Recently, Rhode Island has seen a couple breweries pulling distribution out of the state. This happens somewhat regularly, but it’s interesting to look at the specific breweries that do it and their reasons for doing it. While my last post was about breweries being bought up by larger breweries/companies or merging with other small breweries, this one is going to take on those who remain independent, but are still growing in both popularity and brewing capacity. Continue reading Brewery Growing Pains
In the beer community you often hear the mantra “Support your local breweries, drink local beer”. Well, what exactly does “local” mean? It has different meanings depending on who you ask, but that doesn’t mean that only one answer is correct. So… what is local?
Here in Rhode Island, we get beer from all over the country world. Most of it comes from the US. We get a lot from Europe, and even some from as far away as Japan. I’m not talking about beer that’s actually brewed in the US under license from foreign breweries. I’m talking about actually importing the final product from these other countries. It travels pretty far. Most beer geeks (I prefer the term geek) will seek out the best beer regardless of how far it traveled. Many prefer to support their local breweries. That’s where this question of “what is local?” comes into play.
Rhode Island is a small state. In fact, it’s the smallest state. We have four brewpubs and one production brewery. The beer to come out of these places is local beer for us. But being as small as we are, we are very close to many other breweries. Local has many meanings. It can mean in the town, in the county, or in the state. Well, New England states tend to be small. Maine is our only exception, though it’s nothing compared to some of the states west of the Mississippi River. New England has a very strong regional feel to it. When it comes to beer, at least in Rhode Island, local does not mean in the same state. We have to branch out to reach more beer than the five beer producers in this state. Once you add in Massachusetts, you add several more breweries and a whole bunch of brewpubs. Tossing in Connecticut adds in even more. These are all within about a 3 hour drive from most of Rhode Island. I’m not going to stop there, though. Local to me is anything produced in the six New England states. This adds in a ton of breweries from Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire, all of which have several breweries. The reason all of these breweries are local is because they are all within a relatively short drive, a drive that would keep you within many of the larger states out west.
The larger western states might have a different definition of local. They might make it a radius from their location. They might consider it anything within the same county or state. I tend not to think of local in terms of a radius. The biggest reason for that is because of the ocean. While Southampton might be pretty close to RI as the bird flies, it’s not quite as easy to get to as some places farther away in northern New England. This differs from the western states because there’s no ocean between you and the next state. A radius makes more sense. My definition most likely differs from that of people from a place like Vermont where they have an abundance of breweries all over the state. It probably differs from someone from Boston or Portland, ME where there are multiple breweries right in town. Ultimately, local has a different meaning for each person, but it need not mean only beer from your state/county/town.
Let’s consider something else – the purpose of local. Local is used in terms of environmentalism and economics. With environmentalism, it’s used as a way to reduce pollution of trucking goods all over the place. Your “carbon footprint” is lowered by consuming local goods. With economics, it’s stimulating the economy of your location, whether that be town, state, or region. The reason I bring this up is that with beer, it tends to be considered in terms of economics. Drinking local beer supports the local economy and breweries in your local area. It raises an interesting question when it comes to contract brewed beers, such as Narragansett. The company is located in Providence. The money comes into Providence. The beer is brewed in Rochester, NY. Is it local? In terms of economics, yes. In terms of environmentalism, no. Would I consider it local as far as beer is concerned? Most definitely.
No matter how you define “local” when it comes to beer, support your local breweries. They may not be the best breweries or make the most amazing beer, but they are still your local breweries. Show pride in your locale, whatever that may be, and drink local beer. For me, that means drinking a Harpoon, a Smuttynose, or a Long Trail. It means drinking a Newport Storm, an Allagash, or a Berkshire. It means that I support New England beer. It means that when I travel, I try to drink the local beers for that area by visiting a brewpub or ordering the local beer. And if I don’t know what the local beer is, I ask. When asked what I’d like to drink, I’ll ask “what’s local and good?” The waiter or bartender usually knows.
I’ll be in Seattle and Bellingham, WA in June, and I’ll definitely be drinking. So… What’s local and good?
Our little vacation ended with a trip to the Allagash Brewery in Portland, ME (after spending lots of time at LL Bean in Freeport). The tour started with a tasting of their main brands – White, Dubbel, Tripel, and Four. They weren’t full pours, but they weren’t small pours either, considering the strength of some of the beers. Not having had them in a long time, it was nice to be reacquainted with them, remembering how good they are.
The woman in the visitor center had a pretty strong knowledge of their beer and the styles. She knew quite a bit about the brewery and even seemed to have some good general beer knowledge. They weren’t brewing at the time we were there. In fact, they were just moving stuff around. The tour portion was short, but brewery tours need not be long unless there are a lot of questions. Given that the group was small, there weren’t many questions. They allowed us to check out some of their barrels, but not drink any of the beer in them, unfortunately.
