Before taking in a Bruins exhibition game last week, my wife and I stopped at the new Paulaner Bar for a couple of beers. The bar is located directly below TD Garden on the platform where commuter rail trains leave North Station. It had an unofficial grand opening last week.
You may have noticed a watering hole on the platform last year while rushing to catch your train or riding the escalator into the arena, but the space has been revamped with wood from Munich and a tap lineup from the German brewery. Included among the tap offerings are Original Munich Lager, Hefe-Weizen, Oktoberfest, Pils, and Salvator, a bottom-fermented dopplebock that packs a punch with an ABV of 7.9 percent. The beers are authentic and are a welcome offering in a neighborhood packed with sports bars.
Paulaner has some 30 bars around the world. This is their first official outpost in the US. Joe O'Grady, Paulaner's VP of national accounts, says that many Paulaner bars contain an on-site brewpub, allowing each to brew a unique beer. With limited space inside a working train station, there won't be a brewpub at the Boston location. Modeled after a German beer garden, the bar has a metropolitan feel. Big cities should have real food and drink options at their train stations and airports. Given the remodeling of South Station and new restaurants at Logan, this feels right.
If you're catching an upcoming B's or C's game, Tom Michienzi of the Craft Brewer's Guild recently sent me a list of the craft beer selection inside TD Garden this season. On the concourse outside Section 324 you'll find a craft beer garden featuring Allagash White, Brooklyn Lager, Cisco Whales Tale, Ipswich Red Ale, Lagunitas IPA, Magic Hat #9, Original Sin Hard Cider, Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale, Smuttynose Old Brown Dog, Troegs Hopback Amber, and Wachusett Blueberry. There are stand-alone booths offering Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Sierra's seasonal offering at Sections 312 and 21.
The Seaport Hotel is home to more than one million bees. That surprising fact jumped out at me when reading about Long Trail Brewery's new Seaport Honey Ginger IPA. The beer is brewed with honey collected in August from the roof of the hotel. The brew is currently being served at TAMO Bar & Lounge, located on the premises.
About 350 pounds of honey were harvested from 11 rooftop hives. Some 300 pounds were delivered to the Vermont brewery for production of the beer. Though the beer is only being served at TAMO, with a newborn at home I pulled a few strings and tried some from the roof of my soon-to-be-former apartment. If you squint you can see the actual seaport in the background of the photo.
I pour the beer and immediately smell the honey. I've brewed a honey beer, so I know that most of the sugar from the honey ferments out in the boil. Still, you can attain floral notes from the honey in the nose of the beer if you use enough of it; 300 pounds must be enough. It smells like dandelions.
The first sip is more hoppy than expected. This is an IPA, after all, and despite the honey it's not overly sweet (again, much of the sugar ferments out). I don't taste much of the ginger, which is probably a good thing. There's nice balance here, a solid IPA made more interesting by an addition of local honey. As a bonus, you can drink the beer in the place the honey was produced. These bees were buzzing over your head all summer long. With their help, Long Trail has managed to produce an appropriately weighted beer for the fall.
-- The second annual "Ales for ALS" event takes place at the Waterline Center at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum on Oct. 5. Dedicated to finding a cure for ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), the event features samples of hand-crafted beers from a homebrewing contest as well as unlimited local foods. Tickets are $75 and can be purchased here. All proceeds from this fundraising event will go directly to the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI).
Since I started the column last July, quite a few readers have written in asking for advice on gluten-free beer. This is admittedly a category I'm unfamiliar with, but for people living with Celiac Disease or wanting to adapt a gluten-free lifestyle for other health reasons, it's an important one. As a beer lover, not being able to enjoy my favorite beverage would be very difficult.
Omission Beer is the gluten-removed brand from Widmer Brothers Brewing. The Oregon brewery has been a staple in the craft industry for a long time. The Omission brand currently has three offerings: a lager, a pale ale, and an IPA. Each contains fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten, which is the FDA standard for labeling a product to be safe for persons with gluten allergies. Each batch is sent to independent laboratory testing to verify gluten content.
