Posts Tagged ‘beer’

Drinking My Way Back to Beer Camp

I’ll be drinking my way back to Beer Camp
With a burn-ing love insiiiiiiide

So Beer Camp is a thing. Specifically a nation-wide invite to all craft brewers to join a seven-city tour of brewfests put on by Sierra Nevada. Guess where the New England stop is? No, really, guess.


So yeah. The Lady Friend and I will certainly be attending. Now I don’t feel bad about skipping the ACBF this year.

As a happy bonus, Sierra Nevada brewed 12 collaboration beers with some of the craft breweries on the tour, and put them in a mixed pack. Which is awesome. Oh, and a Sierra Nevada dIPA bomber.

I’m gonna drink them all. And tell you about it. Good? Good.


Also, all of these are collaborations with Sierra Nevada and some other brewery. I don’t want to type “Sierra Nevada & …” 12 more times, so I’ll only be listing these with the collaborator (collaboratee?) brewery.

drinkingtobeercamp_torpedoFirestone Walker Torpedo Pilsner
Hoppy Pilsner, 5.2% abv
Pils are kind of hit or miss for me. I think a hoppy one from FW will be quite delicious.

Nose: Pils cereal grain. Slight sour twinge. Hint of cardboard/latex, but not to the extent of a lot of pils. Smells FRESH.

Taste: Sour/cardboard/latex more prevalent in the taste. Nobel hop style bitter, as would be expected from a classic pils. Some clean grain flavors, but it gets lost in those grassy hops.

Lady Friend: “The smell is kind of cereal and a little bit lemony. It tasted cereal grainy, with some grass and hay-like flavors. Not bad for the style.”

drinkingtobeercamp_yvanRussian River Yvan the Great
Belgian-style Blonde, 6.3% abv
I was very excited for the Russian River offering (makers of the legendary Pliny the Elder and/or Younger if you can get it, which you won’t/can’t) but a bit disappointed to find that it’s a Belgian Blonde. First time I’ve been disappointed by a Belgian Blonde. However, it’s Russian River, so the beer will likely be amazing, even if it’s not my favorite style. Can’t get RR on the East Coast (to my knowledge).

Nose: Fruity. Strawberry, cherry, tart, with a little tropical citrus. Oooh. Neat.

Taste: That fruity nose comes through in the beginning of the taste… a sweet yet tart flavor which turns a touch sour in the middle. Finishes more on the wheaty/Belgian side, with a slight banana clove and vinegar tart. There’s almost a hint of watermelon in there as well. I generally don’t like these beers, but I like THIS beer. Complex yet approachable. Lovely.

Lady Friend: “The smell was tropical fruit, honey, and apples. Tastes mango, pineapple, honey. Tasted fresh and crisp, but tart. Like the last one, not bad ‘for the style.’ A little more complex than I picture most of the Belgian blondes being. It helps greatly that I can tell it’s fresh.”

drinkingtobeercamp_myronAllagash Myron’s Walk
Belgian-style (duh) Pale Ale, 5.3% abv
Portland’s own Allagash makes the cut with, not surprisingly, a Belgian-style pale ale. It’s kinda what they do, and they do it well.

Nose: Light aroma. Belgian wheaty/clove, a touch of herbs, and a lemon/orange/floral lilt. Some pine hop in there, but as a secondary aroma, not hop-forward.

Taste: Light flavor as well, but tasty nonetheless. Slight Belgian smooth intro, with an easy sour/bitter hop. There’s an almost light savory quality in there. Fresh grain in the middle rolls through the finish. Exceedingly drinkable. Does not even taste like 5.3% abv; rather it’s more like a session. I suspect this will be too weak for Belgian lovers, but I think it’s got a lot of nice flavor in a light package.

