Posts Tagged ‘ale’

Drink Free or Die Part II: Frank Jones Brewing

So the Lady Friend and I took a day trip up to our home state of Moo Hampsha for some good ol’ Granite State boozing. This is Part I of the adventure. For those who may have missed it, there’s a handy map on my White Birch Brewing post that shows why NH is the best state ever, besieged on all sides by other scary New England states (and a Commonwealth). Part 1 starts here.

Drink Free or Die: Sobriety is the Worst of Evils.

This is going to be a different sort of brewery tour.

Let’s set the Way-Back Machine to the 1880s.

New Hampshire actually has a pretty big role in New England brewing history, which I was oblivious to until a chance viewing of a vintage beer ad slideshow. I’d show it to you, but it was on and they seem to have taken it down as if it never existed.

This was the picture

I recognized the name “Frank Jones,” and saw “Portsmouth, NH” in there as well. That intrigued me, and kicked off some research. Having grown up in Seacoast NH, I had heard the name Frank Jones, but mostly only in reference to the convention center off of the traffic circle. Turns out he was a pretty big deal. Frank was a businessman, politician and brewer, and even served as mayor of Portsmouth for awhile. As a young man, he moved from his hometown of Barrington, NH, to the hustle and bustle of Portsmouth, and started working with Swindell Brewing, owned by Englishman John Swindell, around 1858. Swindell’s business started tanking, so Frank bought him out. I’m not sure what he did after that to turn things around, but business took off. By the Civil War, he was profitable, and had a local competitor: Eldridge Brewing Company, also of Portsmouth, founded in 1864. These two were the big players in Portsmouth until Prohibition, though several smaller breweries also sprung up. Ironically, post-Prohibition, Eldridge started up again in various forms and produced Frank Jones’s ale among its products.

Back to Frank: he continued expanding the brewery, and sales kept rising. They brewed 150,000 barrels of ale in 1882, making Frank Jones the LARGEST producer of ale in the ENTIRE COUNTRY. Holy snotrockets. Let’s put that in perspective. First of all, I’m sure you’re thinking “What about Miller, and Budweiser, and Pabst, Schlitz, Coors, Stroh’s, and all those? Weren’t they making a lot of beer as well?” Sure they were. But they were mostly making LAGER, not ale. Secondly, how much is 150k barrels of beer? That was Harpoon Brewery’s production in 2011. That’s a LOT of beer. We’re talking a Harpoon-sized operation in the 1880s. By this time he was adding buildings left and right… a malt house, a cooperage (barrel house), ANOTHER malt house, ANOTHER cooperage, and a 140′ clock tower.

This place was HUGE.

This was just Portsmouth; there was a second brewery in South Boston, formerly called Henry Souther & Company. It’s the one that is actually represented in that first picture. Under “Portsmouth, NH” the caption reads “Depot 82 & 84, Washington St, Boston“: Washington Street runs right through Dorchester. That print is apparently in the Boston Public Library archives.

Anyway, in 1889, Frank went public and sold out to British investors who were sniffing out brewery purchases in America. Frank stayed on as head of the brewery, and they hit their peak in 1896 producing 250,000 barrels of ale. That’s over 7.8 million gallons. Insanity.

There’s even a SONG about the beer from about 1897:

Hurrah for Jones’ brewery, may it never fail
Brew us beer and porter and beautiful stock ale,
That’s the stuff for me, my boys, it drives away all pain,
Whenever I can get a glass of it I’ll have it just the same.

Frank died in 1902, but not before making sure he had the biggest tombstone in the city.

Most of these brewery buildings still exist, off of Islington Street (behind CVS, next to the Pic n’ Pay/ Hannaford’s) near downtown Portsmouth. I’ve probably driven past them hundreds of times, and never gave them so much as a glance. Some of them have been repurposed/renovated and contain various businesses, like a tech company, yoga studio, and even a bar, located on the aptly named Brewery Lane. The Lady Friend and I went for a look.


This was a serious brewery.

I couldn’t really tell you which building is which, though I have a vague sense from the postcard above. The dominant building still standing has a big white stone near the top which reads “Built 1884 by Frank Jones,” which I believe refers to the expansion of the main brewery building. Shorter, lengthy, two story buildings along Brewery Lane (where train tracks once ran) are the malt houses, currently containing businesses under the title “Malt House Exchange.” There’s just a parking lot where the largest building, and the clock tower, once stood. Most buildings are boarded up and have graffiti sprayed everywhere within reach, though the solid brick walls are still standing. The buildings that are left appear to be pretty sound, structurally.

I found an opening in one of the boarded-up doorways, and squeezed inside the main building for a look.

Lady Friend added for scale.

Dirt floors, and an empty, cavernous space. Portions of the beamed ceiling look to be recently replaced, though pigeons roost everywhere up there. Various fuse panels and electrical conduit is another up-to-date addition, most likely installed for work crews to repair the structure. More graffiti, and I wonder if the person who scrawled the drinking philosophy knew this was a brewery. One section is an addition likely from the post-Prohibition days, with steel beams extending out from the original brick facade. Real estate banners hang on the building’s exterior, and I would love to find out what this property would cost. It’s a bit of a fixer-upper, and a tad drafty. Smuttynose Brewery looked into these buildings for their new brewery home, though it just wasn’t feasible. Funnily enough, Smuttynose is currently located at Heritage Ave. in Portsmouth, which was one of the former Frank Jones Brewing Company sites. Smuttynose holds the title of the largest brewery in New Hampshire, a distinction that once belonged to Frank Jones. History!

Dusty history.

So what happened? FJ was the largest brewery around and employed something like 500 people. Where did all that business go? Simple. Prohibition. Ugh. Prohibition went into effect on the national level on January 17, 1920, but had already been enacted statewide in New Hampshire in 1917. The brewers were forced to shut their doors, and the Frank Jones Brewing Company, LLC, was finished. Well, kind of. After Prohibition ended in 1933, old rival Eldridge began brewing again in the former Frank Jones buildings. They later renamed themselves “Frank Jones Brewing Company” in 1937, and even produced some of the original FJ recipes. The company was sold in 1947 to a rum distiller called Caldwell Incorporated, but the big midwestern macrobrew lagers were taking hold, and consumers’ tastes shifted to the lighter beers. Frank Jones finally went down in 1950.


