Athene Saison- A Taste of Europe by Way of Florida [Bombers Away #4]

St. Somewhere Athene Saison (7.5% ABV bottle)- Saison- St. Somewhere Brewery, FL


Athene initially pours a bright crystal clear yellow with a nice but unremarkable head; the classic beer look. As you bring the glass to your nose you get a big bouquet of white pepper with an undercurrent that’s almost champagne-like. It’s intriguing to say the least. With the first sip that white pepper makes itself known right away and gradually gives way to the lively zest of coriander and delicate floral notes. Hints of grape and even bubblegum sneak in before everything disappears into the dry finish. There’s a bit of hop to it, but the bitterness of Athene is more herbal and spicy. The mouthfeel is crisp and lively with its sharp carbonation heightening the overall zing of the flavors. The alcohol is generally well hidden which isn’t a bad thing, though you will notice it if you put away a whole 750ml bottle by yourself.

Since this is a bottle conditioned brew there’s a fair amount of yeast sediment at the bottom of the bottle and with saisons it’s down to personal preference if you want to decant it carefully or if you want to agitate things. I went half & half pouring the first glass off clear and careful, but I gave the bottle a big old swirl before pouring the remaining glasses. The addition of the sediment gave Athene a fuller mouthfeel, helped to mute the sharp edges of the peppery/herbal bitterness, and generally imbued it with a nice richness. Next time I get my hands on a bottle I’ll probably go with the agitation straight from the start.

Athene is almost exactly the taste I prefer from a saison: crisp, floral, with a slight bite. Those who swear by the grassy hop tang of European saisons like Du Pont might find such a suggestion to be heresy, but for me while I’m a big fan of Du Pont the flavor can sometimes remind me too much of far less enjoyable Euros like Pilsner Urquell, Grolsch, or Heineken. Athene is delicate, but punchy. Well worth the searching it might take to find it and the extra couple of bucks to buy it.

Pop the cork! -John


Mayflower Porter Does It Right

Mayflower Porter (5.5% ABV bottle)- English Porter- Mayflower Brewing Co., MA

mfportersmall1I’m always glad to pick up a beer from a local brewery to help support the cause and craft of local brewers and artisans, but I’m downright ecstatic when it’s a local beer that’s this damn good.

Mayflower Porter pours out a lovely black-brown with a respectable tan head that dissipates to a thin covering with a little lacing. The nose isn’t too powerful, but it is pleasant with a bit of raisin and general roasted malt smokiness. The first sip reveals a great body as it spreads across the tongue. Not too thick and not too thin; it’s just right. Goldilocks would dig it. Mayflower Porter tastes like a porter should with lots of roasted nuttiness up front, some malt sweetness, and a slightly dry finish. There’s some hop and coffee-like bitterness around the edges that is thankfully not overwhelming in the least. Combined with sharp carbonation the mild bitters maintain a solid balance to the beer. Even after a few Mayflower Porters you don’t find an unpleasant build up of after taste that you would expect from a dark beer. There’s no acrid bitterness and no sweet malt slickness. Throw all that together with the reasonable 5.5% ABV and you have a beer that could take you from the beginning through to the end of the night with no regrets.

This beer is an absolute pleasure to drink. What blows me away about Mayflower Porter is its simplicity. There’s plenty going on with the flavors of this beer yet they never bombard you, are heavy handed, or out of balance. That’s exactly what an English porter is supposed to be. If you are tired of imperial or Baltic porters and would like something easy-going and basic pick up some Mayflower Porter and drink the hell out of it.

Cheers! -John

It’s What Should Be For Breakfast: Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale

Peak Organic Espresso Amber Ale (?ABV draft)- American Amber- Peak Organic Brewing Co., ME

My friend & co-worker Jeremy stumbled upon this tasty brew at lunch and it took all of 10 seconds for him to convince me to head down to The Kinsale after work to give it a try.

As he had warned me the first few sips take a bit of getting used to. The coffee flavor is front and center, but the amber ale that it’s hitching a ride with isn’t a shrinking violet so there’s a bit of a tug of war as to what exactly your tongue is telling the brain it’s tasting at first. Things settle down quickly and find a balance and prove this to be an exceedingly drinkable ale. The up front espresso finishes with the expected roasted bitterness leading into mild hop bitterness at the edges. Definite maltiness going on so there is a touch of sweetness but not overly so. A nice medium body is perfect support for the taste and even though there’s a good amount of malt there’s no slick-sweet build up even after a couple of pints.