Lady Friend: “Surprisingly hoppy. Honey sweet. Taste is cereal grain with a bit of hop bitterness, finishes honey sweet. I like it. I’m glad I like the local presentation. Now that I’m thinking about it, it doesn’t taste like a typical Allagash. I guess that would be the collaboration with Sierra Nevada. It’s been my favorite of the bunch so far.”

drinkingtobeercamp_altVictory Alt Route
Altbier, 6.6% abv
I don’t know what to expect from this one. Not a clue. I’ve had altbiers before, but they tend to vary. Regardless, I’m expecting a malty experience.

Nose: Smells… malty. Yup. Fall leaves, maple syrup, damp wood, and a citrus sensation floating on top.

Taste: Malty, but with a sharp, bitter hop that helps cut the syrup. Not too heavy of a mouthfeel. Well balanced; though there is a sharp contrast between the dark malt and bright grassy hop, they cancel each other out quite well. This is another beer that is not something I would seek out, but this particular example is done quite well. Suggested pairings: cool, early fall evening, campfire, hooded sweatshirt, and s’mores.

Lady Friend: “The smell was caramel malt. Taste was molasses, caramel, malt… chewy. It was ok, but I’m not a fan of this style anyway. Probably my least favorite so far. I don’t love really malty beers. It’s ok… I don’t dislike it, but…”

drinkingtobeercamp_thereandbackNew Glarus There and Back
English-style bitter, 5.6% abv
New Glarus is famous for making great beers in southern Wisconsin. And refusing to sell them anywhere else but Wisconsin. So this is a pretty big deal. You probably won’t find Russian River on the East Coast, but you WILL NOT find New Glarus anywhere else but Wisconsin. Those cheese-eating bastards are hoarding it all.

Nose: Slightly fruity malt aroma. Not much else. Not much else I’d expect from an ESB. There’s also someone in the neighborhood cooking on a charcoal grill, so that’s become a factor. Full disclosure. Because you care. Is anyone still out there?

Taste: Yup. It’s English. Got some of that chewy English style yeast, but not with the Ringwood esters like Shipyard and Geary’s beers. Malty sweet, but clean, not too sticky. Perfect for the style. This needs a dark pub and unintelligible accents. And I don’t mean Wisconsin accents. Oh ya dere hey.

Lady Friend: “Smell: it wasn’t a strong smell, but I got a slight fruitiness. Taste: smooth, like a copper penny, amber-like. A little honey sweet. It’s well balanced, but not as ‘bitter’ as expected. I’m used to Red Hook ESB, and this wasn’t really similar. But I still like it a lot. I could definitely drink a pint of this, especially with dinner.”

drinkingtobeercamp_chico3 Floyd’s Chico King
Pale Ale, 6.5% abv
3 Floyd’s makes some great beers, and I’m looking forward to a hoppy adventure with this one.

Nose: Ok, we’re back to normal here. This smells like a straightforward hoppy pale ale. Decent malt sweet, and a citrus spicy hop.

Taste: Yup. Hoppy. Spice hop tingle, then quick transition to malty middle. Finish is on the dry side, with that spice lingering. Very normal, very nice.

Lady Friend: “Smells like Froot Loops. Taste: smooth and fruity. I like it. I could drink a lot more of this.”

drinkingtobeercamp_CANfusionOskar Blues Canfusion
Rye Bock, 7.2% abv
The 12-pack has 10 bottles and two cans; the Lady Friend and I were trying to guess what the OTHER can was, assuming one would be Oskar Blues. They were one of the first craft brewers to can rather than bottle their beer, which has certainly become more popular. I’m hoping the rye bite cuts through some malt in this bock.

Nose: Fruity and malty. Sweet, but not syrupy, with an earthy quality. Definitely smells like toasted rye grain, with an almost raspberry-like aroma to the malt.

Taste: Certainly malty, but with a strawberry/raspberry sweetness, rather than just liquid caramel. There still is that toffee flavor, but not as heavy as expected. More fruit than spice from the rye malt. Very nice and unexpected.

