Julio’s Spring Beer Fest

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Ahhh, spring was in the air this past weekend in central Massachusetts. My lawn is overrun with dandelions, there’s a half-inch coat of pollen on my car, a garter snake made me scream like a 2nd grader, and most importantly: Julio’s Liquors hosted its annual Spring Beer Fest! If you don’t know Julio’s: it’s my favorite local beer store with a selection that’s on par with any store in the greater Boston area. And if you don’t know about the Julio’s Spring Beer Fest: it’s a collection of free samples of 200 craft beers from 50 breweries. Do I have your attention yet? I thought so.

The timing of this year’s Spring Beer Fest could not have been better. It’s the first spring in 4 years when my daughters didn’t have soccer games, so I was free and clear. I also had my sister and her boyfriend in town for a family event. They love craft beer and were excited to check out the selection. 

We arrived at Julio’s around 1:05pm, 5 minutes after the doors opened. The line stretched from in front of the building around the corner. I didn’t mind the wait because it allowed me to formulate and refine my game plan. Those who have attended beer festivals can probably relate to my mindset. 200 beers is too many to possibly try every one. You might have to wait in line at some of the more popular stations. It can get crowded in there and you probably don’t want to stay for 2 or 3 hours. That’s why I thought it might be useful to share some tips for attending a beer fest:

  1. Make a top 3 list. Most festivals will distribute a list of the beers in attendance. Go through and circlethe 3 that you must taste before leaving. 
  2. Get outside your comfort zone. I’m a hophead and could easily drink IPAs-only when I go to a tasting. But what fun would that be? I tried to limit my IPA tastings to 3 or 4 beers so that I could branch out into other styles. Similarly, I avoided the breweries that I was already familiar with. Let’s just say I didn’t attend the beer fest to drink Samuel Adams Boston Lager (no, really… they had it at their table!)
  3. Honor the tasting limit. The Julio’s Beer Fest organizers distributed a 10-punch bracelet to limit beer consumption. Some brewery representatives consistently collected the punches, a
    nd some didn’t. I gave my punch cards regardless of whether they asked me. Not because I worried about over-consuming, but because I wanted to force myself to be selective.
  4. Respect your fellow attendees. The brewery reps are naturally inclined to engage you in conversation about the beer. The conversation is great, but stay aware of the fact there may be folks standing in line behind you while you chat. Try to move off to the side a bit to allow those folks to get their samples while you chat with the rep.
  5. Eat. These events normally have good snacks to enjoy while you drink. I’d advise you to eat them, especially if those samples you’re drinking have a high alcohol content. At least the bland stuff like pretzels & crackers. Avoid spicy foods that will impact your taste buds.

I had a great time at the event and got to sample some truly excellent beers. My favorite sample was High & Mighty’s Divine Brown. The style was listed as a “Coffee Brown Ale”, and I found the coffee flavor to be present but well balanced. My least favorite sample (and biggest disappointment) was Sixpoint’s Bengali Tiger. I had heard great things and very much enjoyed the hop aroma, but it was all downhill from there. Were my expectations too high? Perhaps.

The biggest surprise for me was Samuel Adams Whitewater IPA. It’s a fusion between a traditional Belgian white and an IPA. I tried it on a whim while I was waiting for my sister to catch up to me, and it really hit the spot. I found it to be very refreshing. Seems like a great pick to bring to a pool party this summer.

Julio’s put on a great tasting and raised over $1,000 of donations for Pink Revolution, a breast cancer charity. I’m already looking forward to next year’s beer fest. I’m also curious to know what you think of the tips I listed above. Agree/disagree with any of the ones I listed? Have any to add? Feel free to leave a comment and perhaps we can crowdsource our own community beer fest tip list!

 

Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPA

Re-learned the lesson last night that it pays to ask for what you really want. When confronted with a less than appealing beer list at Smith and Wollensky’s I sighed, “I’d really love an IPA…” and the friendly and helpful bartender replied, “Oh! I have just the thing!” And thus, my Latitude 48 Experience was born. (Apparently there had been a Sam Adams event there the night before, and this was the only leftover bottle. Score!)

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It poured a strong copper color, and looked and smelled more like a lager than an IPA. The first taste was malt and caramel, with a hint of a bitter citrus, very faint grapefruit at the end. This beer has a nice mouthfeel, and was very easy to drink. I would have had another, if there were anymore to drink there. 