In the end I think what makes this a great beer is that it doesn’t taste gimmicky. It doesn’t taste like the coffee was an after thought nor is the coffee an attempt to mask an inferior amber. Peak’s got a great example of balance right here. Absolutely check this beer out if you are a coffee fiend or if you are looking for something different. Also for those beer fanatics who like coffee, but are not fans of the stouts and porters that usually play host to it Peak’s may be the beer to satisfy that craving. And if you are a conscientious consumer not only are the ingredients of the beer certified organic, the coffee used is Fair Trade Certified™. So stand a pint or buy a sixer and help make the world and your belly a better place.

Highly recommended; this is the breakfast beer you’ve been looking for.

Prosit! -John

$6.75 for 20oz. pour @ The Kinsale

Norwegian Take On English Brown Ale [Bombers Away! #3]

Nøgne Ø Brown Ale (4.5% ABV bottle)- English Brown Ale- Nøgne Ø-det kompromissløse bryggeri, NOR

     Poured from a bomber into Siamsa Pub pint glass. [Truth be told this is more like a mini-bomber given it’s 50cl/16.9 oz size, but who’s counting.]

     Way darker brown than your average brown ale; almost black really. A half inch tan head from initial pour thins to barely a covering. Add to that fairly large bubbles from the carbonation and at first glance you could mistake this for a glass of Coke. There’s a nice earthy aroma with a hint of cocoa to it. It’s so enticing it makes up for the general cola appearance which may dissuade some folk. The overall body is a bit on the thin side and the carbonation is somewhat sharp, but neither of these factors are enough to really diminish the experience. The taste is full of gorgeous malt offering up bittersweet chocolate and some nice roasty, nutty notes. There is only a hint of hop bitterness at the end that cuts the sweet malt from getting to be too much.

     Nøgne Ø has kept things interesting yet simple with their English Brown Ale. There are a lot more flavors going on in here than what you tend to expect from a brown ale, but at the same time they are very controlled and never come over the top. This beer helps to dispel the idea that to be flavorful or complex a beer needs to be a double this, imperial that, or an alcohol bomb. At 4.5% ABV it’s ridiculously tasty and drinkable for the long haul; exactly what a session beer should be. A great little beer that is not trying to be in your face in any respect, but it should be in your fridge and preferably in your belly. Highly recommended as it is my current favorite go-to beer.

     If you are looking for it in Boston I’ve been getting my supply from Federal Wine & Spirits down on State Street, caddy-corner to the T stop. I love this tiny little place. It’s best known for its wine cellar and ridiculous array of scotch, but it also has a small yet fantastic selection of beers. Even though their website doesn’t mention beer they’ve got special/seasonal releases, big bottles, craft sixers, and some harder to get imports. Best of all their prices tend to be just a bit cheaper than most other downtown liquor stores.

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. 

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

Double Baggin’ It

Long Trail Double Bag (7.2 ABV bottle)- Altbier- Long Trail Brewing Co., VT

Poured into an imperial pint.

Appearance: Crystal clear, chestnut brown with amber touches. Inch thick off-white head settles to a thin covering with nice lacing. A really good looking beer.

Smell: Subdued aroma. Some floral notes and hop twang. Alcohol in the back.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied, but not thick. Slightly dry finish. Nice mild alcohol warmth.

Taste: Very nice balance between hop bitterness and biscuity malt. Some sweetness and alcohol spice.

Drinkability: Very smooth and quaffable.

Overall: This brew doesn’t drink like you would think a 7.2 ABV would. Double Bag is a solid yet subtle beer. Some might dismiss it because there’s nothing really over the top about it, but that’s why I like it. Sometimes you need a beer that is well crafted but not a test of your mouth’s endurance to drink. This is a balanced beer that is far from boring and is very drinkable. If you come across this either in a pub or liquor store do yourself a favor and give it a try. Just watch out for that ABV; it will sneak up on you. 

Kudos to Long Trail for another winning brew. 

Stone Immaculate

I just wanted to start out with a quick shout out to Beachmont Liquors in Revere MA by the Beachmont T stop. They’re a little hole in the wall liquor store, but the only place in the East Boston area I found that had not only Stone brews, but also Dogfish Head.