Lady Friend: “I don’t have a whole lot to say about it. Smelled slighty sour with a tiny bit of hoppy pine. Tasted kind of metallic with some cereal grain. That’s all I came up with. My mind is not sharp tonight.”

drinkingtobeercamp_yonderCigar City Yonder Bock
Tropical Maibock, 7.7% abv
It’s the second can! “Tropical” and “maibock” are not two words that I’ve ever seen together. One implies equatorial rainforest, palm trees, and parrots. I would also accept monkeys. The other is a German spring beer named after a goat. So, yeah, this will be interesting.

Nose: Yeeaarruuugh. This is… stinky. Damp, dead leaves, rotting wood, mud. A farmhouse aroma, but after a late fall rainstorm. There is a slight citrus fruit sweetness, but it’s not as apparent as the stinkmalt. This smells like a goat.

Taste: Doesn’t taste like a goat. Tastes malty. There’s a brief citrus open, turning over to a malty middle, with a toasted grain finish. I guess this is what a “tropical maibock” would be, and I guess it’s why no one else has done one. My least favorite of the batch thus far.

Lady Friend: “The smell is cinnamon/strawberry. Taste cinnamon/nutmeg, spice-like. A little bit of mango and pineapple sweetness. There’s a slight bitterness to it.”

drinkingtobeercamp_taterAsheville Brewers Alliance Tater Ridge
Scottish Ale, 7% abv
I’ve never heard of these guys, but there’s a description on the Beer Camp site: “The Asheville area is a brewing hotspot nestled in the mountains of North Carolina. Tater Ridge was brewed by something of a craft beer super group made up of members of the Asheville Brewers Alliance.” Ok then. Now I know. I’m expecting a chewy malt bomb from this one.

Nose: Faint aroma, sweet and malty. There’s a little blue sprucy hop pine in there as well.

Taste: Pretty mild. Tastes like a brown ale. Nice and toasty, not overly syrup sticky. I was expecting a malt bomb, but wound up with a tasty ale. Very nice.

Lady Friend: “I was having a lot of trouble identifying a smell. At first I thought ‘metallic,’ but now I’m almost thinking ‘squash.’ It’s kind of malty sweet and also metallic in the beginning, finished kind of roasty. Thought it was well-balanced.”

drinkingtobeercamp_maillardBell’s Maillard’s Odyssey
Imperial Dark Ale, 8.5% abv
I don’t think I’ve had/heard of an imp dark ale before. Curious about this. Could go several ways. I wondered what that name was about and found the answer on Bell’s Brewery Blog: “The name honors the Maillard reaction—the “browning” of sugars and amino acids—that creates the wonderful caramelized toffee-like and roasted flavors so abundant in this beer.”

Nose: Smells like a good roasty ale or stout. Some char, some sweet cream. I’d have guessed this was a coffee porter/stout or the like judging by smell alone. Smells goooooood.

Taste: Heavier mouthfeel. Certainly some sticky syrup. Leads off roasty malty, there’s some sugar in the mid, then finishes with a bitter charcoal. Fig, chocolate, and raisin flavors abound before the ash aftertaste. I suppose a dark ale and a porter/stout are kind of the same thing, so they could have skipped a step here and just labeled appropriately. It’s an imperial stout. Think of it like that and it all falls into place. Regardless, it is quite wonderful.

Lady Friend: “Smells like chocolate coffee. Tastes like bitter dark chocolate and coffee. Tastes exactly like a chocolate-covered espresso bean.”

drinkingtobeercamp_electricBallast Point Electric Ray
India Pale Lager, 8.5% abv
Ballast Point makes very tasty West-Coasty beers, so let’s see what their IPL tastes like. I’m expecting a lot from this one.

Nose: Medium sticky hop aroma, blue spruce spice and very citrusy. So far, Ballast Point is on the ball with my predictions. In for the taste.

Taste: Malt snap, slight metallic, and a dry spicy, citrusy hop. It’s pretty good, but a lot more grain flavor than expected. Citrus sticky hop flows throughout.

Lady Friend: “I couldn’t really pick up any smell. Cereal grain taste with some fruity sweetness. I tried taking some sips, but I can’t pinpoint WHAT fruit exactly…”

drinkingtobeercamp_latteNinkasi Double Latte
Coffee Milk Stout, 7.6% abv
Really looking forward to this one. I like milk stouts, and I like Ninkasi. Let’s see how much “coffee” flavor this one has. Also it’s nearly 90° with the humidity over 80%. Not the best climate for tasting a coffee milk stout (much like the Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout we sampled earlier at Bier Cellar).

Nose: Smells like coffee. I dunno about this one. I’m expecting something like Founders Breakfast Stout.

Taste: Tastes like coffee. Seriously. Carbonated cold coffee. There’s a little hint of cream in there, but it’s all roasty bitter beans. Much like the aforementioned Founders. I’m sure people will LOVE this one, but it’s not my fav. Too much coffee, not enough beer.

Lady Friend: “Smell: big surprise, coffee roastiness. Taste: bitter roasty coffee. A perfect after-dinner drink if coffee doesn’t keep you awake at night.”

Ok then. I drank 12 beers and told you about them. This was kind of a way to brag that I’m going to Beer Camp. So I’m kind of a jerk, buuuuuuuut I stopped caring about that a long time ago. This twelve pack was pricey (came out to about $2/beer, which is a lot for a mixed pack) but the justification is that these are unique beers that you won’t see again. Probably. They were all good, mostly great, with a few excellent standouts. Go find one and try them. And come to Beer Camp.

Review: Mayflower 5th Anniversary DIPA

Remember how I used to write this blog thing?
Yeah, me too.
I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus, which was unexpected, but not entirely unproductive. Lots of content built up, so expect some new posts.

In the meantime, Mayflower.

Since posting this review and trekking to Plymouth, I discovered that there IS still some of this beer left. As of 5/18, Pioppi’s in Plymouth still had several bombers on the shelf (minus the one we snagged.)


This one I’ve been meaning to get to for awhile. The Lady Friend and I took a trip down to Mayflower Brewery in Plymouth earlier in the year to snag a bottle of their limited bottling: the Mayflower 5th Anniversary Ale, a double IPA clocking in at 8.2%. I wanted it. Badly. Loin-achingly. But there weren’t many bottles left, and we couldn’t get down to Ply-town for a few weekends. Calamity! Fortunately, a friend of mine at the brewery, Sarah, (Hi Sarah! Well, say hello! Oh, quit hiding… wave to the internetz peoplez! OH NOW COME ON. That gesture was just plain rude. Fine. I’ll have to post that picture where you wanted me to put Vin Diesel’s face on you.)


Exhibit A.

That escalated quickly.

mayflower-lobsterAnyway, Sarah – who really is awesome – snagged me a bottle and hid it until we got down there. They had also just changed over to their Spring Hop seasonal, which is mighty tasty, so naturally we stayed for a round of sampling. It’s never too hard to convince us to stay for a sample or ten, especially when the seasonals have just switched over. Om nom nom Spring Hop.

Since then, the anniversary brew has been unintentionally aging in my beer fridge. I didn’t mean to, but it just sort of happened. I wanted to save it and savor it rather than pound it down and move on to the next beer. But now, I’m getting back the blogging, and leading off with this tasty brew. Coincidence? Not entirely. Mayflower is hosting their annual Open House (open brewery?) this weekend, May 18th from 11a-4p. $10 a head at the door gets you free beer, good fun, sporadic brewery tours (I may have led a semi-sober tour for my friends last year), music and food. Details here. For the Lady Friend and I, this will be our third consecutive open house, and we’re even trekking down from the frozen tundra of Maine, so you know it’s a good time. It also serves as the release party for their summer seasonal, the Summer Rye Ale.

Details again:
Saturday, May 18th, 11am – 4pm
Mayflower Brewery
12 Resnik Road, Plymouth, MA

Anyway. Let’s get to the tasting.



