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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vermont Comes to Central New York


I happened upon an online article from USA Today. It was one of those "top 10" type articles and they listed their top 10 states for craft beer. It includes the states you would expect - California, Washington State, Oregon - but missing from the list is one I expected to see: Vermont. Vermont was one of the early adapters to craft beer. You could get good beer in Vermont while some of those   other states were still stuck in the Mega-brew malaise that had overtaken the country. Then I realized the list was based on the number of craft breweries in each state, from #1 California's 268 to #10 Illinois' 54 (New York came in a respectable #8, by the way, with 72 and growing). Vermont has, according to the Vermont Brewer's Association, 38 craft breweries. But look at the size of Vermont compared to the size of, say, California or Oregon.

Being our neighbor to the East (and having a BOTB member whose two sons reside in that state and regularly supply us with Vermont brews) we have become quite familiar with Vermont's wealth of good beer. I began to tick off the Vermont breweries whose wares we have had the opportunity to sample: The Alchemist, Burlington, Crop Bistro, Fiddlehead, Harpoon, Hill Farmstead, Long Trail, Magic Hat, Northshire, Otter Creek, Lawson, Norwich Inn, Switchback, Rock Art, Wolaver's, Zero Gravity. So I dug a little deeper and found that as of 2011 Vermont had the greatest number of breweries per capita of any state in the Union. That was more like it! To paraphrase Huck Finn, you can't swing a dead cat in Vermont without hitting a brewery.

This month the BOTB guys had the opportunity to sample Vermont beers from Long Trail, Otter Creek, The Shed and Wolaver's. Some strayed from our hop-centric wheelhouse, meaning they aren't our mug of beer, but they might be yours. As usual, we give you an objective look at five aspects of the beer (Color, Pour, Aroma, Body, and Taste). We then give our Overall Impression which ranges from "Leave it on the shelf" (not one we'd buy) to "I Could Drink That" (a good, solid brew) to "Can't Get Enough" (Excellent beer we would actively seek out). Our last section is our Comments where we fire off-the-cuff and sometimes off-topic and occasionally off-color opinions in a sort of stream of consciousness (perhaps approaching unconsciousness) free-for-all.

And remember, our opinions are filtered through the taste buds of Guys who love hoppy beers.

Here's what we found:

The Beer Facts: BREWER: Wolaver's, Middlebury, VT; STYLE: Pale Wheat Ale; ABV: 4.25%; IBUs: 15; HOPS: NA; MALT: NA; SPECIAL INGREDIENTS: Honey and Chamomile flowers 

What the Brewer Says: "Wildflower Wheat is a delicious, unfiltered wheat ale brewed with organic chamomile flowers and a hint of pure, organic honey."

Color: Golden

Pour: Slight head with some lacing

Aroma: Not a strong aroma, slight floral and a bit of wheat

Body: Light

Taste: Zesty. Slightly sweet, with a bit of lemon and honey.

Overall Impression: Alas, we would Leave it on the Shelf.

Comments: "Light tasting; Can taste the honey in it; A nice picnic beer; Would rather drink this than a Shandy; Crisp finish; The honey gives it an interesting taste that kind of separates it; Not really a wheat fan, and 15 IBUs is a bit light weight for my taste; A summery, easy to drink kind of beer should be served cold on a hot day."


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Long Trail Brewing Co., Bridgewater Corners, VT; STYLE: Session Ale; ABV: 4.3%; IBUs: 32; MALTS: Pilsner; HOPS: Citra

What the Brewer Says: "An unfiltered golden ale made to chill out summer's hottest days. Remarkably light on the palate, with a soft Pilsner malt character and a distinct citrus hop aroma deriving from dry-hopped additions of Citra hops. Each sip finishes with a refreshing bitterness that invites another. At 4.3% ABV, this golden beauty is a truly quaffable drinking experience."

Color: Straw

Pour: Decent head with sustained lacing

Aroma: Floral

Body: Somewhat light

Taste: Citrus, with hints of lemon after a light malt opening

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This!

