Hoppy Boston is a site dedicated to craft beer with a focus on New England breweries, Boston area beer bars, and home-brewing. It is a Boston based blog for all things craft beer, including reviews of beers and beer bars.
Over the last year or so I’ve noticed that the My Favorite Beers list, a compilation of all the highest scoring beers reviewed on Hoppy Boston, has skewed very heavily towards IPAs. This isn’t surprising, I love hoppy beers so I drink (and review) a ton of them, and so much of the industry is hop focused right now that I have lots of options. Every trip to a bottle shop results in a plethora of new IPAs to try. That being said, one of my goals for 2019 is more balance in my drinking and reviewing, and I would really like to expand the My Favorite Beers list for many of the less appreciated styles. I’ve gotten off to a solid start this winter, up to today I’ve had 5 new beers that will be added to the list and only one is an IPA. Some of this is beyond my control, many of the beers I buy with the intention of reviewing are new to me, some I dislike or never get around to writing up for one reason or another. One way to help stock up the results is to review beers I’ve enjoyed in the past. A good example is Check Raise from Idle Hands Brewing, which won the Mass Brew Bros blind stout showdown I participated in a couple years ago. This beer was by far my favorite in the blind tasting, and I’ve enjoyed it a few times since but hadn’t formally reviewed it yet. Idle Hand Check Raise is available in the winter on draft and in 16 oz cans.
Idle Hands Check Raise pours nearly black with a solid tan head. The aroma features rich roasted malt and a touch of floral hops. The flavor is malt forward, notes of dark chocolate, coffee, caramel and molasses. This is balanced by some noticeable hoppiness, notes of pine and cut grass along with a little bite. Check Raise is medium bodied, easy drinking and not too boozy at 6.4% ABV. The finish features some lingering roasted malt and hop bite. This is a really good American stout, complex but super drinkable. Definitely worth checking out. Hoppy Boston score 4.75/5.
A couple times a year I take a break from IPAs, I get burned out on all of the hop bombs so I spend a month or so focusing on other styles of beer I enjoy. The winter is usually one of the best times to go hop-free, I can drink lots of big and malty stouts, porters, barleywines and other similar styles. Any diligent follower of the blog can see that I’ve focused my reviews over the last few months on these styles too, they are perfect for these cold and dark parts of the year. Greater Good, a brewery that specializes in big beers, is a great brand to check out during the winter, and it has been way to long since I wrote up one of their beers. Since my last Greater Good review they have opened their brewery and taproom in Worcester, I haven’t made the trip yet but I’ve heard good things. At the taproom they offer some “normal” strength beers (which is probably good if people need to drive), but their distribution is still focused on their all-imperial core lineup. One of these core beers is Evana, an imperial stout brewed with cocoa nibs. Greater Good Evana is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 16 oz cans.
Greater Good Evana pours pitch black with a solid brown head. The aroma is loaded with rich roasted malts. The malt leads the flavor too, notes of espresso, dark chocolate, black licorice and tobacco. This is complemented by some mild hop character, hints of earth and pine along with a touch of late bitterness. Evana is full bodied but drinks very easy for a beer with 10% ABV, just a little booze on the tongue as the beer warms. The finish is crisp with some lingering malt flavor and hop bite. This is another tasty big beer from Greater Good, tons of flavor but still goes down pretty easy, perfect to keep you warm during the cold and snowy nights. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
Last Friday I took a much needed day off from work and used the free afternoon as an excuse to make a long overdue run out to Tree House Brewing Company. Tree House isn’t a horrible ride from my house, under an hour, but I rarely make the trip, my brewery visits are limited with the current chaos in my life and I typically try to avoid waiting in lines for beer. From everything I had heard Tree House had gotten some of the crazy line issues under control, and on weekdays it usually wasn’t too much of a wait. Besides, I am working on a Tree House profile for The Full Pint (coming soon, stay tuned!) and I needed to do a little more research and take some photos. I picked a very poor day to make the journey, Friday before the Super Bowl with a ton of extra beer geeks in town for Extreme Beer Fest, so I did have to wait in a substantial line for the beer. Fortunately the wait was worth it, with 14 beers available for purchase and high limits. I grabbed a mix of everything for myself and an additional mix case for my buddy Mikey who had done similar favors for me in the past. One beer I grabbed was a version of Tree House’s Double Shot coffee stout brewed with vanilla beans. Tree House Double Shot Vanilla Bean is available on a limited basis in 500 mL bottles and on draft at the brewery (when they are open for pours).
