A Smoky Seduction

Rauchbier (German for “smoke-beer”) means that a beer has been produced using smoked malts. These beers probably originated in Germany  in the Middle Ages before modern techniques existed for drying malts — the smoke from beechwood or oak fires would add flavor to the malts of most beers, thus producing a delicious, smoky flavor. Today these beers are produced intentionally, with smoked malts and yeasts that continue the tradition of brewing beers that taste like bacon (yum!). That’s right, they really do taste a lot like bacon! Not surprisingly, smoked beers pair well with smoked meats and cheeses (or a cigar, if that’s your preference!). This week we’re hitting a few of these unusual and tasty offerings, most of which are on offer at your local brew-shop.

Smoke and Dagger

by Jack’s Abby

Black Lager – 5.8% – Framingham, MA

Amy: This is a darn good beer! From the first sniff I was hooked. It smells of bittersweet chocolate with a touch of wood smoke. As I drink it I get hints of chocolate, toast, and smoky BBQ, all of them subtle and delicious. It’s rich, and almost creamy, but not at all heavy. The tangy, peppery carbonation keeps the flavor and richness from being too much. Just a solid, all around beer, from nose to finish.

Paul: Jack’s Abbey is one of my favorite breweries in Massachusetts, and this beer should give you a good indication why. The medium-bodied lager starts out with dark malts, baker’s chocolate, smoke, and a hoppy tang on the nose. These are followed by well-balanced flavors that include bitter chocolate, smokey-sweetness, and caramel, all ending with a crisp finish. As with most Jack’s Abbey beers, I was impressed by the subtle qualities of the beer’s profile. This may not be a full-on rauchbier, but it is very rewarding all the same.

Amy’s Score – 3.5 out of 5
Paul’s Score – 5 out of 5
Total: beer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_half_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brown

Smoked Porter

by Stone Brewing

Smoked Porter – 5.9% – San Diego, CA

Amy: This is one of those cases where I might have liked this beer if only it had been labeled differently. When I see the name “Smoked Porter” I think I’m going to be drinking something dark, creamy, and smoky. Instead this beer was BITTER. Not in a bad way – it reminded me of Italian roast coffee – but it wasn’t anything like I expected. It also had no smoke flavor whatsoever. I kept sipping it over and over again, expecting to find some hint of smokiness, but there really wasn’t any. There’s nothing wrong with this beer if you’re looking for something deep and dark, it’s a heavy, meal of a beer, but it’s totally not as advertised.

Paul: Stone’s Smoked Porter, as Amy says, is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, they use some peat-smoked malts in the brewing process, but this errs much more on the side of a good porter than a rauchbier. Creamy and chocolatey with just a touch of burnt sugar, this beer has the lightest touch of smoke possible. Not at all what I expected when I opened the bottle. Maybe it should be called a “Slightly Smoky Porter”? Don’t get me wrong though, I wasn’t mad about drinking this beer, I just wish it had picked up the smoke I was promised on the label!

Amy’s Score – 2.5 out of 5
Paul’s Score – 4 out of 5
Total: beer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_half_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brown

Aecht Schlenkerla Urbock

by Brauerei Heller-Trum

Smokebeer – 6.5% – Bamberg, Germany

Amy: This beer, well, wow. It’s bacon. That’s really what it is. It’s delicious, liquid, alcoholic bacon. Does that sound gross? It shouldn’t. It’s smoky, savory, and almost sensual. The flavor is oh so intense, so smoky, but also tasty. The smell is the best part, it’s bright and rich with lots of hardwood smoke that reminds me of bacon. The flavor is deeper and darker than the smell, but still smoky and yummy.

Paul: This is the original, German, smoke-beer style. You can’t get much more smokey than this. I’m not gonna lie. I love this beer. I love everything about it. The dark body is rich and full, the smokiness is clearly apparent from the moment you pour it, and it is incredibly food friendly. Try it with some homemade macaroni and cheese, and prepare to be in bacony, beery, cheesy, heaven.

Amy’s Score – 4 out of 5
Paul’s Score – 5 out of 5
Total: beer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_empty_brown

Auerbach’s Rauchbier

by Mystic Brewery

Ale made with smoked malts – 5.4% – Chelsea, MA

Amy: This has never happened before … I think this is a perfect beer. Let’s start with the name: I love Mystic for paying tribute to legendary Celtic’s coach Red Auerbach with this beer. My parents still have a crayon-scrawled note by my kindergarten fingers begging Red to let me sub for Larry Bird. The guy was my childhood hero and I’m thrilled that such a tasty brew is carrying his name. Next, the smell: Like the Urbock, there’s a little bacon-esque smokiness to the smell, but it’s more subtle and doesn’t overpower the rich malts. The same goes for the flavor. While other smoked beers either left me wondering where the smoke was or made me feel like I was curing bacon, this beer is more balanced. It’s creamy, rich, smoky, and even slightly sweet. It reminds me a little of slowly caramelized onions made for a French onion soup. Auerbach’s Rauchbier is a strong, stand-up ale, but one where the smoke takes the place of the typical ale bitterness. If you’re a fan of BBQ or beef jerky, this is a beer for you.

Paul: Unlike Amy, I couldn’t care less about whether or not my beer honors so-and-so sports guy from whatever-place. That’s not really my thing. What we both agreed on, though, was that this beer was worthy of some serious accolades. Creating a perfect combination of smoke and sweet, bitter and mild. Smoky malts on the nose are followed by coffee, chocolate, and molasses on the front end, with a smokey sweetness on the back. This beer is really, really good. Not the campfire-in-your-mouth of the Schlenkerla, but definitely a great American contender for the rauchbier title.