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There was nothing outstanding about this IPA for me. It’s a fun story (all the hops used are from German, English, and American growing regions all located close to the 48th latitude within the “hop belt” of the Northern Hemisphere.”) and worth trying if you like Sam Adams and you like IPAs. It definitely didn’t have earthy, hoppy notes that I love in IPAs, but would be nice to bring to a summer BBQ where you know people like Sam Adams and would try something new, but not crazy different. 

Vital Stats: 12oz bottle served cold in a Sam pint glass. 6.00% ABV

Taste: B+. More malty than my ideal IPA but not bad. Someone who loves Sam Lager would probably love this. 

Drinkability: B+. At 6.00% it would be easy to drink a handful of these on a nice day. 

Packaging: C+. It is immediately recogniable as a Sam Adams beer. So, A for strong brand identity, D for creativity or engagement. 

Tasting the Dark Side: Imperial Stout Trooper from @NewEnglandBrew

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How I held on to this through last winter’s record snowfall and then never cracked it during the cold of this winter is beyond me. In any event, when I picked up a bottle of this year’s vintage recently I knew it was time to get this one in my belly. This bottle had a label that indicated I picked up in February 2011. 

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The initial smell is deep and dark, with hints of chocolate, coffee and malted milk balls. I wasn’t able to resist taking a taste, so a quick look and in we go. It’s not the darkest looking stout I’ve ever seen, tending toward dark brown coffee vs. deep black motor oil. 

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One of the first tastes to hit my palate was one of chocolate milk. It was striking. But then it gave way to a really complex mix of roasted malt, bitter chocolate, sweet cherries, molasses and even a hint of burnt sugar.* The tastes reveal themselves on different parts of the tongue, giving way to a sweet, roasted malt taste that lingers for a while. 

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The label is fun. Apparently, LucasArts Entertainment asked New England Brewing to take the Imperial Storm Trooper off the label due to intellectual property infringement and the folks at NEB responded by putting Groucho Marx glasses on the storm trooper. 

I enjoyed this beer so much I decided to pair it with a chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. Highly recommended! 

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Vital stats: Served at 50F in my tulip glass. 9.2% ABV. 

Taste: A-. Not as rich as I expected for the style, but a very interesting beer. 

Drinkability: A. I was mildly concerned about drinking this one by myself, actually passing it over the last few nights. But it’s not as deep, rich and thick as I expected, which makes it a nice beer on a cool spring night. 

Packaging: B+. Whimsy and humor only get you so far with me. I want more data. 

*Note: I’m a bit of a connoisseur of that last flavor, having eating many gallons of burnt sugar ice cream over the years at Christina’s in Inman Sq. 

The Alchemist: Celia

Like my peers when I heard The Alchemist had another beer that was going to be available on store shelves near me, I was excited. That is including the unavoidable caveats, that this is a gluten free beer, and that this is not brewed at the vermont cannery, but at mercury brewing.  

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I believe this might be my first gluten free beer, but it appears it’s not alone in the market with recent additions from popular craft brewers Dog Fish Head with tweason, and Craft Brewers Alliance with Omission (of Redhook, Widmer, and Kona fame). There are many folks finding out they are gluten intolerant, the demand for good beer that is gluten free has risen, and craft brewers are stepping up to make it.

 

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Now to what matters, the beer. Bubbly, with a receding head, but doesn’t disappear totally. It lacks the typical pillow frothy head you’d get from the wheat in a normal saison.  It has strong belgian yeast phenols of clove and spice. It’s golden orange color is a favorite of mine. If given this, and not told it was gluten free, I’d say other than the head, this is spot on for style. Spicy, bold, and enjoyable. They even nailed the dryness that is often lacking in american saisons. This is a well attenuated beer, I do not get a lot of residual sweetness, or overly syrupy mouth feel. However I do not get the oranges that are prominently displayed on the label, or the hops for that matter, though neither’s absence is detracting from it either.

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Vital Stats: 12oz bottle served at 40F in a Sam Adams perfect pint glass. 6.5% ABV 

Taste: B+. True to style, enjoyable, but not unique or memorable.

Drinkability: B. The 6.5% is well hidden, but the spice and phenols are not, it’s quite assertive. However with it’s dryness it would be good on a hot afternoon.

Packaging: B+. Unique imagine, depicting the ingredients in the beer. The label also includes a story explaining the origin of the beer, and it’s elements flavor contributions.

 

Is less is more with Pretty Things X Ale – February 22nd, 1945?

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This beer is part of Pretty Things once upon a time series, which is a series of historical recipes surfaced by Ron Pattinson, and reproduced as a single reissue by pretty things. The though behind the x-ale series is to highlight the changes in a particular brand over the course of 100+ years. The 1945 variant of X Ale is a a traditional British mild recipe. Very similar to what is brewed today as a British mild, dark, low hop, low abv, and generally quaffable. Where as it’s sister release,X Ale, 22nd November 1838 is a completely different style, a hoppy Golden, of much higher abv. The story and juxtaposition of the two recipes are quite intriguing. 

In this circumstance, I’d normally try them both, and tell you which I liked better, but the night called for something a little lower abv, and didn’t allow for consuming two 22oz bottles, even if one was only 2.8 abv. The British mild is not a new style by any means, it’s just not something I’ve tried so I can’t compare it to any known examples. Recently I’ve been keeping my eye out for lower abv craft beers, for nights such as these.

The beer pours clear, with a moderate head, the bubbles are quite large, but the head sticks around. The beer has a little bit of a sour smell, along with a little caramel malt, no hop aroma. The taste is similar, it’s light, there is a bit of grain bitterness from the dark malts used to color the beer, and an overall graininess. The hops are just there for slight bitterness, and not flavor or aroma. What is shocking is how full this beer feels. For such a low abv, it really doesn’t feel light or watery, but is very easy to drink. It has to be from the lower carbonation, and tanins from the darker malts.

It’s interesting to think of these beers as a study of historical global forces, that drove this type of style to be produced, wars time shortages and rationing, are among them I’m sure.

Vital Stats: 22oz bottle served at 40F in a Sam Adams perfect pint glass. 2.8% ABV 

Taste: B. Not my cup of tea, but it had no noticeable defects, and before I knew it my glass was empty.

Drinkability: B+. The mild ale is brewed to be consumed in quantity. It’s light, not filling, not over bearing, really something you could have quite a few pints of and have no worries about sea legs. 

Packaging: B+. The story behind the two X Ale beers is really interesting, and they go into great detail about it on the bottle. Pretty things branding is so whimsical and eye catching, while the once upon a time series doesn’t’ have their usual drawings, it’s still eye catching. 

 

Revisiting Nyx… on year later (via @Bill_WBB and @abrewjourney)

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It was a little over a year ago when White Birch Brewing released Nyx, a black IPA that was part of their Apprentice Series. I remember first seeing the beer, reading the label and deciding to take a flyer on it. Boy was I surprised! 

It was one of my favorite new beers of 2011 and I quickly set out to find as many bottles as I could before the supply dried up. Once I collected a bunch, I shared them with friends I thought would appreciate it. Some when out and got more on their own. 

When all was said and done, I had two bottles of Nyx left in my cellar. Now I have one. 

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It poured as deep and dark as it did the day I’d first tried it. The smell was heavy on the roasted malt and charcoal. There was even a hint of piney hops, which surprised me given it’s age. Suffice it to say, this beer did not disappoint. It was as good (better?) than when I first cracked it a little over a year ago. 

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We can only hope Bill and/or Adam decide to brew this one again. Until then, my last bottle is on hold until I can drink it with one or both of these guys. Thanks for brewing great (long lasting) beer!!

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Feeling like a supa hero with @ClownShoesBeer

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I believe this beer came to me by way of Derek, who left it with me with a “let me know what you think.” Well, I think. I. Love. It. 

According to the bottle, this was bottled on 12/11, which makes it a bit old for an imperial IPA. It was in the beer fridge the whole time, but still… it’d be better a bit younger. 

But still, it’s an amazing beer. Beautiful orange color with a nice head that clings to the side of the glass and sticks around for a while. Fresh smelling, with both pine and citrus hops on the nose. A great first taste, with a good dose of malt and a hop profile that’s consistent with the smell. The thing that blew me away is the balance… this is such a smooth drinking, balanced beer. Sure, the ABV is up there, but it’s well hidden with the hops and malt. 

I can’t say why I hadn’t cracked this sooner. Maybe I just haven’t tried enough beers from the folks at Clown Shoes? Well, after Supa Hero I’m going to try a lot more of their brews. 

Vitals: Served at 50F in my Portsmouth Brewing snifter. 8% ABV.

Taste: A-. Not too much not to like in this one. Looking fwd to trying a really fresh one. 

Drinkability: B+. Smooth, but the ABV sneaks up on you. Take it slow. 

Packaging: B. It’s an interesting design, but not much else. 

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