What I found most disappointing was the pricing of the beer at the brewery. Oftentimes, breweries will sell beer for slightly cheaper than most retail outlets. In this case, that didn’t hold true. We didn’t buy anything extravagant, picking up a bottle of Four for ourselves and a bottle of Black for my cousin whom we were visiting for dinner that evening on our drive back to RI. I had wanted a t-shirt, but they didn’t have anything in my size in stock. I picked up a glass because that’s what I do at breweries, and we were on our way. It was one of the more informative brewery tours I’ve seen, and certainly the only real Belgian tour. I had expected their tasting room to be a bit different because of the popularity of the brewery. I was also hoping to be able to taste something a bit more special than the four beer we tried, knowing I wouldn’t get to taste the Gargamel or Vagabond.
It’s worth a visit, especially if you like Belgian beers. Someday I’ll get back up to Portland and tour the rest of the breweries in that fine New England beer town.
After our Sunday River trip, we headed down to Brunswick, ME for the night to visit The Lion’s Pride, the newest restaurant owned by Chris and Jen Lively of Ebenezer’s fame. If you like beer and you live in New England (or anywhere really) and you haven’t been to Ebenezer’s, you need to get there… NOW. Of course their hours during the winter are funny, being only open on the weekend, likely due to their seriously remote location. This is why we decided to go to The Lion’s Pride. They’re open every night of the week.
While Ebenezer’s has a small middle of nowhere pub feel to it, The Lion’s Pride has a more urbane feel. Aside from that difference, they’re very much the same. The staff at both restaurants are fantastic. The food is to die for. And the beer… it’s world class. They’re both known for their steak tips, using the same recipe at each and getting their beef from the same local farm. This is what I ordered. And, as expected, they were absolutely amazing. Whatever they use as a marinade is just mouth watering. Susan got the seafood scampi, which said it came with lobster, mussels, shrimp, and scallops. We weren’t expecting much in the way of big hunks of seafood, but on top of the huge mount of pasta was a huge mound of seafood, including a ton of lobster. I ate my whole meal, but Susan brought hers home. It fed both of us that second night. Prior to our meals, we were brought a small loaf of bread, which was amazing. I think it was a molasses oatmeal bread or something like that. I honestly don’t remember, but it was darker and very tasty.
Now the beer… being indecisive, we ordered a couple flights. They had a taplist of something like 25 different beers, all amazing. This made the choice difficult and the option of getting a flight much more attractive. Our first flight of six beers consisted of the following.
- Smuttynose G-Bock
- De Struise Pannepot
- Cuvee de Jacobins
- Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine
- Biere de Boucanier
- Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted
The Smutty was a great beer, classified as a doppelbock. It was sweeter and quite tasty. Cuvee de Jacobins is a Flanders red ale (or a sour red). The difference is that it’s far more tart than most in the style. In fact, it bordered on being a lambic, in my opinion. Pannepot is a spiced Belgian ale, similar to a spiced quadrupel. It’s tasty, but not my favorite (though I’ve heard it’s excellent aged). The Olde School wasn’t as good as I had hoped. It was hoppier, but not hoppy. The malt profile seemed lacking. I expected more depth to the beer. Bitter and Twisted is a traditional English IPA. It was nice and malty with a touch of hops. It’s very easy drinking. Finally, Biere de Boucanier is a Belgian strong pale ale. I wasn’t overly impressed by it, but it was still good (I’m not the biggest Belgian pale ale fan).
Because there was still so much beer left on the list that I had to try, I ordered a partial flight when we finished the first. That one consisted of:
- Smuttynose Oak Aged Maibock
- Allagash Interlude
- Koningshoeven Quad
- Bayrischer Berlinerweiss
The Berlinerweiss was ordered straight up. In Germany, they’ll add a shot of flavor to it, like raspberry or apple. We wanted the pure unadulterated beer. It’s a very light, easy drinking wheat beer with a tart finish. It’s a very refreshing beer. I wasn’t impressed with the Quad, which was surprising as I enjoy it from the bottle. Perhaps the difference was being on tap. I actually have bottle of that in my basement from 2006 that I need to drink. I’ve heard that those bottles had something wrong with them, but I guess we’ll find out when I open it. Interlude is a different type of beer. I think Allagash was going for a saison, but ended up infecting it by accident the first time they made it. It gave the beer a slight hint of funky tartness. It’s an excellent beer as always. My favorite beer of the night, however, was the Oak Aged Maibock. I don’t know what kind of oak barrels Smuttynose used, but I was expecting a big bourbon flavor as with many oak aged beers. This one, however, was very different. The oak gave the beer a nutty maple flavor that I was not expecting. It tasted almost like maple walnut ice cream. It was a superb beer, and, as a big fan of everything maple, easily my favorite.