Amy’s Score – 5 out of 5
Paul’s Score – 5 out of 5
Total: beer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brown

Bringing Sexy (Beer) Back

Yes, we’re well aware of the fact that we’ve been gone for a long time. As it happens Amy got married and I’ve been writing my dissertation, so the blog got put on the back burner…temporarily. But now we’re back, and just in time for fall! To start things back up, we’re going to be covering some beer styles that we think are up and coming. Session beers are so last year, and you can’t throw a rock in Brooklyn without hitting a hipster with a saison, so we’re looking at what beers might be the next big thing.

This week we’s tasting ESBs (also known as Extra Special Bitters). My trusty Oxford Companion to Beer tells me that the ESB comes directly from the eponymous Fuller’s ESB that you can find in most liquor stores. This beer has won a lot of awards (no beer has won more prizes from the Campaign for Real Ale), and was first brewed in 1969 as a seasonal beer. The brewery is located in Chiswick, West London, which also brews several other excellent beers

Since that fateful winter of 1969, the ESB has become a style all its own, with breweries around the world coming up with their own ESB styled brews. Naturally, Fuller’s remains a typically English ale:  Started on Challenger and Northdown hops, finished dry with Goldings. As a result, the beer style is eminently drinkable—with malty notes on the front, finishing dry and citrusy on the back. American versions of this beer abound, and tend to be more aggressively hopped than their English counterparts. Check out the reviews below for a look at some of these great Fall beers!

Fuller’s ESB

by Fuller’s

Extra Special Bitter – 5.9% ABV – Chiswick, England

Paul: The original. I have a special place in my heart for this beer because of college, where I drank a lot of it. Well, that and Guinness. My early drinking habits aside, this ale still stands up as one of the world’s best. The golden amber pour presents with a light, foamy head. English malts on the nose, with a light touch of earthy hops. On the palate, the beer is smooth, lightly sweet, and medium-bodied. The finish is clean, with a light citrus and herbal dryness. This is a beer you can drink by itself, but pairs very well with food. In fact I’d pair it with this cheese if you want to be truly English about things. Drink and be happy, this is a lovely beer. Fuller's ESB

Amy: Maybe it’s just because this is the first ESB I ever drank, actually, one of the first beers I ever drank period, but to me this is like the template after which all other beers are drawn. Fuller’s ESB pours a russet brown, nice and clear with almost no head. It has a malty smell with a hint of orange candy. It might be surprising, based on the name, but bitter is not the most prevalent flavor here. It’s slightly sweet, nutty, and mellow with a bitter finish. Although, after years of drinking American pale ales and IPAs, it’s hardly bitter at all. The tiny bubbles make for a very smooth beer that’s easy to drink. We had this Fuller’s in a bottle, but if you can find it on tap I highly recommend it.

Paul’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Amy’s Rating: 4 out of 5
Total: beer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_empty_brown


by Southern Tier

Extra Special Bitter – 6.7% ABV – Lakewood, NY

PaulA seasonal from Southern Tier (also the brewer of the super-popular “Pum-King” beer), this ESB takes the form of the Fuller’s and transforms it into something distinctly American. Starting out with a healthy hit of citrus on the nose balanced by some brown sugar, the flavor of this beer starts out with caramel notes, but ends with grapefruit. The aggressive hopping with American varietals gives this beer a crisp, autumnal quality that would work equally as well at your Oktoberfest as at your Fall dinner table. If you’re sensing a theme, ESB’s seem particularly well-suited to food pairings, and this is no exception. Southern Tier develops a lot of brisk flavors for this style, and I’d happily drink it again.

Southern Tier HarvestAmy: Southern Tier doesn’t claim their Harvest Season as an ESB on the bottle, but when we asked for ESBs, this is what the folks at Craft Beer Cellar recommended. The colors seem drawn from the name, with the beer somewhere between apple butter and cooked pumpkin in color. It’s clear, with no head to speak of. I can smell a touch of malt, but mostly I smell hops, very floral and forward. The flavor is light, but the balance isn’t where I want it in an ESB: The hops overpower the malts, making it one sided and not as drinkable as Fuller’s. While the bitterness of the hops is ever-present, it’s not overpowering. I’d say this walks a line between an ESB and an IPA.

Paul’s Rating 4.5 out of 5
Amy’s Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Total: beer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brown

Halloween Ale

by Gritty McDuff’s

Extra Special Bitter – 6% ABV – Portland, ME

Paul: Another American seasonal ESB, this Halloween Ale from the revered beer-town of Portland, Maine didn’t turn out quite as I expected. I wanted to like it, but beside the Fuller’s and the Southern Tier, it just didn’t quite hold up. The malts of the beer seemed too heavily flavored for the amount of hops. It was as if they tried to put giant pants on a tiny dude, and they were also the wrong sort of pants for the party. They’re using Whitbread and East Kent Goldings for this beer, soGritty's Halloween it seems like they were trying to emulate the Fuller’s more directly, but the malts presented with this unpleasantly burnt quality that overwhelmed the subtle flavors and body of the English hops. It’s not a disaster, but not the most pleasant beer we drank.

Amy: Oh, man, what a disappointment! I like Gritty’s a lot. In fact, I included their brewpub in an article I just wrote about beer and beer locations that are not to be missed while in Portland. But man, this beer is a letdown. The smell is malty, yeasty, and musty … and that’s the best part. The worst part is the flavor, which somehow manages to taste both burnt and watery at the same time. It’s bitter with no balance at all.