It's important to note that Omission is brewed with barley, just like any other beer, and that the gluten is removed later. An enzyme called Brewers Clarex is added to the beer to break the bonds of the gluten protein chains. As such, its' still possible someone with a gluten allergy will have an adverse reaction to the product. Omission's packaging is careful not to say "gluten-free", but there are plenty of testimonials and product testing results on the company's website.
Now onto the beer. Gluten content aside, Omission is brewed as a west coast IPA. Summit and Cascade hops are added to a base of pale and caramel malts. It weighs in at 65 international bitterness units and 6.7 percent alcohol by volume.
Omission pours fizzy and golden. The nose is pungent, earthy and piney. It smells like any other west coast IPA I've ever had.
The beer doesn't disappoint. It's intensely bitter, with bright citrus on top and damp earth notes below. You wouldn't know this was a low-gluten beer. I haven't tried other low-gluten beers, but this one alone must be a relief to hop heads who can no longer tolerate other brews. It makes sense, too, to heavily hop a base beer, low-gluten or not. With proper technique you can add flavor to any beer, no matter what else you take away.
This summer, some publisher or PR company sent me a book detailing the knick-knacks one can make from beer cans, bottle tops, and the shells of 30-packs of Bud Light. The book is still on my desk, if anyone has an interest.
Two beer books worth your while crossed my desk recently. The first is "The Complete Beer Course" by Joshua M. Bernstein. It's something I wish I'd written myself. It's Beer for Dummies, only it's written for reasonable, curious people who want to learn more about craft beer but may not know where to start.
The book's subtitle is "Boot Camp For Beer Geeks: From novice to expert in twelve tasting classes." It covers basics like ingredients and glassware, then delves into styles in an approachable way. If you're wondering what the heck the difference is between a Maibock and an Altbier, Bernstein explains the origins of each, then provides examples of some particularly good ones. Armed with this knowledge, an eager craft beer drinker could go to a well-stocked store and work their way through a world of beer. The writing is approachable and interesting. 320 pages, $24.95.
"The American Craft Beer Cookbook" by John Holl provides 155 recipes incorporating beer, as well as beer pairings for each. Beer food is more than bar food, and Holl takes you through a range of recipes ranging from Slow-Cooked DoppleBock BBQ Meatballs to Duck Chiles Rellenos. Weaved within are profiles of notable brewers and stories about the beers described within. Throughout, the culinary status of beer is rightly elevated.
"People just kind of gravitate toward wine because that's what they're accustomed to do," Holl says of pairing beer with food. "The beer industry is growing up fast, but it hasn't done a good job as selling itself as an accompanmient to food."
Through his book, Holl is taking a very big step toward changing that. 352 pages, $19.95.
There may not be a more exciting style of beer today than the saison. Literally defined as "season" in French, the saison has taken off in America due to to limitless variations and culinary possibilities. More than perhaps any other style, it is difficult to compare one saison to another.
Harpoon Brewing's latest 100 Barrel Series beer is a blend of saisons, which originate from the farmhouse breweries of the French-speaking region of Belgium called Wallonia. Origin is important here. Belgium has a long brewing tradition, but France is known for wine. In the tradition of winemakers, Harpoon decided to blend various saisons for their latest release. Winemakers blend wines all the time, so why shouldn't brewers blend beer? It's a technique that's gaining in use among craft brewers, and it's encouraging to see Harpoon, one of the largest craft brewers in the country, using it.
Four Harpoon brewers collaborated on Saison Various, the 47th beer in the 100 Barrel Series. From the label:
"In the spirit of collaboration, Jamie stayed true to the farmhouse tradition of brewing without spices, while Ryan balanced East Kent Goldings hops with coriander and white peppercorn. Ethan's American hops and a Trappist yeast strain complemented Rich's citrusy hop profile, and the combined result is Saison Various: a refreshing blend of saisons, brewing sensibilities, and unique ingredients."
Saison Various pours golden with a big white head. I smell lemon and wheat. It's not as musty as some saisons, but there's a bit of funk in there.