Comments: "Nice bitterness to it; One of the better summer ales I've ever had; A lot to be said for a session beer in the summer; In a lawn chair, ice cold...nice; Comes through at the right time; If you weren't yet into craft beer this would be a good 'gateway' beer; I would actually take this to a summer party; It's nice to see a summer ale with a little bite to it;  A good, easy-drinking beer, well done Long Trail."


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Otter Creek, Middlebury, VT; ABV: 4.6%; IBUs: 40; HOPS AND MALT: NA

What the Brewer Says: "A brand new addition to Otter Creek's year-round lineup... Look for it in six-packs and 12 packs."

Color: Straw

Pour: Somewhat better than Decent head

Aroma: Sweet grapefruit, citrus 

Body: A bit more than Light

Taste: Nice bitter hoppy edge, with strong grapefruit/citrus notes

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This!

Comments: "Bitter finish; Certainly nothing objectionable here; Tasty; Better than many of the session IPAs I've had; Nice kind of grapefruit/orange taste to it with a great IPA bitter bite; I'm a fan; It's a session so not complex, but really good sort of more-than-one-beer beer."


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Long Trail Brewing Co., Bridgewater Corners, VT; STYLE: Belgian Witbier; ABV:4.7%; IBUs: 12; MALT AND HOPS: NA 

What the Brewer Says: "A mostly cloudy body is capped with a light, fluffy head that reveals soft notes of  citrus and spices. Whether you prefer partly sunny or mostly cloudy, this brew will happily keep your glass half full." 

Color: Unfiltered gold

Pour: Big, Guinness class head

Aroma: Spicy, soap

Body: Light

Taste: A bit sweet and citrusy, hints of lemon

Overall Impression: Leave it on the shelf

Comments: "This is one of those tough ones, I don't really care for Belgian Witbiers, and this is solidly in that taste profile, so if you favor those, I suppose you'd like this. I'm not a fan; Champagne effervescence; Faint coriander taste; Has to be icy cold to drink; Watery mouthfeel; Typical of Belgian Witbiers."  


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Long Trail Brewing Co., Bridgewater Corners, VT; STYLE: Amber Ale - German Style Altbier; ABV: 5.0%; IBUs: 28

What the Brewer Says: "First brewed in 1989, Long Trail Ale is a full-bodied amber ale brewed with our top fermenting house yeast that yields a complex, clean flavor."

Color: Copper

Pour: Decent, bubbly head

Aroma: Caramel, malt, nutty

Body: Light to Medium

Taste: Roasted malt, caramel, nutty

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This!

Comments: "This is one of those beers I remember having in the early years of craft beer; It's one of the beers that got me into craft beers; Nice, nutty, malty flavor; A comfort beer; Kind of reminds me of some good Oktoberfest beers."


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Otter Creek Brewing, Middlebury, VT; STYLE: Belgian Style White IPA; ABV: 5.5%; IBUs: 45 

What the Brewer Says: "A summer sipper built for lawn chairs, lawn games and lawn mowing, Fresh Slice  features the spicy, estery flavor profile of Belgian yeast laced with the juicy hop flavors and aromas of American hops."

Color: Hazy orange

Pour: Slight head with some lacing

Aroma: A little spicy and citrusy

Body: Light

Taste: Orange, grapefruit, citrus and strong coriander

Overall Impression: A divisive lean toward Leave it on the Shelf

Comments: "One of those beers some will love some will not, I didn't particularly care for it; Strong Belgian yeast taste; Doesn't have the hop presence for an IPA; Too much coriander; Not my first choice; I'm not getting the coriander as strongly as you guys, I thought it was okay; I'd take this over Magic Hat #9; If you're a Belgian fan, you'd like this."


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Otter Creek Brewing, Middlebury, VT; STYLE: American India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.0%; IBUs: 68 

What the Brewer Says: "The first year-round IPA in Otter Creek history, Backseat Berner is an American beauty that's loaded with juicy hops. Like Oslo, Brewmaster Mike's 150 pound Bernese mountain dog that adorns the label, Backseat Berner is your everday companion for life's adventures."