Paul’s Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Amy’s Rating: 0.5 out of 5
Total: beer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brown

Happy New Beer! (Or…how my terrible puns lost us our audience)

The holidays are officially over (whew!). Your favorite TV shows are coming back on, the Spring semester is beginning, and your New Year’s resolutions are still fresh (at least for the next month). Now that we’re back to our regularly scheduled activities, obviously you need some new brews, courtesy of…well…us! We’ve got an exciting year planned for the blog, and we hope you’ll be there to help us drink our way through it. Pub crawls, tastings, and other fun events will be diversifying our regular drinking calendar this year, and we’re incredibly excited to get it all started! But first things first, we have some new ratings for you to help you turn your mid-winter blues into a brewer’s paradise.

Muffin Top

by Clown Shoes

Belgian Style Tripel IPA – 10% ABV – Ipswich, MA

Paul: For those of you unfamiliar with the lingo of Belgian beer, a “tripel” was created by a man named Witkap Pater in 1932. SinceClown Shoes Belgian Tripel IPA then, the style has become overwhelmingly popular throughout the world, and you can often find several tripels at some of our favorite bars in Boston, like Lord Hobo or The Publick House. Tripels tend to be golden in color, have a high malt content, and don’t skimp on alcohol. As far as these three characteristics are concerned the Muffin Top covers all the bases, but it is here that the similarities end. While the backbone of candied fruit and brown sugar mark this beers’ traditional roots, the massive infusion of American hops transforms the drinking experience into an explosion of flowers, orange peel, and resin. I don’t know what brilliant person decided it was a good idea to combine the American and Belgian styles, but they are destined for greatness. This beer turns out to be harmoniously balanced between the malty and yeasty depth of a Tripel, and the fresh vitality of an IPA. Beautiful stuff.

Amy: This is the weirdest name for a beer (I’m referring to “Belgian Style Tripel IPA”, not “Muffin Top”), and I fully expected not to like it based on how many styles were thrown together here. However, the beer is a beautiful golden amber and has a fresh, flowery scent of hops. There’s a slight fermented, brandy-type flavor, like leather and dried fruit, which I find complex and appealing. While it has the hoppiness of an IPA, it has the rich, sweet maltiness of a Belgian. I actually love the balance as I find traditional IPAs very one-sided in their floral bitterness. This has good body to back up the hops and keep it real.

Paul’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Amy’s rating: 4.5 out of 5

Once Upon A Time

by Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

East India Porter, 1855 – 6% ABV – Westport, MA

Pretty Things 1855Paul: My first real beer may have been a porter. In the small town where I went to college, a small Irish pub on the main drag had an excellent selection of draft beers from Ireland and England. While I had no idea at the time what craft-brewing was, I knew that Fuller’s London Porter, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, and Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout tasted really, really, good. This meant I never got the craze for Colt 45, Bud, and Coors that populates the typical college dorm. As a result, I have a special place in my heart for porter, and I love that Pretty Things is making an American craft beer that brings on the nostalgia. Their ‘Once Upon A Time’ project has involved researching specific brew days from English history, reconstructing the recipes, and producing wonderful, drinkable samples of a world gone by. With this in mind, the 1855 Porter was a revelation. Hopped aggressively to withstand long journeys, this black-as-night porter started with aromas of coffee/espresso, dark chocolate, and a touch of vanilla, which led to a mouthful of black coffee-like flavors, chocolate liqueur, and bourbon vanilla on the back. The bitterness of this beer took me by surprise at first, but on a second and third sip it proved to enhance the body and richness of the brew. While I might be biased, I do love this beer, and you should try to nab it (or any of the Once Upon A Time beers) while they last.

Amy: “This is our completely uncreative line,” announced Martha, one half of the husband and wife team who brew up Pretty Things beers. I don’t know about that, since the entire concept of brewing up historical beers seems pretty creative to me. But I guess for a pair who like experimentation I can see why they do small batches of these strictly followed beer recipes from the past. Martha also explained to us at a tasting that this East India Porter is the beer that was truly consumed by the British troops in India. IPAs were the drink of officers, not common soldiers, but became popular and well known because the troops, “they were aspirational.” While I’m impressed by the Once Upon a Time project,  I’m not a huge fan of this particular blast from the past. There’s a refinement missing from this beer: It’s not as rich as a porter and not as creamy as a stout. It’s very bitter and dark (a huge amount of hops was necessary to keep the keep in the heat and over the long journey), but it has a watery quality in the mouthfeel. I think it’s a little one dimensional, although if I got it as part of my daily rations I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t complain.

Paul’s rating: 4.5 out of 5
Amy’s rating: 3 out of 5

Chocolate Bock

by Samuel Adams

Bock beer with cacao and natural flavors – 5.8% ABV – Boston, MA

Paul: “Bock” beers tend to be full-bodied beers originally prevalent in Germany and Austria. Samuel Adams, a company that pridesitself on the use of German products (especially hops) have taken the original concept of the “bock” beer and aged it on cacao nibs to increase the final sweetness and malt of the end-product. Every so often, we here at the blog do like to try a Sam Adams to see what their seasonal brews are looking like, and give you the requisite rating. The problem with this beer is that it was virtually Samuel Adams Chocolate Bockundrinkable. Whereas in the past we’ve found Sam Adams to be guilty of punching us in the face with spices (see our post on their Summer Beer), this beer was somehow sour and unbearably sweet at the same time. To be totally fair, you can Sam Adams’ side of the story, but the fruitiness and oddly artificial flavor of the chocolate mixed to create an unbearable maelstrom of sweetness. Something tastes really incorrect here, to the point that I wondered (and still do wonder) if my beer was skunked. Usually, I find the old standby of New England beer to be pretty inoffensive, if not terribly hip or creative, but this was a meltdown. Give this to your enemy, maybe?

