The New England Real Ale Exhibition –NERAX– In Davis Sq, Somerville

If you are in the Boston area over the next four days and just can’t get enough of cask conditioned ale –also known as real ale– get yourself over to NERAX, The New England Real Ale Exhibition, at the Dilboy VFW Post in Davis Square Somerville where you will be able to sample some of the best real ale from all over the US & UK.

Tickets and entry are first come first serve so don’t be surprised if there’s a line and a bit of a wait depending when you get there. It will definitely be worth your while given the quality and rarity of the beers on offer.

Session Times and Festival Admission Prices
     Wednesday (4/30) 6:00 – 10:30 p.m. $10
     Thursday (5/1) 6:00 – 10:30 p.m. $15
     Friday (5/2) 6:00 – 10:30 p.m. $15
     Saturday (5/3) 12:00 – 7:00 p.m. $5

Cash Bar Prices
     Imperial Pint (20 oz) $5.00
     Half Pint (10 oz) $2.50
     Quarter Pint (5 oz) $1.50

If you’ve never been the way it works is you pay the day of admission at the door, get your glass, and then you pay per pour. From my experience stick with the Half Pint pours. It’s a good amount in case you don’t like an offering that much (though truthfully I’ve never had a bad beer there) and for some pourers it’s tough to catch the 10 oz cut off line marked on your glass so you usually end up with closer to 12 oz. Not bad for $2.50.

Bring your wallet and hit the ATM before you get there as it’s cash only and they’ve got some nifty T-shirts and beer related gear for sale on top of all the great beer. Plus Redbones provides BBQ sandwiches.

How can you say no to that?

Hopefully I’ll be able to post some notes of what I sampled by tomorrow afternoon.

Cheers! -John


Out of This World With Kuhnhenn’s Fourth Dementia

Kuhnhenn Fourth Dementia (9.5% ABV bottle)- Old Ale- Kuhnhenn Brewing Co., MI

Poured from a 12oz. bottle into a Rapscallion snifter.

Appearance: Pours dark brown, almost black, with nice chestnut highlights. Minimal caramel/off white head. Lots of sticky lacing down the glass.

Smell: Sweet dried fruits, figs, toffee. A bit of alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Thick, bordering on being too slick until it’s cut by a slightly dry finish. Not much carbonation.

Taste: Sweet up front; dry in the end. Roasty bitterness. Dried fruit. Alcohol spice. A bit of breadiness. Rum soaked fruit cake comes to mind.

Drinkability: This is a winding down for the night sipper. Very good but indulgence should be limited. You might want to split even a 12oz. bottle with a friend.

Overall: Fourth Dementia is a complex brew that drinks more like a sherry or a liqueur. It is potent and forces you to respect that while remaining enjoyable. I can imagine sipping this on a cold New England evening in front of a fire. [Now if only I had a fireplace.] This might sound like heresy, but Fourth Dementia made me think of my experience –limited though it may be– with Sam Adam’s Utopias. Not the mouthfeel perse, but the flavor profiles are very similar. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Kuhnhenn is as good, however, I would say that if you want a hint of what can be found in a bottle of Utopias try Fourth Dimentia at a fraction of the cost to see if it’s up your alley. 

The Kinsale- Funny, It Doesn’t Feel Irish.

The Kinsale
2 Center Plaza (on Cambridge Street across from Government Center/City Hall)
Boston MA 02108

     The Kinsale is a faux Irish pub located on the ground level of the Center Plaza at Government Center. It just happenes to be the same building I work in so I used to frequent it a lot when I first started my job 9 years ago. It was before I became the beer geek that I now am, but I quickly realized this place had little more to offer than the standards: Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, Harpoon IPA, UFO, Sam Adams, Guinness, Bass, Harp, Blue Moon, and if you were lucky Hoegaarden. Granted it helped foster my love of hefes/wheats/wits with UFO, Blue Moon, Hoegaarden, but otherwise it got boring real quick. After a couple of years myself and my friends slowly drifted away from what had by the end become jokingly referred to as “The Irish Conference Room” because it was just another suit and tie bar and there were better places to go.

     Fast forward to about 9 months ago when late on a week night my fiancé and I dropped into The Kinsale out of desperation for food. It was the usual decent if slightly spendy pub grub it always was, but I was shocked and giddy to see the beer menu had gone into a whole new league. The list is now craft heavy and chocked full of top notch New England brews as well as tasty domestics and imports. Because of that the Kinsale has come to the forefront of my rotation of places to grab a pint downtown especially when I’m looking for a broad selection and to try something new. You would think that in a town like Boston it would be easy to find a good beer bar and unfortunately you would be wrong.

     Over the past several months and visits myself and my friends have enjoyed such beers as Abita Purple Haze, Smuttynose Baltic Porter, Ommegang’s Hennepin Saison, Erdinger Hefeweizen, Founders Dirty Bastard, Allagash White, Victory Pils, Oskar Blues Old Chub, and Stoudt’s Scarlet Lady to name a few. More impressive than just having these outstanding beers they actually have proper glassware and know what beers go in which glass, a feat more difficult than you would expect around here. The table wait staff isn’t always keyed in to the beers they’ve got, but usually if you are sitting at the bar the bartenders are relatively well versed and can give you a hand in deciding.

