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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Double Feature

Due in part to a busy schedule of family and travel and in no small measure to my own innate procrastination, I had fallen behind on this blog, for which I apologize. This month, while convalescing from knee surgery, I had some extra time so I decided to get caught up with an old fashioned double feature. We'll take a look first at a number of beers from around Central New York as we "buy local." Next we'll take a look at a sort of catch-all style known as "Strong Ales."

The area in and around New York City is generally referred to as "down state," while the rest of New York (the majority of the state land-wise) is referred to as "upstate." Now Upstate is then often broken down into Northern New York, The Southern Tier, Western New York and Central New York. Exactly where Central New York ends and Northern or Western New York or the Southern Tier begins is a bit blurry. So when we decided to concentrate on locally brewed beers, we had to narrow things down a bit. we decided to call "local" anyplace within the 315 area code. Now, the 315 area is indeed huge, so big that it is being split up into two different area codes. That being said, we found that there are plenty of breweries in the very heart of Central New York - the area in and around Syracuse, that we didn't need to go too far afield to come up with some very good beers brewed locally.


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: India Pale Ale; BREWER: Woodland Farm Brewing, Marcy, NY; ABV: 6.5

COLOR: Unfiltered wheat

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Apricot, juicy

BODY: Between Medium and Full

TASTE: Big citrus taste with some bitterness


COMMENTS: "Nice, drinkable beer; Woodland makes good beer; It's a real nice summer beer with that big citrus taste; Real bright taste; bit of apricot, some tropical fruit in there as well; Very tasty beer; East Coast style IPA with the haze and big citrus taste."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWERY: Hopshire Farm and Brewery, Freeville, NY; ABV: 5.4%; HOPS: Citra, Mosaic, Centennial, Galaxy

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Juicy. That is the best description for the new style of beer called New England IPA. True to style this beer is brewed with no hops in the boil. Then a boatload of Citra, Mosaic, Centennial and Galaxy hops are used after the boil and for dry hopping. The result is a beer with intense aroma and flavors of citrus and tropical fruits. You don't have to wait in line fro this beer at Hopshire and you can have a couple glasses at the bar."

COLOR: Milky, creamy, hazy golden

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Big citrus, fruity aroma

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Tropical fruit, citrusy with notes of grapefruit, maybe papaya, and a touch of pineapple


COMMENTS: "I could drink this for breakfast; Tastes like a session; Juicy; Really nice beer; Ugly color - delicious taste; Definitely what I think of when you say New England Style - kind of bursting with tropical and citrus fruit flavors, very little bitterness, but a bit at the end; Real nice beer."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: American Double IPA; BREWER: IBU Brewing, Syracuse, NY; ABV: 7.4%

COLOR: Unfiltered copper

POUR: Big, lingering near Guinness class head

AROMA: Citrus

BODY: Pretty full-bodied

TASTE: Grapefruit, citrus and tropical fruit


COMMENTS: "Nice malt backbone to this one along with the big, fruity taste; Beautiful copper color; Tastes a little bigger than 7.4% - a bit of an alcohol taste there; A little sweetness on the end; I'd go to that brewery for a couple of growlers of this; Kind of a melding of East Coast and West Coast IPAs here, sort of best of both coasts."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Double IPA; BREWER: Local 315 Brewing Co., Warners, NY; ABV: 8.5%

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Beer made here in the 315."

COLOR: Copper, a bit cloudy

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Somewhat bready

BODY: Full

TASTE: Big, balanced and complex, with bready maltiness and piney hop dominates with a touch of grapefruit in there as well


COMMENTS: "Tastes like a West Coast IPA to me; Another really good beer - a winner; Haven't had a bad beer all day - and the winner is... us!; Doesn't come across as being as big as it is at 8.5%; Kind of a retro IPA after all the New England IPAs out there; It's got that nice piney taste that I have always liked in IPAs."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Baltic Porter; BREWER: Copper City Brewing Co., Rome, NY; ABV; 8.0%

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Robust, Full-bodied and smooth with a sweet, malty, roasted flavor."