Amy: Paul is on his way to being a professor of the dramatic arts, so I tend to take his overblown feelings on restaurants and beers with a grain of salt. However, this beer was shockingly bad right from the beginning. It smells a bit like burnt caramel when you pour it, so maybe it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise that it was overwhelmingly sweet. My tasting notes (mostly in astonished caps) say things like, “WHY IS IT SO SWEET??!?” and “Rotten cotton candy?” It truly was saccharine with no depth of flavor. I’m beyond amazement that someone brewed this up, tasted it, and thought, “yeah, let’s sell this bad boy!” It was actually punishment to drink and I found myself bracing for each sip until I gave in and poured the last third of it down the drain. If you like this beer, or even just don’t hate it, I beg you to comment and tell us what redeeming qualities we’re missing.

Paul’s rating: 0 out of 5
Amy’s rating: 0 out of 5

Our Favorite Beer and Cheese Pairings for the Holidays

Last week Paul had a killer tree-trimming party at his place. To keep our party-goers sated, we wanted to offer up not just a selection of beers, but also a cheese plate that would complement our beverages. We experimented a bit and now we’re happy to share the results of our incredibly hard work. These are our four favorite beer and cheese pairings; feel free to use them at your own holiday table this year! All of these cheeses are locally available at our favorite cheesemongers at Formaggio Kitchen, who were instrumental in helping us out with our selections. Check them out!

Holidale 2012

by Berkshire Brewing Co.

Barleywine Style Ale – 9.5% ABV – South Deerfield, MA

Amy: Holidale 2012 is a very nice cold weather brew. It has lots of bitter orange, a very mild malt sweetness, and it’s very well balanced. There’s a hint of spiciness to it, perhaps from nutmeg. It’s not as rich or sweet as a traditional barley wine, but I also like that it’s not overwhelming with spices the way many holiday beers are.

Paul: Berkshire Brewing has been appearing on my radar a lot recently, not least because of their delicious Coffeehouse Porter (the folks at Beer Advocate seem to like it as well!). Their Holidale is a beer-drinker’s holiday ale, with just the right amount of spice, hops, and malt to create a harmonious (and celebratory) beer. With a little creaminess on the back end, this beer makes a perfect contender for pairing with food or, in this case, delicious cheese.

Favorite pairing: Ombra, by Josep Cuixart in Navarre, Spain. This firm sheep’s milk cheese is slightly nutty with a hint of sweetness. Because it was well-aged (our hunk came from an 8-month-old wheel), it had started to develop a little of the grittiness from the crystallization of amino acids. The mellow, nutty, sweetness of the cheese went well with the rich, spicy, bitterness of the beer.

Amy’s rating: 4 out of 5
Paul’s rating: 5 out of 5
Total: beer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_empty_brown

Attic & Eaves

by Slumbrew

Toasted Brown Ale – 7.5% – Ipswich, MA

Paul: Toasty malts followed by a touch of caramel in the glass, and a pleasant medium body. Lighter in flavor and body than a porter, this is a great entry level beer for someone who thinks they don’t like dark beer. The ABV is a little high to use it as a session, but the next time I’m grabbing a beer for a meal, this will be a winner.

Amy: The Attic & Eaves is a deep brown and ruby red color in the glass and somehow manages to remind me of caramel and cream when I smell it. The flavor is toasty, nutty, and rich. This isn’t the most complex beer, but it’s warming and yummy. Simple and friendly and a great way for newbies to ease into dark beers.

Favorite pairing: Stilton, by Colston Bassett in Nottinghamshire, UK. This velvety, creamy cheese with its marbling of greenish blue veins was a perfect accompaniment to the Attic & Eaves. The toasty notes and slight bitternesss of the beer are completely mellowed by a cheese that might otherwise be overwhelmingly rich. I was surprised at how well these two went together, but this was by far my favorite pairing of the evening.

Paul’s rating: 3 out of 5
Amy’s rating: 3.5 out of 5
Total: beer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_half_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brown


by Southern Tier

Imperial Stout brewed with Chocolate – 10% – Lakewood, NY

Amy: This pitch-black beer is chocolatey, with notes of vanilla and butter, but not a hint of sweetness. The high ABV makes it a sipping beer rather than something for serious drinking. The chocolate aroma makes it seem rich, but the bitter notes and lack of sweetness create a hearty drink that’s not for the timid beer drinker.

Paul: I’ve always loved Southern Tier, and it is high time we put one of their brews on the agenda. This stout resembles something more like Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout in intensity and alcohol than Young’s milky-smooth Double Chocolate Stout. As Amy says, this one is not for the faint of heart: strong dark malts and baker’s chocolate with hints of vanilla in the back. The feeling is more like a coffee porter than chocolate precisely, but all in all, a damn good beer.

Favorite pairing: Delice de Bourgogne, by Fromagerie Lincet in Burgundy, France. This meltingly creamy cheese is similar to eating salted butter. It’s insanely rich, with a slight sour cream tang. It works perfectly with the dark bitterness of the Choklat.

Amy’s rating: 4 out of 5
Paul’s rating: 4 out of 5
Total: beer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_full_brownbeer_empty_brownbeer_empty_brown

Once Upon a Time – KK

by Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

A recreation of a hoppy, black, ale originally brewed in London November 15th, 1901 – 7% – Somerville, MA

Amy: This beer was an interesting choice for the holidays. It’s as dark as a porter, but more hoppy than most winter beers. It also has a nice butterscotch sweetness that helps to balance out the spicy bitterness of the hops. You might call this a black IPA, but I like it much more than traditional IPAs. The additional richness and sweetness works well to keep the bitterness in check.