Stone Smoked Porter (22oz. bottle)- American Porter- Stone Brewing Company, CA, USA
     Man alive this is some tasty beer! (I guess I need to give you a bit more info than that, but really that should be all you need.)
     During the pour you can smell the smoke coming up from the dark tarn forming in your glass. It’s an amazingly dense brown/black color that when held to the light shows through reddish mahogany that is as rich as its flavor, which Stone Smoked Porter has in spades. Leading the charge to the tastebuds are dark chocolate, coffee, and a malty sweetness that all get their edges rounded nicely by the smoke and mild hops to keep the flavor from going to the syrupy side. The more you drink and take in the complexities of this porter the more little flavors peek out at you- a bit of caramel here, some spice there, something herbal lurking at the back of the palate- allowing this brew to be continually pleasurable. It’s as if it’s single-handedly trying to make up for all the tasteless beer that has ever passed through your gullet.
     This porter isn’t a super high octane beer (only 5.9% ABV) but you know the alcohol is in there, giving the Smoked Porter a bit of a slick finish that can build up in the mouth. That’s only a problem if you find yourself working your way through a second or third double-deuce bottle. Knock back some ice water between rounds and you’ll be fine.
     I’m a big fan of porters to begin with so maybe that skews this review a bit, but there’s no denying the excellence in this bottle. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Stone Brewing. Hell, even the stuff of theirs I don’t like is better than most of what’s out there. The Smoked Porter is the first beer in quite a while that I’ve found myself blathering about to every beer drinker I come in contact with trying to bring them over to the dark side.

Find it, worship it.

Stone 11th Anniversary Ale (22oz. bottle)- American Strong Ale/”Black” IPA- Stone Brewing Company, CA, USA
Grade: A-/B+
     Luckily I didn’t read the back of the bottle or else I would have seen that this was an IPA (of sorts) and probably passed on it. I’m not a hophead and do not worship at it’s altar like so many beer geeks out there, which is why I’m surprised by how much I liked this. Technically according to Stone Brewery this isn’t exactly a straight up IPA. Stone calls it a black IPA or “India Black Ale/IBA”. Black is a slight misnomer compared to a porter or stout, but compared to most IPAs this stuff is pretty much black. The Stone website mentions roasted malt which would explain a very faint smokiness to the flavor to some degree. For the most part the 11th Anniversary has the hopped up punch one expects from a Stone pale ale, but there is a nice sweet caramel undertone that cuts off the sharper hop notes and gives the Anniversary Ale surprising drinkability to a non-hopster like myself. It made me think of Sea Hag IPA a bit, but this is far more robust and demanding. There’s a lot of push and pull to this beer making it something to be poured into a snifter and kicked back with. There is savoring and mulling to be done with the 11th Anniversary. Plus at 8.7% ABV you probably should take your time with it.
     The 11th Anniversary Ale is a limited release so if you find it buy 2 bottles. You can try one now and cellar the other. More than likely if you try it now and find it to be a little too aggressive it might have mellowed out 6 months or a year from now.

Find it, savor it.

Cheers! -John

Can-can with The Sea Hag

Beer Works Imperial Stout (draft)- Russian imperial stout- Boston Beer Works, MA, USA
Grade: B+
  Woof. A bit of the heavy this is then, eh. I’m a big fan of stouts and especially brewpub imperials. Thus, I’m no stranger to Beer Works and their Imperial Stout has never left me down. It is heavy on the alcohol and has a bit of a slick taste build up on the tongue by the bottom of the glass, but it doesn’t get heavy perse`. Sweet with nice malty flavors balanced with a coffee bite, this is an amazingly rich bevvie made to be savored. It’s hardly work drinking a pint of this down. One pint, (OK, maybe two) of this black gold will do you fine.
Blue Moon (draft)- Witbeer-  Blue Moon Brewing Co, CO, USA 
Grade: B
  Well, spank my ass and call me Charlie, I had no idea Blue Moon was produced by Coors. Well, I guess if Ford can make Jaguars I shouldn’t be shocked by an American mega-brewer putting together something that tastes good enough to not shotgun it down with a grimace. Blue Moon is one of my standard “go-to” pints when I’m out on the town. It’s a witbeer, which means it’s a cloudy, unfiltered, wheat-based brew similar to a hefeweizen, but usually lighter. Notice I said “usually” because in this case Blue Moon runs a bit heavy like a hefeweizen and is far from the lightness that tends to embody classic European witbiers like Hoegaarden. Still, it’s got a good taste that  is a bit outside the norm. There’s some citrus tang going on in there and I’ve always smelt something akin to coconut, especially when out of a bottle when drinking Blue Moon. (Most people just look at me like I’m out of my tree when I mention the coconut thing.) The fact that I see this on so many taps these days regardless of geography all makes sense given the distribution power of Coors. Kind of a drag to think it’s made by a big ol’ corporation, but anything that might keep a person from drinking another Bud Light is fine by me.