Color: Hazy orange

Pour: Decent Head

Aroma: Grassy

Body: Medium

Taste: Grapefuit and grass, with hints of toffee, caramel, butterscotch

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!!

Comments: "Delicious!; Perhaps the best Otter Creek beer I've ever had; Real nice mouthfeel; Nice, pleasing beer; I'd buy this in a heartbeat - in fact I'm going to be looking for it; I'd put it on my front burner."


The Beer FactsBREWER: The Shed Brewery, Middlebury, VT; STYLE: English Strong Ale; ABV: 7.4%; IBUs: 35; HOPS: Mt. Hood, Northern Brewer 

What the Brewer Says: "This unfiltered English Strong Ale is a medium to full-bodied ale, with pronounced caramel and toffee notes, followed by a roasted finish."

Color: Amber

Pour: Decent Head

Aroma: Caramel

Body: Between Medium and Full

Taste: Malty with hints of toffee and caramel. Nice bit of hop to it.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!

Comments: "Really nice brown ale; Reminiscent of British style beers; Like Newcastle on steroids; Toffee/caramel backbone with slight hop presence; Malty presence that just stays in the mouth; Not an IPA, but we love it; Sweet beer that would appeal to people who don't want a hoppy beer, but want a beer with flavor."


The Beer Facts: BREWER: Long Trail Brewing Co.,Bridgewater Corners, VT;STYLE: Double IPA; ABV: 7.4%; IBUs: 80

What the Brewer Says: "A big mouth-watering IPA brimming with all the flavors and aromas of the new breed of hops coming from Australia and the Pacific Northwest."

Color: Orange/Amber

Pour: Decent Head with lingering lace

Aroma: Straw, grass, tropical fruit, some pine 

Body: Approaching full

Taste: Balanced with a nice bitter bite, a hoppy finish with hints of bread. A warm alcohol presence.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!!

Comments: "I really like this beer; It's been in my fridge since they came out with it; Absolutely delicious; Nice name, too; Long Trail's finest!; I like it better than their regular IPA, and I like that; Terrific; It's got a nice complexity that you just can't get in some of the session IPAs; You also gotta' love that it is reasonably priced, I've had some double IPAs that cost a lot more that weren't half as good."


If you've been following us at all, you probably could have guessed the results, but here's a quick breakdown from favorite to least.

1. LIMBO IPA - This was an absolute winner. It's a terrific, full-flavored IPA - strong enough to have a bit of an alcohol warming without being so strong that you can't have a second one. 

2. BACKSEAT BERNER - It was a tough call between this and Limbo.  Both are right in our wheelhouse. Like Limbo it is a complex beer with a solid malt foundation supporting tasty citrus/hop notes. Our favorite Otter Creek.

3. MOUNTAIN ALE - This one surprised us as it isn't an IPA and it isn't extremely hoppy, but we all were taken with its big malty flavor highlighted by toffee and caramel notes. Classically British, but bigger than most Brit beers. Having said that, there was also enough of a hop presence to set it apart from other brown ales. A delightful beer.

4. OVER EASY - We found this to be a very pleasant, easy-drinking Session Ale, as hoppy as many session IPAs we've tried. At 4.6% we saw this as an excellent summer golf cart/lawn mower/boat beer.

5. LONG TRAIL ALE -  Many of us remember this beer fondly as one of our early craft beer experiences. A solid balanced Amber Ale.

6. LONG TRAIL SUMMER ALE - This is a summer ale with a surprising amount of hop presence. One of the better summer ales we've had.

7. FRESH SLICE - The strong coriander presence in this beer was a bit of a turn-off for us. We wouldn't seek it out but it is representative of the White IPA style.

8. WILDFLOWER WHEAT - The honey gave this a unique taste, still a bit of a lightweight for our tastes.

9. MOSTLY CLOUDY - Loved the name, but not so much the beer. Again, strictly a question of personal taste here. If you like Belgian-style, low IBU beers often served with a lemon or orange slice, you'll like this. But as unapologetic hopheads, this just wasn't what we look for in a beer.