Paul: Pretty Things has been pursuing a brewing project that entails recreating the recipes of beers past. This is the first of the series I’ve tried, and I think it is a tremendous success. The hops in this were just lovely. Amy wasn’t the biggest fan of this beer, but I though it was lovely, resembling many of the black IPA’s we’ve been seeing on the shelves in the past year. And, since Christmas is often about looking back to old traditions, I’d pick this up while it lasts.

Favorite pairing: Ascutney Mountain, by Cobb Hill in Hartland, Vermont. This Alpine-style tomme is made using Jersey cow’s milk. The cheese is firm and slightly crumbly with notes of grass, nuts, and earth. The Flavor wouldn’t work with a very rich beer, I think it competes, but with the IPA soul trapped in a dark beer body of the KK, it works perfectly.

Amy’s rating: 3 out of 5
Paul’s rating: 5 out of 5

Like Beer and Chocolate

As promised, we are continuing our foray into beers that go well with the cold weather. Stouts and Porters have been running through my head all week, and I’ve been busily tasting them all weekend. You know, in the name of science. Of course, I brought some back to Amy in growlers, and we immediately disagreed about them. Such is the life of us intrepid bloggers. Speaking of Porters and Stouts, what the hell are they, exactly? Well, according to the Oxford Companion to Beer (yeah, that’s a thing), a stout is:

A category of warm fermented ale styles that are distinguished by their dark color, generally an opaque deep brown or black, as well as a distinct roasted character that is often perceived as dark chocolate or coffee. Both of these qualities derive from the use of roasted grains used to brew these beers…Stouts, as we know them, evolved from the stout porter (Oliver, 770).

Basically, stouts in the 18th and 19th centuries were known as stronger versions of porters. Both use roasted grains. Often called “chocolate” malts by brewers, this is the main characteristic that joins the two styles. These days, the range of stouts produced makes categorization a little more difficult, as we’re about to see in our posts below. Bundle up, and grab yourself a stout!

Taza Stout

by Night Shift Brewing

Stout Brewed with Taza cacao nibs – 7.6% ABV – Everett, MA

Paul: This complex stout brings a world of unique flavors to the style. Using roasted cacao nibs, chicory, and ginger, this beer takes the concept of stout to another level. The dark malty character is complemented by a yeasty sourness, chicory, and a gingery warmth on the back end. Notes of baker’s chocolate, roasted coffee, and spice occurs mid-palette. All in all, this is basically an awesome beer, and you would be a fool not to get your hands on it. Also, a little bird told me that the next batch will be aged in bourbon and rum barrels. Yum. Seriously, if you find yourself interested in going off the beaten track of dark beers, this is the beer for you. I’m giving this one the highly coveted five glass salute.

Amy: This beer, and I am not making this up, smells like sushi. Really. It is just so friggin’ weird to pour a glass of beautiful, dark beer, bring it up to your nose, and be reminded of raw fish and soy sauce. Now, I’m a big fan of sushi (or at least I was before I read too much about fishing and ocean depletion and stopped eating all seafood but oysters), but I don’t want to be reminded of it by a beer. Paul claims that this is linked to the Belgian yeast strain used during the fermentation of this beer, and maybe he’s right. But in the end, it didn’t matter to me. I wanted something that was rich, deep, chocolaty, and maybe subtly spicy from the ginger. Instead I got something that was thin, sour, and fishy-smelling (okay, it didn’t really smell like fish, it was more like the fermented smell of soy sauce, but some associations are hard to break). Not only is this beer not what I expected, but it’s something I just don’t like.

Paul’s Rating: 5 out of 5
Amy’s Rating: 0.5 out of 5

Porter Square Porter

by Slumbrew

Porter brewed with cocao powder and nibs – 6.5% ABV – Ipswich, MA

Paul: If you’re looking for a rich, creamy beer, this is a good place to go. With lots of baker’s chocolate, a thick head of foam, and a full body, this is a prime candidate for winter boozing. With all the roasted characteristics of a porter, and the smoothness coming from the added chocolate to soften the palate, this is easier to drink than, say, Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout. I really like this beer, and I’m glad I’ve come back to it since last winter. More than anything else, I see this as an excellent food beer, or even a dessert beer. I’d pair it with a sharp, strong cheese; something that can stand up to the roasted malts and cut through the sweetness of the cacao. Or else you could enhance the chocolate flavors by drinking it with a dense chocolate cake. Pure decadence.

Amy: Slumbrew’s Porter Square Porter is smooth, deep, and full of toasted yumminess. There’s something soothing about a beer that’s so simple and yet so well done. The beer is incredibly creamy, which I love. It’s got slight bitter and sweet notes in it that remind me of both coffee and chocolate. It’s very thick and satisfying, and I’d use it as a replacement for dessert any day. A great winter beer choice, I’d drink it with a hearty stew (and maybe use it as an ingredient in the stew as well) or a still-melty grilled cheese sandwich.

Paul’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Amy’s Rating: 4 out of 5

Kinda Still Fall…Right?

So maybe we’re a little late in the game to post this one, but we’ve had these beers in the pipe and are just now getting to them. Mostly, we didn’t want you to miss some of the great squash creations being made out there in our backyard. As of this writing, you can still get both of these beers, and you should get them while you can! I know, I know, cider isn’t beer. However, it is a fermented beverage that Amy and I have great respect for. You can look to see more of it on the blog in the future, from some great craft producers using heirloom varieties of apple only available in the New England area.

