Earlier this week (or maybe it was last week, I don’t remember), the beer world was abuzz with the news the Anheuser-Busch/InBev had an agreement to buy Goose Island (the brewpubs were not part of the deal). Commentaries are split between this being a good thing, this being a bad thing, and not having an opinion until we see what happens. Here’s my take on this particular deal and on brewery mergers and buy-outs in general. Continue reading Thoughts on Brewery Buy-outs and Mergers
Magic Hat is one of those breweries that craft beer lovers love to hate on. I can’t figure out why other than that they don’t like some of their more mainstream beers. You know what? Forget those people. Ignore those people. Magic Hat is a talented, if a bit quirky, brewery. One need not go further than the brewery to see for themselves. While the majority of their beers may not be the best of the best, they are, at the very least, unique.
Craft beer lovers rejoiced when they announced the return of their IPA, Blind Faith. This beer is an excellent example of just how talented the brewers at Magic Hat are. It’s an excellent IPA that I would stack up against some of the most popular (be warned: it’s not “west coast style”, but an IPA doesn’t need to be to be excellent). It’s a very balanced, yet hop-forward beer. It’s closer to an amber ale in color, with a nice body that neither too thin nor too thick.
Anyway, I suggest everyone who likes good beer try this one. It’s not mind blowing or life changing, but it’s definitely an excellent solid IPA. And stop hating on Magic Hat. While I agree with most people that they need to stop discontinuing some of their best beer (Blind Faith, Jinx, Fat Angel, etc.), I disagree that they’re not a good brewery. They’ve been churning out #9 for quite some time and people still love it, even if it’s not a particular favorite of mine. Give Blind Faith a chance. You won’t be disappointed.
Here “noteworthy” does not necessarily mean it was good. It also means it was notably bad. Since this is a re-cap of a lot of beers I’ve had, but failed to review, don’t expect full reviews other than some brief notes.
I’ll start out with one of the better beers I had, Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire. This is the first beer I’ve tried from Jolly Pumpkin, a brewery for which I have heard and mixed reviews. The bottle calls it a dark farmhouse ale. It’s basically how it tasted. My bottle was aged a bit and the beer was fantastic. It had a nice funky flavor with some sour notes. I’ll likely try to seek this one out again.
We’ll come back to New England for the next one, Rock Art Double Smoked Porter. This, as it tasted, is basically a beefed up version of their Midnight Madness Smoked Porter, another excellent beer. The Double Smoked Porter is part of their Extreme Beer Series and it’s got quite the flavor. It’s not quite as smoky as the Midnight Madness, but it’s full of flavor. My bottle was probably almost a year old, and maybe some of the smoke had disappeared in the aging. Lots of nice roasted flavor, some coffee and chocolate notes, and some dark fruit. I need to get myself more of this one.
I’ll put the biggest disappointment in the middle. Harpoon had announced a Chocolate Stout as part of their winter variety 12 pack. I was very disappointed by this one, though Susan liked it. It tasted like Hershey’s syrup with alcohol, only it was a very astringent Hershey’s syrup. I managed to drink the whole bottle and it was, a bit better warmer, but I was not impressed. That being said, I have heard from others who really liked it.
I’ll leave off on a high note with another good beer from Vermont. Magic Hat Roxy Rolles is a great Amber Ale and a great winter beer. It’s got a nice hops/malt balance. It’s really just a simple beer, but nice and flavorful without being overpowering. It’s nice to see Magic Hat brewing some better beers again.
Susan and I decided to check out Doherty’s East Ave. Irish Pub last night after hearing about it from some our beer buddies and reading some of the reviews on BA. All I have to say is “Wow!” The place is very unassuming… well, not true. It’s very assuming. It looks like a dive sports bar that serves nothing but light beer (though the big “Firkin Wednesdays” sign on the back of the building kind of gives it away). The inside has all sorts of random stuff on the walls from sports stuff (lots of Red Sox crap) to beer stuff to music stuff, as well as a bunch of local stuff. In front is the bar area, which was packed with people. The back has a bunch of tables and is more like a restaurant (and quieter), though there was a projector showing the Mets game last night.
