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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

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