Tree House Double Shot Vanilla Bean pours deep brown with a mild tan head. The aroma features a big whiff of vanilla followed by a little roasted malt. The malts lead the flavor, notes of milk chocolate, toffee and brown sugar. The coffee flavor is present by mild, a nice complement, and there is significant vanilla flavor. This tastes like a mixture of coffee, vanilla and chocolate soft serve. The beer has minimal hop flavor, the malts shine here. Double Shot Vanilla Bean is medium bodied and drinks very easy, but packs a little punch at 8.6% ABV. The finish is rich and slightly sweet with some lingering malt flavor. This is a very tasty coffee stout, I wouldn’t mind slightly less vanilla flavor but that is a personal preference, it is still a high quality beer. Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
With the dawn of the new year Mayflower Brewing Company announced that they were rolling out an adjusted lineup of core beers for 2019. They teased the announcement and were revealing the beers one at a time on their social media accounts, but the last reveal (on January 2nd) only had four cans in the lineup with labels. Either they decided to leave us all waiting in suspense, whomever is in charge of social media dropped the ball, or the last two additions to the lineup haven’t been finalized yet. The website hasn’t been updated, so I really have no idea what the rest of the core line-up will looks like. I do like the four selections so far, their lineup has been a moving target over the past few years as the brand adapted to the tastes of modern consumers, which I think is an important step to keep the brand relevant in a competitive marketplace. The four selections include a classic (their porter, which is one of the best versions of the style) plus a couple hop-forward beers and a pale lager. One of the newest additions to the regular lineup is Boomerang, a hoppy pale ale brewed with a blend of Australian hops including Galaxy and Ella. Boomerang was initially released as part of the one-off experimental Cooper’s Series, and is now available year round on draft and in 16 oz cans.
Photo credit: Mayflower Brewing Company
Mayflower Boomerang pours hazy deep yellow with a massive white head. The aroma showcases a solid dose of fruity hops. These hops lead the flavor, notes of pineapple, white grape and lemon-lime along with just a little bitter bite. The hops are complemented by a light malt backbone, hints of white bread and cereal. Boomerang is light bodied and very easy drinking, but not a session beer at 6.0% ABV. The finish is crisp with some lingering hop flavor. This is a very tasty APA, and that acronym could stand for American or Australian pale ale! Another very good addition to the Mayflower lineup. Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
But enough about me, let’s get onto the links! There has been a ton of quality content produced this month across a number of sites.
One of my favorite articles of the month was Kristen Foster’s interview with John and Bill, two 70-somethings who get together every Friday at Notch Brewing for a couple beers and a few hours of conversation. Beer should be about bringing people together, and too much of that gets lost in the trophy-chasing craft beer culture.
That leads in nicely to another of my favorite articles, Kyle Kastranec’s manifesto that calls out the part of craft beer culture that can fetishize certain beers and breweries. Instead of following along he asks beer geeks to Banquet and Chill. I really wish I wrote this article, it did a brilliant job pointing out some of the issues in modern beer culture in a constructive way.
The Burnout Beer Guy asks a salient question: is craft beer burning out? The culture that requires breweries to make a constant stream of new beers in order to stay relevant needs to end. I love innovation and variety, but I am sick of buying a constant stream of work-in-progress beers because breweries don’t have the time or capacity to perfect recipes anymore.
Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham, the first Brewer’s Association Diversity Ambassador, looks back at her first year on the job and makes some requests to all of us involved in the industry. She is doing some great things and this article definitely made me think.
Local blog Bearded and Brewed has a profile of the Black Ale Project, a local charity that partners with breweries to raise funds for organizations that provide assistance to veterans.
Beer writer Stephen Beaumont is launching the #FlagshipFebruary movement, trying to encourage an increasingly promiscuous beer drinking community to revisit some classic flagship beers. I love the idea, and need to stock up on some flagships this weekend.
Local blogger Got Hops has a profile of Saltbox Kitchen, the restaurant and brewery in Concord. I live relatively close and really need to check them out.
Beervana recounts another story of a brewer making traditional Belgian beer styles and struggling, then taking off when they started brewing IPAs. The mono-culture that craft beer is becoming, where it is hard to be successful without brewing hop bombs, is kind of depressing.
