A Real Cherry Of A Beer

Echte Kriekenbier (6.8% ABV bottle)- Flanders Red- AleBrouwerij Verhaeghe, BEL
Grade: B

I managed to snag a bottle of this as one of the perks of volunteering at BeerAdvocate‘s Return of The Belgian Beer Fest that happened a few weeks ago. (I know, I know I’m behind on giving and update on it. Fingers crossed this weekend I’ll get y’all just a snippet of what I managed to sample.)

Pours out dark ruby red, not unlike cranberry juice with a light pink head that foams up quickly and disappears just as quickly –think champagne with a slightly richer head– though a thin layer of foam does remain throughout.

You can smell the cherries as soon as you pour. There’s a bit of a sour tang underneath. Not unsurprisingly Echte Kriekenbier tastes a lot like it smells. At first there’s a tartness that’s pushed aside by a blast of sweet fruit juiciness followed up by a bolt of sour dryness. The carbonation is lively which helps to give it a bright mouthfeel. This is a nice tasting little beer, but not what you could call complex.

If you are looking for a gateway beer into the world of sour beers –Flanders Reds and the like– this is a good place to start. It gives you an easy going tartness that’s not too sharp or acidic and rewards you with lots of sweet cherry. For the accustomed sour fiend this might be enjoyable if a bit on the pedestrian side. Overall though, it’s pretty darn drinkable if you have even the slightest penchant for something in a sour.

Prosit!

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Everybody needs a 303

Located a quick stroll from the Maverick T stop on the blue line, 303 Café seems like it’d be more suited in the South End or on Newbury as opposed to East Boston. With its exposed brick walls adorned with local artwork and the resin encased mosaic table tops this little bistro has a cozy and welcoming feel to it. What is more surprising than its location is the fact that they’ve got amazing food and a tasty beer list.

The beer list is small and limited to bottles, but still respectable. They’ve got a dozen regulars to choose from including Beamish Stout, La Fin Du Monde, Hennepin, Chimay Red, Julius Echter Hefe and Loose Cannon IPA. Plus they have rotating specials, which have recently included Pork Slap Ale, Whales Tale Pale Ale, Weihenstephan Hefeweiss, Old Speckled Hen, Small Craft Warning Uber Pilsner, and Bitburger Pils. Cost wise you’re looking at between $5-$7 a bottle, though the majority are $5. On a beer related side note: They’re starting to do beer dinners, though I haven’t had a chance to hit one up, but it’s on the to do list.

Oh, and they’ve got food too. Man alive do they have food.

I’ve eaten here half a dozen times and have never had a bad dish; breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This past Friday (8/22) my fiancé and I made our way there where they were screening Crash on their big screen TV. I had the 303 chicken burrito (gigantic and tasty) with a Julius Echter and an Uber Pils, my fiancé had the grilled flank steak (melt in your mouth amazing) with Hennepin, and for an app we shared the Middle Eastern antipasto (big enough for a meal in and of itself). We topped it all off with the peanut butter cup cookie. Top to bottom the food was fantastic. Prices are about what you expect to pay $8-ish for sandwiches $12 and up for the dinner entrees. Service was good and the atmosphere was nice and relaxed. This place makes for a great date locale.

I can’t speak to the wait staff’s knowledge of the beers as I’m at least functionally familiar with everything they have, but they are always timely with checking to make sure glasses don’t go empty and quick with service.

I highly recommend 303 Café. Go for the food stay for the beer. They use their flat screen for movie nights and for bigger sports events and they usually have beer and food specials that tie into the film or game, but it’s not like it’s always on. It’s a pretty small place and can fill up pretty quickly, especially if you are trying for brunch, in which case I would suggest getting there before 10am. All in all it’s a fun little café that I’m glad I’ve been introduced to as a local dining option outside of the standard Italian and South American offerings of the area.