COLOR: Near pitch black

POUR: Big, full, rich, tan head

AROMA: Sweet chocolate

BODY: Full

TASTE:A nice melding of chocolate and vanilla with coffee. Big mocha flavor


COMMENTS: "Delicious!; Somewhat more carbonated that most Baltics; Not too sweet, not burnt, just right (says Goldilocks); Great fall woodstove beer - pre-turkey; What nice, smooth sipper; It has that kick back, feet up, warm fire, shadows flickering, cold outside but warm in vibe; Yeah, a little chocolate, a little coffee, a touch of alcohol but it doesn't overpower at all."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: American IPA; BREWER: Critz Farms Brewing and Cider Co., Cazenovia, NY; ABV: 6.5%; IBUs: 85; SRM: 7.5; MALT: Locally grown malted barley (grown at Critz Farms); HOPS: West Coast hop varieties

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: A citrusy, piney India Pale Ale with the complexxity of eleven constituent parts and the singular deliciousness of local, homegrown ingredients."

COLOR: Unfiltered wheat

POUR: Decent Head


BODY: Between Medium and Full

TASTE: Citrus, pine, floral and a bit of caramel and toffee


COMMENTS: "Nice bitterness; Tastes bigger than 6,5%; Floral on the end; Crisp and refreshing; Good beer; Tastes almost a little 'old school'; I like the size of the can; It's a nice, no-nonsense IPA, the style I keep returning to again and again."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: India Pale Ale; BREWER: Grindstone Brewing, Pulaski, NY; ABV: 7.0%; HOPS: Cascade

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "A beer brewed to keep the magic alive long after the honeymoon."

COLOR: Unfiltered wheat

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Grassy, earthy, hay

BODY: Between Medium and Full

TASTE: Balanced with a rich bready, malty opening followed by a nice citrus finish


COMMENTS: "Very pleasant after-taste; Smooth, hoppy, but real easy to drink; Citrusy bite; Another great job by Grindstone; Congrats to the newlyweds!; Nicely balanced, gives it a kind of old-school West Coast IPA taste; I really like it."


"Strong Ales" is one of those sort of catch-all terms used to describe a beer that falls somewhere between a Pale Ale (or even a fairly light IPA) and a Barleywine. Scotch Ales, Old Ales, bigger IPAs, Imperial Stouts, and even some Barleywines can fall into this broad category. Generally the Alcohol content is above 7%, but IBUs can range from 20 to 90 or more.  As a result, our samples this month included an IPA, a Double IPA, a couple of Scotch Ales, an Imperial Brown Ale, a Belgian Strong Ale, a Belgian Quad and an American Strong Ale. 


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: India Pale Ale; BREWER: Sly Fox Beer, Pottstown, PA; ABV: 7%; IBUs: 70; HOPS: Combination of Pacific Northwest and British hops.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This complex, aromatic beer is brewed with a n abundance of the finest hops from the Pacific Northwest and England. Every sip will remind you of just why you fell in love with craft beer in the first place."

COLOR: Copper

POUR: Between Decent and Guinness Class

AROMA: Malty, bready aroma

BODY: a bit beyond Medium

TASTE: Nicely bitter with solid doses of malt, nut and toffee.


COMMENTS: "Classic West Coast taste in my opinion, Spicy; So-o-o good!; Beautiful - perfect color - and tastes as good as it looks; Nice lingering after-taste; I like that it has a solid bitterness to it, it seems like so many IPAs are moving away from that, yet it is one of the qualities that first attracted me to the style."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Imperial Brown Ale; BREWER: Laguinitas Brewing, Petaluma, CA; ABV: 8.1%; IBUs: 64.20

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Rich, smooth, dangerous, and chocolatey. It's a big ol' Imperial Brown Ale to help you with your slippery slide on into the heat of the night."

WHAT THE BREWER ALSO SAYS: (Thought I'd include this interesting little mashup of famous film speeches by Henry Fonda as Tom Joad a la John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,  and Humphrey Bogart as Rick in Casablanca from the Laguinitas website. A bit of an indulgence here, I admit, but Steinbeck is one of my all-time favorite authors whose writings more of less helped inform my world view. In many ways he is the American Charles Dickens in that his work shone a light on the plight of the powerless, the poor and the desire for those with both money and power to keep poor in their place. Combine that with three great American films and I thought the mashup was worth reprinting here.): "I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be ever'where, wherever you can look. Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise, and livin' in the houses they build, I'll be there, too. Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here. You just have to see them again. You think we're licked. They all think we're licked. Well, we're not licked. And we're going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause, even if this room gets filled with lies like these; and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will l  isten, I'm no good at being noble, but t doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday we'll understand that. Now, now - Here's looking at you, kid."