The first sip produces tastes of peppery spice, banana, and pine. The beer is sweet but dry. Bursts of citrus make figurative dents on the roof of my mouth This is really nice. It lacks the barnyard qualities of some saisons, but it's a blend. You're getting something from each beer brewed, and the final product comes together well. If you've never had a saison, try this beer and tell me what you think. A newbie to the style will notice how dry and complex it is, without being overwhelmingly anything.
The Massachusetts Brewer's Guild currently lists 52 members. Writing about beer in Boston should be somewhat succinct, but that kind of membership means even the most ardent writer has trouble keeping up. In my tenure, 99 Bottles has yet to review a beer from Canton's Blue Hills Brewery.
King's Kolsch is Blue Hills' fall offering. It's a take on a traditional German style, a top-fermented lager native to Cologne. The beers are characterized by a pleasant hoppy bitterness and are seen as a bridge between blander lagers and more flavorful beers. As such, it has become popular with American brewers.
Blue Hills King's Kolsch is an imperial version of the style, packing an ABV of 7.25 percent. The beer pours a dark chestnut into a tulip glass. It's unfiltered; chunks of sediment swirl and drift slowly to the bottom. Baked bread and faint flowers form the nose.
The beer is easy to drink. A wisp of citrus gives way to a pleasant, lingering sweetness. It's also kind of flat. Not much carbonation to this one. The mouthfeel is a bit thick for the intended style.
People love pumpkin beer. Based largely on sales of its flagship Pumpkinhead, Portland, Maine's Shipyard Brewing Co. climbed to No. 15 among craft breweries in sales volume for 2012, according to data released by the Brewers Association. That's a lot of cinnamon-and-sugar rims.
Pumpkin beer can be polarizing. Early release of the brew is an annual cause of consternation (summer's not over!), and hardcore beer geeks deride the beverage for being a too-sweet gimmick. Did we mention Shipyard sells a ton of pumpkin beer?
Shipyard is not alone in selling massive amounts of it. Go into any liquor store over the next six weeks and pumpkin will be everywhere. For the second year in a row, the 99 Bottles family held a massive pumpkin beer tasting to help you sort through the orange muck. In one spicy night this week, myself, my colleague Christopher Hughes, my neighbor Meaghan, and my wife Melissa sampled 16 pumpkin beers and named our bests and worsts. It's a tough job, but we endured all 16 beers so you don't have to. After a totally blind taste test, I list my favorites, as well as the bottom three, below. One of the beers that scored the lowest absolutely shocked us.
The beers we sampled, in order, were Cisco Brewers Pumple Drumkin Spiced Ale, Bluepoint Pumpkin Ale, Southern Tier Pumking, Harpoon UFO Pumpkin, Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale, Hoppin' Frog Double Pumpkin, Dogfish Head Punkin Ale, Cambridge Brewing Company Great Pumpkin Ale, Ithaca Brewing Country Pumpkin, Shipyard Brewing Pumpkinhead, Smuttynose Brewing Pumpkin Ale, Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin, Jack-O-Traveler Shandy, Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale, Samuel Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale, and Fisherman's Imperial Pumpkin Stout.
These were my top six:
1. Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale: The organic brewery out of Middlebury, Vt. came in at the top spot. Wolaver's Pumpkin Ale was supremely well balanced. Pumpkin is present, but it's not in your face. There's a subtle hop overtone that lets you know you're drinking a real ale. My fellow tasters ranked this highly as well. This is exactly what I want in a pumpkin beer.
2. Dogfish Head Punkin. We expected this one to do well, and it didn't disappoint. More spice here than in the previous offering. A citrusy nose gives way to the "right combination of spices," according to Melissa. There's balance here, too, but it's much sweeter, owing to a higher alcohol by volume of 7 percent. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and all spice figure front-and-center.
3.Hoppin Frog Barrel Aged Frog's Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale. Last year I wrote about an existential crisis when tasting pumpkin beer. In a nutshell, the notion of pumpkin beer is undefined; spicy, pie-flavored brews mingle with beers brewed with real pumpkin. Ales and stouts and witbiers can all serve as bases. It's hard to fit them all into a neat category.
Hoppin Frog's Barrel Aged Frog's Hollow Double Pumpkin Ale is an entirely different beer than the others. It's inherently complex, aged in whiskey barrels and high in alcohol (8.4 percent). This labor-intensive beer has an unfair advantage over the others, but it's also really good. I get toasted marshmallow, vanilla, and fresh green apple, with a hint of pumpkin. What kind of beer is this? Either way it's delicious.
4. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale. This was by far the most complex and interesting pumpkin beer we tried. I described it as a pumpkin saison. Lemony hops and pie spice combine to form a pithy, dry finish. The ingredients come together well. It's 180 degrees from the last two beers but is well-crafted.
5. Ithaca Beer Company Country Pumpkin. Ithaca is known for brewing one of the best IPAs in the country, Flower Power, so it's no surprise they also brew a hop-forward pumpkin beer that is easy to drink. There's nothing overwhelming about this one, but maybe that's the point. This beer is unoffensive and balanced, a pale ale with a hint of pumpkin that you can keep going back to.
6. Fisherman's Imperial Pumpkin Stout: An entirely different base style but a well-crafted stout. At 11 percent ABV, this one will hunker you down for a night on the high seas. Heavy on chocolate and roasted coffee with a pumpkin pie sweetness, this brew makes for a superb dessert.
The rest, and the bottom: Samuel Adams and Harpoon were among the beers that scored in the middle (the Sam offering had a surprising, smoky blue cheese note that I just can't shake). The Traveler Beer Company's Jack-O Shandy surprised by not being the worst; a pumpkin-lemonade drink wouldn't seem to fit, but the lemon was muted, providing only a slightly unpleasant sweetness while giving the shandy some balance. For the second straight year Southern Tier's Pumking was just awful. A top-note spice, maybe nutmeg, is overpowering and unpleasant.
In the biggest surprise of the night, Cambridge Brewing's Great Pumpkin Ale scored in the bottom three of the 16 beers we blind-tasted. I typically love CBC's beers. I ranked the Cambridge brewpub as the third-best beer bar in greater Boston due to a consistent lineup of inventive, balanced brews. Great Pumpkin Ale was lacking with all four reviewers. It's not sweet, but a top note of overwhelming cinnamon gives way to a too-light beer with a sour finish. Real pumpkin goes into this beer, which explains the sour gourd taste, but it just didn't work for any of us.
Speaking of overwhelming cinnamon, Shipyard Pumpkinhead scored the worst or second-worst for each of us. It's the Bud Light of pumpkin beer, an overwhelming burst of cinnamon barely concealing a flimsy, unappealing brew. It's by far the best-selling of all these beers, which is a shame. Blue Point Pumpkin Ale also scored very low.
Mainstream beer commercials often push agendas about fitting in, being a guy's guy, or what have you, but a new Guinness commercial turns that convention on its head. In the ad above, a group of friends join together for a wheelchair basketball game; only one of them is handicapped. The group then shares a round of Guinness at a bar. It's simple, poignant, and gets across a message that has nothing to do with partying or setting a trend. Well done.
With Boston Beer Co. sales reaching an all-time high Friday, Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch is the latest Massachusetts billionaire, according to Bloomberg News.
Boston Beer's sales have doubled in the past year, turning the company into the second-largest American-owned brewery, behind DG Yuengling & Son Inc. In addition to the core Samuel Adams brand, Twisted Tea and Angry Orchard cider make up an increasing part of the company's portfolio. Boston Beer's Alchemy & Science division, a wholly owned subsidiary, recently acquired the Coney Island brand from Shmaltz Brewing.
The size of Koch's company stands in contrast to the general notion that craft beer fills some "other" niche, and that craft beer cannot compete with the big brewers. Koch's record sales come at a time when total American beer sales fell two percent in the first half of 2013.
"The big guys make extraordinary amounts of beer that is clean, consistent, and inexpensive," Koch told me earlier this year. "I can't do that as well. I can't make Coors Light as well as Coors makes it. And their beers are perfectly designed to satisfy 90-something percent of the market. I've always known since the day I started that I was making beer for five percent of the market, maybe now it's up to 10 percent.
"If I try to compete with the big guys, they'll kill me."
With brand expansion and an increased push to market the flagship Boston Lager to a larger audience, Boston Beer seems to be competing just fine, though a lineup increasingly dependent on malt beverages and cider further muddles an already blurry definition of craft beer and what defines a craft brewer. Boston Beer holds a 1.3 percent share of the overall U.S. beer market, just behind Yuengling.
Tucked away inside the experimental Jamaica Plain brewery of The Boston Beer Co. is a room you can smell as soon as you crack open the sliding door. Samuel Adams doesn't brew much of its beer in Boston anymore. But a national craft brewery with Boston roots keeps a funky secret inside its walls here.
Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch is proud of his barrel room. On a tour of the space earlier this year, Koch introduced me to something called Kosmic Mother Funk or "KMF", a blend of yeast and bacteria used in Sam's Barrel Room Collection beers. A secondary fermentation with Brettanomyces yeast helps turn malt and hops and water into a sour, funky substance. That sour beer is then imparted into the five Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection brews.
Samuel Adams started the series with three beers -- New World Tripel, American Kriek and Stony Brook Red -- in 2009. They introduced a fourth beer, Thirteenth Hour Stout, and last month debuted a fifth, called Tetravis.
Tetravis is a Belgian Quadrupel style beer. It's typically strong, lugging with it a 10.2 percent ABV. It is decidedly a cold-weather beer, which seems appropriate as we transition between seasons. Opening up a bottle on a nice summer day seemed out of place, but there are sacrifices to every job. When I popped the cork a wasp fluttered toward the mouth of the bottle, attracted to the smell wafting from the opening.
The beer pours a cloudy brown. Candied sugar and fruitcake form a welcoming nose, like the scent from a warm oven on a cold morning. As expected the first sip is very sweet, a mashup of plums and baked bread and caramel. This sweetness is cut, however, by a welcoming acidic bite from the KMF. Quads are heavy, but this one is a few degrees lighter. That bit of levity has brought me back to Sam's Barrel Room beers quite a few times.
Koch is proud of the balance the beers in the series show.
"You've got to get the KMF to the point of being borderline pleasant," he says. "I don't want to release a beer unless it's a pleasure to drink. Even if it's weird."
Sierra Nevada Brewing has agreed to a three-year sponsorship to become the official beer of the Head of the Charles Regatta, held annually in Boston and Cambridge. The 49th annual regatta will take place this year on Oct. 19 and 20.
Regatta participants and spectators will be able to taste Sierra Nevada’s offerings at multiple pouring locations along the Head of the Charles course throughout race weekend, including the Reunion Village, Eliot Bridge Enclosure, and Director's Tent. More information about the regatta is available on the event's official website.
Michigan's Founders Brewing Company consistently makes some of the best beers in the country. Founders doesn't stick to a particular style; stouts, scotch ales, and IPAs are all exceptional. It's an impressive range, and new releases are always worthy of seeking out.
"Mango Magnifico" hit shelves a couple of weeks ago. It's an eclectic offering for Founders, a high-gravity fruit beer brewed with mango and a touch of Michigan-grown habaneros. I'm something of a spice freak. My Florida grandmother grows hot peppers, dries them, chops them in a food processor, and sends them to me as homemade red pepper flakes. I'm not averse to heat.
The use of habaneros in "Mango Magnifico", on the other hand, is not for the faint of heart. I can smell the spice as I pour the beer into a tulip glass. Consider it an olfactory warning.
The beer's mild-mannered golden appearance does nothing to prepare you for the taste.
It pours like a golden ale. For my immediate thoughts after the first sip I go straight to my notes. I wrote:
"Oh wow. Sweet fruit then tang then spice then more sweet then a lingering burn on the back of the throat." There's peach in here, too, or maybe that's mango. The mouthfeel is thick and all encompassing. The beer is tougher to get down as it warms.
One of my more consistent Twitter followers said he loved this beer for the ability to taste sweet and spicy in the same sip. To me, the 10 percent ABV is too much here. With all that spice I'd like a drier finish. It could make for an interesting aperitif, but the ABV and sweetness requires this to be an after-dinner sipper, which doesn't quite work, either.