If you live on the blue line you should head on down to 303 because it’s got some of the best food in the area and a beer menu that, small though it may be, beats any bar’s selection from Maverick to Revere. Tuesday nights are “International Hops Night” where they feature a new beer and usually a food pairing. If you are in from out of town and trapped at one of the airport hotels, 303 is only one T stop away and very much worth the quick trip to escape the purgatory of overpriced room service food.

Kanpai! -John

Quick Hits: Summer ‘08.1

Just some quick notes on beverages that I have come across during this early part of summer.

Mirassou Pinot Noir
I know this is for the most part a beer blog and I don’t know much about wine, but I had to make note of it. Me and my fiancé split a bottle of this with some grilled steak and summer squash. Nice and velvety body with lots of dark fruit sweetness, but it still managed to finish on the dry side of things. Not very acidic at all, so it’s a very approachable noir. I suppose if you prefer a more biting and peppery red this won’t be for you. If, however, you are looking for an affordable red that’s bright with fruit seek out the Mirassou. Neither of us remember buying it so it must have been a leftover from one of our gatherings. Regardless of origins it was a great pinot noir we’ll be seeking out again.

Nøgne Ø Saison
Late one night whilst playing some Ratchet & Clank on PS2 I needed something to take the edge of and keep me from yelling at the TV so I broke this out. Nice rich body with plenty of Belgian yeast tang. It had big floral notes that made me think of jasmine tea. Good stuff, but seemed a bit robust and citrusy for a saison. Maybe I was just wanting something a bit more subtle. Nonetheless, I did like it and will be picking up another bottle at some point to do a proper review. This is the second brew I’ve had from Nøgne Ø and I’m glad I stumbled upon this Norwegian upstart brewery.

Sebago Boathouse Brown
I haven’t had Sebago since last summer’s BeerAdvocate American Beer Fest and we’ll just my memory of it is hazy non-existent beyond really liking their stylized logo. I was up in Maine for a birthday shindig at a little place called Holly’s Own Deli & Wine Bar and they happened to have Boathouse Brown on tap. Good medium body, slightly cloudy brown color. It was a bit sweeter brown than one might be used to if you are a Newcastle drinker, but it’s still balanced with a little bit of bitterness. There were some notes of what I could only call graham crackers in there that had me back for seconds. I enjoyed it a lot and so it looks like I’ll be forced to find some here in Boston. You should look for some near you if you are in New England. And if you find yourself in Auburn, ME head over to Holly’s; the food is tasty and the staff is very friendly.

Weyerbacher Alpha and Muse
Had these from growlers at a Jack-n-Jill baby shower back in my hometown in Jersey and I’m not sure what to make of either of these. Maybe it was the 2 or 3 cans of Yuengling I’d already knocked back during two embarrassing quoit (for the uninitiated it’s pronounced: kw-ATE) matches, but neither Alpha nor Muse struck me as being as appealing as I’ve found most Weyerbacher brews. Alpha is a one time only release that’s a Belgian Pale Ale hopped with with Amarillo and Cascade. It just tasted odd. The aggressive American hops and the richness of Belgian yeast was a taste combination that I just couldn’t get my mind around. I kept wanting to seperate them so that I could have an IPA or a Belgian Ale, not both at the same time. Muse is Weyerbacher’s farmhouse ale and I definitely thought it was more enjoyable than the Alpha. Still, like the Nøgne Ø Saison, it seemed a bit on the citrusy side. Maybe I’m wrong on what to expect from the style. [I’ve got some other saisons sitting at home wait for an appropriate time to crack them open and do some side by side comparing.] In the end neither beer was bad, but I was glad there was 4 of us splitting the growlers. Meh. It won’t keep me from going back to Weyerbacher.

