A trip to Everett's Night Shift Brewing, and to Idle Hands Craft Ales one door down, defies convention. Nestled in a neighborhood of loading docks and auto repair shops are two tiny tasting rooms pouring fresh, local beer. The breweries are different, one offering takes on classic Belgian styles and the other specializing in styles best described as "other". I've been remiss in not giving Idle Hands a full review to this point, but it's coming. (Steve Greenlee reviewed Idle Hands Triplication this time last year.)
The three friends who started Night Shift -- Michael Oxton, Mike O’Mara, and Rob Burns -- can be found often at the brewery. If one of them is pouring beer into growlers for customers to take home, another is usually somewhere in the background lugging buckets full of hops and barley. Night Shift beers are not characterized by a particular style: German Weissbiers, IPAs, Belgian ales, and stouts brewed with habanero peppers have all cracked the brewery's tap and bottle lineup. I've particularly liked the Somer Weisse and Viva Habanera offerings.
Night Shift's latest release is its most enigmatic. Snow, dubbed a white stout, is a seasonal release that just hit store shelves. I picked up a bottle at Social Wines in South Boston on May 8; the beer was bottled on May 7. It's expected to be around for a couple of months.
Night Shift packs a lot onto its labels, giving you information on the local ingredients that went into the beer (in this case Ethiopia coffee beans from J.P. Licks in Somerville and Pilsner malts from Valley Malt in Hadley), on food pairings, and on brewery tours. Snow's label does its best to explain this untypical beer:
"When the warm weather hits, we bring out the Snow. Confusing? Indeed, and so is this beer. With zero chocolate malts in the mash, Snow looks like a pilsner. With heaps of wheat and oatmeal, it sips like a creamy stout. With fresh coffee beans added, it smells like a cup of espresso. And with a fairly low ABV (3.5 percent), it drinks like a session beer."
While not exactly clearing things up as to what the whole beer will taste like, the label gives you a good rundown of its parts. Poured into a tulip glass, Snow pours a hazy yellow. A flimsy head quickly disappears. The beer smells like a cup of espresso. Power through the coffee aroma and you catch whiffs of wheat, dandelions, and bubblegum.
Taste is largely olfactory, but so is the coffee flavor in this beer, if that makes any sense. You smell the java more than taste it. What you taste most in this beer is wheat and oatmeal. I get lemon and white pepper notes. The mouthfeel is more watery than stout-y. The beer finishes clean, and here comes that coffee again. There's a lot to wrap your tongue around.
Snow is certainly complex. Is it refreshing? Sort of. Is it robust like a stout? Not exactly. It's an interesting beer, and I give credit to the guys at Night Shift for brewing it. But because it defies categorization, I also don't know when I would drink it. On a hot day I wouldn't reach for one. On a cold day I'd want something more robust. Add it all up and Snow comes off as more of an experiment than a balanced beer.
Despite my misgivings with it, I suspect plenty of people will reach for this beer to give it a shot. Curious to see what others think about this one. You can buy a 750-ml bottle for around $9.