Last year I wrote a couple posts regarding St. Patrick’s Day. I’m not a fan of this day for a few reasons that I won’t bother going into because it really doesn’t matter. This year, I’m writing to ask you to drink better beer, not only today, but everyday. Continue reading Drink Better Beer (today and everyday)
You may have noticed that there are some pumpkin beers and oktoberfests already out on the shelves of your favorite liquor store or place to buy beer. Southern Tier released their Pumking in July. I don’t know about you, but even though I’m not one to care about what kind of beer I drink in certain seasons, pumpkin beers aren’t something I want in the summer. The spices and flavors just don’t go well with 90 degree weather. I imagine I’m not the only one that feels this way. Victory just announced via Twitter that they’re Festbier will be released in a week or so. Naturally, I asked them why they’re releasing it so early. Their response was that it’s refreshing and easy drinking and this will allow it to reach more markets in time for the season. That’s a valid response. In fact, it’s pretty hard to argue with that. Victory and Southern Tier aren’t the only culprits with the seasonal creep. Boston Beer Co., brewers of the Samuel Adams line of beers, is one of the worst (though they’re hardly as bad as Southern Tier this year, maybe they’ve learned their lesson). I’ve seen their Summer Ale released in March/April. I don’t know who they’re going after, but March in New England still brings quite a bit of snow. April isn’t necessarily a whole lot warmer
What about freshness? If they’re brewing these seasonal beers early to get them to market early, what happens with the freshness of these beers? People don’t want to drink pumpkin beers and oktoberfests in the summer. At the same time, people don’t want to drink beer that’s been sitting around for 2 months either. I know the real reason these breweries are releasing their seasonals early is to make as much money off them as possible. After all, what doesn’t sell hurts their bottom line. I can’t argue with that either. I mean, breweries need to make money to stay in business. I have no problem with that. My problem is using old beer (now 2 months is hardly old, but there’s nothing like fresh beer) to do this. It creates an artificial demand for the limited seasonals. People see them on the shelves and need to buy them. The problem is, it’s August. It’s 90 degrees outside. Humidity is high. People want to go to the beach. They’re not going to be drinking a 9% ABV pumpkin beer. Most people want something lighter, something more refreshing. Granted, Victory’s Festbier fits that bill. Oktoberfests traditionally aren’t strong and don’t have big bold flavors. It’s the little nuances that give a good oktoberfest its flavor. They can be consider refreshing, and it’s a little understandable why Victory is doing this (though it’s mainly for their bottom line).
I get disappointed when some of the better summer beers are sold out long before summer’s end. I also get disappointed when October hits and all the good oktoberfests are gone (granted, Oktoberfest in Germany starts in late September). I like these types of beers to last through Thanksgiving. They make for great beers to pair with a New England Thanksgiving dinner. Summer doesn’t end until late September and Winter doesn’t start until late December. I can understand using the “Polish seasons” (as a teacher in high school used to call them) with fall starting September 1, winter starting December 1, spring starting March 1, and summer starting June 1. That’s fine with me. But hold onto those seasonals until the seasons (Polish or actual) truly start.
So what can we do to put an end to the seasonal creep? For starters, don’t fall for the hype of the seasonals hitting the shelves. Wait until you really want to be drinking that type of beer to buy them. This will cause your local liquor stores (or places that sell beer) to keep them off the shelves, or better yet, not order them from the distributor, until the season actually hits. When the distributors start seeing a buildup of the seasonals because no one wants them out of season, they’ll stop buying them from the breweries until the time is right. And you know what happens next… the breweries will stop brewing the seasonals so early.
Another thing you can do is to write to your favorite breweries. Explain to them that you want their summer beers to last through the end of summer. Tell them you want to see them on the shelves in late August so you can stock up on them for your Labor Day BBQ. Brewers tend to listen to their customers. It’s a tough business and if they lose sales, they’ll have to change their ways to keep going. I’m not telling you to threaten them with a boycott. That’s going too far. We still want them to exist. After all, we love their beer. We just want them to release their seasonal beer in a sane manner and keep it in season.
I understand that oktoberfests are a tough one. They have the shortest season. People tend not to want to buy oktoberfests after Halloween. Pumpkin beers have a little longer season, assuming breweries don’t name them after holidays (I know Gritty’s Halloween Ale is an ESB, not a pumpkin beer, but it’s tied to a single holiday) or use holiday-specific artwork (I’m looking at you Shipyard Pumpkinhead). If they changed the way they market these beers or even the branding of them, the beers will sell through November. Pumpkin pie is a staple dessert for Thanksgiving. It’s funny because pumpkin beers tend to taste like pumpkin pie.
