from Cambridge (It's a pumpkin beer - get it?)
Fermentation Without Representation from Epic
Carl Weathers As Dillon in Predator Imperial Cascadian Dark Ale  from Fort Collins - I kid you not!

Now, I throw all this out there because of a recent situation involving Empire Brewing in Syracuse, the naming of a beer and a claim of copyright infringement. For several years now Empire has brewed a Bock beer sold only in their pub called Strikes Bock.  Now, when paired with the Empire Brewing name you get Empire Strikes Bock,  a clever homage to the Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back.  Now that Empire Brewing has begun to expand and is about to begin bottling, they have been charged with copyright infringement by Lucasfilms, now a division of Walt Disney Co. In the brief filed against Empire it is stated that the name could create confusion in the marketplace, due in part to the fact that George Lucas owns some vineyards. That's vineyards not hop farms!

Empire plans on striking back, but when you consider the deep pockets of their opponents, it is unlikely they will win. Which is too bad. Granted, big movie studios do need to protect their copyrighted material. Franchises such as Star Wars bring in millions to the companies on peripherals alone: action figures, book tie-ins, tee shirts, hats, toys etc. Without a tight rein on the use of names and likenesses, unscrupulous entrepreneurs could cut drastically into those profits by selling knock-offs at bargain basement prices.

But Beer? Really? Confusion in the marketplace? "Gee, I wanted to get my kid a Luke Skywalker action figure but I ended up with this six-pack of beer." I think there's a big difference between trying to bilk the public with knock-offs and a nod and a wink to a beloved icon with clever word-play. I'd hate to see craft beer names lose their edginess and fun out of fear of a lawsuit.

Good Luck to Empire. May the Force be with you on this one. Or, to reference Mel Brooks, May the Schwartzbier be with you.

The BOTB Guys   

Friday, October 31, 2014

Session IPAs


Think back about 20 years or so (if you're old enough) and consider your options as a beer drinker in the US. The Craft Beer Revolution was still fairly young and your choices were basically a light lager or a lighter lager (or LITE-er), Foreign beers were somewhat exotic and pricey changes-of-pace. An interesting curiosity, perhaps: Becks or St. Pauli Girl in that German place, Guinness or Smithwicks in an Irish Pub, Peroni or Birra Moretti in an Italian Restaurant, Corona or Dos XX in a Mexican Cantina, Kirin or Asahi in Ichiban. You get the picture. Yet even these beers (with the possible exception of Guinness or a Beck's Dark) were still pretty similar in taste profile to the American mega-brews. They were all lagers with minimal hop presence - light bodied, light in character. But slowly, thanks to some visionary brewers out there, beers with bolder, fuller flavors began to make their across the American landscape. Choice is a wonderful thing. Hey, if your preference is a mega-brew light lager, great. There are still tons of those out there. But now they are not the ONLY choice out there. For those who crave flavor, the possibilities are endless: Altbiers, Amber Ales, Barley Wines, Belgians, Bitters, Bocks, Cask Ales, Cream Ales, Doppelbocks, Dunkels, Eisbock, Golden Ales, Goses, Hefeweizens, Helles, Holiday Beers, IPA's, Kolsches, Lambics, Maibocks, Oktoberfests, Old Ales, Pale Ales, Pilseners, Porters, Pumpkin Ales, Red Ales, Schwarzbiers, Shandies,Sour Ales, Stouts, Strong Ales, Summer Ales, Tripels, Wheats, Zwickelbiers. Just to name a few.

Just check out this Periodic Table of Beers. I know, you can't really see it clearly, but you get the picture.

And brewers are constantly coming up with new twists on traditional styles - adding spices fruits and flavors resulting in interesting concoctions that sometimes work and sometimes don't depending on your taste. Choice is a wonderful thing.

Lately a new style has been emerging: Session IPAs. It seems nearly every craft brewer is throwing their (relatively) low alcohol IPA into the ring. he idea is great. Traditionally an IPA (India Pale Ale), by its very nature, is a higher alcohol brew. By now everyone is familiar with the Origin Story of the IPA style (like any superhero, IPAs have an Origin Story) in which a beer was developed to survive the long boat trip to India from The British Isles. The solution was to up the hops and up the alcohol. American IPAs generally clock in at somewhere between 6% and 8%  ABVs. No problem if you're going to kick back and have a couple beers. But there are those times (think fall = football) when you might want more than a couple, but you really don't want to wake up with a pounding head the next morning. One solution is to stick with the Mega-brews since they fall into the 4%-5% range (no, just kidding, I would never suggest that). Some Pale Ales and Stouts and Porters come in at lower alcohol levels certainly. But what if you wanted that nice hop kick of an IPA without too big a kick in the head by the alcohol? Enter Session IPAs. Session IPAs are exactly that: hoppy beers that have ABVs of around 4% - 5%. Of course, some of the flavor and body found in a normal IPA is derived from the alcohol, so it is not an easy task to create a lower alcohol IPA with taste. This month we decided to check out a few.