     The most recent trek was a Friday night (4/11). It was packed, but we muscled to the bar and staked out a corner. There were a handful of us and the beers we ordered were pretty varied: Wolaver’s Organic Brown Ale, Bellhaven, Cambridge Brewing Company Charles River Porter. But truly the most popular amongst our group was the Smuttynose Imperial Stout. This is a bloody amazing beer. Deep dark and complex. I would call it one of the top three imperial stouts I’ve had thanks to it’s balance of malt sweetness, rich dark fruit notes, and just the right touch of dry bitterness at the finish. Put it on tap, served in a proper snifter, and I was in love. The downside is it’s technically a winter brew so they were working off their last keg. The upside is I’m sure it will be replaced with a fantastic spring/summer brew.

     While it may not be the hippest bar in town the Kinsale is the best beer bar you are going to find in the heart of downtown Boston. Yes, there’s Bukowski’s Tavern near Hynes Convention Center, but to be honest their pours are getting smaller while the prices are going higher and the pointlessly loud music makes normal conversation almost impossible. So while Kinsale isn’t as punk rock and lacks an 800-bottle deep selection your wallet and ears won’t take as much of a beating and you will have no problem finding a great brew. You could argue The Elephant & Castle down in the financial district is a beer bar given its extensive beer list, but the reality is my experiences there show it to have a lot of great beers on paper, but few in their coolers and on their taps. The game of continually sending a waiter/waitress away with three beers you would want and having them come back to say they don’t have any of them is as annoying for you as it is for them. 

     If you’re a local looking for some place new or a tourist who has already grown tired of the Sam Adams/Harpoon stranglehold on the taps of Boston and need some more esoteric relief give the Kinsale a shot.

Hey Porter! Hey Porter! [Bombers Away! #1]

This a recent release from the Smuttynose “BIG BEER” series so I thought it would be a good place to kick off a series of my own: Bombers Away! This (ir)regularly appearing series will feature beers that are only released in big bottles- aka bombers- which measure 16.9oz, 22oz, 500ml, 750ml, or something in that neighborhood. No easy-going sixers here. Go big or go home, one bottle at a time.

Smuttynose Baltic Porter (8.7% ABV bottle)- Baltic Porter- Smuttynose Brewing Co., NH

Poured into an imperial pint.

Appearance: Pours dark brown, near black, with chestnut tones. Inch-and-a-half tan head that drops to a thin covering. Not much lacing.

Smell: Dark dried fruit, raisins, and coffee. Roasted malt. Molasses.

Mouthfeel: On the thick side, but still smooth. Covers the palate nicely. Balanced and rich body.

Taste: There’s malt and dried fruit (prune & raisin especially) sweetness up front, but it’s tempered with a roast coffee bitterness at the edges and a bit of alcohol spice. It winds up with a pleasantly dry finish that helps keep all the sweetness from getting ahead of anything else.

Drinkability: Potent, but highly enjoyable. Probably the best porter I’ve had.

Overall: The Baltic Porter is a great offering from Smuttynose. Rich and complex, but amazingly drinkable. Dangerously so at 8.7% ABV. The downside is this was a limited release so if you weren’t able to score any of the bottles out there on the market you are out of luck. Unless maybe you can find a friend willing to part with it. If you are lucky enough to stumble across it in a store or if you are even luckier and find it on tap this is an absolute must have.

Cheers! -John

Boston Beer Works [Canal Street] 4/1/08

     Found myself down at Boston Beer Works‘ Canal Street locale last night catching up with some friends and a former co-worker who’d come in from out of town. It’s been awhile since I’d been down there and as always I was prepared for the Jekyll/Hyde split personality of Beer Works brews. For the most part it was a good night where of the 3 beers I had 1 was very enjoyable and the other 2 weren’t bad, just OK. I’ll take that as a win.

In order of consumption:

Double Vision (7.3% ABV)- Dubbel
Grade: C

     It’s odd because it seems like there’s a lot going on in a glass of Double Vision, but it’s all very indistinct. Lots of fruitiness, but you can’t zero in on a specific taste or scent as they’re so muddied. Very malty sweet and thick/slick mouthfeel. It’s way heavier than a good dubbel should be. If they thinned it out just a bit this could be a much better brew. All in all one glass is enjoyable enough, but that’s about it. That said I’d probably order it again if it was on tap and nothing else was really catching my interest.

Blonde Faith Abbey Ale (? ABV)-Belgian Pale Ale
Grade: C-

     Crystal clear and golden. Generally crisp taste and just right mouthfeel: the body’s not too thin or too thick. The problem is, again, a lack of distinct character. Blonde Faith’s not bad, but it is forgettable. I think if they blended the Blonde Faith with the Double Vision they’d be on to something.

Muddy River Porter (5.5% ABV draft)- American Porter
Grade: B

     It seems that I had unintentionally left the best for last. At the bartender’s suggestion I sampled some of the Muddy River Porter side by side with the Buck Eye Oatmeal Stout before making the decision to go with the pint of Muddy as he had suggested. The Buck Eye was bitter and thin. It actually had a touch of smoke in it that while not bad it was not what you expect or want from an oatmeal stout. The Muddy on the other hand had a good body that was rich and smooth. Coffee was the prominant flavor with a slight sweet finish. A little bitterness helped balance it out and make this a solid offering. I definitely recommend this if you are going to the Canal Street locale any time soon because this is a good batch of porter.