In defense of the well-traveled beer

We all have that beer in the fridge. It’s been in there for a while, it might even have been in a cooler a few times. It might have spent some time on a shelf. This beer isn’t a dark beer that might benefit from a rest, it’s a lighter beer that we just can’t bring ourself to drink, because at this point we’re convinced it’s going to taste like crap. Well, tonight I drank that beer. 

A little backstory… I have a nice stash of craft beer – stouts and porters, sours and saisons – that will be just fine in a year or two. I also have good friends that always seem to have an extra beer or three they want me to try. Finally, I’m a sucker for the next great beer. As a result, my beer fridge fills up fast. 

Earlier this summer I decided to drink it down. I’ve been slowly drinking through the pale ales, IPAs and other mismatched beers to pare back the collection. It’s taking me a while because I tend to have some Alchemist Heady Topper on hand and most nights it seems like the right beer to drink. It’s fresh! I can’t be questioned on this choice. 

Well, tonight I dug down deep and pulled out that beer, cracked it open and poured it into my trusty glass and… wow. It looked beautiful.

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I know… you’re wondering “what is this miraculous looking beer?” And I tell you it’s not just good looking, it’s good tasting too. And it’s something you’ve seen at your local package store for years and years. You may have never tried it.

I remember my first Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout like it was yesterday. That was one of my first real beers, back when nearly no one was brewing real beer for consumers. Sure Sam Adams came along and they “had me at hello,” but Samuel Smith’s lineup was already commanding prime space in the cooler, daring you to give it a try. 

Back to that beer. Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale. I have no idea when it was “born.” It might have been adopted from someone else or I might have picked it up in a moment of nostalgia. I do know it’s been in my possession for a long, long time. Years. Several. At least. 

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It’s been on a shelf. In coolers. Back in a fridge and so on. It’s been abused like a beer should not be. But that’s what makes this beer so special. It’s still awesome. 

It pours a deep red color and forms a nice, one to two finger head that leaves nice lacing on the glass. Smells like caramel, subtle malt and dried fruit. The first taste is smooth, with hints of caramel and malt. The hops, if there ever were any, are long gone, but it doesn’t take away from this great tasting beer.

I can’t wait to buy a fresh bottle and give it its proper due. You should too. 

Vital Stats: Served at 45F in my trusty tulip glass. 5% ABV (It’s a session beer!!)

Taste: B+. I’m shocked by how little this beer degraded as a result of my mishandling. 

Drinkability: A-. It amazed me how drinkable this beer was… almost sessionable. 

Packaging: B-. Old school, but lacking vital info and personality

Value: ?????

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Really missed the boat with this one; Boatswain American IPA by Rhinelander Brewing Co.

There is a new Trader Joes just over the NH border in Nashua. Which for me is a bit exciting for two reasons. First, it’s a new store, much less compact than their old Tyngsboro locaiton, but also because NH allows beer and wine sales in grocery stores, so I can now try the 2 buck chuck equovalent of craft beer. This is my first time trying their house brand Rhinelander Brewing Co. Which is just a rebranded Minhas brewing.

The beer pours amber, with a nice looking head. I don’t pick up much in the aroma, but some light citrus. Not the hop punch I hop for in an IPA. The first taste, I get a lot of medicinal flavors, along with a chemically sweetness that is distracting. No real hop bite, or flavor. This is not what I would describe as an IPA at all. Big disappointment, but at least I’m not out much.

Drain pour.

 

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Vital Stats: Vitals: 6.7% ABV. Served in a willy beecher at 35. 79 IBU

Taste: D. You’ll be hard pressed to find a worse American IPA. 

Drinkability: C. Drain pour. 

Packaging:  B simple branding, useful info, including apv, and description of the beer. No born on date,.

Value: C. It’s cheap, but I’d rather be drinking a PBR if I’m going to have a bad beer.

 

Triple Play IPA from Lawson’s Finest Liquids

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When I noticed Aaron posted about a Vermont beer last night, I was compelled to break out this one and give it a proper review. I haven’t been able to try too many of Lawson’s fine liquids, but I’ve been excited to give this one a try since my sister gave it to me a few weeks back. 