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Otter Creek, Middlebury, VT; STYLE: Session APA (American Pale Ale - the only one not specifically an IPA); ABV: 4.25%; IBUs: 35

What the Brewer Says: "Originally brewed by the Otter Creek brewers who were looking for an easy sipper after a long shift, Hop Session lies somewhere between a Pale Ale and an IPA. A bouquet of hop varieties complement a rich blend of malts, making this brew highly drinkable with a distinct West Coast hop flavor and aroma."

Pour: Better than "Decent" off-white foamy head

Color: Unfiltered honey

Aroma: Toward the malty side, somewhat floral.

Body: Medium

Taste: Slightly toward the bitter side of balanced. A bit bready, some malt and a little citrus tang.

Overall Impression: Midway between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough"

Comments: "This is the first session IPA I've had that tastes of hops; A good mix of hops and malt; It needs to come in cans; Tastes like what it is - a light IPA; This is not a complex beer; You could mow the lawn drinking this; It's a perfect session beer; There is nothing objectionable about it."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Sierra Nevada, Chico, California; ABV: 4.8%; IBUs: 40; MALTS: Two Row Pale, Wheat, Munich, Chocolate; HOPS: Sterling (bittering), Centennial, Chinook.

What the Brewer Says: "there's no better way to start a lazy afternoon than with a group of friends and a few beers. Nooner IPA is a session beer that's light in body yet big in hop flavor. By using intense, whole-cone American hops in our Hop Torpedo we pack this small beer with a hefty hop punch. Traditionally, IPAs have been bigger, stronger beers, but this session beer offers the same hop assertiveness with an easy drinkability."

Pour: Very carbonated with effervescently tight bubbles. Decent head.

Color: Golden

Aroma: Grassy hops.

Body: Light to Medium

Taste: Balanced with notes of lemony citrus, some grapefruit and subtle malt.

Overall Impressions: "I Could Drink This"

Comments: "I love the name; There aren't many (if any) bad beer from Sierra Nevada; This is a little more malty than most; It's a good representative of the type; It's very refreshing; This would be a good golf beer; It has a nice, sharp bitterness on the end, but more malt; It had a great mouthfeel; It's what you'd expect form Sierra Nevada."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY; STYLE: Session IPA; ABV: 4.8%; IBUs: NA; AVAILABILITY: Draft, Growler - Year Round.

What the Brewer Says: "An IPA with a lower than average alcohol but with intense pine and citrus hop flavor, rounded up with a dry finish. It was first brewed to celebrate our 17th anniversary."

Pour: Midway between "Decent" and "Guinness Class."

Color: Hazy amber

Aroma: Piney/floral hops

Body: Between Medium and Full

Taste: Bitter with notes of grapefruit and pine. Bit of malt.

Overall Impression: "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "It's the first one that really slapped me up side the head; Wow - that smells good; It's a bit daring for a session beer; This is NOT BAD; It has a strong taste for a session; It fills the mouth; Very good beer; It is clean and crisp; Real nice American IPA; It reminds me of Abita (in a good way); I personally don't care for it as much as Sierra Nevada or Otter Creek."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Paso Robles, CA; STYLE: Session IPA; ABV: 4.5%; IBUs: 45-50; MALTS: American Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Malted Wheat, English Carmel-35, Cara Pils, Rolled Oats; HOPS: Bavarian Mandarina, Hallertau Melon, Blend of New Zealand, American Mosaic

What the Brewer Says: "Brewmaster Matt Brynildson went to the mountain and returned with a vision for a different kind of Session IPA, one that would be brewed and dry hopped with a globetrotting selection of new hop varieties from Europe, New Zealand and North America. He foresaw a beer that would deliver massive hop aromas, a signature malt balance and an empty glass before you knew what hit you. And so the newest member of our Jack IPA was born."

Pour: Initially decent head, but without much staying power

Color: Unfiltered blonde

Aroma: Hoppy - hay, grass

Body: Medium

Taste: Leans toward malty for an IPA, with notes of bread and yeast.