One of my big beer-related goals for the early part of 2019 was to drink my cellar, I had close to 40 bottles in the cellar in December and I would prefer to have that number in the single digits. I had never intended on keeping a substantial beer cellar, but it becomes so easy to pick up a few extra bottles of high quality stouts, barleywines and quadrupels and stow them away. I am probably going to keep doing that, but I will also try to keep drinking the beers to keep the total number of bottles at a manageable level. One way of achieving this goal is to limit the number of beers I add to the cellar in the first place. When I stopped at Barreled Souls just after Thanksgiving I purchased a pretty substantial selection of their big stouts and barleywines, but I’ve done a good job enjoying the majority of the bottles over the last couple months instead of storing them. One of the most sought after beers that Barreled Souls makes is Gnome’s Soul, a collaboration with Dancing Gnome Brewery in Pittsburgh, PA. Barreled Souls/Dancing Gnome Gnome’s Soul is an imperial stout brewed with vanilla, lactose and pistachios, and is available on a rotating basis on draft and in 500 mL bottles.
Barreled Souls/Dancing Gnome Gnome’s Soul pours pitch black with a massive light brown head. The aroma is rich with roasted malts and vanilla. The flavor is also very malt forward, notes of milk chocolate, caramel and dates. The adjuncts are also well represented, solid vanilla and lactose along with some subtle pistachio. There is minimal hop character, the malts are the star here. Gnome’s Souls is a full bodied sipper, but the ABV isn’t completely over the top at 10.8%. The finish is rich with some lingering malt, lactose sweetness and a touch of booze. This is another high quality offering from Barreled Souls, I am glad I didn’t let it gather dust in the cellar! Hoppy Boston score: 4.5/5.
When I wrote my goals for Hoppy Boston in 2019 I mentioned that I wanted to stop chasing whalez and re-visit some breweries that I had neglected for too long. As part of this I also hope to write more articles and reviews on beers and breweries that are a little under the radar. I would especially like to shine some light on the veteran breweries that have made good beer for many years but don’t have the cache of the ultra-hyped newer breweries who are churning out a new haze bomb every week. I know there are many breweries that I haven’t written about in a long time, some that I have enjoyed in the past and some that I need to give another chance. One brewery that I haven’t written about in a while is Clown Shoes, the last time I reviewed a beer from the brewery was in August of 2016. Since that last review Clown Shoes was purchased by Harpoon, and is now produced and served at the Harpoon breweries in Boston and Vermont. I recently grabbed some Pecan Pie Porter, and annual fall/winter Clown Shoes release. Each year Clown Shoes makes a slightly different version of the beer. Clown Shoes Pecan Pie Porter is now distributed on draft and in 16 oz cans.
Clown Shoes Pecan Pie Porter pours deep brown with a solid tan head. The aroma features some roasted malts and a hint of spice. The malts lead the flavor, notes of chocolate, caramel and roasted nuts. The spices are present but play a supporting role, touches of cinnamon and cardamom. There is a little late hop character, rounding out the flavor and adding some grassy and earthy notes. Pecan Pie Porter is medium bodied and very smooth, but not a light beer at 8.0% ABV. The finish is crisp with just a touch of lingering malt flavor. This is an interesting beer, a creative take on the porter style that would go well with many rich desserts. Hoppy Boston score: 4.0/5.
I wanted to knock out one more Night Shift article and make sure to plug my Night Shift Brewery Profile on The Full Pint. Thanks for everyone who checked the profile out and chimed in with their favorite Night Shift beers. Look for a couple more articles to finish up my Full Pint series on popular Massachusetts breweries in the coming months!
While plugging the article is one reason to knock out another Night Shift review, and the fact that I had a bunch of interesting beers in the fridge after a visit to their Everett taproom as part of the piece is another, I had a good reason to select Out Of Darkness Imperial Porter as the beer I wanted to write about today. Out Of Darkness is a collaboration between Night Shift and The Black Ale Project, a non-profit that works with breweries to create dark ales and then donate the proceeds from sales of the beer to a charity of the breweries choice that helps veterans. The brewery can make any beer as long as it’s dark in color, and I’ve tasted some delicious porters, stouts, black lagers and black IPAs that have been made as part of the project. It is a great cause and has helped raise over $100,000 for a multitude of veterans charities. The Black Ale project is also partnering with Cape Cod Beer for the first Winter Black Ale Fest in February. Out of Darkness is Night Shift’s latest Black Ale Project collaboration, a bold imperial porter that is currently available on draft and in cans to go from their taproom.
Night Shift Black Ale Project Out Of Darkness pours pitch black with a mild tan head. The aroma is full of rich roasted malts. These malts also lead the flavor, notes of milk chocolate, toffee and brown sugar. The malt flavors are balanced by a touch of grassy and floral hops. Out Of Darkness is medium bodied and goes down smooth, but packs some punch at 8.7% ABV. The finish is pretty clean for a big dark ale, just a little lingering malt flavor. This is a nice imperial porter, plenty of flavor, drinks easy and supports a great cause! Hoppy Boston score: 4.25/5.