Pumpkin Cider

by Harpoon

Spiced cider – 4.6% ABV – Boston, MA

Amy: I’m a fan of most things apple. Apple pie, baked apples, apple cider, but there are two apple beverages that always let me down: apple tea and hard apple cider. They smell so deliciously apple-y, but when you taste them it’s a huge disappointment. That’s why, even though Harpoon’s Pumpkin Cider smelled like a freshly baked pumpkin pie cooling in the middle of an apple orchard, I was braced for the bland, watery flavor I’ve come to associate with hard cider. Boy was I wrong. There’s real apple flavor in this cider, like biting into a just-picked macintosh. I really like that while it’s a twist on a traditional apple cider, it’s still very simple and clean tasting. There are just six ingredients (fermented apple juice, pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg) and I can taste them all. The taste grew on me so that I liked the cider more the longer I drank it, which says a lot since I was won over with the first sip.

Paul: Cider is a distinctly American drink. This is not to say that cider never existed until the discovery of the New World, but our Founding Fathers certainly favored it as an everyday beverage. Thomas Jefferson, ever the experimenter, made cider using varieties of apple at Monticello that most of us would not know today, and Washington laid in barrels of cider for his own household. Lately, many breweries have been helping to set the stage for a revival of craft-ciders (of course, there are many cider-works that produce only cider all over MA!). The results are delicious. Harpoon’s offering, a blend of seasonal spices, pumpkin, and apples, offers a delicious celebration of the harvest season. This pale gold brew offers up a delightful blend of the tart apple of Harpoon’s Apple Cider with the roundness of squash. Easy to drink, lightly spiced, and fragrant, I would definitely pick this one up while it lasts!

Amy’s rating: 4.5 out of 5
Paul’s rating: 4 out of 5

Winter is Coming…

Amy and I drank a lot of pumpkin beer this season trying to bring you the best of what was out there this Fall. Having overdosed on squash a little early this year, we’re happy to start breaking out the porters, stouts, and other winter beers that we’ll be living with for the next several months. For those of you who aren’t into our more roasted brethren fear not, for we’ll continue to have a range of beer styles. We just wanted to enter into the winter with an eye on the heartier stuff coming out on the local scene. We have a lot of fun posts lined up for you in the near future: IPA’s, farmhouse ciders, and a whole slew of browns, ryes, and barley wines. We’ll also be keeping you posted on beer events coming up around the Boston area, so stay tuned…Now, let us tell you about some of these beers…

Genghis Pecan

by Clown Shoes Beer

Porter brewed with locally roasted pecans – 7% ABV – Ipswich, MA

Paul: Let’s have a quick chat about porters, shall we? Porters typically use roasted or ‘chocolate’ malts to provide color and flavor to the beer. The style was created in England in the 1700′s, and, while we’ll probably never have a clear picture of what these early porters might have tasted like, we do know that they were popular enough to be named after the tradesmen that presumably drank the most. Today, porters tend to carry flavors of chocolate, coffee, and nuts, and most contemporary craft breweries produce at least one (we’ll talk about Baltic Porters at a later date). In recent years, the style has become popular again, and especially during the winter season.

Genghis Pecan, advertised as a ‘Pecan Pie Porter’, looks lovely in the glass. The beer has a head of light brown, lacy foam and a dark brown color. On the palette, I got notes of burnt sugar, bakers chocolate, and a very slight, round nuttiness on the back. As a porter, this is very good. However, I’d like to emphasize again the difference between advertising and reality. Did this porter make me think of pecan pie? No. In fact, if I hadn’t been told to expect a ‘Pecan Pie Porter’ I might have just taken it as a normal porter and left it at that. I was expecting something more along the lines of Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar, which serves more as dessert than a beer. Sadly, while I do love Pecan Pie, I didn’t get much of that character from this brew. More nuts, anyone?

Amy: I’m a sucker for beers with cool names and Genghis Pecan struck a chord with me after jogging to too many Hardcore History podcasts. The beer is a beautiful deep black-brown with a loose, foamy head. The smell is great too: crisp and toasty at the same time with roasted barley and cocoa in there. The problem was the taste. This beer hits you strong and up front with flavors that could kindly be called toasted or coffee, but are strong enough that I’d label them as bitter and burnt. Entirely missing from the palate is the buttery pecan flavor I was hoping for. After a few sips the bitterness faded a bit and I was able to appreciate a subtle sweetness on the back end of the beer. Even so, I was disappointed. If there are pecans in this brew they’re either burned all to Hell or so few they make no impact.

Paul’s rating: 2.5 out of 5
Amy’s rating: 2 out of 5

Attic & Eaves

by Slumbrew

Toasted Brown Ale – 7.5% – Ipswich, MA

Paul: This dark brown beer promised to be a great addition to a Fall evening, and it didn’t disappoint. Toasty malts were followed by a touch of caramel in the glass, all housed in a pleasant medium body. Lighter in flavor and body than a porter, this would be a great entry level beer for someone who thinks they don’t like dark beer (I also recommend Harpoon’s Dark for this purpose). I picture this going well with chocolate or a good English cheddar. In other words, I see this as a versatile food beer. The ABV is a little high to use it as a session, but the next time I’m grabbing a beer for a meal, this will be a winner.

Amy: Oh Slumbrew, you never leave me hanging. I love that after a disappointing beer experience I can always choose a bottle by Slumbrew, whether it’s something I’ve tried before or not, whether it’s a style I particularly enjoy or not, and I’ll be happy with it. The Attic & Eaves is a deep brown and ruby red color in the glass and somehow manages to remind me of caramel and cream when I smell it. The flavor is what I had hoped for in a beer touting its pecan origins: toasty, nutty, and rich. This isn’t the most complex beer, but it’s warming and yummy. Simple and friendly. I have to agree with Paul that this is a beer to ease a newby into dark brews.