Up Next:
The BOTB Guys look close to home as we check out some of the latest New York State brews.

The BOTB Guys

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Summer Suds

This month the BOTB Guys take a look at some summer beers - canned beers with a summery feel to them.  I'll also finish up my take on the state of craft beer in England.

The Beers of Summer 2015

Ahh, summer. Hot days and cold beer. We decided to make our annual foray into summer beers or, as we like to call them, boat beers. Basically beers that are a bit on the light side (but not the lite side) with lower ABVs. Like the old Schaefer Beer ad used to say, a beer for "when you're having more than one." Most of the beers we had clocked in at under 5% ABV, though a couple broke the Boat Beer limit by a couple of percentage points. Being very open-minded Guys, we included them anyway.


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Summer Ale; BREWER: Uinta Brewing, Salt Lake City, Utah; ABV: 4%; IBU: 17; SRM: 3; MALT: NA; HOPS: Sorachi; AWARDS: 2010 Silver Medal World Beer Championships. 

What the Brewer Says: "Citrusy and thirst-quenching, this refreshing golden ale is highlighted by the use of unique hops."

Color: Pale yellow with a faint green tinge

Pour: Nice, thick white head

Aroma: Not much noticeable aroma

Body: Light, thin

Taste: Light citrus, with hints of lemon

Overall Impression: Leave it on the shelf

Comments: "Palate cleanser; Not one I would go out and buy again; Certainly a summer beer; better than Bud, Coors Light etc.; Weird color, almost green; Kind of nondescript but better than some summer ales I've had; At least it's not a Shandy."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Session IPA; BREWER: 21st Amendment, San Francisco, CA; ABV: 4.4%; IBUs: 42; MALTS: Golden Promise, Munich, Light, Crystal 45, Caramalt; HOPS: Cascade, Mosaic.

What the Brewer Says: "Down to Earth is the natural evolution (pun intended) of Bitter American, our original session ale. We thought it would be fitting to bring our space chimp home and let him chill. Whether you have a long mission behind you or a full afternoon ahead, this session IPA will help keep things real. More relaxed than an IPA, but with all the hop aroma and flavor, Down to Earth is our tribute to unsung heroes and unplanned adventures."

Color: Pale gold

Pour: Nice head with good lacing

Aroma: Nice hoppy aroma - grapefruit

Body: Medium

Taste: Light grapfruit-bitter hoppiness with a hint of a metallic taste. A balanced malty/bready backbone.

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This!

Comments: "Nice job on the packaging; Really nice taste - I could drink this; Well balanced for a golf cart beer; Tastes bigger than 4.4%; Attacks the tongue (nicely); this brewery doesn't disappoint; We had a shit-load of 4.4%ers in England, but this is so much better than any of them, so much fuller flavored; It's got the citrusy taste with some solid malt that gives it a fuller body and more complex flavor than a lot of the session IPAs; I'd like to taste this side-by-side with Bitter American to see the difference. I was a fan of Bitter American."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Session IPA; BREWER: Evil Twin Brewing, Two Roads Brewing Co, CT.; ABV: 4.5%;IBUs: NA

What the Brewer Says: "Despite his bitterness, lack of power and unsuperable aversion to any kind of extravagant labor - he kind of has a charming charisma, and perhaps he is even loveable. Somehow we find him unbelievable, irresistible and stimulating because he is one of the few that masters the ability to effortlessly impress with his sharp intelligence and make it look so damn easy."

Color: Pale Yellow with a faint green cast

Pour: Guinness class head

Aroma: Citra hops dominate with a strong grapefruity aroma

Body: Medium

Taste: Tilts toward the bitter/hoppy end of the spectrum with strong citrus, grapefruit and pine tastes.