Overall Impression: "I Could Drink This"

Comments: "It tastes bigger than 4.5%; There is more of a malt presence than with most of the other session IPAs; Something seems to be missing from each of the session IPAs - it seems they have to sacrifice some taste for the lower alcohol; It has a big beer smell; It's yeastier and breadier than the rest of the ones we have had; It could be a decent summer brew; In isolation it would be a great beer, compared to the others we have had so far today - meh!"


The Beer Facts: BREWERY: Stone Brewing, Encondido, CA; STYLE: Session IPA; ABV: 4.5%; IBUs: 65

What the Brewer Says: "Since Day One, we've been abundantly forthright and fully transparent about our lust for hops. It's led us to craft many an IPA, most of them Imperial - some intese for their time and all timeless in their intensity. For Stone Go To IPA, we are embracing our hop obsession is a new way, funneling an abundance of lupulin-borne bitterness into a 'session' IPA delivering all the fruity, piney character of a much bigger IPA. To accomplish this, we employed 'hop bursting,' a new technique wherin an irrational amount of hops is added during the final phase of the brewing process to coax out extreme flavors and aromas while also imparting a burst of desirably pleasant bitterness. The result is an Alpha-acid rich beer that fans can enjoy more of withou missing out on the assertive hop character you, like us, crave. So, sit back and go two with your new everyday go-to IPA and bask along with us in the glory of the almighty hop." 
Ya' gotta' love Stone - and the guy who writes their labels.

Pour: Initially OK but not a lot of staying power

Color: Unfiltered pale yellow

Aroma: Hoppy - pine

Body: A bit beyone Medium

Taste: Pleasantly bitter with notes of pine and grapefruit

Overall Impression: "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "Not a 'Stone's throw' away from perfection; It reminds me of Founder's All Day IPA; I COULD drink this all day; With Stone's the expectations are high, and this does not disappoint; It knocks your socks off for a session; This could stand up to several regular IPAs; It is head and shoulders above what I had expected; It's a great beer, period."


The Beer Facts: BREWERY:Flying Dog Brewing, Frederick, Maryland; STYLE: American Session IPA; ABV: 4.7%; IBUs: 50; MALTS: Biscuit; HOPS: A propriatory brewers blend

What the Brewer Says: "Easy IPA is the first beer in our Brewhouse Rarities series of staff-pitched and elected limited releases to become a part of our regular portfolio."

Pour: Midway between "decent head" and "Guinness Class"

Color: Straw

Aroma: Hops - floral

Body: Medium

Taste: Balanced with a malty finish

Overall Impression: Midway between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough."

Comments: "Very malty finish; It's the maltiest of the bunch so far; This is a pretty good beer; Flying Dog doesn't disappoint either; It has a fresh, crisp taste; It's the most balanced of all; It's the 'fresh linen' of the bunch; I'd buy something stronger; I think it's a nice beer."


Once again, we were blessed with six tasty beers (plus some good ones from Yonkers Brewery - we'll get to those in a bit). We had a lively discussion of the beers we had just tasted and found a mix of opinions. There was no consensus number one, but after some deep philosophical debate, we came up with an uneasy ranking of these Session IPAs. These were our findings:

#1 - Stone's Go To IPA - Only by a whisker, but just by reading the beer notes by Sone you can see why this would win out with a bunch of hop-heads.

#2 - Middle Ages Session IPA - We all liked this locally brewed beer, but not everyone ranked it 1 or 2 (as did happen with Stone). That broke the possible tie.

#3 - Sierra Nevada's Nooner - A very solid entry into the Session IPA sweepstakes. 

4 - Flying Dog's Easy IPA - A nice, easy-drinking beer tending toward the malty.

#5 - Otter Creek's Hop Session - A great boat beer with flavor

#6 - Firestone Walker's Easy Jack - this surprised everyone. We are all big fans of Firestone Walker and their "Jack" series so when we found this a bit lacking compared to some of the others we were taken aback. It just didn't have the hop kick many of the others did.


To complete the day's "work" we reviewed three beers kindly donate by Yonkers Brewing Company (check them out at ). It was founded in 2012 as a Kickstarter project. We reviewed each of the three beer based on their style (Lager, Blonde Ale, IPA).


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Blonde Ale; ABV: 4.5%; IBUs: 22

What the Brewer Says: "This light golden ale provides the perfect jumping off point for drinkers new to craft beer. The malty body is balanced with just a touch of hops. A touch of local Hudson Valley honey is added into the kettle adding some depth to the clean ale aroma."

Pour: Moderate white head

Color: Unfiltered pale yellow

Aroma: Grassy malt

Body: Light

Taste: Balanced, light taste wit a bit of sweet honey flavor and a hint of hops

Overall Impression: We would "Leave it on the shelf" - That's our opinion, not because it is a bad beer for its style - it isn't - but because we are not really fans of the style. It would make a good jumping off point for someone dipping their toes in the Craft Beer Pool. For us, just not enough hops.