Guinness (draft)- Irish dry stout- Guinness Ltd., Ireland 
Grade: A-
 [See Past Review]

Harpoon UFO Hefeweizen (draft)- American pale wheat ale/Hefeweizen- Harpoon Brewery, MA, USA 
Grade: B
  Another of my “go-to” bar pints, UFO is a good if unremarkable domestic hefeweizen. It’s got a generally strong flavor, but lacks in the robust bready body of brews like a Paulaner or Franziskaner. Still, it’s a good middle ground when you aren’t looking for anything exotic, you don’t want the lightness of a lager, and a stout would be too much. There’s enough character to UFO that you feel like you’re actually drinking a beer and not something that you were told was beer though tastes suspiciously like water.

Kingfisher (bottle)- American macro lager- United Breweries- UB Group, India (by way of New York?) 
Grade: B
  Anyone who has been to an Indian restaurant has probably paired up their dinner with Kingfisher. There’s nothing too fancy going on here. Its light, crisp finish is a nice way to cut the richness of Indian dishes and cool the curry kick. There’s a certain bite to Kingfisher that I really like and keeps it among the regular rotation in my own refrigerator.  Looking around the web it seems that even though you will find this in the import section of your liquor store it’s probably brewed somewhere in New York state. Go figure. There are better and worse Indian beers out there, so when in doubt order Kingfisher.
Magic Hat #9 (draft)- Fruit/Vegetable beer- Magic Hat Brewing Company, VT, USA 
Grade: B
 [See Past Review]

Sea Hag IPA (can)- American IPA- New England Brewing Co., CT, USA-
  The art on the can looks like a bad metal band design from 1987: black background, yellow & red lettering, and a stylized Sea Hag reaching over the logo. (Note: There actually was a bad metal band in the 80’s called The Sea Hags. Yes, I still have the cassette.) I hesitated grabbing this because I’m not a huge fan of IPA’s and once had an awful experience with canned microbrew to boot. So put the two together and it made for a tough decision to grab this. I looked at the ominous black can and figured what the hell.
  When I popped the first can it immediately foamed up out over the top and as I slurped away the excess foam and got into the heart it Sea Hag was surprisingly tasty. There was a good amount of hop bite to it but there was a slight sweetness that helped to keep it mellow. I enjoyed this more than any other IPA I’ve had except for the high octane Dogfish Head brews and wouldset it just above Sierra Nevada. For those of you in the New England area, Sea Hag beats Harpoon IPA like a rented mule so find this stuff and give it a try. I’m not a fan of IPA, but this is what I’m going to look for when I want one.

Tastes Lame! Less Filling!

Well, I’m trying to get rid of the spare tire and extra chin I’ve picked up over the last couple of years or so and that means I’ve been experimenting with the curse of light beer. It’s not fun. I’m figuring that by May I’ll be down towards my fighting weight again and won’t have to worry so much about my beer-related caloric intake. For the next couple of months there will be light beers populating this list regularly, but there are plenty of people doing the same thing so maybe this’ll help for those of you out there in need.

What I’ve come to realize is that no light beer is going to be all that good. The best tasting is Sam Adams Light (not reviewed here), but at 125 calories you’ll look much hipper drinking Guinness which clocks in at a buck-and-a-quarter as well and is just plain tastier.

The conclusion I’ve come to during this brief time is that if you love beer and refuse to drink the beer flavored water that tends to be light beer your only choice is to cut the quantity you consume. Reduction doesn’t have to be a bad thing, especially if you are willing to try new brews. There are plenty out there that you can really sit back and savor over the same amount of time it would normally take you to clang back two or three generic pints.

Anyway, this list covers about two weeks or so.


Amstel Light (draft)- Light lager- Amstel Brouwerij B. V., Netherlands
Grade: C+
Is there anybody reading this who hasn’t been subjected to this beer? This is never my beer of preference as it’s usually just the lesser of brewed evils that gets presented. Any sales conference, company party, and most weddings I’ve been at the beer choices are almost always: Bud, Bud Light, Heineken, or Amstel Light. I’ll be chuffed if I’m drinking any of those other three nightmares. This is beer to drink when you have to or when you are young and think that you look sophisticated drinking “imported” beer, but are smart enough to not put up with the always skunky taste of Heineken. Basically Amstel’s inoffensive, functional, and something you can drink without any effort. I’ve had worse (SEE: last two reviews of this entry).