The beer menu is the placemat. The front has a list of what’s on tap (looked to be 30-40 taps), along with their firkin tapping schedule. On either side is the new stuff (bottles and draft) and the stuff that’s almost gone (again, bottles and draft). I thought that was a nice touch. The back had the bottle list, which I would put at over 100. The majority of the beer was craft beer. In fact, aside from a few bigger imports (like Guinness), the draft beer was all craft beer. I ordered a Rogue Imperial IPA and Susan got the summer Odd Notion from Magic Hat (the grapefruit sour ale we tried at the brewery).
The food menu was impressive and had a wide range of stuff from traditional pub fare to some interesting pasta dishes and a bunch of wraps. I ordered the Rasta Pasta, which was basically a Caribbean-style pasta dish with jerk chicken and a chipotle sauce. It had quite the kick. Susan got the Pasta Jordan, which was basically a Bolognese style pasta dish. Both came with garlic bread. The portions were huge, but the food was excellent. While we were waiting for the food, the waitress brought us some corn muffins, which were also really good.
If you’re in the Providence-Pawtucket area, check out Doherty’s. It’s worth a stop and, in my opinion, the best beer bar in the state. Even if they don’t have all the Belgian beers that Track 84 does, they got the food (and I’m biased towards the crazy American beers anyway).
Day 5 was Friday. We spent the day doing everything else that we had wanted to do. We started the day with a light hike to see the falls. It ended up turning into a serious descent down a bunch of tiny stone steps, but it was worth it. The water was unbelievably clean and clear (I wanted to drink it). The falls were beautiful and the way the water cut into the rocks was just awesome. Unfortunately, and I didn’t realize this until we started walking, it was all downhill… meaning the return was all uphill. Who would’ve thought that a hike in the mountains would start downhill.
After the hike, we went back and changed because we were now hotter than we had planned. Then we headed to Morrisville to visit Rock Art Brewery. Luckily, Fridays are tour days at Rock Art, not that there’s a big planned out tour. We were the only ones there aside from the 3 employees cleaning the tanks (Friday is also clean up day). One of them gave us a nice tour, which didn’t involve a lot of walking because the brewery is small. However, it was the best brewery visit I’ve had out of the 4 breweries I’ve visited (Long Trail and Magic Hat on this trip and Victory when Susan was living in Philly). The woman who gave us the tour knew her stuff, and she was really fun to chat with at the end in their “store”. Unfortunately, their tasting room hadn’t been completed and we didn’t get to try anything. We did buy a ton of beer from them and so far it’s awesome.
Following Rock Art, we decided to try to find their one beer that’s 10% ABV, The Vermonster. Now, just recently, VT passed a law that allows the sale of beer up to 16% ABV. Previously, the cap was at 8% and anything above that had to be sold as liquor in a liquor store. The new law, however, does not take effect until July 1. We ended up grabbing a sandwich and heading back to Stowe after not having any luck in the nearby liquor store.
Before our trip up, Susan had read about the Vermont Culinary Classic. They had a kick off event on Friday night at the Stowe Country Club. It was advertised as a local food and craft beer tasting. We decided to check it out since we’re suckers for craft beer tastings. Unfortunately, the only craft beer was on tap at the bar and you had to pay extra for it. The food was excellent, especially the strawberry crepes, but the poor advertising had me expecting more.
It was a great trip. I fell in love with Burlington and maybe someday we’ll move, though being that far from our family and friends might be a bit difficult. I want to go back there again. I love Vermont and all it has to offer. It’s really one of that best states in the country.
On the third day of our honeymoon, we decided it would be a good day to spend in Burlington, the largest city in VT. There were a few things we wanted to do there, so we headed in. Upon arrival, we decided to walk around downtown for a little while. Little did we know there was an outdoor shopping area, Church Street Marketplace, that was full of people on a random Wednesday morning. It was full of shops that were open and little restaurants and cafes that were putting out their outdoor dining for the day. It was clean and beautiful. It’s what Westminster Street in Providence should be, but doesn’t even come close to (there are still signs for the Westminster Mall, which doesn’t exist anymore).