Comments: "This tastes like a golf cart beer; It really does taste better than it looks; there is a hint of bitterness on the back end; A nice summer beer; It has a few hops in it; It's a bit too bland for me; I would take this over a Bud; Maybe a boat beer; It's better than a lite beer."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Lager; ABV: 5.2%; IBUs: 30-40

What the Brewer Says: "Our flagship. An easy drinking, accessible Vienna Lager with a balance between the rich malt character and refreshing hop presence. Copper in color this beer is made from American Bittering and Noble Aroma Hops. Not too sweet and not too bitter, a beer you can enjoy anytime."

Pour: "Decent" ecru head

Color: Buckwheat honey

Aroma: Toward the malty, but not a strong aroma - kind of a bready nose.

Body: Medium

Taste: Slightly to the bitter side of balanced

Overall Impression: "I Could Drink This"

Comments: "Not a bad beer; In fact, it's a pretty good lager; Nice lawn mower beer; Beats the hell ou of Bud, Miller, Coors and Yuengling; The aftertaste is good; If I had to drink a lager, this would be it."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: IPA; ABV: 6.0%; IBUs: 60

What the Brewer Says: "A West Coast style IPA. The rich golden malt provides the perfect canvas for the variety of hops to shine. The columbus, Centennial, Glacier, Citra and Simcoe hops create a rich aroma chock full of citrus and stone fruit."

Pour: Between "Decent" and "Guinness Class" head that is solid and doesn't go away.

Color: Unfiltered orange

Aroma: Hoppy grapefruit, pine

Body: Medium

Taste: Hoppy bitterness with notes of grapefruit and pine

Overall Impression: "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "That's what I want an IPA to taste like; It's definitely a West Coast style IPA; It screams for another swallow; There isn't much malt backbone; A great beer-way to go Yonkers!"


That's one of those expressions that we've all heard over the years. "Well, that's the exception that proves the rule." Really? I've always found that an odd expression. And at times I've found myself trying to come up with a situation that fits that expression, usually with limited success. But finally I found an excellent example: Ballantine IPA. 

Let me explain. I have said for some time now that the Mega-brews could, if the were so inclined, produce really good, full-flavored hoppy beers (or for that matter malty Stouts or Porters). The thing is, they don't because it costs a little more to use top-notch ingredients and actually put some hops in their beers II'm sorry, but "triple-hopped" doesn't mean waving some hops over the beer three times). Check out this list of The Worst Beers in the World. But the big brewers would rather spend that money on advertising - selling image rather than quality. Even more insidious are the pseudo-craft beers they put out, hiding the fact that they are produced by the big breweries, pretending to be a small, local craft brewer. I wouldn't even mind that if the beer was good. 

Now along comes the exception that proves the rule. Ballantine IPA is a beer that was enormously popular post-Prohibition and on into the 1960's. It eventually went the way of all beer not owned by A-B, Miller or Coors (and later InBev or Miller/Coors). But now Pabst Brewing, large enough to be considered a mega-brewery, has revived Ballantine IPA. I tried a bottle recently, somewhat wary that it would be another of those "IPA-in-name-only" brews that have been foisted on hop lovers by the big breweries of late. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised. It pours a dark orange in color with a solid,Bud Light crowd. At 70 IBUs (compared to the aforementioned Bud Light's 6 - 8 IBUs) it is wonderfully bitter right from the start. A nice combination of hop flavors - pine, floral, earthy, spicy, grapefruit - blend with oak-tinted roasted malt. A very nice beer that proves what the big brewers could do if they so desired.
long lasting head. Right off the bat you get a hit of pine and a hint of grapefruit in the aroma, signaling good things to come. And the taste doesn't disappoint. It is surprisingly complex, especially when you consider how reasonably priced it is. You are struck immediately by the fact that this beer is not catering to the

Here's a link from All About Beer Magazine that gives some terrific background on the original Ballantine IPA and its current iteration.

And who out there remembers this jingle:

You take a ring;
And then another ring and then another ring
And then you've got three rings.
And now it's premium;
It's a very special glass of beer!

Quick Trivia: What do the three rings mentioned in the jingle (Ballantine's logo) represent?

The Answer: Purity, Body, Flavor

It also looks like a pretzel - which would go well with beer.

Below are a couple of classic Ballantine ads, one employing Mel Brooks as the 2500 year old man in an interview with Dick Cavett.

The BOTB Guys