COLOR: Amber

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Not a strong aroma, a little malt

BODY: Between Medium and Full

TASTE: Malty with undertones of caramel and chocolate

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough"

COMMENTS: "Sugar Daddy sweet taste; A sweety; A little bitter on the end after the sweetness; I get a little bit of molasses in there; Strong caramel, I feel like I taste more caramel than chocolate; Nice warming breadiness here; I do like this, I get a little brown sugar here as well; A nice winter warmer beer."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Classified (let's just call it an American Strong Ale); BREWER: Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA; ABV: 8.1%; IBUs: Classified; HOPS: Classified

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "...Are you Worthy of quaffing a beverage of this intensity, irreverence and quality craftsmanship? Not likely, but for those who 'get it,' I know my time in this bourbon barrel has not been wasted. Cheers to you, enlightened imbiber. On second thought, cheers to me!"  For the rest of this, go to their web site. It's worth the trip because it's quite a trip.

COLOR: Garnet

POUR: Guinness Class head

AROMA: Bourbon, alcohol

BODY: Near Full

TASTE: Oaky, alcohol with hints of caramel

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Near "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Very distinct taste of bourbon; Vanilla beans; Reminds me a bit of a Baltic Porter; Whiskey drinkin' guy's beer; Love the bottle; I get that sort of dark fruit, plum taste in there; It's a little bit smokey, a little piney hop in there; Pretty big alcohol taste though; I like this okay, but must admit that I prefer regular Arrogant Bastard - still ranks as one of my favorite beers."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Scotch Ale; BREWER: Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY; ABV: 9.0%

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "A Scottish "90/-" ale. Brewed only once a year, this ale is rich and full with a dryness that is beautifully balanced with a classic malt sweetness."

COLOR: Ruby/brown

POUR: Big tan head, lots of lacing

AROMA: Banana ester

BODY: Near full

TASTE: Banana, ester-y, cloves

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS:Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Classic Scottish Ale; Really, I consider it the best Scottish Ale I've ever had; Smooth; A lot of that British Isles taste going on in there, which I guess, makes sense; Fills the mouth; Some hints of maybe raisins in there, big on the malt, bread, definite clove; The alcohol doesn't bite you on the ass like some of the bigger beers, somewhat sneaky; Little bit of hops there at the end; A nice smooth finish."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Double India Pale Ale; BREWER: War Horse Brewing Company, Seneca Lake, NY; ABV: 9.1%; IBUs: 100; MALT: 2-row, Munich, CaraPils; HOPS: Mosaic, Centennial, Chinook.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "'Here is your country. cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children's children.' TR. We have as much love for the land as ol' Teddy; this is why we spend so much time finding the perfect raw materials to use in our beers. The Big Broadcast drinks smooth (maybe a little too smooth). Enjoy this beer in a glass or from the can, indoors or out, just enjoy."

COLOR: Dirty blond

POUR: Between Decent and Guinness class


BODY: Near Full

TASTE: Grapefruit, bitter, pine, resin, fruit

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Near "Can't Get Enough"

COMMENTS: "Sneaky - misleading, tastes less alcohol-y than it is; You think you're swimming with the dolphins until you realize you're in with the great whites; Citrusy hop; Some tropical fruit going on in there; A little orange, touch of lemon; Mostly I get grapefruit; What about pineapple? I get a bit of that too; A bit of spice to it, like pepper; I like it."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Belgian Strong Ale; BREWER: Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY; ABV: 11.50%

COLOR: opaque walnut

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Dark fruit, blackberry

BODY: Near full

TASTE: Dark fruit, hints of blackberry, plum, currents, raisins, bit of chocolate, oak, vanilla


COMMENTS:  "Ommegang hit a home run with this one; Sweet and smooth;Full-bodied; I don't get the strong alcohol taste you would expect from a beer this big; The taste follows the aroma; Plum or current overtones; I really like it; Nice middle of the winter or after dinner beer; Fluted-glass beer; Snowing-like-a-son-of-a-bitch beer; Mouth-filling; I don't want to wait another 20 years for the next one."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Wee Heavy Scotch Ale; BREWER: Otter Creek Brewing, Middlebury, CT; ABV: 12%; IBUs - NOTE: Wolaver's Organic Ales has retired production.

COLOR: Walnut

POUR: Very little head, with some lacing

AROMA: Molassas

BODY: Full

TASTE: Brown sugar, molasses, sweet, raisins

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Near  "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Sweet, maybe not as smooth as Ommegang's; Somewhat reminds me of Dogfish Head's Raison d'etre; A nice beer, I like it; Very sweet; Another good warming beer with that pleasant molasses or brown sugar taste."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Belgian-style Quad; BREWER: Victory Brewing Company, Downington, PA; ABV: 12.0%; MALT: Pilsner, Dark Caramel Malt, Dextrose; HOPS: East Kent Goldings, Styrian Goldings

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Taste true liquid luxury in this decadent and nuanced Belgian-style quad. Pear and apricot aromas blend with caramel, fruit and spice flavors in the full-bodied amber ale."