Apparently, you can actually still get some of Frank’s Ale. After an attempt to revitalize the brand in the early 1990s with contract brewing at Catamount Brewery (now Harpoon’s Windsor, VT location) a restaurant in Barrington (Frank’s hometown) sprung up that offers Frank Jones’ Original Ale and IPA. At least they used to. I sent them a message trying to get more information about where and how they brew these beers, but I still haven’t heard back from them. I think it would be a worthwhile adventure to get the real story, even if I have to go to *shudder* Barrington. That’s not even EPPING. Yikes.

Also, it seems there are further plans for the site, though there’s no telling how recent this information is, or if it’s even still heading in that direction. It could be the reason I spotted some recent electrical work, though there is still a real estate banner hanging on the building. I’m not sure if the deal fell through, or if they simply haven’t taken down the banner yet.

The more information I found out on this topic, the more buried I became in the brewing history of the area. One major source for this post was the website, with this page of incredibly informative history. Other sources are linked within the post, but Rustycans in particular was extremely helpful. There’s also a book that was recommended to me by JT of Smuttynose called Brewing in New Hampshire, which seems like it will be an invaluable source of information once I get my hands on it. Then this article from had a lot of important information, and the unique perspective of one of the current tenants of the FJ site.

If you have any other information about the Frank Jones Brewery, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below. I have a feeling I’ll be digging into this topic for a long time.

Finally, one last comparison from past to present, as of February, 2012. You can see the brewery building that still exists on the left, and the adjoining main floor, though another story was added on at some point. The giant clock tower, and largest building, would be right about where that lamppost is, in the middle of the shot. Nothing remains of the either: it’s now just a parking lot.

The Monday Hangover: Jan 28-29

The Monday Hangover:
Other drink adventures of note from the weekend.

Wowsers. I might actually publish a Monday Hangover post on a Monday.

Friday started with a break in the usual routine. The Lady Friend was off to have dinner with some friends in Charlestown, and I had some projects to accomplish before she got home. However, I wound up going to a friend’s housewarming party in Rockland, to gather with former coworkers, since we had just lost a coworker and friend of ours suddenly on Thursday night. Some good laughs and beers later (I brought some tasty Dale’s Pale Ale), it was time to head back to SFHQ to meet with the Lady Friend, and prepare for Saturday’s main event.

Last weekend, Lady Friend’s father made it down into the big bad city for dinner and a Bruins game with some friends. Apparently he had a good time, since he suggested that both LF parents make the trek down THIS weekend for the Lady Friend’s birthday celebration (it never ends). I was invited along, so the four of us made a day of it. They rode the Downeaster into North Station, and we met up at the Beantown Pub, right across from the Granary Burying Grounds, where some famous Boston people are hanging around underground. Samuel Adams is buried there (as are John Hancock and Paul Revere), and Beantown Pub loves their little claim to fame as being the only place in town “where you can have a cold Sam Adams while looking at a cold Sam Adams.

I had a Harpoon.

I noticed that Harpoon’s Celtic Ale was on tap, and it had been awhile since I tasted it, so it beat out the Sam Adams novelty. The Lady Friend and her mother followed my lead, but I suggested a Samuel Adams Brick Red Ale for the patriarch. As I’ve mentioned before, you can only get it on tap in Boston (they don’t bottle or ship it anywhere else) and I figured he’d enjoy it, which he did. From there, the Widmer Brothers Pitch Black caught my eye, and it turned out to be a black IPA. Now, there’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on in the beer world over this. IPA stands for India PALE Ale, so how can you have a BLACK version of a PALE ale? When I checked this one off my list, I noticed that they also refer to it as a “Cascadian Dark Ale.” Fair enough. It was tasty all the same. The Lady Friend and her father followed this time, while her mother had a taste or two.

Time for ze Germans.

From Beantown, we ventured down to Jacob Wirth’s for some good German beers that you simply can not find in Moo Hampsha. It was a quiet Saturday afternoon, so the service was more than adequate, which is not usually the case at Jacob’s. I think it helped that we just had beers, and didn’t bother with a food order. I love the setting (it’s styled to look like a German beer hall) and the selection of brews, but the food service is always lacking.

Opening round: a Hofbräu Dunkel for me (I lectured for quite a bit the other night explaining to the Lady Friend that “dunkel” simply means “dark” in German, and is a dark lager) and a surprise for the Lady Friend. The parents also looked to me for suggestions, which makes me feel helpful. You know that person at the table to whom everyone defers to when it comes time to pick a wine for dinner? That’s me, but with beer. Trust me, you don’t want me to choose a wine, but beer and liquor I can handle. I had been threatening the Lady Friend with a proper rauchbier (smoked beer) ever since she tried a Samuel Adams Bonfire “smoke beer” which was like a weak Sam with a dollop of “smokey” flavor. It was time for her to try the real thing: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier. Though it did indeed smell like a campfire, there was enough malt in the brew to balance it out, and she wound up enjoying it. She didn’t love it, but at least enjoyed it. Her palate’s come that far.

A Spaten Optimater doppelbock was the selection for vater and a Matilda, a strange floral hopped conglomerate from Goose Island (they call it a Belgian pale ale) for mutter. I proceeded to have an Optimator for myself, suggested a Jake’s Special Dark (the house dark ale) for LF’s dad, and die frauen shared a tall glass of Schneider Aventinus Weizenbock (wheat bock).

Jah, das Optimator!

After our German beers, it was time for some Italian food. We hiked over to the North End (with a stop at Mike’s Pastry) for dinner at Risorante Limoncello, where LF’s dad had eaten the week before. Plenty of fresh Italian bread, a delicious chicken parm, and even some *gasp* wine made for a tasty stop on the drinking tour. I have no idea what wine we were drinking, but it was acceptable even for my infantile palate. The meal ended with a birthday dessert for the Lady Friend, and a round of limoncello liqueur, a digestif made from soaking lemon peels in booze.