Paul’s rating: 3 out of 5
Amy’s rating: 3.5 out of 5

Brewing About Town…

Recently, Amy and I had the pleasure of visiting the Cambridge Brewing Company with other beer-minded folks under the auspices of the Culinary Guild of New England. If you haven’t heard of the Culinary Guild before, you should absolutely check out their website and events. If you’re interested in craft beer, you’re probably interested in other awesome foods/beverages, and if that’s true, these folks are for you! Not to mention that, if you’ve been dying to meet the intrepid drinkers on this blog, we’ll be at a Guild-hosted event at Taza Chocolate in Somerville on November 1. Register now to save your space!

Anyway, enough of this shameless plugging. At the CBC we sat down with Lead Brewer Jay Sullivan to sample beer and talk about the process of making it. As it turns out, brewing beer is a complex process involving a lot of science. Water, yeast, malt, and hops have to be carefully held in balance, and a brewer has to know and understand the effect that each has on the flavor profile of their beer. Of course, there are many, many, types of malt barley, hops, and yeasts to choose from. The character of the beer you brew depends on which of these you choose, so things can get pretty complicated. At the CBC they brew all their beer in-house, using lots of fresh ingredients (I recently tried a delicious creation using heirloom pumpkins and a healthy hop-profile called White Widow), and as a result they get to create a lot of excellent brews with unique flavor profiles. The talk was informative and tasty, and I highly recommend you head down to the brew-pub to grab a sampler paddle of your own.

On the blog so far, we’ve tended to focus mostly on the product we receive from great local brewers like the CBC, rather than on the process they use to get our (very important) beer to our favorite local beer stores (Like my personal favorite, The Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, MA). Every so often though, it is important to recognize how difficult and time intensive brewing beer right can be, and how hard it is to stay innovative in a market increasingly full of really, really delicious beer.

And that’s where we come in. As Amy and I continue to pour through our local beer scene, we raise a glass to the breweries (like the CBC) that make a blog like this, not just possible, but necessary. Go to your local brewer!

Bottle it Up: Pumpkin Pie-Style

The search for a great pumpkin beer is something of an obsession for me, and now that I have a beer blog I’m discovering that I’m not alone in this. Maybe because we live in Massachusetts, a state well-known for its association with harvest season and Halloween, locally brewed pumpkin beers are a dime a dozen. The real problem isn’t finding one (or ten), it’s finding a really good one. And now co-workers and friends all want me to tell them what the best pumpkin beer in the land is. This week we continued the search with pumpkin beers from breweries known for their strong and innovative brews.

Imperial Pumpkin Ale

by Wachusett

Ale brewed with pumpkin puree, Belgian candi sugar, and spices – 8.0% ABV – Westminster, MA

Amy: From my first sniff I thought that this was a beer that was more about beer than pumpkin. It had a friendly, toasted maltyness to the nose that I liked a lot. The high alcohol content was evident in the flavor. There’s not a lot of pumpkin in evidence, but there’s a nice ginger heat. Overall the alcohol plus the ginger flavor, along with the sweetness and richness of the beer, make it pleasantly warming. Something I’d enjoy drinking on a cold night. Because of the high ABV, I don’t think this is something I’d want to have more than one of in an evening. In a way I wish their was more pumpkin flavor, but at the same time I really enjoy the rich sweetness of the beer and it’s spicy hints of ginger for itself.

Paul: While I found this beer tasty, I also found it too sweet. Looking to the bottle for answers, I discovered the reason for this is that it was brewed with Belgian sugar. Now, why would you want to ruin a perfectly good pumpkin beer like that? Here’s the problem I’ve started to find with pumpkin beers: they are often too sweet. If you’re going to have a beer with pumpkin and a gigantic alcohol percentage, you don’t need the extra sugar. To me, the heat of the alcohol was enough to sweeten the pot. However, the beer was pleasant enough despite the extra sugars, delivering a full-bodied pumpkin flavor with a subtle touch of spice. Without the sugar, this would be a perfect pumpkin beer.

Amy’s rating: 3 out of 5
Paul’s rating: 3 out of 5

Punk Punkin Ale

by Dogfish Head

Brown ale brewed with real pumpkin, brown sugar, allspice cinnamon & nutmeg – 7.0% ABV – Milton, DE

Amy: Let me start by saying that while I respect Dogfish Head as a brewery, they tend to make beers I don’t like. For example, they’re well known for their 60- and 90-minute IPAs, and I find even the best-made IPAs disagreeable. However, starting from the beautiful maple-syrup color of the beer, I found myself being won over. “Punk” is a golden, reddish brown and there’s lots of real pumpkin in the nose as well as hints of allspice and nutmeg. There’s something else in there too that reminds me of a freshly baked pie crust. The first sip is a little overwhelming because the allspice and nutmeg hit right up front. However, the spice flavor mellows and the warmth, maltiness, and sweetness of the beer are very enjoyable. While it’s sweet from the brown sugar, there’s enough rich ale flavor to keep it from being candy-level sweet. As the spices fade into the background, the pumpkin and ale flavors come forward. For me this contrast is great, because I get to have the pumpkin pie spices at the beginning, but continue to enjoy the pumpkin ale for the long haul. It’s like getting two beers in one.

Paul: Dogfish Head, despite Amy’s limited palette for IPA’s, has always been an excellent brewery in my book. Not only are their IPA’s a go-to at any craft-beer bar, but their seasonal experiments are usually delicious. This pumpkin beer was no exception. With that characteristic pumpkin flavor up front, some alcohol in the back, and a bready/spicy flavor in the middle, this was a joy to drink. Essentially, what we have here is fall in a bottle. Not too sweet, not too bitter, but comforting and warming on a blustery evening. I’m getting this one again, and I hope you will too. And try the IPAs as well, because they are delicious.

Amy’s rating: 4 out of 5
Paul’s rating: 4 out of 5

Fall 2012 Beer Events

Welcome to fall!

Maybe it’s because we get programmed into the feeling through years of education, but fall always feels full of potential and beginnings to me. New cool-weather wardrobe, new teachers, here in Boston it usually means a new apartment & landlord, and – most importantly in my book – new flavors for food and drink. More than any other seasonal transition, the one between summer and fall bursts forth with new foods all at once. I love it.

To celebrate the season, Paul and I have put together a list of seasonal beer events happening in the Northeast. These are just a select few, you can find more if we haven’t covered your favorite brewer or area, but these are the ones that piqued our interest.

Harpoon Oktoberfest

When: September 28th, 2012
By: Harpoon Brewery
Where: 306 Northern Ave. Boston, MA

Join Harpoon for a night of oompa music, German food, and Harpoon beers at their 23rd annual Oktoberfest. This outdoor festival is $20, which includes entry to the grounds, and a souvenir pint glass and pint of beer. Additional drinks and food can be purchased within (beers are $5 a pint). Learn more at the official website.

DIY: How to Brew Beer

When: October 3rd, 2012
By: Culinary Guild of New England
Where: Cambridge Brewing Company, 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA

This event is especially exciting to me and Paul as I’m the VP of the Guild and Paul is on the committee that put this event together. So, join the Guild as we learn about how beer is brewed! We will visit the Cambridge Brewing Company for a tasting of beers and talk from CBC’s lead brewer Will Meyers. Cost is $20 and includes four 4oz samples of beer and antipasto snacks. Learn more at the official website.

Local Craft Brewfest

When: October 5th, 2012
By: Sustainable Business Network
Where: Fort Point, Boston, MA

The Local Craft Brewfest by the <a href="https://twitter.com/SustBusNtwk"Sustainable Business Network will showcase local craft brewers and highlight, celebrate, and promote – brews, wines, distilleries, and artisan craft beverages made locally. The festival will take place in-doors and outdoors on the Boston Harbor. More than 50 brews and local food vendors will be featured. Admission is $45 and gives access to the brew tent and small bites. Learn more at the Eventbright page.

New Hampshire Brewfest

When: October 6th, 2012
By: Redhook
Where: 1 Redhook Way, Portsmouth, NH

Music, beer, food, and festivities will be available at the New Hampshire Brewfest. Over 100 craft brewers will be offering samples. Tickets are $25-$45 depending on date and type.

Beer and Cheese: A Perfect Match

When: October 12th, 2012
By: Cambridge Center for Adult Education
Where: 42 Brattle St. Cambridge, MA

Think only wine can go with cheese? Then take the plunge into the world of pairing craft beer with cheese. The revolution of full-bodied, full-flavored craft beers is on the rise in America, yielding more choices, better quality, and a landscape of beer that is unmatched in the history of the country. Why not add some nice aged gouda, brie, or some stinky blue into the mix? Join us and find out how and why the right craft beer and the right cheese make a perfect match. Class costs $66. Learn more at the official website.

Brew and Chew with Brooklyn Brewery & Harvest

When: October 15th, 2012
By: Boston Center for Adult Education
Where: 122 Arlington St. Boston, MA

Beer. It’s what’s for dinner! Well, it’s what’s going with dinner, anyway. Join the Harvest Chef Mary Dumont and the brew masters from Brooklyn Brewery for a hands-on evening of creating delicious recipes and the beers that will make them even better. Get ready to raise you glass and lift your fork, these perfect pairings will insure that both pint glasses and plates are emptied! Cost is $70.Learn more at the official website.

Read Local, Drink Local

When: October 26th, 2012
By: Porter Square Books
Where: Porter Square Shopping Center, Cambridge, MA

The second installment of the Read Local, Drink Local event series by Porter Square Books brings together the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project and Joshua M. Bernstein‘s Brewed Awakening. Tasting is free with the purchase of the featured book. Learn more at the official website.

The 2012 Great Pumpkin Festival

When: October 27th, 2012
By: Cambridge Brewing Company
Where: 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA

That’s right, CBC’s incredible and justifiably infamous Great Pumpkin Festival is coming up faster that you can say “Aaaaah! Pumpkin beers!!!!” Mark your calendar and start working on your Halloween costume. There aren’t many details yet available about this year’s festival. Learn more about last year’s festival.

Highland Hash Fun Run

When: November 3rd, 2012
By: Slumbrew and Porter Cafe
Where: 1723 Centre St, West Roxbury, MA

Join WRMS as we partner with the Parkway Running Club to host a series of fun runs this fall across West Roxbury. Take the opportunity to be healthy, meet your neighbors and support our local restaurants while you enjoy some great food and local craft beers. This 2 pm run, followed by appetizers and beer from Slumbrew at Porter Cafe, 2:30 – 4 pm is FREE! Learn more at the official website.

Read Local, Drink Local

When: November 9th, 2012
Where: Porter Square Shopping Center, Cambridge, MA

The second installment of the Read Local, Drink Local event series by Porter Square Books brings together the Cambridge Brewing Company and John Holl‘s Massachusetts Breweries. Tasting is free with the purchase of the featured book. More details coming.

Do you know of more local beer events? Share them in the comments!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.