Hakim Stout At Addis Red Sea

     Last night my girl and I went to dinner with a friend of mine in town for a conference. I hadn’t seen him since he’d moved from here to Vancouver about 3 years ago and we decided on Addis Red Sea, a great little Ethiopian restaurant down in Boston’s South End near the Cyclorama.  Addis is a place we had frequented back in the day thanks to it’s vegan friendly menu for him. I’ve always loved the food, the atmosphere, and everything else about Addis, including its small but diverse beer & wine list. Well, the beer menu used to be more diverse. I remember when I first came to Boston a decade ago, this was the place, oddly enough, was where I’d had my first sip and fell in love with Xingu the Brazilian black beer.

     But times change and the beer menu has shrunk to something that lacks the original scope, but makes sense given the clientele. The list has been reduced to about 10 standard domestic & imported macros, Ommegang’s Abbey Ale, Tusker from Kenya, and most interestingly a few brews from Ethiopian brewery Harar. They offer their pilsner, lager, and stout, but in reality they’ve only ever had the stout, Hakim Stout, available when I’ve asked. Suits me just fine as I’m a fan of dark beers more than the other two.

     So I order the Hakim and realized that it’s actually a pretty decent beer. Sweetness is pronounced for a stout more so than even a milk stout. The main flavor is malt and a bit of coffee. There’s a hint of caramel, dark fruits, and a little bitterness, but not much of any. Pretty good mouthfeel if a bit on the thin side for a stout in general, but especially an alleged imperial. One could accuse Hakim of having a relatively pedestrian profile and that would be a fair assessment, but given the richness of the food anything you drink is going to pale in comparison. The Hakim does a nice job of complimenting the spicier dishes and balancing the savory with its sweetness. I wish I could get a hold of this in a liquor store in the area so that I could sit down and do a clean review of it.

     Addis is obviously not a beer lovers destination, which doesn’t matter because even if they didn’t have beer I would still go here because the food is amazingly rich and hardy fare. And you get to eat with your hands. That being said any beer geeks who find themselves there should give the Hakim a try if only for the uniqueness. It’s not a life changing beer and shaky under the imperial stout umbrella, but when in Rome. And if you don’t like it there’s always the Ommegang to fall back on.

Hakim Stout (5.5% bottle)- Imperial Stout- Harar Beer Factory, ETH
Grade: B-/C+

Cheers! John

Very Belated Extreme Beer Fest 2008 Notes

"My favorite? Traquair Jacobite. Very tasty scotch ale." Repeat every 5 minutes.

"My favorite? Traquair Jacobite. Very tasty scotch ale." Repeat every 5 minutes.

Way back on Feb 15th & 16th I volunteered to work at The Beer Advocate‘s (BA) 5th annual Extreme Beer Fest (EBF), which was an amazing event as all the BA events are. Below is a collection of notes (mostly from memory) about some of the magnificent beers that I got to sample. Sample is the key word for the most part. We’re talking 2oz. pours so you get an idea of what a beer is like, but not necessarily a complete picture.

The EBF isn’t just about high alcohol content or super hopped brews. It’s more about ‘extreme’ in the sense of pushing boundaries of craft brewing be it by aging in a variety of barrels from new oak to used bourbon to used Tabasco sauce barrels or by using non-traditional ingredients or by simply doing things with beer that hasn’t been done before or even reviving centuries old recipes nearly lost to time. The results were sometimes good sometimes bad, but always different. I’m only giving brief notes on the beers I actually had. There were well over 100 beers between the two days and I hit only a fraction.

Friday- 2/15/08: Night Of The Barrels (NOTB)
Every beer offered on Friday night was, as the name would imply, either aged in barrels or some other sort of wooden vessel. The good thing was all the brews I sampled were fantastic. The bad thing was that most of the beers featured were one offs or small batches that you were almost never going to find out in the real world except on tap at the breweries themselves.

Abbaye De Saint Bon-Chien (15.5%)- BFM Brasserie Des Franches-Montagnes, SWI
I hadn’t ever run across a “Bière de Garde” before so I have no idea if they are all like this, but if they are, I’m on board. Sour and fruity, but not too much of either. There was a slight yeast flavor from the bottle fermentation. Something between a beer and a wine.

Braggot (6%)- Magic Hat Brewing Co., VT
This old school (circa 1300 AD) mead/beer concoction was a nice break from the routine. Crisp, dry floral finish. Chamomile? Like the love child of Sleepy Time Tea and a bottle of mead. I wish I could get regular access to this. May have to make a trip to the brewery for a bottle.

Oak-Aged Bender (5.1%)- Surly Brewing Co., MN
Brown ale aged in new oak barrels. Had a weird almost burnt rubber aftertaste. Heard a lot people saying that the regular bender was far better.

Scaldis [a/k/a: Bush Ambrée] (12%)- Brasserie Dubuisson Frères sprl, BEL
Quadrupel. Says right on the label “Strong Belgian Ale” which is exactly what it tasted like. Belgian body with a lot of front end alcohol spice. Not bad, but one of these small 8.5oz bottles would do it for me.

Stone 07.07.07 Vertical Epic Ale (8.4%)- Stone Brewing Co., CA
Stone took their 070707 VE offering, a Belgian strong ale, and aged it in used oak Syrah/Shiraz barrels. Never had the original, but man this stuff was nice and smooth. Crisp, dry finish that was a bit wine like. A very nice diversion given the thickness and/or cloying nature of many of the NOTB brews.

Traquair House Ale (7.2%) & Traquair Jacobite (8%)- Traquair House Brewery Lld, UK/SCOT
These are both Scotch ale/Wee heavy styles. The Jacobite is very similar to the House Ale, but is spiced with coriander. Both were good but the Jacobite was my favorite with its sturdier malt backbone and touch of spice.

Utopias- Cacao Aged (26%)- Boston Beer Co., MA
Yes, that’s right as if Utopias wasn’t rare enough the Sam Adams gang took some of the ’07 batch of Utopias and aged it on cacao especially for EBF. Strong stuff that I was lucky enough to get a hold of. I heard a lot of people comparing it to bourbon or scotch which on one hand I can see, but really given its thickness and taste it’s more like a sherry/port wine hybrid. Very rich. Very sweet. Some chocolate. A lot of dried fruit: raisins & prunes more than anything. And of course alcohol. Good, but you have to be prepared for Utopias to not taste anything like beer. Think of a port wine’s mouthfeel and consistency before you take a sip and you will be ok.

Saturday- 2/16/08: EBF main event
2 sessions. Both sold out @ 1000 tickets each. Lots of people and lots of beers. Some beers were leftover from NOTB, but most were completely different and there were twice as many brewers.

Allagash Black (7.50%)- Allagash Brewing Co., ME
I only had two samples of this dark Belgian and it reminded me more of a stout than a Belgian. Regardless it was good and I’m now on a search for a bottle.

Blasphemy (11.8%)- Weyerbacher Brewing Co., PA
Bourbon barrel aged version of their QUAD. Sweet Jeebus this was tasty. Mildly sweet vanilla flavors pop up in an already good quadrupel. I managed to snag a 12oz bottle of this which is now sitting in the cellar waiting. Waiting!

Bourbon Ten Fidy (10%)- Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery, CO
I hate to admit it, but I like the bourbon barrel aged Ten Fidy because it takes the edges off the bitterness of the original. The original is good, but bourbon aged is way better.

Coffee Bender (5.1%)- Surly Brewing Co., MN
I know there are a slew of coffee/beer bastard brews out there, but this one is actually pretty damn tasty. Better than the Oaked Bender. Damn shame I can’t find Surly in Boston.

Dark Lord Imperial Stout (13%)- Three Floyds Brewing Co., IN
There was a ridiculous amount of hoopla around this beer. Dark Lord is one of those ‘holy grail’ beers for beer geeks. There’s such high demand for it and such small quantities brewed that bottles often sell on eBay for over $100 for a 22oz bomber. So people were forced to get in line and wait until a specific half hour pouring window. However, the brewery held back enough to pour plenty for all the volunteers afterwards. It’s a damn good imperial stout, but I think it might be a little over hyped. Sure it would be nice to lay hands on it in Boston, but I can’t so instead of blowing money on a black market bottle or plane tickets to Indiana I guess I’ll just have to suffer through a glass of Smuttynose Baltic Porter or Oskar Blues Ten Fidy. Oh, what a terrible life.

Red Poppy Ale (5.5%)- Port Brewing Co./The Lost Abbey, CA
Another sour cherry offering that I found very tasty and sippable. Good luck finding it on the east coast was what all the other BA volunteers told me when I asked. Drag. I filled an empty water bottle and enjoyed it as a wind down for the next two nights. Then I cried silently when it was gone.

Om (9.5%)- Strong Ale- Cambridge Brewing Co., MA
I can’t even begin to tell you about the sonic therapy that went into this oak aged Belgian style brew. Check their website under the seasonal brews. Regardless of the process the result was beautifully subtle ale that I’m glad I have access to given that CBC doesn’t bottle and this is a very limited release.

Sunday Brunch- 2/17/08: Hair of the Dog brunch @ Redbones BBQ.
This was mostly just for fest staff as a thank you to us from the Alströms.

Aventinus (8%)- Schneider-Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH, GER
I’d heard plenty about this weizenbock, but hadn’t had the opportunity to have a go at it. It’s funny that after all the great stuff I had over the preceding 48 hours this was the one that made me fall in love with beer again. A big rich beer, that wasn’t too in your face. Wheaty, meaty, and so drinkable.

Black Albert (13%)- De Struise Brouwers, BEL
Yet another ‘holy grail’ brew that is brewed in Belgium, but only available at Ebenezer’s Pub in Maine of all places. They bottled a special batch of 3 magnum-sized bottles back in 2007 for a few special people. The owners of Ebenezer’s decided to bestow a bottle upon the Beer Advocate’s own Alström Brothers. In turn the brothers shared it with the volunteer staff at the after brunch. Very very tasty. Rich and silky smooth; it’s as good as an imperial stout can get. truly great stuff I’m lucky to have had. Unfortunately, this means when the weather clears a bit there must a road trip to the middle of nowhere Maine to try and get more.

Three Philosophers (9.8%)- Brewery Ommegang, NY
Can’t go wrong with Ommegang. This quad was nice way to start brunch. Smooth, full bodied, and delicious. Even better that the bartender spaced on the 10oz snifter it’s supposed to come in and poured me a pint.

Ten Fidy: An oil change for your liver

Ten Fidy (10% ABV can)- Russian Imperial Stout- Oskar Blues Grill & Brewery, CO 

Grade: B+

Poured from can into Duvel tulip snifter.

Appearance: I know it’s overused in many references and reviews, but this stuff really does look like the aftermath of a long overdue oil change. Black brown that swallows light and allows none to penetrate. Very thin cocoa head.

Smell: Nutty. Roasted coffee. A hint of burnt chocolate. Not very strong though.

Taste: Lots of earthy bitterness like unsweetened chocolate. Alcohol. Finishes bone dry. Flies in the face of a lot of imperial stouts in that there isn’t the creaminess and sweetness at the finish. There’s lots of bitter and burnt here along with hops hiding away. Somehow given all that it’s still appealling.

Mouthfeel: Oily and thick. Carbonation not really a presence. Covers the palate, but then disappears with that dry finish.

Drinkability: Given the boldness of the taste and high ABV one Ten Fidy will be enough for a sitting.

Overall: It’s a compelling beer but definitely not for everyone. There will be plenty of RIS fans who will take a pass on this one, but you should at least try it once. In all honesty it could use something extra to boost the complexity and balance out the bitterness. I picked up a 4 pack and the other 3 will last me a long, long time. It’s a bit like a really strong rauchbier in that respect; even though it’s good you need it only on occasion.

Funniest part of reviewing Ten Fidy was when I brought it in to the livingroom, my girlfriend perked up and was like, ‘Ooh, what’s that?‘ I passed the glass, she took a sip, and pondered for a second.

Finally she said, ‘It tastes like something familiar.’ Pause. ‘Oh, I know. Oil.’

Cream of Sam’s Crop?

Samuel Adams Cream Stout (4.69% ABV bottle)- Milk/Sweet Stout- Boston Beer Co. (Sam Adams), MA

Grade: B+ 

Poured from bottle into NERAX imperial pint glass.

Appearence: Nice dark brown, not quite black. 3/4 in. tan head which drops to a thin covering. Good lacing that sticks around to the bottom of the pint.

Smell: Coffee and some very faint chocolate and smoke. Not an overwhelming aroma, but not bad either.

Taste: Coffee and smoked malt are right up front. There’s a touch of chocolate and caramel sweetness in the undertone. A slightly bitter/metallic finish, but it’s not bothersome. Solid, enjoyable taste.

Mouthfeel: Generally good. Not as creamy/rich as many stouts out there, but still has a full enough body to let you know you are drinking a stout. Carbonation felt a little harsh.

Drinkability: With an ABV of under 5% this has session written all over it if you are a fan of the dark.

Notes: This is one of the better “Brewmaster Collection” brews I’ve had from SA. Seems like they do their version of good cop bad cop with that program and unfortunately bad cop tends to show up with a punch in the mouth more often than not. I wish the cream stout had better bar distribution as it would make a great alternative to the usual dry stout triumvirate of Guinness/Murphy’s/Beamish on offer at most places. One can dream, no?

Jan/Feb Quick Hits

Lack of Internet at home combined with the seasonal upswing at work have left me little time to update with any length or depth. I still wanted to get some beers up so here’s some brief notes on brews that passed my way lately.  

Export Ale (5.1% ABV bottle)- American Pale Ale- Shipyard Brewing Co., ME
Grade: C-
     I’ve had this beer before. Many times. It’s a chameleon. If it’s the first beer I have in a session, no food, just straight to it, it tastes OK. Not a lot to write home about, except for a bit of butteriness underneath its general beer taste that is intriguing an yet a little off putting. No real hops bitterness. If I drink it after something else or after I’ve eaten, it tastes a bit sour like sweat. Basically unpleasant. And yet I still drink it.

Long Trail Hibernator (6.0% ABV bottle)- Scottish Ale- Long Trail Brewing Company, VT
Grade: C+
     Drinkable, but not exactly enticing. Though it is pretty when poured; a nice ruby-tinged brown. Taste is fairly middling. I don’t see myself grabbing this from the store again when it shows up next winter, but if someone handed me one I wouldn’t turn my nose up at it.

Mayflower Pale Ale (? ABV draft)- American Pale Ale- Mayflower Brewing Company, MA
Grade: C+
     Mayflower is a new brewery to MA so I figured I’d have a got at it. Yep, it’s a pale ale. Not bad, but not great either. We’ll see what else this brewery can bring to the table in the future. Hopefully something with a bit more presence.

Stoudt’s Scarlet Lady Ale (5% draft)- Extra Special/Strong Bitter (ESB)- Stoudt’s Brewing Co., PA
Grade: B-
     I’m not real familiar with ESBs, but this Scarlet Lady didn’t strike me as anything all that fancy. Kind of a standard micro brew ale. Not overly hopped, but not completely bland either. A beer to drink without having to think about it.

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel (5.3% ABV bottle)- Dunkelweizen- Brauerei Weihenstephan, GER
Grade: A+
     As if a hefe couldn’t get any better, it’s dunkel (dark) cousin has a touch more malt than the traditional making one of my favorite styles of beer even more drinkable. Love this stuff. Highly recommended!

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

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.