We walked the parents back down to North Station for their return train, and decided to hop over to see a bartender friend of mine at the Purple Shamrock. It was only about 6:30, so the dinner crowd was still keeping things mellow before the Saturday night crowd of 20-somethings from Andover and Billerica douched up the place. We chatted for a bit and had a couple of pints before moving on ourselves. Also picked up an interesting bit of info from Jackie the bartender. She pours a black and tan with 3/4 ale (they recently got Goose Island’s Honkers Ale on tap) and topped with 1/4 Guinness. I always thought it was a 50/50 ratio, but Jackie claims that is a half-and-half. From there, we discussed the Black Velvet, which I know as equal parts Guinness and champagne, but had seen on menus with cider substituted for the wine. Jackie agreed and said that in just about every bar, it’ll be poured with a cider, such as Strongbow. Neat. This is just the dorky stuff I enjoy debating, and finding out what a particular drink order is likely to get you in a real bar. The Lady Friend was intrigued enough by the conversation to have a black-and-tan, after which we headed back to SFHQ, courtesy of the MBTA, the bestest public mass transit system evar. Another good drinking day down.

White Birch Brewing

Ah, the unspoilt expanses of granite-laden New Hampshire. The Lady Friend and I were up that way to visit Maggie the Thunder Kitten of Doom, and took the long way back to Braintree, by way of Hooksett, NH. It wasn’t exactly on the way; Hooksett is past Manchester on the way to Concord, so it’s a detour whether traveling on 101 or 93. Manchester is kind of like the last civilized outpost before the frontier lands of NH. The only reason to drive past it is to visit the mountains, lakes, or Vermont. You know, wilderness.

I’ve included a helpful map.

However, there was a reason for venturing into such dangerous, possibly bear-infested, territory: White Birch Brewing. No no, that’s White BIRCH, with an “R” not a “T.” Trust me, the White Bitch website is totally different. Anyway, I had seen their clean, black and white graphic labels on shelves in the South Shore area, but had never been intrigued enough to purchase one. As a N’Hampsha native, I can appreciate the white birch (state tree!) branding, but there would always be a different brew I was more interested in when beer shopping. Since we were already up in the Granite State, a minor detour sounded like a good excuse to finally check out what they do.

Well, as brewery exteriors go, that’s a different one.

Yup. It used to be a car dealership. Now it’s a brewery. It turns out they do pretty much all Belgian-style ales, which are not exactly my most favorite. But I was certainly willing to partake of the free tasting. Ben the Brewery Assistant was pouring the samples, so we dove in.

Belgian Style Pale Ale
Year-round flagship beer
Nose: Tart fruit, almost like a cider or a sour ale.
Taste: Foamy head. Belgian wheat, but not too banana/yeasty. There’s a nice hop bitter that helps to cut through the yeast. (The yeast used is their house yeast, a Belgian strain.)

Hooksett Ale
Nose: Caramel. Sweet malt.
Taste: Malty, with a slight bite to the end.

Wrīgian Belgian-Style Ale with Rye Flakes
Pronounced “Rye-gan”
Nose: Fruity malt aroma. Caramel.
Taste: Malt. Slight rye spice to the back end. Nice little bite to cut the malt.

Oak Aged Tripel
Flavored with rye-soaked oak chips
Nose: Foamy head. Slight sour apple aroma.
Taste: Starts fruity, foamy, with a soft carbonic. Slight spice in the start, changes over to malty mid, with a rye whiskey snap to the finish.

Nose: Dark color. Noses with a dark, malt, some syrup, and a slight roast.
Taste: Smooth and sweet. Malty start, but Belgian yeastiness helps add spice to cut the syrup, without being too mouth-coating. VERY nice.

2nd Anniversary Ale
Flavored with oak chips
Nose: Malty, but with a sweet roasted flavor.
Taste: An open sweetness unusual for a beer. An evaporative sensation opens up the taste, unlike the heavy syrup sensation/mouthfeel that was expected from the malty nose. Maybe it’s a higher alcohol punch (it IS 9% abv) that helps cut through the malt and give a slight evaporation.

So, that did it for the tasting. All Belgian-based, which is not my preference, but certainly some interesting things with rye and oak in the mix.

Live Free or Die!
Yeah, pretty much everyone in NH has a vanity plate. It’s like a law or something.

So, White Birch is about two and a half years old (hence the 2nd Year Anniversary Ale we tasted). Two weeks before our visit, they had moved to their new (current) location, which was previously a car dealership. They’re running a 7 barrel system, which is quite a step up from the 20 gallon system they started with, proudly displayed in the main room. There’s plenty of beer for sale on the giant wall of happiness, and we picked up a Colonial Ale that looked interesting, though we haven’t cracked it yet. Among the beers were some dog treats as well, made from the spent brewing grain and some peanut butter. As we were snooping around, pickup trucks were drag-racing from the traffic lights on Rt 28/Rt 3/Hooksett Rd. Yeah, Hooksett is that kind of place.

Yup. Toooootally a former car dealership.

So. That was the White Birch experience. If you live up that way, or are making a road trip, stop by.
Beware of bears!

Soused in SanFran – Part 3: SFO D2 Magnolia

This here is Part Three of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.
For Part 1, make the clicking to here.

I’ll try to break these up a bit more for readability and sanity. Mostly my sanity.

Also, we’ve just gotten to Friday morning, so Sissy, you’re going to have to hold tight.
We’ll get to your part.


Friday’s first booze stop and lunch destination was the Magnolia Pub and Brewery, which, from the reviews I’d read, was highly recommended for both their food and beers. We hoofed it through the little “Panhandle” park and uphill to the corner of Haight and Masonic, dangerously close to Hippieville. However, it was around 11 or so, and the flower children weren’t out in full force yet, though a couple street urchins lounged about on the sidewalks nearby.

Once inside, we found refuge from the great unwashed hordes lurking on the streets, and discovered a rather aged decorating scheme to the pub. Antique patina-ed mirrors, a mosaic tiled floor, dubiously murky ceiling stains, chalkboard menus and lots of dark, heavy wood create an old-timey steampunk vibe that was a refreshing change from the shiny new brewpubs that lack the charm of their time-ravaged brethren.

Pictured: character.

Two things immediately hit us in the face when we walked in: steam, and the overpowering smell of barley malt. The temperature in the place had to be at least 75°, which felt tropical compared to the crisp autumn climate outside and entirely fogging the windows. If there were any doubts about this place being the real deal, the boiling wort under the floor made a persuasive argument. We sat at the bar and ordered a couple beer samplers from the bartender, Sal, who was extremely friendly, and looked like he was Zach Braff’s cousin. There were nine house-brewed beers on draft that day, so the Lady Friend and I split the list to get a taste of each. The flight includes six beers of your choice, which come in a unique, triangular-shaped, wooden tray of sorts, and your selections are thoughtfully written down on a little postcard. There were some interesting brews here, outside of the standard pale ale/ IPA/ stout offerings of most brewers.