After wandering around for a little while, we wanted lunch. There were a couple places recommended to me for beer – American Flatbread, Three Needs, and Vermont Pub & Brewery. We wanted pizza for dinner, so we skipped American Flatbread. Three Needs wasn’t open, so we ended up at VT Pub & Brewery. I ordered their Flemish Sour Red. I was immediately impressed. It was perfect. Susan got their Smoked Stout, which was both on cask and regular draft. She got a sample of each to do a little side by side comparison. That was also an awesome beer. For lunch I had the Ploughman’s Lunch, a small loaf of fresh bread, a hunk of VT cheddar and a hunk of smoked cheddar, an apple chutney and a honey mustard. The food was amazing.
Following lunch, we headed to Lake Champlain Chocolates to get a little tour and some chocolate. The chocolate was amazing. We ended up buying a ton of it, but mostly their “seconds” – chocolate not perfect enough to be called “Lake Champlain Chocolate” (mainly because it doesn’t look right, but the quality is the same). The cool thing about the company is it was started by a restaurant owner. Basically, the story is that he had a very popular Sunday brunch, but the cooks were bored with the chocolates he served. He told them to make something better. The cook made a truffle that everyone absolutely loved. People started coming only for the truffles. Lake Champlain Chocolates was born.
After leaving there, we headed to Magic Hat, which supposedly still had self-guided tours. Unfortunately, that wasn’t true. They had a small store area open with a tasting bar. I tried most of their stuff, but was impressed only by their Odd Notion wild ale brewed with grapefruit and Lucky Kat, an IPA with Amarillo hops. Their other beers were pretty mediocre (Hocus Pocus, Circus Boy, #9). They also had their organic Orlio Common Ale, a steam beer, which was pretty good, but nothing special. I wish they had a touring area, but with all the construction, I could understand why they didn’t.
We then wanted to make a boat tour of the lake and headed to the waterfront. The lake is absolutely beautiful. On one side are the Adirondack Mountains of New York. On the other side are the Green Mountains of Vermont. There was a nice history of the lake and the area playing as we cruised around. The views were just fantastic.
After the cruise we wandered around the Church Street shops and their mall, which actually opens up to the Church Street Marketplace, to build up our appetite. Once hungry, we headed to American Flatbread. After a brief wait when one of the employees brought me over a copy of Beer Advocate magazine because I was wearing my BA shirt, we were seated. We ordered a couple samples and then I got their IPA (which was awesome). The samples I tried were their Gruit and a Bock, which was not what I expected. It was strong and very pale, but still tasty. The Gruit was also very tasty.
After dinner we decided to take a little walk on the waterfront. Along the boardwalk, they have a series of porch-style swings. It’s really cute and we just sat there and watched the sunset. It was absolutely beautiful. It was a perfect end to a perfect day in a perfect city. After that day, we both said to each other, “I could live here”. If we ever move out of Providence, it’ll likely be Burlington. It’s close to all the stuff we love… good beer, an awesome lake, and great skiing. To top it all off, the city is full of awesome people who are friendly and know how to drive (there’s nothing like seeing a 4 way stop move like clockwork). The city is one of the cleanest I have seen in the Northeast. There’s a pretty extensive bus system and a free shuttle that runs up and down College Street (the central artery between the waterfront and the University of Vermont, going through downtown).
That concluded the third day of our honeymoon. I’ll continue with Day 4 tomorrow.
In addition to the Gueuze I had tonight, I decided to have another, which ended up being Magic Hat’s Blind Faith, an English IPA. Now I’m normally used to the hoppy flavor of American IPA’s, which has a nice bitterness. I wasn’t impressed by this one, but I don’t know if I was simply expecting the same as a nice American IPA or if it just isn’t that good. I’d like to think the former because Magic Hat tends to be known for their beers (though I have yet to have one I was really thrilled with, except for a porter they had, which I’m not sure they still make).
Anyway, the beer pours like your standard IPA, amber in color with a decent head. The smell is hops, but not the piney/citrusy hops I am used to. It’s a bit more muted. The flavor is bitter, but a different kind of bitter. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but something didn’t seem right (perhaps it was the fact that this bottle came from the back of the shelf and had some dust on it, making it a little too old). The bitterness definitely came from the hops and there were malt flavors to balance it out, but something still tasted a bit off.
I’d rate this pretty low, though I would try it again. I really need to start over with Magic Hat. Maybe we got off on the wrong foot because people seem to love them. Perhaps I’ll buy one of their mix packs at some point soon (either that or grab all the singles I can find at Nikki’s).