COLOR: Cloudy orange

POUR: A little less than Decent Head

AROMA: Yeast, alcohol, fruit

BODY: Between Medium and Full

TASTE: Sweet, with hints of pear, butterscotch, apricots

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Absolute definition of 'complex'; They should sell this beer with a helmet and a cup; Victory doesn't disappoint; A big beer; Almost like honey (reduced liquid honey); Reminds me of mead; Like a wine - sip it, repeat."


By the very nature of this category of beer, we knew we would be in for a very tasty review session, and indeed we were. None fell below that range from "I Could Drink This" to "Can't Get Enough!" So it was another of those "there are no losers here" kind of evenings. Nonetheless, below is a rough ranking of these Strong Ales - in our collective humble opinions.

1. Ommegang 20th Anniversary Ale
2. Sly Fox 113 IPA
3. War Horse Big Broadcast Double IPA
4. Wolaver Wee Heavy Ale
5. Stone's Arrogant Bastard Bourbon Barrel Aged Ale
6. Middle Ages Kilt Tilter
7. Victory V-12 
8. Lagunitas Wilco Tango Foxtrot

Want a quick glance at all the beers we've reviewed and our zero to four star rating? Get it at BOTB Tested Beers.


The BOTB Guys

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Goodbye to Summer - Sealed With a Beer

Once upon a time many of us who reside in the border states (that is the US/Canadian border) viewed Canada as a kind of Mecca of good beer. I attended college a short drive from the border and periodically my compatriots and I would jump into whichever car had gas enough to get there and back again and head for the Great White North (a term used to refer to the amount of snow up there, not the fact that the country is predominantly Caucasian; though, paradoxically, we here in Central New York generally get much more snow - residing as we do on the receiving end of Lake Ontario - than much of Southern Canada, so to them we should be referred to as the Great White South. Okay, come to think of it, that's not such a good idea). Anyway, once there, we would load up on cases of Brador, John Labatt's Export Ale, Moosehead Beer, Molson Export Ale as well as others. Were they better than the crop of mass produced beers we were stuck with in the States? Well, Brador was a bigger beer than most in the States, weighing in at a whopping 6% ABV. Most were actually ales as opposed to the same-old-same-old lagers we were getting south of the border. And to add insult to injury, American brewers foisted the dreaded light or lite beer on the world. It was as if someone said, "Let's see if we can we make American beers even more tasteless than they already are."

Then came the Great Craft Beer Revolution in the US. Suddenly American beers had flavor, aroma, color, panache. And soon those Canadian beers just could not measure up. But Canada, like much of the rest of the civilized world, is catching on to the craft beer craze. on a recent trip to Quebec City I was pleased to find a number of delicious craft beers that never make it to the States. We see plenty of Molson Canadian and Labatt's Blue. Not so much so with beers such as Red Racer from Central City Brewing or Nutcracker Porter from Black Oak Brewery.  The Canadian craft beer industry seems to be growing quickly and, at least in the urban areas, is catching on. We visited a number of brew pubs while in Quebec City and they seem to be thriving. The selection of beer styles is wide and varied so that whatever you crave, be it Sours, Stouts, Wheats, IPAs, German, Belgian, British, or American, you can find it. Happily for me, IPAs and Pale Ales were numerous, often unique and tasty.


Though we've got to say good-bye to the summer, here's our take on a few seasonal brews that will no doubt return next year.


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Summer Ale; BREWER: Long Trail Brewing Co., Bridgewater Corners, VT; ABV: 4.3%; IBUs: 32; MALT: Pilsner; HOPS: Citra

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "An unfiltered golden ale made to chill out summer's hottest days. Remarkabley light on the palate, with a soft Polsner malt character and a distinct citrus hop character... Each sip finishes with a refreshing bitterness that invites another. At 4.3% ABV, this golden beauty is a truly quaffable drinking experience."

COLOR: lemon-yellow straw, unfiltered

POUR: Decent head, white

AROMA: Soapy, lemon (Pledge?)