Plus, they’ve won some medals. BEER medals.

Rosebud Belgian Ale
Nose: Similar to my bottle of Meletti Amaro. Sweet, with some eucalyptus and menthol.
Taste: Fizzy, carbonic bite. Mild, soothing flavor. A little cinnamon, a little wheat. Sweet.

Barking Pumpkin Pumpkin Ale
Poured VERY dark, almost like a stout. Very dark ale.
Nose: Pumpkin spicy with a roast quality. A sickly sweet roast that the Lady Friend pegged as “pecan pie.” Molasses.
Taste: Pumpkin spice start, eases to a bitter roasted bite in the middle.

Proving Ground IPA
100 IBU! Hopped with Simcoe, Stirling, Cascade and Washington.
Nose: Lovely hop! Citrusy sweetness.
Taste: Bitter, then sweet, then bitter, then sweet. A hectic jumbled start, eases to a resinous grapefruit bitter that lingers. Frenzied and awesome.

Dark Star Mild
Nose: English style malty bitter, like an English bitter ale. Roasted with some slight chocolate underneath.
Taste: BITTER roast on tongue. A strange sweetness I couldn’t put my finger on. Not milky, but some vanilla, with a mocha coffee finish. Couldn’t quite pin down that sweetness though. Intriguing.

Weekapaug Gruit
Had to ask about this one… a gruit is an herbal mixture for bittering beer without using hops. This one contained yarrow, rosemary, chamomile and anise.
Nose: Herbal. Eye-opening. Again, eucalyptus and cough medicine, as in an amaro. Roasted malt underneath.
Taste: Sweet. Herbal succulent. Lady Friend got potpourri, while I went with amaro, and Sal agreed with me on this. Very strange, and would be a good digestif. Don’t know that I would enjoy a whole pint, but very glad I tasted this one.

Blue Bell Bitter
Nose: No discernible nose. SLIGHT cereal sweet, though there was quite a bit of barley aroma in the air which made our nosing rather difficult. The tall highball style glasses helped funnel some scent out of the beers, but even with a good swirl, I couldn’t get anything out of this one.
Taste: Nice hop bitter start. Eases to a watery malt wash. Nice and mild. Very drinkable.

There was a bit of overlap in the lists, and we both had the Rosebud, Barking Pumpkin and Proving Ground IPA. These are the other three that were in the Lady Friend’s flight.

Long Break Bitter
Nose: Nice citrus hop. Lady Friend got some apple. Poured with a nice yellow straw color.
Taste: Mild hop bite. Carbonic. Clean. Light and refreshing with a hint of lemon.

New Speedway Bitter
Nose: Sweet. Light barley – not like a heavy malt aroma. Cereal grain, fruit.
Taste: Cereal sweet. None of the heavy malt syrup.

Kalifornia Kölsch
Nose: Cereal sweet. Typical Kölsch, with a slight pils staleness.
Taste: Slight sharp bitter, but otherwise light and clean.

Somewhere in the midst of our tasting, we perused the menu, which was very artfully designed and crafted. Seriously, it was really nice, without being over the top. Totally fit with the rest of the aesthetic of the pub… an elegant vintage style with a patina of dust and years of service. The menu fare itself was apparently brand new, as they had recently changed their food offerings. I delighted in a fried chicken sandwich, which was moist, lightly fried and tasty, served on a soft, fresh baguette (we literally saw the bread guy carrying in bags of baguettes) with gooey melted cheese and salty fries. It really was excellent. Fresh and delicious. They Lady Friend decided to test out the gastropub leanings of the place, ordering a grilled cheese made with goat cheese, mushrooms and kale.

We both immensely enjoyed our meals, and eavesdropped on the bar staff’s conversations involving one of the customers across the room. Apparently, the customer had ordered a Snakebite, which is a half-and-half concoction of lager and cider. There was a mild debate amongst the staff as to how to make it, with one of the servers arguing that it specifically had to be half pilsner. It was a moot point, as the bar won’t even serve it. They will give you two beers and let you mix it yourself, but for reasons that weren’t quite clear, they won’t make it for you. It probably has been shown to cause cancer and birth defects, just like everything else in California. These stupid signs were in every bar, and I was surprised the next day when there wasn’t a placard in the shower telling me that water increases the risk of drowning.

Silly regulations aside, Magnolia was fantastic. Of course, we were there for an early lunch, so I have no idea what the usual scene is like, on a Friday night for example. They really did live up to their gastropub claims, without being douchy about it. Our bartender Sal was very friendly and helpful, and unless they’re pumping in fake steam and barley smell, it’s a true brewpub. Go there.

Sidenote: For New Englanders, you CAN get a Snakebite at the Coat of Arms pub in downtown Portsmouth, NH. After you’ve had a few, go across the street to the infamous Gilley’s and get some wonderfully greasy diner food served in an old dining cart.

Mayflower Brewery

Mini road trip! This weekend’s adventure was a trek down Route 3 to Plymouth, MA, for a tour of the Mayflower Brewery and some bar-hopping in downtown Plymouth. One of my former coworkers lives down there, and is always up for shenanigans in town, though I’m fond of saying that Plymouth is a 45 minute drive from everywhere. The Lady Friend and I had been to Mayflower for their open house back in May, and got to sample the full range of beers then. However, we’re always up for a repeat performance, and this time I’d get to document it properly.

Actually nicer than most brewery locations.

We met up with the coworker, Tresstastic, and her boyfriend at her apartment, and pounded a quick Sam Octoberfest before heading over the the brewery, meeting up with two other friends. Mayflower, like most breweries, is located in an industrial park. It’s hard to spot, so keep an eye out for the delivery trucks parked next to the building. As soon as I walked in the door, the Man Behind the Bar asked “Hey… Man with the Camera… are you from somewhere important?” No, but I like to pretend. Then, the girl working there said “Hey… I recognize you…” Yup. Getting recognized at breweries. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing. Like the liquor store near my apartment that stopped carding me long ago. It’s nice, but probably not a good sign for the future of my liver.

There is a bit of a story to that one. Back in May when LF and I were at the Open House, we hung around the bar area towards the end and chatted with the staff, one of which was the girl working this weekend, Sarah. She swore I had been there before, even though I had never been to Mayflower. Apparently I have a doppleganger, because she insisted it was me, or someone who looked exactly like me that had been in there about two weeks before. I made some comment about having to hunt him down because THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE. Anyway, apparently either I made an impression, or my doppleganger is still lurking about Mayflower Brewery, since Sarah remembered meeting me before.

Like most breweries now, Mayflower has a tasting room/retail area front, including some bar tables and small seating area, while the actual brewery lies down a small hallway into the back warehouse section. We were pretty much the only ones in the place, which made it nice and casual for our tour. Before beginning, we started with a beer. “Can’t take a tour without a beer in your hand,” remarked Man Behind the Bar, as he poured a sample of the Golden Ale for each of us. We headed into the back, and Sarah started the tour.

This is where rainbows and dreams are born.

The usual: blah blah blah, beer beer beer. Mix grain with water and hops, boil it up, add yeast, and let it sit and ferment. Here’s some of the interesting bits about Mayflower: the founder, Drew, is a 10th generation descendant of a man named John Alden, who was the cooper (barrelmaker) on the Mayflower. Yes, that one. Why is that important? Well, the cooper was responsible for building and maintaining all the barrels stowed on the ship during the voyage. Yeah, those weren’t water barrels either… they were full of beer. Water wasn’t very clean in those days, and most people drank healthy, nourishing and refreshing beer all day long. Even kids. Especially kids. Gin wouldn’t become the drink of choice until a bit later. Anyway, the story goes that the Mayflower was destined for Virginia, but ran into Cape Cod instead, and decided to land because they were out of beer. Not finding any suitable fresh water (it was pretty stagnant on the Cape) they set off again and landed in Plymouth, where they found an adequate supply of fresh water, which is the same source used to make Mayflower Brewing’s beers today. The founder, Drew, got tired of being retired, and started up Mayflower in 2007 which is currently a 2,000bbl facility. Pretty good for a four-year-old place.

So, we poked around and gawked at their grist mill, mash tun, fermenters and runoff buckets bubbling happily with C02-and-wort foam released from the top of the fermenters. Bubbling gunk means fermentation, and fermentation means alcohol! Go little yeasties, go! As usual, I was snapping pics for the duration leading Sarah to chide “What ARE you taking pictures of?” However, the first time I pointed the lens in her general direction, she jumped as if scalded with boiling hot mag-ma. The main room is all one unit where the fermentation tanks take center stage. Some time ago, Mayflower expanded into the next room where their shiny new Italian-made bottler lurks. It’s a two or three person operation and will bottle both 12 oz bottles and 22 oz bombers. Mayflower has 15 employees, including a couple of delivery drivers. The brewery cranks out four year-round beers and one rotating seasonal, plus a few elusive experimental bottles of their Thanksgiving beer, which changes every year.

Ciao Italia! A working bottler! Kind of need someplace to put all that beer.

That’s enough touring… time for TASTING.

We congregated back in the front room and lined up at the bar. Taps were pulled, and mighty beer plunged forth. Mayflower gives you some decently generous samples, in the 4-5oz range served in mini-pint tasting glasses. They serve lightest to darkest, and everything is deliciously free. Free beer always tastes better. Especially when it’s fresh.

Golden Ale
We started off with the Golden Ale to sip during the tour. Mine didn’t make it past the grist mill.
Nose: Light, with a bit of malty cereal sweetness
Taste: Mild hop with a nice malt balance. Light and refreshing. Almost lager-like.

Pale Ale
Now, I first had this back in May at the Open House. I’d had the IPA many times before, and enjoyed it, but tasting the pale ale was my real flash-of-lightning “A-HA” moment. The trick is, in many breweries, the pale ale doesn’t really have much presence, and the IPA is a real hop bomb. There’s no similarity. With Mayflower, the pale ale tastes like a lighter version of the IPA. You can really taste the progression from one to the next. I had never experienced that before, and it was wonderful.
Nose: A mild hoppy nose. Definite aroma, but not too strong.
Taste: Deliciously hoppy bitter. Mayflower leans towards the English style ales, with a more bitter hop, but their brews are very well-balanced.

India Pale Ale
I’ve had this many many times, but still not as often as I should. Harpoon usually wins my purchase for a local IPA due to the convenience and price, but I really do need to make an effort to buy Mayflower more often. I’m not saying it’s better, but, well, yeah, it’s better.
Nose: Sweet, tree fruit. It reminded Lady Friend of a Citra hop, though not as strong. They use a combination of Nugget, Simcoe, Amarillo and Glacier hops, with the Simcoe and Amarillo in particular adding citrus aromas.
Taste: Yum. Bitter hop up front, malt sweet rushes in with a sweet clean slight fruitness, then leaves a dry hop bitterness lingering. So. Good.

Autumn Wheat (Seasonal)
This is the, well, autumn seasonal. LF and I had the Summer Rye back in May, and this is described as an American Dark Wheat beer. Interesting. Also of note: the next seasonal will be an Oatmeal Stout. We’ll have to visit again in winter.
Nose: Very roasted and malty. Don’t really get any of the yeasty/ wheaty banana smells as in a Belgian Wit.
Taste: Roasted bitter. Malted sweetness. There’s a slight nuttiness, due to the roast, but a rounder sweetness from the wheat. Very nice. Again, not overpowering, and well-balanced.

A great Porter. Lady Friend liked it so much after our trip in May that she’s purchased it several times since. This is a girl who about 10 months ago preferred Coors Light.
Nose: Coffee bitter. Not much sweetness.
Taste: Roasted. Bitter roast. I’m not a coffee fan, but I’ll drink this. If you ARE a coffee drinker, you’ll love this. There’s not a whole lot of chocolate in there, but there is a touch.

While chitchatting with Sarah and The Man Behind the Bar, I eventually found out that his name was Mike, and he also has a blog, cunningly titled “The Best Beer Blog.” And here I am stuck with “Squirrel Farts.” Shucks. We discussed the hassles and happiness of writing blogs about alcohol, and I showed him the magical scam of free business cards. Finally, the rest of the group grouped and grew restless, and they dragged me away. We dropped the car back at the apartment and cabbed it over to the Main Street Grill in downtown Plymouth for dinner, where the Lady Friend waited way too long for some turkey tips (they were comped) and I scored a 22oz “Main Street Brew” for a paltry $3.50. She had something Octobery with a sugared rim. After the foodening, a quick saunter around the corner brought us to the British Beer Company. This was a goal of mine for some lovely imported brews (I was obliged to take a draught of Fuller’s London Pride pale ale, or, as it’s ordered in London, a “Pint ‘o Pride”) and cozy leather wingback chairs in their upstairs lounge. Too comfortable in fact, since the group lost its momentum, and we all decided that the adventure was flickering out. No matter; the trip was a rousing success, and even ended with some ice cream for the Lady Friend and I before returning to the Bastion of Beer, Squirrel Farts Headquarters.

The Monday Hangover: Oct 8-9

The Monday Hangover:
Other drink adventures of note from the weekend.

Following a trip to Curtis Liquors, I returned home with a sample pack of Mercury Brewing Ipswich Ales, including their Original Ale, Summer Ale, and IPA. I cracked an IPA (very nice, decently hoppy, but not out of control) before cocktail time. I finished the evening with an impulse buy, a Baltika Batch 9 lager.

Ok, the story here is that I saw what I swear was a plastic two litre bottle of this beer on the shelf. (UPDATE: Apparently it’s a 1.5l plastic bottle) For about $4. I almost bought it, because a) it’s 2l of beer for $4 and b) it was probably FANTASTICALLY horrifying. Then I noticed a pint bottle (this one was actually glass) on the shelf below for about $2, and decided that was a better idea. I took a closer look at the label and found that it was from St. Petersburg, Russia (awesome potential for a horror show) and that it was an 8% abv lager. Yikes. Bring it on. It smelled quite fruity, with a hint of alcohol to it, but tasted surprisingly pleasant. I was expecting much much worse, and was actually a bit disappointed that it was so drinkable. Best comparison? A malt liquor forty. It’s got that fruity, over-boozed taste to it, like they took a cheap lager and upped the abv with some grain spirit. I might very well go back for that giant plastic bottle.

Saturday began with a recon trip to Bin Ends, a new-ish liquor store in Braintree, near the South Shore Plaza mall. They deal mainly in wine, but also have a very nice craft beer selection (including the entire lineup of Clown Shoes brews) and an interesting offering of spirits. The staff was very nice and knowledgeable, and I snagged a Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp, and their new release, Muffin Top. I was also intrigued by something that caught my eye right at the front register; several bottles by Meletti, including a sambuca, and anisette, and an amaro. As I was explaining to the Lady Friend what an amaro is (a bitter Italian liqueur, used as an aperitif, or digestif), the clerk seemed impressed that I knew what I was talking about. I wound up buying the bottle of amaro as my bottle of the month (the way I build my bar is to budget myself to one new bottle of liquor per month). I usually aim for under $30, and the amaro clocked in at a very reasonable $18 (a 750mL bottle of Campari, a very well-known amaro, will run around $30 in MA). The Lady Friend wound up with a bomber of Unibroue’s Trois Pistoles, a Belgian strong dark ale she had enjoyed at one of Irish Lad & Wifey’s gatherings, some bottle of Malbec wine, and an inexpensive sparkling for further sabering adventures. Bin Ends was a score… great product, knowledgeable and friendly staff.

Following lunch, (with an Ipswich Summer Ale) we ventured into the city to feed the squirrels on Boston Common. Lady Friend was meeting a friend for dinner and a concert near Fenway, so we decided to lounge around the city for the afternoon, weather permitting. It wound up being above 80°, strange even for a New England October weekend. We packed a few travelers, the Clown Shoes Tramp Stamp, and a Bear Republic Racer 5, storing the amber nectar into some Nestea bottles for inconspicuous consumption in the park. Apparently, the police had their hands full dealing with some other dbags that day, so we sipped our cold tea in peace among the bucolic splendor of the Land of Squirrels.

Once Lady Friend departed for her rendezvous, I spent some more time among the bushy-tailed rodents enjoying my buzz until I hopped the T up to Somerville to visit the Irish Lad and Wifey. She picked me up from Davis Sq. and we opened a bottle of prosecco back at the homestead. Did I say opened? Rather, we sabered it off. Tee hee. A glass of bubbly was enjoyed before the Irish Lad joined, and I suggested he try a Black Velvet. We mixed the prosecco with a can of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout with very pleasant results. Better than Guinness, as there is an added element of the dark chocolate taste, nicely cut by the fruity wine. Irish Lad was a bit apprehensive at first, but then agreed that it was indeed a tasty tipple.

From there, we moved to a bottle of his recent homebrew, a hoppy brown ale. It nosed with a lot of hop, and tasted the same. There was a slight element of malty brown ale in the finish, but not quite enough, in my opinion. Since the brew has been bottle conditioning for about two weeks, we decided that with further conditioning, the overpowering hop would likely mellow, leaving a better balance in the taste. I got two bottles to bring home, which are currently fermenting further in the cabinet under my kitchen counter.

Lastly, he broke out a bottle of Harpoon 100 Barrel Series, #38 Dôcesná, which I found to be somewhat unpleasant. This seems to be a trend with the 100 Barrel Series, as we intensely disliked the Rye IPA. The Oyster Stout, however, is excellent. This Dôcesná creature poured medium dark, almost like a German dunkel, and smelled of Czech pils staleness. The taste was right in there as well, with a pils rubbery cardboard presence, and a slight dark maltiness to the finish. Ugh.

The Lady Friend and I reconvened the next day for lunch at the Union Brewhouse. We did some more work on our 99 beer lists, and she opted for an Opa Opa Pumpkin (Cask) Ale, while I started with a Hoegaarden Wit-Blanch, a very popular Belgian white ale. Second was a Lexington Brewing Kentucky Ale, tasty, though a bit forgettable, and lastly a Coastal Extreme Newport Storm Summer Ale, which is nicely hopped for a summer, and some call it an IPA.

Being Columbus Day, I had Monday off, and spent a good deal of it watching Ken Burns’ documentary “Prohibition,” while tasting an Ipswich Original Ale with lunch, finishing out the trio from Mercury Brewing. Dinner brought forth a Williams Brothers Joker IPA, and a post-meal tasting of the Meletti Amaro. More on that to come. Another drinktastic weekend drowned in intoxicants. Excellent.

‘CuseQuest Bonus Round: Albany Pump Station

Ok, I’ve got to get this out of the way right now.

That song goes through my head every time I think of the name “Albany Pump Station.”

Pump it up
A little more
Get your body moving on the dance floor

Have I started yet?
I have?

The Lady Friend and I departed Beeracuse and headed to the wondrous Capital Region to meet up with some friends of mine just outside of Albany (actually outside of Schenectady, a town with the most ridiculous name… Niskayuna, not easy to type into a gps while on the Thruway). We got to see the newly-relocated Casey Sage, a golden retriever who loses her furry little mind every time she sees me, and the resident pooch, Rosie, a black lab. Critter Count: 12! Five of us (humans) went to the Albany Pump Station for some grub, and a beer tasting for me. Sadly, the pups stayed home (in separate rooms; they get into mischief together).

The Albany Pump Station, formerly the Quackenbush Pumping Station, was used to pump Albany municipal water from the Hudson River. A guy named Neil Evans bought the building in 1999 to build a brewhouse, bringing his family back into the brewing world. The Evanseseses had started a brewery way way back in 1786 in Hudson, NY, but, like everybody else, got closed down by Prohibition in 1920. According to their website, they were quite popular, even exporting to England and France. They also boast one of the country’s first bottling facilities in 1889, and even malted their own grain. The Pump Station is a solid two story brick building; very cool and industrial looking. Two giant cranes still hang inside and were used to haul the brew tanks up to the second floor, where they now sit making gallons of bubbling happiness.

It was certainly a cool place, and hopefully the beers would hold up. I’ve been let down before, but Albany Pump Station (C.H. Evans Brewing Company) more than rose to the challenge. I was the only one in our group to tackle the eight (8!) beer sampler for a very reasonable $7, though the other male with us stepped up and had a hefeweizen. Before the food came, I got to wander around and take a few shots. They opened up the main dining area by cutting away most of the second story, and you can look down on the whole place from the upper mezzanine.

Hi, BBack!

The group consisted of my friend from Maine, BBack, who had just moved to the area for a teaching job. Her twin sister, and the twin’s husband had been living in Cambridge for awhile before moving to Albany a couple years ago. BBack’s husband is the owner/operator of previously mentioned Blue Line Apiary in Maine, and he’s due to follow to NYState soon. Naturally, the Lady Friend was present as well.

When the beers came I scuttled back downstairs to start the sampling. The group was somewhat intrigued that I go to the trouble of taking notes, though Lady Friend was all too used to my nonsense and wasn’t fazed in the slightest.

Scottish Light
Described on the beer list as “an amber hue and short finish.”
Just like me!
…wait, what?
Nose: Sweet cereal, barley, with a slight cherry fruit
Taste: Cereal. Barley. Very refreshing.

Quackenbush Blonde
…I knew a Quackenbush blonde once…
Nose: No discernible aroma
Taste: Cheerios! Also had a light, floral hop flavor.

Smoked Hefeweizen
Nose: Banana wheat hefe smell. Slight smokiness. Everyone else smelled much more smoke than I did.
Taste: Cinnamon/ clove with a slight smoke finish. Not bad for a hefe.

Doc’s Pear Cider
They were out of the Belgian-style strong ale, and BBack wanted to try the pear cider, so I requested this as a substitute. A good choice.
Nose: Um. It smells exactly how you would expect pear cider to smell. Sweet and pear-y.
Taste: Light and crispy. Nice pear flavor with a touch of tart sweetness. Lip smacking. Very tasty. I am not generally a fan of pear flavors, or cider in general, but this was really good. After my taste, BBack drank the rest and I was sorry to see it go.

Belgian-style Dubble with Cherries
Nose: Mild, dark cherry aroma
Taste: Belgian wheaty texture, though no banana flavor. A tart, cherry syrup sensation with a malty roast.

Oatmeal Stout
Nose: Roasted malt. Slight sweetness detected.
Taste: Nice bitter roasted flavor. Dark and malty. Delicious.

Kick-Ass Brown
Nose: Sweet, with a hint of lemon fruit.
Taste: Malty with some lemon. Smooth. Low carbonated mouthfeel. VERY nice flavors. More going on here than a regular brown.

Pump Station Pale
(Amarillo Hop)
Nose: Piney hop aroma, though not overpowering. Some tree fruit juiciness.
Taste: Very nice. Bitter hop balanced well with the malt sweet. Yum.

Our food came as I was finishing up the tastings, and everyone was impressed with the size of the sandwiches. Very tasty, and good fries. The New Yorkers picked up the check for my birthday (thanks!) and Lady Friend and I hit the Thruway back to Boston, battling traffic and downpours the whole way back turning an easy cruise into a demolition derby. We made it back unscathed, unloaded our precious cargo, and I finally got to sleep in my own bed of awesomeness. I declare the ‘CuseQuest completed!

Treasures from the journey!

Upta Potlind, Paht 1: Gritty McDuff’s

This is Part One of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011.

It’s summah time up dere in Maine, ayuh. The ol’ Lady Friend and I ventured north to the City of Portland, ME (Pot-lind) for another round of dastardly drinkable destinations. Apparently you CAN get there from here. We got into town around 11am, and after a brief, nauseating look around the touristy shops in the Old Port, headed into our first stop: Gritty McDuff’s brewpub.

Gritty’s is exactly what a brewpub should be: good pub food, a large bar, tasty beers and lots of dark wood. It shouldn’t look like a dance club, it should look like a refuge from the sober cubicle drone world outside. It should have personality. And lots of beer.

Pictured: lots of beer.

Gritty’s had a flight of seven beers offered, which was great. Most places have about five. The food was good too; I had a chicken sangwich, and Lady Friend had some sandwich with silly green vegetable thingys. Ew.

Vacationland Summer Ale
Nose: Beer. Light hop aroma.
Taste: Slight bitter. Light and refreshing.
Not much aroma or flavor, but very drinkable.

Um. That’s all I’ve got.

Original Pub Style Ale
Nose: No discernible aroma. I tried. I really did.
Taste: Light cereal barley start. Cereal sweet.
Mild hop bitter finish. Well balanced, tasty.

VERY nicely done. This one impressed me. Yum.

Black Fly Stout
Nose: Roast, slightly bitter. Weak aroma.
Taste: VERY creamy mouthfeel. Roasted barley, slight bitter.

Smooth. Good. More.

Red Claws Ale
Nose: Weak, malty-copper aroma.
Taste: Rubbery taste. A touch of metallic copper, but not much. Watery finish. Flushes palate.

Sorry about the shot. There’s no beer in that glass. I picked myself a bouquet of whoopsie-dasies.

21 IPA
Nose: Sweet, a little fruity. Apple.
Taste: Malty sweet with tree fruit. Nectarine/ peach/ apple. Very reminiscent of a Citra hopped IPA.

Mouthwatering finish. Juicy. Slight hop. TASTY.

21 IPA Cask Conditioned (avg 2 weeks)
Nose: Same aroma, but weaker, subdued.
Taste: FRUIT. Nectarine/ pear. Mouthwatery.

Sweet, flat/ low carbonation. A bit syrupy. Excellent.

Best Bitter Cask Conditioned (avg 2 weeks)
Nose: Lighter, fruity. Slight malt.
Taste: Czech Pils taste. Wet paper. Bit of a bitter finish.

Not as stale tasting as a pils. Tasty, but not a flavor powerhouse.

Overall, the beers were great. A couple, like the IPA and the Pub Ale really shone. I was really intrigued by the IPA, since it tasted so much like a Citra hop, and while some beers on the menu had their hops listed (like the stout, strangely) the IPA did not. The waitress said that their brewer was in that day, so I headed downstairs to the second, smaller bar area and brewing setup to ask him a couple questions. Rob, the brewer, was very friendly and helpful, and I wish I could have chatted a bit more, but we had to make the 1pm Allagash tour. He said the IPA was hopped with a combination of Cascade, Warrior and Willamette, giving it that tree-fruity Citra hop-like flavor I had noticed (he was also a fan of Citra). He also said that the cask-conditioned beers are aged at least two weeks, but after that it was just a question of when they were ready to serve.

Gritty’s also has a retail store (brew-tique), but after my brief chat with Rob, we had to book it to Allagash. They also have two other locations, in Freeport and Auburn, and I definitely plan to go back. Gritty’s is pretty common and easy to find in stores in ME, but we also did see some select six-packs in MA after our trip. Unfortunately, it was the Vacationland Summer Ale, which neither Lady Friend nor I thought was the best of the bunch. Maybe it’s because it was the first stop, and we were eager and fresh-palated, but I thought that Gritty’s was great. Go there.

Sidenote: Seeking shelter from a Maine monsoon, we stopped in again later that evening (a Friday night), and it was a much younger, louder crowd. Pretty packed. It is in the Old Port section downtown, so I’m sure it’s a popular gathering place, but just as a heads up, it’s a completely different vibe at night.

Next stop: Allagash Brewing

Beercation 2011: Part 2, Switchback Brewery

This is Part Two of an ongoing series chronicling the Grand Beercation of July 2011. For Part One, click here.

I don’t know why I put an exclamation point there.
It just seemed right.

Ok. I had never heard of Switchback before this trip, but it was one of the breweries in Burlington, so we went to check it out. It’s also listed on the Burlington Brew Tours package (apparently Lady Friend and I hit all these destinations on our own journey). Founded in 2002, they’re a small-ish brewery located within a warehouse in an industrial section of Burlington, which reminded Lady Friend of our visit to Mayflower Brewery in Plymouth, MA. They don’t seem to have an actual website, but do have a Facebook page here. Their tours are by appointment only, but it seemed like you could get away with just showing up, as several people did during the course of our tour. Several arrived at the end of the tour during the tasting; whether this was intentional or not, I don’t know.

We arrived about 10 minutes before our 2pm tour. Parking was a bit of an issue, as parking is along the street, but only between the signs. Someone helpfully wrote on one of the “No Parking” signs “$50 fine,” and we saw at least one vehicle with a bright orange ticket. Just up the street is a park by the water, so on a nice day getting a spot might be an issue. Once we got to the building, we couldn’t figure out how to get in. Around the left of the building, there is an glass door office entrance, which was locked. Don’t bother to call, since they won’t pick up the phone on weekends. Turns out, the brewery entrance is on the right side, just as you enter the lot. It happened to be sandwiched between two large delivery trucks, otherwise it’d be plain as day.

Once inside, we listened to our tour guide (I didn’t catch her name) give the usual ale auditory (lager lecture?) about the creation of beer, which if you’ve ever been to a brewery tour, you’ve heard. A few interesting things about Switchback: their fermenters are custom made to height, and clear one of the ceiling beams by about an inch. They had to punch holes in the roof to install the caps on top because they built them as big as they possibly could.

We’re going to need a bigger roof.

Their beautiful copper brew kettles came from a defunct brewery in Germany.

As a bonus, they got copies of the plans for the kettles from their original home in Germany, and are framed on the wall.

…and a cool copper control panel with fun German beer words like Läutergefäß, Vorwärmer, and Wassermischer.

It was sweltering up next to the kettles (which weren’t even cooking) while we were listening to the brewing process explanation. Of course, this being Burlington, some goddamn smelly dreadlocked hippie douchbag kept asking questions that the tour guide had just finished answered two minutes before. I’d lock him in the lauter tun to roast, but you’d never get the taste of weed and hacky sack out of the mash. Hippies bring out my inner Cartman.

You can dry hop with patchouli.

Switchback is somewhat small, and produces an unfiltered amber ale, simply called Switchback Ale, as their primary product. Their second brew varies depending on season, and when we visited, they had the Roasted Red Ale. After sampling both, I found them to be very unassuming and drinkable. Not quite bland, but just didn’t stand out as anything particularly memorable. They have a small merchandise selection, and I snagged a pint glass for a reasonable $4. Free bumper stickers were offered, but no tasting glasses. Switchback is available on draught only; they do not bottle, they only keg their product. We saw it on tap at a couple other bars throughout Burlington, and they claim to distribute into NY and NH, but I’ve never seen it (not that I had been looking for it). It was a good beer, but nothing I’d seek out specifically. I’d be more willing to order it if I happened to see it on tap, to support a small craft brewery with a decent product.

Passport stamp number two: Switchback. Next up, Part 3, Magic Hat.

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