The waiter we had, Jon, was excellent. He brought us a complimentary glass of the Cuvee de Jacobins as dessert. He knew his beer, as did the other two people working there that night. I was very impressed by their beer expertise, though I shouldn’t have expected anything less. We chatted with them all for a bit before we left. Even though they closed up right after we left (at 9:30 pm), they weren’t in a rush to get us out of there.
Finally, I want to comment on the pricing. Our bill came out to almost $90 for our two meals and the two flights of beer. The way they do the flights is give you basically a half pour for half the price. They fill up large tasting glasses, which are probably about 5 or 6 ounces each. Our beer came out to just about $40, not including tip or the complimentary beer. My meal was the cheaper (I didn’t have lobster in it). Susan’s meal cost $27, but for the amount of food, especially the amount of high quality seafood, it was well worth the price. I am not one to enjoy spending a large amount of money going out to dinner. The food and beer at this place is well worth every penny. In fact, I would dare you to compare the quality of the food with any top quality restaurants in a major metropolitan area. The food matches the quality of some of the best restaurants here in Providence – a city known for it’s culinary masters.
Last night, after spending a couple hours at Nikki’s for the Thursday night beer tasting, I headed over to Cafe 412 at the suggestion of Mike (the beer guy and owner of Nikki’s). I had known of the existence of this bar/restaurant, working for Providence College and all. One of my former student employees, Jenny, had talked about this bar quite a bit as I believe she is friends with the owner. So we headed over to this little bar on Douglas Ave and walked inside. It was about 9:00 pm and the bar was completely empty. It’s a small room with a U shaped bar and a couple of bar-height tables around the edge. There’s a little nook with an ATM machine (that is “free”, in that they’ll take a dollar off your purchase for using it and paying the dollar fee) and a bathroom in the back corner. In the middle of the bar are the taps and a row of bottles beneath displaying the beer. There are 2 chalkboards hanging on the walls on either side of the bar displaying the beer list. Behind the bar is a big reebar (sp?) rack to hold wine bottles with a neat arch made of tab handles for various beers.
The beer selection last night was pretty impressive, especially considering this is a college bar. They had the following on draft:
- Allagash White
- Stone Ruination
- St. Bernardus Abt 12
- Victory Prima Pils
- Ipswich Ale
- Rogue Dead Guy Ale
- Left Hand Milk Stout
- Flying Dog In Heat Wheat
- North Coast Red Seal Ale
- Thirsty Dog Hoppus Maximus
In addition to that, they also had one tap that wasn’t being used. Their bottle list was a little less impressive, though the standouts were Haverhill Leatherlips IPA and Whittier White, Long Trail Double Bag, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Thirsty Dog Siberian Night, and Left Hand Sawtooth Ale. There were probably about 25-30 bottled beers in total. The beer was served colder than what would be ideal, but with a little time, it warmed up. The Abt 12 was served in a St. Bernardus chalice, which was a nice touch.
Our waitress, Audrey, was fantastic. She didn’t know a whole lot about the beers, but she seemed very willing to learn, and had informed us she was planning a trip to Nikki’s to mix her own 6 pack this weekend. We also ordered some food. I had heard their pizzas are really good. Those who told me weren’t lying. It’s a grilled flatbread pizza. I got a margarita (fresh tomato and basil) on their whole wheat crust. It was awesome, rivaling Bob and Timmy’s (though this was a little different from Bob and Timmy’s grilled pizza). Everyone else also seemed to enjoy their meals (I don’t remember what people got, other than Susan who got nachos that looked fantastic). We left around 11:30 and there were still only a few other people in the place. I’m going to assume that because they actually card, it’s not a big hot spot for the students.
If you’re looking for a great low key bar in Providence that serves great food, Cafe 412 is worth a visit. The beer selection, while not over-the-top, is great, the food is awesome, and the service is fantastic. Check it out, have a beer or two, and enjoy their awesome prices (my pint of Ruination was $4 and the Abt 12 was $5). Chatting with the waitress, it sounded like the owner wasn’t too sure how much longer he’d be able to carry some of the beers because they’re not big sellers and because of their high price. We actually suggested to her that the owner should raise his prices on some of these beers (Ruination usually goes for $5-6 for a 10-12 oz. pour and Abt 12 is usually around $7-8 for a smaller pour as they filled it above the fill line on the glass). I’ll definitely be going back, especially if I end up moving back to the neighborhood.