Triple Play IPA is an American IPA brewed and dry hopped with three different hop varieties – Citra, Simcoe and Centennial. It pours a hazy orange with an ample head that leaves a nice lacing on the glass. 

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The first smell is rich citrus, grapefruit and pine (as expected). It’s not “stinky” like some other IPA/2xIPA from the NEK of VT, but it’s got a great aroma. 

The first taste brings mango and grapefruit, dancing across my tongue on tiny bubbles. The balance in this beer is phenomenal. From first taste to the last, it’s just smooth and great tasting. It opened up a little as it warmed, bringing out more pine than citrus, but I’ve noticed that tends to happen with most IPAs. 

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I don’t hestitate to give this my highest recommendation. It’s a highly drinkable, great example of what an IPA should be. Love. This. Beer. 

Vital Stats: Served at 45F into my trusty tulip glass. 7% ABV. Generously hopped. 

Taste: A. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better American IPA. 

Drinkability: A-. The ABV is the only knock. It’s on the high end of IPAs and will eventually knock you on your ass. 

Packaging: B…. is for Basic. It’s old school, but lacking detailed info about the brewer/beer. 

Value: A+. Any time you are given a beer like this as a gift, it’s a GREAT VALUE!! 

An evening with Jim. Hill Farmstead Jim that is.

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Sometimes you have a special bottle tucked away for a special occaision, and some sometimes you just open a special bottle to make the ordinary day special. Thats what I decided to do last night. I opened a bottle of Hill Farmstead Jim, which I purchased last summer. Hill Farmstead is a very small brewery, only selling it’s bottled wares at the brewery in the northeast kingdom of VT. This makes their beers rare to begin with, and this is one of their limited releases. Jim is a a barrel aged version of James, a black India Pale Ale. I don’t usually like hoppy dark beers. The acrid bitterness of porters, expecially hoppy ones usually doesn’t agree with me. In general black IPA is a style I’m not a big fan of, and barrel aged beers are hit or miss w/me as well.  

The first sniff is somewhere between porter and IPA, coffee, bitter chocolate, piney hops, and I’m smelling a bit of red wine. The first sip is all porter. Perhpas it’s the age on the beer causing the hops to drop out, and if I wanted the black ipa expierence I should have drank this long ago. The beer is well balanced, and as it warms it tastes much more so.

This is a good beer, but not something I’d buy again. I’ll stick with Hill’s pales, ipas, and farm house styles which suit my tastes better.

 

Vital Stats: 7.5 ABV IBU ? SRM ? Served too cold, in a tulip.  

Taste: B+. Black IPA isn’t a go to for me, but this is good.

Drinkability: B-. One and done if that. 

Packaging:  A-. Nice Simple look. Nice story, good details including ingrediants. No bottled on date :/. 

Value: C+ It’s a $15 500ml. A very good beer, and for the rarity one of 300 bottles, it’s not a bad price, certainly beats $200 on ebay. 

 

 

Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ Session in the Rye

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Took a brief trip to Burlington this weekend and of course I had to stop at the Farmhouse Tap & Grill for whatever Hill Farmstead offerings are on tap and hopefully something new.

I was in luck today as there was a Lawson’s on tap, their (his?) Session in the Rye (“a Belgian-style Rye Saison” according to the menu). OK then.

Hard to tell the exact color from the dim lighting here, but it looks to pour a cloudy honey color. Nose isn’t all that strong, but I’m getting notes of grass, rye, some citrus and malt.

It’s a medium-bodied beer with high carbonation. It has a pretty dry character which carries really through the entire sip up to and including the finish. It’s a very restrained brew though. Subtle flavors are the order of the day here with light fruity notes but mostly thing like grass, grain, rye and a slight mineral taste.

Vitals: Draught poured into a pint glass. 4.5% ABV.

Taste: B. Nice, but not my favorite style. The flavor disappeared a bit quickly as well.