Hoegaarden (draft)- Witbier- Brouwerij van Hoegaarden, Belgium
This, my friends, is the nectar of the gods. I have absolutely been addicted to this stuff since the first sip 8 years ago. Witbiers are unfiltered beers akin to hefeweizens the difference is witbiers are lighter than hefes and tend more towards a crisp, citrus finish as opposed to the earthy, almost potato-like finish of hefes. I honestly think I could drink this beer at any time of the day, all day long. It’s refreshing and crisp, but there’s plenty of flavor going on with it. This is my favorite beer and I recommend it highly to anyone who drinks beer. Luckily it’s become a relatively popular import and relatively easy to find in liquor stores or bars with a broad range of imports. The only downside is that it seems like as its accessibility has expanded, the more often I’ve run across some weak pints from taps; hard to know if it’s the beer or the bar to blame. Regardless, I’ve never had a bad bottle so maybe give it a try at your local package store if you see a six-pack. It’s bottle fermented so make sure your read the pouring instructions to get the best flavor.

Kirin Light (bottle)- Light lager- Kirin Brewery Company Limited, Japan
Grade: C+
You’ve already heard the light beer spiel. I’m convinced none of it is going to be great, I’m just hoping for decent and that’s exactly what I got with Kirin Light. The flavor is thin and no comparison to Kirin Ichiban, but still more flavor than say any of the mass produced domestic light beers and less emotionally scarring (for me at least) than Amstel. At least now I know what to get with sushi. The only problem is I don’t think I’ve ever been in a bar that carries the light version and it’s a pretty rare animal in liquor stores. Still if you can find it, have a go.

Macau (bottle)- Euro pale lager- Macau Beer Company Limited, China
Grade: C
[See Past Review]

Magic Hat #9 (draft)- Fruit/Vegetable Beer- Magic Hat Brewing Company, USA
Grade: B
I’ve got to be in the right mood for #9, but when I am this is tasty stuff. Yes, that is apricot you taste, but it works because the bitter tang of the apricot is canceled out by the bitterness of the beer. The result is you notice the fruit taste, but it’s not like you’re drinking a beer with cough syrup dumped in as I’ve found many fruit beers tend to taste like. No, this is good stuff built on what would be a solid beer without any of the fruit flavor. It’s definitely something different that’s easy to drink after the first head-scratching sips. Plus, I dig on the funky packaging this company uses. Word of warning, you will on occasion find a bar with a slightly watery batch on tap. Not often enough to be discouraged; but just in case your first pint is seemingly bland try again at another bar or have a go at a bottle.

Michelob Ultra (bottle)- American Macro Lager- Anheuser-Busch, Inc., USA
Grade: D-
For some reason I was convinced this stuff was supposed to taste good and have less calories than any other light beer. I blame the advertising blitz a few years back. The reality is that neither of those things is true. This is piss water with a mild beer-like flavoring and 95 calories a bottle. I had a bottle in a pub and after being disturbed by the lack of beeriness I ordered a pint of Amstel and it tasted -shudder- good. This event should speak volumes as to the quality of Ultra given my early tirade. Don’t waste your money.

Michelob Ultra Amber (bottle)- American Macro Light Lager- Anheuser-Busch, Inc., USA
Grad: F
Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse. Basically take its predecessor, make it darker and somewhat visually appealing, but give it a weird bitterness that tries and fool you into thinking it has flavor. True, it does have flavor, but unfortunately it’s worse than the original. It was a bitter metallic aftertaste, like drinking Ultra with pennies in my mouth. Yum. Again, don’t waste your money.

(I know far, far less about wine than I do beer so, grain of salt here.)

La CremaSonoma Coast Pinot Noir– 2005, California
Grade: B+
This spicy full body red was paired with Afghani food (Helmand in Cambridge, MA- highly recommended) which was very rich, savory, and spicy in its own right. The combination was great, because the food rounded the sharper edges of the wine to make its flavor bold and velvety with a touch of fruitiness (just like me). This pinot was pretty good on its own before the meal came, but very strong. If aggressive wines frighten you, you might want to pair this up with a robust meal to get the best enjoyment out of it.