BODY: Toward the light side

TASTE: Lemon/citrus with Pilsner malt base

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "A little hoppier and more bitter than I would have expected from a summer ale; Lemon notes for sure; Quenches your thirst; Nice hot weather beer; Good golf cart/lawn-mower beer; Definitely more flavor than I've seen in most summer ales; Very drinkable beer, for sure."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: English Pale Ale; BREWER: Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, NY: ABV: 5.0%; MALTS: British Pale, German Pilsner; HOPS:Ahtanum, Willamette, Cascade, Amarillo

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Brooklyn Summer Ale is a refreshing, flaorful pale ale made to accompany you on all your warm weather adventures. 100% British 2-row barley brings its famed bready flavors, capped off with German and American hops to provide a snappy, clean bitterness and a bright aroma. It's a sunny pale ale, Brooklyn style."

COLOR: Pale yellow

POUR: Decent head

AROMA: Grassy

BODY: Light

TASTE: Not a lot! Slight hint of citrus hop at the end, maybe. Some pale malt to it. But very thin and watery.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Leave it on the Shelf.

COMMENTS: "Thin body and thin taste; Not much hop presence - not much flavor, period; Tastes like a mega-brew beer to me; Could have been brewed by Bud; Disappointing, I like some of their other beers a lot."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: American Pale Wheat Ale; BREWER: Samuel Adams Brewing, Boston, Mass., ABV: 5.3%; IBU: 7; MALT: Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend, malted wheat; HOPS: Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Saaz Noble.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Same delicious beer, brand new look. Summer Ale returns for its 21st year with limited edition packaging that’s as exciting as a summertime adventure. From the blazing yellow of the afternoon sun to the fiery orange of an evening sunset to the electric blue tint of a summer night, the colors of Summer Ale and its crisp, citrusy flavor, are your perfect companion anywhere, anytime."

COLOR: Straw

POUR: Decent white head


BODY: Thin

TASTE: Cloves, banana and lemon


COMMENTS: "No finish, no real hop to it; Nothing offensive; At least it's not a sour; sip with a straw; Kind of a weak lemonade taste to it; It's kind of what I expect when I see the words 'Summer Ale' on a beer, so I guess if that's what they were aiming for, they hit the nail on the head; It's just a kind of a meh beer."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Citra IPA; BREWER: Harpoon Brewery; ABV: 5.8%; IBUs; 45; HOPS: Citra

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Citra hops provide a juicy citrus character in this grapefruit peel-infused IPA. The malt blend adds depth and a touch of sweetness and gives the beer its bronze hue and medium body. The finish is all citrus, all day. This IPA is easygoing and ripe with citrus flavor. Happy summer."

COLOR: Golden

POUR: Decent though short-lived head

AROMA: Grapefruit peel

BODY: Between light and medium

TASTE: Grapefruit and citurs with slight malt backing

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Would quench your thirst; Real nice beer; I liked it; I'd buy it; Has a nice IPA bite to it, but very light on its feet; The citrus taste does have a nice summer feel without being bland or tasting like some boring mega-brew."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Pale Ale; BREWER: Copper City Brewing Co., Rome, NY; ABV: 5.9%; HOPS: Citra

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "A refreshingly ballsy pale ale! Lightly malted and dry hopped with Citra hops."

COLOR: Copper

POUR: Near Guinness-class head, big and long-lasting.

AROMA: Not a strong aroma, perhaps a bit metallic.

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Balanced with more malt presence than most of the others, bit of citrus. A little toffee and clove in there.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Darn near "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "More of an English style than American; Really nice taste; Nice flavor - nice finish; A small alcohol bite at the end; Real nice 'after-taste' to it; Fills the mouth; Some clove and toffee going on in there I think; Nice beer."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: India Pale Ale; BREWER: Southern Tier Brewing Co., Lakewood, NY; ABV: 6.0%; HOPS: IBUs: 55; HOPS: Combination of new American and experimental hops.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This beer shocases just how far we've come with alluring aromas and explosive flavors using only new American and experimental hops. There's no need to add anything else. It's time to graduate to the next level of hop flavors with Nu Skool IPA."

COLOR: Golden, pale

POUR: Big, white, nearly Guinness-class head,

AROMA: Citrus, grapefruit

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Piney up front with strong tropical fruit flavors laid over a sweet maltiness.


COMMENTS: "Perfect IPA; Nice bitterness with malt sweetness; Nice crisp finish; I like this tropical fruit hoppiness; This is a 'summer' beer that I can really warm up to; Much superior to the light beer styles many brewers seem to default to for a summer ale."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Summer IPA; BREWER: Grindstone Brewing, Pulaski, NY; ABV: 6.3%; MALT: 2 Row and 6 Row brewers' malt; HOPS: Citra, Mosaic

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "It's this summer's brew. Enjoy it while it lasts!"

COLOR: Unfiltered Straw

POUR: Better than Decent Head

AROMA: Grassy

BODY: Between Medium and Full

TASTE: Hints of grapefruit and citrus with a solid malt that gives it a bit more body than most Summer Ales. Bit of breadiness and pine.


COMMENTS: "Fills the mouth; More complex than a lot of the summer ales, bigger bodied; Can't brew it fast enough? Why is he such a slacker?; Terrific beer!; Very tasty, nice change-up from some of the lighter ales of summer."


THE BEER FACTS:STYLE: STYLE: India Pale Ale: BREWER: Stone Brewing Co., San Diego, CA; ABV: 6.7%; IBUs: 56; HOPS: Loral
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "A fermenting beer never slumbers. Consequently, there is always scattered activity tending ou precious beers throughout the dark hours. In these late nights and wee hours that hallowed responsibility falls to the shoulders of the overnight Brew Crew...This IPA, liberally hopped with Loral (TM), honors our intrepid overnight team by naming it after their mischievous poltergeist companion - the Ghost Hammer."

COLOR: Unfiltered clover honey

POUR: Better than Decent Head

AROMA: A bit dank, grassy

BODY: A bit more than Medium

TASTE: Citrus, floral, tropical fruit, touch of lemon, bit of toffee


COMMENTS: "Nice finish; Stone always knows what they're doing; Another nicely balanced seasonal beer that shouldn't be seasonal - would buy it year round; I really like this; Very few Stone beers I haven't liked - even their Pilsner is okay."


We started the session off with a real nice "palate cleanser" - Roll Away IPA from Lost Nation Brewery out of Morrisville, VT. It was not a summer ale so we didn't include it in our reviews. But it was an awesome beer and a great way to start off the festivities.


We ended with a rare three-way tie for first place. Our favorite three were:

Grindstone Summer Ale - a bit more body, somewhat maltier than your typical summer ale.

Stone's Ghost Hammer IPA - another well-balanced brew with a bit more complexity than one would typically see in a summer ale. Big, bold IPA with a lot of flavor.

Southern Tier's Nu Skool IPA - we felt this was what a summer ale should be like: bright, full-flavored with a big tropical fruit punch to it.

2. Copper City's Porchdick Pale Ale - we really liked this beer which had a decidedly British vibe to it - delicious beer.

3. Harpoon's Citra Sea - a definite summery feel to this one without being bland or tasting like a run-of-the-mill mega-brew lager. Very easy drinking with refreshing citus zing.

4. Long Trail Summer Ale - another good summery ale - light without being flavorless.

5. Sam Adams Summer Ale - an inoffensive, okay beer but not one any of us would actively seek out.

6. Brooklyn Summer Ale - we found very disappointing. Very little flavor, reminding us more of a mega-brew blah beer than a craft beer. Wouldn't buy it, period.

Up next: Buy local!

The BOTB Guys

Thursday, August 10, 2017

New England Style IPAs


All great super heroes have an origin story: Superman came from Krypton, Bruce Wayne's parents are brutally murdered in front of him, Spider-Man is bitten by a radioactive spider (well, technically, Peter Parker is, but you get the idea). In much the same way, the India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer (the superman of beers in my humble opinion) also has an origin story which, by now, any self-respecting beer geek is familiar with: basically the style was developed in England (not India) as a beer that would survive the long boat trip to India from Britain without getting skunked, so that the British officers stationed there could enjoy good beer. The regular soldiers could have the skunky beer - after all, rank has its privileges, and the privileged don't have to have the rank (beer, that is). The beer was a bit higher in alcohol and considerably hoppier, both of which helped to preserve the beer. 

Fast-forward to modern times and the Great Craft Beer Revolution which began in the US. As brewers experimented with various beer styles, IPAs came back into vogue to become one of the more popular styles of craft beer. Craft brewers are nothing if not experimenters and they have continued to tweak and play with IPAs. As a result, we have not only the venerable West Coast IPA, but such variations as Black IPAs, Red IPAs, White IPAs, Belgian IPAs, Pineapple IPAs, Blood Orange IPAs, Double IPAs, Imperial IPAs as well as IPLs (India Pale Lagers). A growing style of IPA is the one we look at this month: New England IPAs (or Northeast IPA). 

So what is the difference between a West Coast IPA (sort of the American classic IPA, if you will) and a New England IPA? Both are hop-forward beers, after all. The truth is there is not really a clear distinction, but in general the New England IPA is usually unfiltered, utilizes hops that are more floral and citrusy and has a mild malt profile while the West Coast version has a bit more malt and relies on hops with piney and resinous notes. Often New England IPAs are a somewhat less bitter than their West Coast cousin. in fact many iterations have very low IBUs.