There is a small but very vocal group of beer drinkers and craft brewers that are strongly against beer flights, the series of taster-sized glasses many breweries offer as a way to sample a variety of styles without ordering full pints. These anti-flighters routinely bash the idea of flights on social media and often brag that they will only order full pours when they visit a brewery. They are joined by a solid number of brewers who dislike, or even refuse to serve flights at their breweries. A recent twitter poll by the Mass Brew Brothers shows that the vast majority of beer drinkers order flights on at least some of their brewery visits:
The venerable @alexeweaver says he has never once ordered a beer flight. What are other people's thoughts: do you order them?
This poll gives a good indication of the popularity of beer flights among local beer geeks who frequent breweries. Despite these results there are still a strong minority who are anti-flight, and many of them are routinely argue that beer can only be properly enjoyed and evaluated when served as a full pour. In pursuit of full fairness Alex Weaver, whose tweet led to the poll above, is not anti-flight, he just claims to never order them personally. Alex also went to the best college in the world, so you know he is a pretty smart guy. Here are some of the common arguments made by the vocal anti-flighters, accompanied by my counter-points to each:
“You can’t properly evaluate a beer on a 3 oz. pour.” This is probably true, but it assumes that the goal of drinking a flight is to make a definitive assessment of each beer. I use the flight to get a taste of the beers and decide which I want to try more of, either in the form of a pint or beer to go. A 3 oz. taster is enough beer to know if I dislike something, otherwise I will probably try more to make a complete judgement.
“Flights reinforce the part of craft beer culture that is too focused on trying as many different beers as possible.” If the reason you buy a flight is to check in 4 new beers on Untappd instead of just one from a full pour than you are doing the whole craft beer thing wrong. This isn’t a competition, the goal should be to identify beers that you like and then enjoy them, not try to sample as many beers as you possibly can. This attitude really has nothing to do with flights though, the people who do this would do the same exact thing if flights weren’t available. While work needs to be done to move the industry away from this how-many-beers-can-you-try culture, I don’t think eliminating flights is the answer.
“Ordering a flight at a packed bar slows down service for everyone.” It definitely takes a server longer to pour a flight vs. a full pour of a single beer. If a brewery is slammed on a weekend or during a special event and there are dozens of people waiting it is probably a good time to pass on the flight, and I am fine with breweries switching to full pours only when they are super busy. It my experience this isn’t the norm for most places. That perception might just be because I am old and most of my brewery visits are lazy afternoons when someone is watching the kids, but I am rarely at a taproom where the servers are too slammed to pour a flight.
Reasons why beer flights are great:
They allow you to taste a variety of beers in one sitting. Breweries are making new beers at a crazy pace these days, and it is almost impossible to try them all. On a recent visit to Night Shift they had at least 10 beers available that I had never tried. A flight was perfect, I tried 4 new-to-me beers and then purchased a variety pack of cans to take home.
If I am visiting a brewery I usually need to drive home. I live in the suburbs, nowhere close to public transportation. The majority of breweries in Massachusetts are also nowhere close to mass transit. When I visit a brewery I am drinking 1-2 beers and then grabbing stuff to go. Even if someone else is driving I probably need to go home an be a functional parent, so my upper limit isn’t going up by much. Flights mean I can sample an array of offerings while staying safe and responsible.
You can try styles that are typically outside of your comfort zone. I am still getting the hang of sour beers, I like some beers with subtle tartness in combination with other flavors, but the aggressively sour beers are still not my thing. There is zero chance I will order a full pour of a sour beer at a brewery, but I will often include one in a flight, it’s a great opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new. If we want a craft beer culture that features styles other than hop-bombs flights are a good way to get the haze bros to try other beer styles.
Easier to compare similar beers head-to-head. Since so many breweries are devoting an increasing percentage of their taps to IPAs and other hop-forward beers a flight is the perfect way to sample them against one another. While I am generally opposed to this trend (a little more variety would be nice), if I am going to a new place with 6 different IPAs on draft it is nice to have tasters of a few to help decide which best adhere to my personal preferences.
With that I will pass it back to my readers. Are you pro flight or an anti-flighter? When you visit a brewery for the first time are you more likely to order a flight of just try a full pour of your favorite style? Does your answer change when it’s a brewery you’ve been to before? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram!