I’m sorry, did you say gruit?

Winterfest/Winterworks (? ABV tap)- Gruit- Boston Beer Works (Canal Street location), MA
Grade: D
     Down at the Canal Street Beer Works with some co-workers last Friday ( 1/4/08 ) for lunch and ran into something I’d never had before: Gruit. Their branding is “Winterfest.” Actually at the Canal local it was called “Winterworks” on the sign behind the bar and wasn’t even on their beer menu, but on their site they call it Winterfest.
     Gruit is an old, old style beer brewed without hops that instead uses various herbs to flavor and preserve the beer. It’s a style that has been all but forgotten with the now standard use of hops. That’s the bare bones answer about this curious bevvy. If you are looking for more in-depth info go here and here. It really is fascinating reading not just on a beer geek level, but historically as well.
     Anyway, I’m not here to give history lessons I’m here to tell you about the beer. The Beer Works website describes the Winterfest as “deep ruby-red”. What I had in my glass was more “murky brown/orange” than anything, but that doesn’t really have the same sex appeal. There was no light getting through this stuff, so it was not visually appealing. The aroma was tempered, but tantalizingly herbal and a little spicy. While there were not huge whiffs of anything definitive, there was enough that it kept my curiosity up. The taste was “herbal” and made me think of breakfast sausage as the only herb I could really suss out was sage. Other than that the flavors were pretty indistinct with a vague bitterness behind them. The gruit had a thick consistency and yet the taste was watery around the edges, which is a problem I’ve come to notice with a lot of Beer Works product. Not sure how that is possible, but the last handful of times I’ve been to Beer Works that is what I run into except on the rare occasion when the beer is outstanding.
     Sadly, while I was excited about trying something so unique as gruit the results left me disappointed. Luckily, I can say that I will search out gruit again, however it won’t be from Beer Works and I’d recommend the same to you.

Cheers,
John

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Hazy Holidays To You!

     Over the Christmas/New Year period there were a number of beers that passed my lips and I thought I should at least mention some of them here. These aren’t in-depth reviews since I didn’t take any notes and my memory is blurring around the edges. These are more sweeping impressions than anything. There were a few beers that I would like to slap the Beer of the Blog moniker on, but honestly given the haste in which this entry was compiled, lack of review intentions upon consumption, and maybe a touch of over consumption I need to revisit a chosen few when I can get a hold of them for more proper exploration.

 After the beer reviews are a few quick blurbs on some of the places I went and thought y’all should know about.

Cheers,
-John

On to the beers…

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen (5.4% ABV bottle) -Rauchbier- Brauerei Heller-Trum, Germany
Grade: A
     Not just a mouthful to say… I got this at Porter’s Pub on a semi-dare from my friend Dicky-Mo who had asked if I’d ever had a “real” rauchbier [smoked beer]. I thought I had, but oh was I wrong. The initial pour hit me in the face with a heavy smoked meat aroma. Not a nice little waft of campfire, but a heady beef-jerky smell that had me a little scared. The first mouthful was disturbing. So much smoke I couldn’t distinguish anything else. After a few more sips it came into a nice balance of the smoke, mild bitterness, and some nut and coffee hints. As I worked through the complexities it became a very pleasant experience that helped to enhance the richness of the cheese plate I’d ordered. Definitely a beer made for rich, hearty food pairing. I can’t imagine just grabbing one of these and drinking it off, but it’s still an excellent beer.

Arrogant Bastard Ale (7.2% ABV bottle) -American Strong Ale- Stone Brewing Company, CA
Grade: A+

     I know I’m on kind of a Stone Brewing kick lately. What can I do? They make tasty beer and Beachmont Liquors keeps hooking me up with fresh supplies. Hadn’t had Arrogant Bastard in a while so when I saw it on the shelf I figured it would ease the pain of Beachmont not having any more Vertical Epic 06.06.06 for me to stockpile. If “Arrogant Bastard” isn’t enough of a tip off this is a robust and in-your-face kind of beer. Lots of malt and lots of hops with a piney tang, but it’s all balanced out so that nothing out weighs anything else. Voluptuous is very fitting description for the Bastard even if it may be questionable in gender agreement. This is big, round, and smooth in all the right places with plenty of spice; like a pin-up girl in a bottle. Woof!

Lancaster Brewing Company Milk Stout (5.3% ABV bottle) -Milk/Sweet Stout- Lancaster Brewing Company, PA
Grade: B-
     I bought this because my girl, Jules, was making chili for the fam’ and the recipe called for a bottle of stout so I grabbed a sixer of this. I’d never had anything from Lancaster Brewing and this isn’t a bad intro. A bit on the thin side but it has a decent mix of bitterness, a touch of sweetness, and undertones of chocolate and coffee. I could see myself reaching for this again.

Lindemans Framboise (4% ABV bottle) -Lambic/Fruit- Brouwerij Lindemans, Belgium
Grade: B+

     As a rule I’m not a lambic drinker, but I hadn’t had one in years when I saw this on the menu at Ocean and thought it’d be a nice change of pace before the food started arriving. It was sweet not cloying, very fizzy, with a surprisingly dry finish. Granted it looks a bit girlie with its fruit punch color, but it was refreshing and absolutely perfect at that moment. I love the art nouveau look of their labels to boot.

Vertical Epic 06.06.06 (8.66% ABV bottle) -Belgian Strong Dark Ale- Stone Brewing Company, CA
Grade: A-
     This was a great beer; the problem is the specifics are blurry. I cracked this open for the Pats-Giants game figuring that a special game called for a special beer and all I had was the Vertical Epic or Stone’s 11th Anniversary. The Epic seemed fitting. Unfortunately, because it was so good I drank half of the 22oz bottle by the time the first quarter ended and decided I should save the rest for the coming victory. So I needed something to drink in the mean time which left the bottle of the 11th Anniversary. Fast forward to the fourth quarter and the Anniversary was gone so I went back to the Epic. These are both high octane beers; mix that with the excitement of the game and the subtleties of the Epic got lost. What I do recall was that this was a full bodied beer as one expects from Stone. There was some alcohol slickness, but not too much as this went done smooth. My first sips made me think “herbal”, but not in a medicinal way. Unfortunately, I’ve only got one bottle of the 06.06.06 left which I want to keep to age and Beachmont has sold out of their stock since last I was there. Alas, this Epic taunts me like memories of a drunken one night stand.

Weyerbacher Old Heathen Imperial Stout (8% ABV bottle) -Russian Imperial Stout- Weyerbacher Brewing Company, PA
Grade: A
     I will be honest, by the time I got this at Which Brew it was pretty late in the evening, but I do recall it being tasty. [Actually this and the eggnog martini (bad choice of the night) are the only drinks I remember at Which Brew.] It poured into the glass thick and dark like an imperial should. There were groans from my friends at the table, cowering at the sight of its blackness. It was heavy and yummy with some sweetness and thick on the tongue.

Yuengling Traditional Lager (4.9% ABV bottle & tap) -American Amber/Red Lager- Yuengling Brewery, PA
Grade: B+
     Yuengling Traditional Lager holds a nostalgic place in my heart which is probably why I rate it higher than it might actually merit. When I’m back visiting family and the local bars of PA & NJ Yuengling Lager is my go-to beer.

Yuengling Black & Tan (? ABV bottle) -Black & Tan- Yuengling Brewery, PA
Grade: C+
     I can’t quite stick my neck out for Yuengling’s Black & Tan like I do the Trad Lager. Probably has something to do with the fact that when I’m drinking a dark beer (of which there was much during this holiday season) I expect a certain amount of mystery and/or a different flavor than something run of the mill because most of the dark beers I drink are pretty heavy duty. This stuff tastes a lot like plain old Yuengling, but with a slightly metallic bitterness. I think I’ll stick with the original.

Where’d You Go?

Ocean– Easton PA
     Ocean is a surprisingly up-scale tapas joint downtown that has become a regular stop when I’m back in the area. The decor is very modern and very slick. It looks more Manhattan than Easton, but the atmosphere isn’t as stuffy as one would expect. Great food and great drink selection including a number of very tasty beers. Try the crab cakes.

Porter’s Pub– Easton PA
     Porter’s has been around forever and was really the area’s first beer bar way before it was hip to be one. They’ve got a big selection of beers (60?) given the size of the place. Most is in bottle with 8 or 10 taps. I’ve read reviews from people getting down on Porter’s because of their limited tap selection and that their choices tend to be well established craft brews that aren’t experimental enough. Those people are obviously not locals. The fact that Porter’s has survived for this long with what were until maybe 10 years ago very niche brews is amazing. I’m grateful it made it long enough for me to appreciate what they have which honestly is nothing to sneeze at. This is a great little place as long as you can get a seat. I love the atmosphere and decor -old school English pub- but when this place is crowded forget about it. Jules and I got on board with their mug program finally after all these years.

Shruty’s Pub– Easton PA
     This isn’t a beer bar or chic eatery, but I figured I’d give it a plug since my cousin Amy is one of the owners and Shruty’s always a destination when I’m in the area. The food is pretty good as far as pub grub goes (the wings & the soups are always top notch) and you can never go wrong with Yuengling on draft. It’s a good local that I’d probably end up at even if I didn’t have the family connection.

Which Brew– Easton PA
     Two blocks down the street from Porter’s Which Brew is a great compliment to the traditional feel of Porter’s. Plus, if they don’t have a beer at Porter’s there’s a good chance it’s at Which Brew. There’s a big selection here, but it rotates through pretty quickly so what was there one week might be gone the next. Creatures of habit will be dismayed while experimenters will revel. Atmosphere is cavern/crypt like with lots of nooks, exposed brick, and ghoulish knick-knacks that caters to a younger crowd that wants a quasi dive/rock bar look and surly service, but with good beer and no risk of being knifed in the bathroom. Staff is very knowledgeable and even put up with our group’s Laurel & Hardy act thanks to a misprint on their holiday Mad Elf special.