Having said that, the distinctions are becoming more and more blurred. Sometimes it's merely a geographical thing. The classic New England style was popularized by Heady Topper, a legendary Vermont beer so prized that stores often have to limit the number of 4-packs a customer can purchase. We have reviewed Heady Topper  in the past (you can read it here)so we did not review it this month. But we did find a number of great beers claiming to be New England Style. Our humble opinions follow. 


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWER: Eastwood Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY; ABV: 5.0%

COLOR: Very unfiltered apricot, almost orange

POUR: Somewhat decent head, not overpowering

AROMA: Big citrus aroma

BODY: Medium bodied

TASTE: Kind of sweet citrus up front with hoppy bitterness to follow. Big tropical fruit taste with hints of mango and papaya.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Near "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Tropical fruit - tastes like a dollop of honey in there; Sweet on the front; Real nice summer lawn mower beer; Like the best pale ale you've ever had; Nice hops presence; Doesn't give up the bitterness, although sweet up front; Tastes better than it looks; I'm guessing this is a high fiber beer, high pulp; Really has a wonderful taste, real summery vibe to it; With that orange color, this should be the official beer of the Syracuse Orange."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Northeast Style IPA; BREWER: Night Shift Brewing, Everett, MA; ABV: 6.0%; HOPS: Aztecca only

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "One Hop This Time is a series of IPAs using a single hop each time."

COLOR: Wheat, lemongrass

POUR: Decent, long-lasting head

AROMA: Not a strong aroma but some pine and tropical fruit

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Smooth, piney, dank


COMMENTS: "Light tasting; Would go well with pizza; Would go well with another one; Good summer beer; Boat beer; Kind of reminds me of a shandy"


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWER: Naked Dove Brewing, Canandagua, NY; ABV: 6.2%; MALT: Oats; HOPS: Pekko and Azacca.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This is our first attempt at a New England Style IPA. Brewed with oats and Pekko and Azacca hops."

COLOR: Clover honey -  not really unfiltered though

POUR: Near Guinness class head with lots of lacing

AROMA: Bread, grassy, piney, bit of grapefruit

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Grapefruit, grassy, herbal, with a backend bitterness


COMMENTS: "Really nice taste; Long lasting taste - really lingers; Perfectly carbonated; Delicious; Finishes clean and dry; Kind of a West Coast taste without the bitterness; Bright; It's not as cloudy or unfiltered as the classic New England IPAs; I'm a fan, it's got a really different taste here kind of hard to put my finger on, but I like it."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England IPA; BREWER: Madison Brewing Company, Bennington, VT; ABV: 6.5%; IBUs: 70.0; MALT: Pale, Flaked Wheat, Flaked Barley, Oats; HOPS: Mosaic, Citra, dry hopped with Mosaic and Citra Lupulin Pellets."

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "DownTown IPA is a true Vermont IPA with a juicy hop saturation and little to no bitterness."

COLOR: Clover honey, butterscotch, hazy

POUR:  Decent Head

AROMA: Hoppy citrus aroma

BODY: Bit more than Medium

TASTE: Citrus, Grapefruit, juicy with just a little bitterness


COMMENTS: "Juicy IPA; Absolutely delicious; Perfect date beer; Could drink and drink; If we could get this locally I would have this in my fridge all the time; Nice juicy IPA."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWER: Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY; ABV; 7.0%; MALT: Oats and Malted Wheat.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This version of our New England IPA features a grain bill of over 20% oats and 15% malted wheat. The hops are primarily a blend of new age fruity hops with a relatively small amount of dank and piney hops (over 3 LBS per bbl of dry hops alone). Fermented with a proprietary mixed culture of brewers yeast sourced from a brewery famous for their hazy IPA's. Nothing has been done to stabilize or clarify this beer in any way, it is very volitile. Please drink as soon as possible."

COLOR: Grapefruit juice, very hazy

POUR: Decent head

AROMA: Piney

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Citrus, lemon bit of alcohol taste


COMMENTS: "Complex; Damn - that Middle Ages makes some good beers; Very drinkable - not over-the-top, but soooo good; Definitely has that juicy taste you expect from a New England with a bit of the alcohol taste underneath; Nice beer; Middle Ages is able to stay true to their brand while expanding into varying styles, their British roots pair well with this American IPA."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England IPA; BREWER: Middle Ages Brewing, Syracuse, NY; ABV: 7%; HOPS: Azacca, El Dorado, Mosaic, Colombus.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This iteration of New England IPA is dry hopped with Azacca, El Dorado, Mosaic and a touch of Colombus. Fermented with an English Ale yeast that has become one of the most popular for this style."