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This

Comments: "Bitter on the end; Good summer beer - tastes summery, but hoppy; Tastes better than it looks; 16 ounce can makes for a better golf / boat beer; bigger can makes for a better beer can chicken; It's a nice session IPA, not complex, but enough flavor to set it apart from a lot of other summer brews; Nice, easy-drinking beer."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Session IPA; BREWER: Firestone Walker, Paso Robles, CA; ABV: 4.5%; IBUs: 45 - 50; COLOR: 4-5 SRM; MALTS: American Pale Malt; 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 family was born."

Color: Golden

Pour: Between Decent and Guinness Class heads.

Aroma: Resinous, hoppy, grapefruit

Body: Medium

Taste: Leans heavily toward the hoppy/bitter end of the spectrum with citrus/grapefruit, pine, hints of lemon and a subtle malt backing

Overall Impression: Nearly Can't Get Enough

Comments: "Nice finish; Starts out strong - finishes strong; Doesn't taste like a session beer; Fuller body bodied beer than you get with most sessions; Really good beer; Have they re-made this beer? Seems like I had it before and was kind of lukewarm about it, but I really like it today."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Session IPA; ABV: BREWER: Founders Brewing Company, Grand Rapids, MI; 4.7%; IBUs: 42; AWARDS: 2014 Australian International Beer Awards - Gold Medal.

What the Brewer Says: "The beer you've been waiting for. Keeps your taste satisfied while keeping your senses sharp. An all-day IPA naturally brewed with a complex array of malts, grains and hops. Balanced for optimal aromatics and a clean finish. The perfect reward for an honest day's work and the ultimate companion to celebrate life's simple pleasures.

Color: Clover honey

Pour: Big off-white head

Aroma: Grassy

Body: Medium

Taste: Hoppy/bitter with grapefruit, pine, citrus and grass

Overall Impression: Between I Could Drink This and Can't Get Enough

Comments: "You don't taste the alcohol difference, but you can taste the hops; Fills the nose; More grassy than grapefruit/piney hops; A standard session IPA; You always want to have it on hand for the summer"


The Beer Facts: STYLE: India Pale Ale; BREWER:21st Amendment Brewery, San Francisco, CA; ABV: 7%; IBUs: 70; MALTS: Two-Row Pale, Imported Munich and Light Crystal; HOPS: Bittering: Columbus, Finishing: Cascade, Centennial

What the Brewer Says: "Brew Free! Or Die IPA is brewed with some serious west coast attitude. This aromatic golden IPA starts with three different hops to the nose, quickly balanced by a solid malt backbone supporting the firm bitterness. Our top selling beer at the pub, this IPA starts big and finishes clean leaving you wanting more."

Color: Deep Gold

Pour: Near Guinness Class off-white head

Aroma: Hoppy, pine

Body: Between Medium and Full

Taste: Strong grapefruit, pine with hints of grass and a nice sourdough/bready taste underlying the hops.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!

Comments: "Tastes like a big beer - especially after the sessions; One of my favorites; Tastes really good - has a bigger ABV but doesn't have that 'hot' alcohol taste; An awesome beer, nicely complex and full-flavored."

                                       SKINNY DIPPER

The Beer Facts: STYLE: American IPA; BREWER:St. Lawrence Brewing Co., Canton, NY; ABV: 7%; IBU: 85; MALTS: Pale Malt; HOPS: Cascade, Centennial

What the Brewer Says: "Hoppy and bitter, clear orange color, medium mouthfeel...easy drinkability."

Color: Hazy straw orange-ish color

Pour: Decent white head

Aroma: Straw

Body: A bit beyond Medium

Taste: Leans toward the hoppy, bitter end with some biscuit, nutty underpinnings

Overall Impression: Between I Could Drink This and Can't Get Enough

Comment: "Aroma's neutral, but taste is big; Aftertaste stays with you; Interesting taste - unlike any we've had today; Complex taste; Nice beer - I really like it; Pretty smooth."


What's the bottom line on the Beers of Summer that we tried? Here's the breakdown:

1. Brew Free! Or Die IPA was easily our favorite. It also was a bit higher ABV than most of the others as well. It is a terrific beer and it got top scores all around.

2. Easy Jack came in second. We felt it was quite a full flavored beer for a session with a big hop hit and solid malt backing.

3. Skinny Dipper  edged out All Day IPA by just a bit. It had an interesting nutty quality to it that made it a bit unique.

4. All Day IPA from Founders we all agree is a great staple to have on hand. It's an easy-drinking beer with a good solid hop presence.

5. Down to Earth and Citra Sunshine Slacker pretty much tied with solid "I Could Drink This" votes. We found them both very tasty beers with low ABV that epitomize the spirit of Boat Beers.

6. Sum'r alas did not fare well. We said we'd leave it on the shelf. The color was a bit off-putting - a very pale yellow with a greenish tinge to it. Oddly, when placed side by side with Citra Sunshine Slacker they looked almost identical. But they tasted radically different. I liked Sum'r better than the others in that I didn't find it terribly objectionable, it just was a bit bland for our tastes. 


We were told early on by someone in the know that if we wanted hoppier beers as well as more variety we would find it in the North. North of London the pubs seem to be more independent and tend to have more in the way of craft beers. South of London not so much so. And indeed we found this to be so. While in the South we noticed that many of the same beers were found in every pub: Carling, London Pride, Sharp's, Tetley, Guinness, etc. Once we moved North, there were more local brews, more beers one would consider craft beers, beers brewed by smaller breweries. We stayed with an old high school friend in the village of Ulverston in the northwestern part of England. Ulverston's most famous native son was Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy fame. There is a Laurel and Hardy museum and the local Ulverston Brewery names all its beers after something related to Laurel and Hardy (Another Fine Mess, Laughing Gravy, Lonesome Pine, Fra Diavolo, Flying Elephants, Bad Medicine, Harvest Moon). If you are fan of Laurel and Hardy, you'll recognize the references. We weren't able to sample all of them, but the ones we did were tasty, malt forward easy-to-drink beers. Not a big hop presence, but definitely drinkable.

One of the things I began to notice was the term "Free House" on the signage of some pubs. I soon learned that a Free House was a pub that was not owned by a brewery. The term "pub" comes from the term "public house" which became a widely used term in the 19th century used to refer to ale houses. For quite some time, most pubs brewed their own beers on the premises but gradually this practice died out as more and more of the pubs were bought up by breweries. These became known as "tied houses" and they had to sell the beer produced by the brewery that owned it. This is one of the contributing factors to what the CAMRA movement refers to as "the homogenization of beer." Free houses often have a much larger variety of beers from various brewers, although they often still have an agreement with one of the larger ones to set aside a certain percentage of their taps for their beers. Free houses are where you are more likely to find craft beers. 

Painting in broad strokes here, I found that in London there seemed to be three types of pubs. There are the big commercial pubs tied to a large brewery that owned it. Their selection was often limited to the beers produced by that brewery. Then there were the more traditional neighborhood pubs, most of which were free houses though some were tied houses. Here you'll find the usual (Boddingtons, Fuller, Newcastle, Carling, London Pride) but also a selections of Bitters, Pales or Blondes on cask. These often boast of Real Ale or CAMRA approved. If you wanted a hoppy, West-coast stlye IPA (and yes, they advertise them as such and, yes, they mean the West coast of the US) you would need to find a trendier pub generally skewing to a younger, hipper crowd. We hit Brew Dog's pub in Shorditch. There they had many of their beers but also guest beers from craft brewers around the UK and from the US (Stone, Sierra Nevada). Lots of IPAs and Double IPAs which was balm indeed for a couple of hops-starved travelers. 

Out of London and to the north we did find more indy pubs such as the Swan Inn which had a nice variety of beers - Stouts, Pales, Bitters, Porters, Fruit Beers, Belgians, cider - from big brewers to smaller local brewers. Plus a couple of nice IPAs.                                                                       So craft beer is indeed alive and well in Great Britain, though not quite at the level it is in the States. 
Inside the Swan. Note the variety of beers and ciders.