Drinkability: A- This is indeed a session beer and goes down easy, but for me this style is one and done.

Packaging: N/A

Founders’ Backwoods Bastard

I got this beer as part of a Christmas haul selected by my brother-in-law (who knows his craft beers).  Why I chose to try it on a hot and hazy summer night I’m not sure.  Anything from Founders I treat with respect, so I’ve been saving it.

It pours a dark, translucent brown with a minimal head.  Aged in bourbon barrels…yes it is.  Sticking your nose gives the impression of a glass of bourbon with some wood and vanilla notes; boozy but not overpowering. 

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The taste is sweet and mellow.  Medium body with barely detectable carbonation.  In addition to the mellow bourbon flavors you get molasses, wood, brown sugar and maybe caramel.  Molasses and bourbon linger in the aftertaste, maybe a bit sweeter than I’d like.  Slight warming effect (this is a big boy at 10.2 ABV, but they’ve done a very good job suppressing that aspect in the taste).  Basically this tastes like the bastard child of bourbon and scotch ale.  Which is presumably what they were going for.

This is somewhat of a niche beer, and I’m maybe not the best person to review it as I’m not really a fan of bourbon or scotch ales.  Still, a nicely balanced beer, Founders should be proud.  This is without question one of THE top craft breweries in the country.  Their quality control is nothing short of amazing.  I have never had an offering of theirs which has disappointed.  In discussing our favorite breweries among the CBS contributors, Founders is in just about everyone’s top 5.  They deserve to be. 

Vital Stats: Served at 48F a pint glass. 10.2% ABV. 

Taste: A-. This is an A- for the style, trying to remain objective.  It’s not my favorite style, but within the genre this is an exceptionally crafted ale.  Another feather in the cap of Founders.

Drinkability: C-  High ABV and sweet, I don’t see anyone doing more than one of these in a session.  A nice after-dinner beer, but you’re not having a second.

Packaging: B-  I give them an A for keeping true to their brand (looking at any of Founders’ labels, I get the impression these beers were brewed by a renaissance painter and a 19th century blacksmith), but it is devoid of any description/story/info etc.  Full marks for keeping true to the brand mystique, but I’d love some more exposition on the labels.

 

Wormtown Brewery’s Hopulence DIPA

I’d heard great things about Wormtown from our fellow CBS contributor Chad, so when I spotted one of their offerings on the shelf at Redstone, I grabbed it.  Bonus that it was a Double IPA and I could review it for IPA Day!  I also picked up a bottle of the highly-regarded Be Hoppy IPA, but as that’s already been reviewed, I’m trying this one tonight.  Again, local beer, I want to like this…here goes.

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Pours a very nice copper color with a nice foamy head that hangs around and laces nicely on the glass.  Not an overpowering nose but I picked up mostly tropical fruit notes.  None of the heady notes you find in some beers of this style.

On the first sip you’re hit with a ton of VERY citrusy hops.  The nose belies what lies beneath.  I was actually taken aback by how ‘tart’ this beer is.  Almost lip-puckeringly so.  Slightly more carbonated than I’d prefer and a fair degree of bitterness at the end which isn’t really my thing.  The hop flavor lingers at the back of your palate. 

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Overall, a good double IPA, but given how many superb takes on this style we’ve tried, this one doesn’t quite stack up given some of the other options out there.  But as Wormtown is a local brewery, I am looking forward to trying more of their product and perhaps make a trip to the brew pub in the near future.

Vitals: Served in a tulip glass at 45F. 8.5% ABV, 120 IBU’s and you’ll taste every one of them.

Taste: B. A nice DIPA, but at the end of the day, a little too bitter at the finish for my liking.  Not enough malt to balance out the hops. 

Drinkability: C.  This is really subjective, but given the ABV and the bitterness, I don’t see wanting more than one glass of this in a sitting.  This is a bottle to share with a friend in my view. 

Packaging: B. Informative label, but a little ho-hum otherwise. 

Value:  I’ll have to back-fill this one.