So to all your brewers out there… Please stop releasing your seasonals earlier and earlier. I don’t want to start seeing summer beer released in February or pumpkin beers released in May.
No vacation would be worthwhile without beer involved. So, since we had 4 beer geeks in the car, there were a few stops.
Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub, Freeport, ME
On our ride up to Sunday River, we stopped in Freeport to visit the flagship LL Bean retail store(s). Since it was lunchtime, we decided to stop into Gritty’s Brewpub just down the street. The place is big and pretty open. There are 2 halves, one with a bigger bar than the other (it’s got the casks). The side we sat in had the smaller bar with just some taps and regular drinks. The tables were mostly picnic style tables, kind of like a German bar. The food was excellent. I had a burger that was fantastic. The others in our group also really enjoyed their food. They had their IPA and Scottish Ale on cask. I got the IPA, Susan got the Scottish. The IPA was awesome, but the Scottish was way off. They also had the Black Fly Stout on nitro, which was also excellent. We stopped by the gift shop, picked up a mini-keg of the stout and got some t-shirts.
Sunday River Brewing Co., Bethel, ME
At the end (or beginning, depending on which way you’re going) of Sunday River Rd. is the Sunday River Brewing Co. This brewpub used to be owned by Stone Coast, before they went out of business. It’s now the only place you can still get fresh Stone Coast beer, and what good beer it is. I had the Alt and the IPA (still the good old 420 IPA). Others in the group got the Red, which was also very good. Their food is excellent. They do a great BBQ and their house-made pastrami is awesome. It’s also really cheap. Pints are normally $3.50, but on Wednesdays from 3-7, they’re just $1.50. If you’re in the area, SRBC is a “don’t miss”.
Shipyard Brewhaus, Whitecap Lodge, Sunday River Resort, Newry, ME
While this isn’t an actual brewpub or brewery, Shipyard has a bar at the Sunday River resort. It serves beers other than Shipyard. It’s a little on the pricey side with regards to the food, which is pretty good, but nothing special. However, they have pretty much every Shipyard beer available (with the exception of the Pugsley’s Signature Series). The beer is good, and pretty cheap. Pitchers were just $15. They had the Brown Ale, which is a special one, and it’s a good one. They also had their Bluefin Stout, which was also excellent. If you’re at Sunday River, you should stop by the Shipyard Brewhaus at Whitecap Lodge for some beer (though you can skip the food here).
And now… last but most certainly not least… (in fact, I saved the best for last)…
Ebenezer’s Pub, Lovell, ME
Note: I’m going to include a review of an inn here as well, because it’s necessary to spend a night if you plan on visiting Ebenezer’s.
The last night of our trip, we stayed at the Olde Saco Inn in Fryeburg, ME. The inn is off Rt. 5, but way back in the woods. In fact, the street wasn’t found on my GPS, probably because it’s really just a driveway for the inn. The inn is gorgeous and the innkeepers are super nice and friendly. They were very welcoming and accommodating. The rooms were nice. There was a huge fireplace in the middle of the first floor, which kept the whole place nice and warm and smelled fantastic. They were baking cookies when we arrived. The morning after, we woke up to the great smell of maple and bacon. Since breakfast was included, we also got a huge meal. It was well worth the cost. It should also be noted that they run a shuttle service in conjunction with Ebenezer’s. You drive to Ebenezer’s, drink a lot of great beer, someone from Ebenezer’s will drive you back to the inn, the next morning, the innkeeper will bring you back to get your car.
Now onto the stuff you wanted to know… Ebenezer’s!
Ebenezer’s Pub is a small restaurant and bar also set back in the woods (apparently, it’s on a golf course, but in the middle of the winter, you can’t see anything but white). A lot of their business was snowmobilers, for whom they kept the heat down (my only complaint as it was quite chilly in there). It was packed when we arrived, so we ordered some beer and waited for a table (Susan wasn’t able to sit at a bar height table because of her knee). The tap list looks like you’re at a bar in Belgium that also serves a few American craft beers. It ranged from the common Stella Artois (which I doubt he carries often) to the rare Black Albert and Cantillon St. Lamvinus. In fact, the only non-craft beer on the list was Stella. He did have bottles of Bud and Corona, probably to keep him in business. Most of the people in there were drinking something other than the great draft beers they had. After we ordered food, one of the waitresses started talking to us and bringing us samples of some of the great beers on tap, including Black Albert and a couple Cantillon lambics. We drank a lot of beer, more from samples than actual orders. They had Samichlaus Helles on draft as well as a 2004 Stone Old Guardian Barleywine. Both were excellent. The 4 Cantillons I had (2006 Framboise, 2006 Kriek, Rose Gambrinus, and St. Lamvinus) were excellent, though not quite as sour as they are from the bottle. The Black Albert was simply amazing. It was a little light in body, but the flavor was awesome. The bartender had also brought us a bunch of samples. The staff couldn’t have been better.
Ebenezer’s is a must visit for anyone who loves beer. While they may not have the most taps or the biggest bottle list, they make up for it 10 times over with their staff. We didn’t even get to meet the owner, Chris.
This doesn’t include all the beer we drank at the condo (Shipyard Export Ale, Geary’s Pale Ale, Geary’s HSA, Sebago Frye’s Leap IPA, Schlafly Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout, and more…). It also doesn’t include the stop we made for lunch at the Portsmouth Brewery on our drive home. I’ll write more about that next as it’ll include a bit more than just that lunch stop.
Alright, this is going to be quite the post. I haven’t been writing about every beer I’ve been drinking lately. In part, it’s because I was sick last week, preventing me from drinking some of the more “special” beers I have here. It’s also been because I’ve been lazy. Work has been busier than it had been because of the beginning of the semester and hiring new staff and all that goes along with Septembers for me. So I’m going to write a few lines about most of the beers I’ve had recently. This is in no particular order. I’m just writing.
I’ll start off with tonight because it’s fresh in my mind. I’m currently drinking an Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale. This one was bottled in January. That means it’s about 10 months old. This is the reason I clicked the “cellaring” category. I opened this one because I needed a nice little nightcap. At 9.4%, it fits that bill just right. The beer is sweet and malty. It’s got a seriously strong fruitiness to it, which is really nice. It’s not like drinking a fruity beer, it’s just a fruity maltiness. It’s perfect. It’s got just enough hops in it to give it some balance. Unfortunately, I have never had this beer fresh. For whatever reason, I can’t get it in RI. I picked this up at Julio’s over the summer. Get it if you see it. It’s awesome.
I also had Stone Coast (RIP) Jamaica Style Stout tonight. Susan and I tried to split it, but she wasn’t crazy about it. I thought it was fantastic. This one has probably also been aged, though in the store, not my cellar. Stone Coast Brewing closed on August 1. I bought this, along with some others, while I could still find it. It has a very roasty flavor to it. It’s got a nice medium-full body. It’s a very drinkable stout. If you can still find it, get some. It’s good.
How about some Double IPA’s next? I’ll continue with Stone Coast. If you can find some 840 IIPA, get it while it lasts. This is a great double IPA (their regular IPA is 420 IPA, also excellent). It’s quite different for a double IPA in that it’s got a strong caramel malt presence. This doesn’t ruin the beer, however. It actually enhances it a bit. It’s not overly hoppy like a west coast IPA, but it’s definitely got a good bit to it. It is actually not a double of the 420, which tastes almost like a west coast IPA. They also made a 1260, which I was lucky to be given a bottle. I’m kind of saving that one.
Rogue Imperial IPA is also a good one if you can get past the cost of the ceramic bottle. At $15 for the bottle, it’s a bit pricey, and honestly, not worth the price. However, it’s a great double IPA. The beer is nice and hoppy, but has a great malt backbone to it. You might be best trying to find this on tap somewhere (Doherty’s East Ave in the Bucket had it on tap for a while).
The last, but certainly not least, of the recent double IPAs is Smuttynose Big A. Holy crap! This is probably the single best double IPA I have had. I enjoyed this far better than Ruination, Hercules, and even YuleSmith (though I haven’t had the summer YuleSmith, meaning I haven’t had a fresh YuleSmith). This one has all the hops the west coast DIPAs wish they had, and it came from 2 states north of here. This one is a must have, though it sells out fast when they do release it.
Being October, I have had a bunch of Oktoberfests, Harvest Ales, and Pumpkin Ales lately. I’ll mention some of those. Nikki’s just did 3 weeks of Oktoberfests and Pumpkin Ales. Here’s the best of those, some of which I bought. I’ll start with Pumpkin Ales because I tend not to like them. The only one at the Nikki’s tasting I really liked was Wolaver’s Will Stevens’ Pumpkin Ale, which seems to be sold out now. It wasn’t overly spiced and had a nice hops flavor to it. It was just right. The best Pumpkin Ale I have ever had was Schlafly from St. Louis. Susan was nice enough to bring back a bunch of beer for me from her trip out there. Schlafly Pumpkin Ale is the single best Pumpkin Ale I have ever had. It was all around perfect.
Now, the Oktoberfests… The best is still Ayinger Oktober Fest-Marzen. This beer is a perfect German Oktoberfest. Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr also have great Oktoberfests that are actually German. I don’t even know how to describe the flavor. It’s crisp, clean, and flavorful. Of the Americans, the best I’ve had are Brooklyn Oktoberfest, Clipper City Marz-Hon, and Wachusett Octoberfest. They’re all similar in style, though the order I listed is the order of my preference.
Of the autumn/harvest ales, my favorite is Gritty’s Halloween Ale. It’s an ESB and absolutely fantastic (go figure, their Best Bitter is also awesome). It’s got that perfect flavor for the fall weather. It just goes with the fall foliage for some reason. Long Trail Harvest Ale is another good one. This is a nice brown ale. It’s easy drinking and has a good flavor to it. It’s supposedly made from all Vermont ingredients, though I don’t know if they actually got the hops from up there. Finally, there’s the Woodstock Inn Autumn Brew. This one is brewed with cinnamon and nutmeg. I don’t normally like beers with a lot of cinnamon in them (like Harpoon’s Winter Warmer). However, this one is actually quite tasty for a beer with those spices. It’s also worth a try.
And now some one off’s. Continuing with the Schlafly thing, Susan was nice enough to get me 2 bottles of their Dry Hopped American Pale Ale. This one is fantastic. The dry hopping gave it a nice floral aroma. It has a nice floral hop flavor to it as well and then goes into the pine and grapefruit flavors as it warms up a bit. It’s a fantastic APA.
I decided to open my bottle of Russian River Damnation while watching and helping some friends brew an ESB. I’m not normally a big Belgian Golden Ale fan. However, this beer is probably my favorite of the bunch. It’s absolutely perfect in my opinion. It has a good amount of carbonation, but not too much. It has a nice malt flavor with just the right amount of hops. It’s sweet, dry, and crisp all at once. I wish I could get their beers on this side of the country.
And finally, last but not least, probably the single most talked about new pale/amber ale on the market. I got to try the Budweiser American Ale, and I have to say that I’m very impressed. It’s nothing special, but it’s solid. It’s a good pale/amber ale. It has a nice body, which isn’t thin. It has a good flavor of hops and malt. And the best part it, it’s very accessible by people new to craft beer, while having a brand that’s familiar to them. I think this will be the next gateway beer for many people. I can see myself buying it for friends and family who prefer lighter beers. I see myself giving it to people new to the craft beer scene. I see myself drinking it when I want something cheap or if it’s the only thing a bar has (I drink other stuff if they don’t have any craft beer).
Thus concludes my recent beer thoughts. I’ll try to keep up from now on, though you never know what might happen. I apologize for the long post, but this had to get written. I have even more that I didn’t write about. If I added those, it would be about 3 times as long.
Tonight’s beer was the first of the autumn beers for me, Gritty’s Halloween Ale. I don’t have a whole lot to say about it. I initially thought it was this beer I had last year that had a nice pumpkin spice flavor to it, but I’m thinking otherwise now after having looked at the style (ESB). It’s definitely a good beer. It’s nothing super special, but it’s a nice solid fall brew. It hits you with some up front bitterness, but that mellows out and turns into a nice roasted flavor and then as the taste lingers in your mouth, the bitterness comes back. As the beer warms up a bit, some of that bitterness dies and more of the roasted malt flavors come out, but that spicy bitterness still hangs around a bit. All in all, it’s a good solid beer and makes for a nice session beer. I can see myself spending all night drinking only these.
Now I just need to figure out which was the nice pumpkin beer I had. I’m hoping it’s the Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale (though it could’ve been from the Shipyard or Sea Dog, 2 beers which I did not buy this time around, but there’s always Friday).
Today’s beer was Post Road Pumpkin Ale from Brooklyn Brewery. It was very pale/amber ale-ish. There wasn’t anything really spectacular about it. It had a very slight pumpkin spice taste to it, but it was barely noticeable. There was a slight hops presence to add a little bitterness and flavor, but it had a pretty malty character to it. It was good, but about average. That was my first, of what I assume will be several, pumpkin beers this fall. I had only one last year and I want to say it was from Gritty McDuff, though it could’ve been Smuttynose. Whichever it was (I’ll be getting one of each of those this fall), it had a lot more pumpkin presence to it and was extremely good. Of the Brooklyn beers I’ve had, this was the lease impressive and most average. Next time I get beer, I’ll be sure to get a few pumpkin ales and maybe an oktoberfest or 2 (though I’m not as big a fan of the oktoberfests/marzens as I am of a good pumpkin ale). Tomorrow’s beer will likely be a brown ale (continuing with the Brooklyn beers I picked up).