COLOR: Grapefruit juice

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Minty/sweet/piney

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Pine, tropical fruit, hint of clove


COMMENTS: "Even better than Single Batch 10 - a little better mouthfeel or something; New England IPAs are more complex than others, more difficult to brew; Tropics on the tongue; Nice full-flavored beer; Wonder if this will make it into bottles in some form or another the way Late Knight did eventually."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWER: Full Boar Brewing, North Syracuse, NY, ABV: 7.2%

COLOR: Golden and filtered

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: A little bready, yeast

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Sweet up front, toffee/caramel, not as fruity as the others

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Very near "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Certainly not the juice bomb you expect from a New England; Dangerously tasty though;  Frickin' good; No bitterness throughout; Nice bit of hoppiness at the end; Kind of a Pilsner taste; Lingering after-taste; Very pleasant."


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWER: Lord Hobo Brewing Company;
ABV: 8%

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Beer for the discerning drinker that appreciates quality and recognizes value."

COLOR: Cloudy orange-ish

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Pine, citrus

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Follows the nose: pine, citrus, grapefruit, hint of lemon and a subtle maltiness


COMMENTS: "I really like this beer; Big hop taste, nice pine and citrus flavors in there; Pretty easy-drinking for an 8%er; Little bit of malt gives it a bit more complexity than some of the others; Yeah, it's fairly balanced; Terrific beer, I've been keeping it as one of my regulars."


When we travel, my wife and I make a point of researching breweries and brew pubs near to our destination. At the very least we'll narrow down restaurants we wish to frequent based on their selection of craft beers. This despite the fact that my wife has no interest in craft beer. What a trooper! On a recent trip to Michigan, in the beautiful village of Brighton, I stumbled upon a place called Brewery Becker.

I wandered in one afternoon to check out their brews. As you can see by the beer menu at the right, this might not appear to be a hop-head's dream brewery. With styles such as Kolsch, Dusseldorier Altbier, Pilsner, Dunkelweizen, and Hefeweizen, it was easy to see that the brewery specialized in German-style lagers - not that there's anything wrong with that. Those just aren't the kinds of beers I'm most drawn to. Trust me, I am aware that there is a world of difference between an American mega-brew lager and a true German lager, it's just that my tastes run to hoppy ales. However there were a few names on that menu that intrigued me. Top of the list was a beer called Vargdricka. The brewery description of the beer says it is "A Scandinavian Farmhouse Ale. Based on the daily drink of the Vikings. A gruit ale, it is bittered with Juniper and Bog Myrtle. A Brewery Becker favorite." If you are wondering what a "gruit" ale is, it is basically any ale that does not use hops, but relies on other herbs for flavor and bittering.

Curious, I stopped in at Brewery Becker and ordered a Vargdricka. Right off I was impressed with the place by the generous pour.The beer was a kind of cloudy copper color. It is lightly carbonated with a pleasant aroma, though not one I could quickly identify so I assume it is the Juniper. The taste is initially sweet but rounds off into an interesting spiciness. It is absolutely a unique tasting beer, without being so far out there that it doesn't taste like beer. It really is quite a pleasant and very drinkable beer.
I asked if they had any IPAs and learned that normally they have one on tap but they were out. The interesting thing I learned about Brewery Becker is that they are dedicated to brewing beers based on traditional recipes - like the Vargdricka. Because the Vikings did not have hops they substituted various herbs to flavor their beers. I was then given a few (generous) samples of some of their other unique brews. Entire Butt, for example, is a beer from the Colonial era that is the precursor of Porters and Stouts. It was not uncommon in England for drinkers to combine beers. A typical combination might consist of  ale, which at the time was somewhat sweet, heavy and brewed with little or no hops, beer, which was much hoppier and therefore much more bitter, and Twopenny, a stronger ale. Thus the somewhat intriguing name Entire Butt, meaning the whole barrel. Brewed before the development of black malt, the beer is a dark brown and contains the nice coffee/malty characteristics you expect from a Porter or Stout. It is brewed strictly according to recipes of the time, using only ingredients available then. And it is delicious.
So, if you happen to be in the Brighton neighborhood, stop in at Brewery Becker. If you're a beer nerd like me, you'll find a fun and tasty experience.

Next month: Seasonal Ales

The BOTB Guys