Nose: Ooooh hoppy. But you knew that was coming. Fresh, clean, open hops. Slightly syrupy. Citrus orange and lemon, with a darker pine spruce. Almost sugary, like maple sugar candy but without the maple. So, just sugar candy then? Yeah, I guess. Whatever, I’ve been drinking. What’s your excuse? Rich malty back gluing the works together. Very promising.

review-mayflower5thDIPAbeerTaste: Smooth, easy carbonic. Orange citrus sweetness with a blue spruce sour. Not that it’s sour, but it’s not a sharp, stinging bitter snap. More like a counterpoint to the lighter aspects of the hop. Rounded overall… not as dry as an East Coast, but not as sweet as a West Coast, though I’d say that this is probably the most West Coast style I’ve tasted from Mayflower. The malt syrup oozes in the background like a lazy meandering stream in no particular hurry. While the hop boats on top shoot the rapids from sweet to tart to round bitter, the malt mud on the bottom lies undisturbed, providing a foundation for the rest of the flavors to float on. The smoothness of the carbonic is also lovely; a creamy mouthfeel closer to a nitrogenated sensation rather than big brassy bubbles of bitter stings. Butterflies, not bees.

To be fair, I let this one age a bit in my beer fridge. In theory, this could account for a mellower hop presence and even a smoother carbonation, though that is not as likely without a leak in the cap.

Here’s what the Lady Friend had to say:
review-mayflower5thDIPAdetailNose: “I smell that yummy tree fruit. I also think it smells a little malty. I wonder if that would have been different if we smelled it when it was fresh. Almost has a little apple juice – I think that’s the malt.”

Taste:It’s good. [How profound.]
“It’s very good. [How very profound.]
“It’s got some sharp bitter hop taste, still get some of that tree fruit. It’s very good. Still a little malty, but it’s well-balanced. And that’s it.”

You heard the lady. It’s good. It’s very good.
Actually, I quite agree.

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along. Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Review: Stella Artois Chalice

“It’s a chalice, not a glass.”

stella_chalicesSo, I belong to a word-of-mouth marketing group called BzzAgent. Every once in awhile they send me some free stuff, and I tell people about it. Pretty simple. Occasionally, they have BOOZE stuff, which is pretty much why I signed up in the first place. This is one of those times. They sent me a logo’d 33cl (~11.2oz) drinking chalice to drink their beer with. I already had the 40cl (~13.5oz) bigger sister, likely from some bar giveaway, but unique glassware is always fun. Until I have to move again.

Stella Artois is the current campaign, and they sent me a glass chalice. They like it when you call it a chalice. Stella is a Belgian lager, and a big brand of Anheuser-Busch InBev which is pretty much the largest producer of beer in the world. I would show you some choice quotes from the legal agreement they sent out, but that link has mysteriously disappeared. Basically I’m not supposed to mention any other brands and just stick to the Stella basics, which is difficult because I like to compare things. For example, there may be another beer company who made it a point to create their own custom drinking glass to enhance the flavor of their product. Just saying. It happens.

Not that this is anything new. A great number of breweries, especially in Europe, have brand-specific glassware to serve their beers in. The theory is that the shape, size, thickness, and other features of the glass are tailored to each individual beer and everything tastes better. Certainly glassware makes a difference. You wouldn’t want a martini served in a plastic red cup, or a fine scotch sipped through a twisty straw (well, maybe you would, but you know what I’m saying). So that’s where Stella is coming from. They’re also big about the ritual of the drink. There’s a certain well-known Irish stout that also has a bit of ritual for a proper pour, but the Stella dance is a NINE STEP NUMBER:



Now, I’ve never known a bartender to go through that many steps to pour a beer, despite what the commercials say. Even on a train. But then I don’t order Stella that much. The tastiest one I ever had was from a keg, but most likely you’ll find it in a bottle. A green glass bottle. Green glass doesn’t block as much light as brown glass, and the beer gets skunky, like a number of other imported European brews. In sciency talk, the beer is light-struck in a process called photodegregation. When the light-sensitive isohumulones in the hops are exposed to light, they break down creating, among other things, sulfurous atoms creating the undesirable aromas and flavors. Why they haven’t made the switch to UV-blocking brown glass despite this known flaw is beyond me, but I suspect it has to do with brand recognition. Some argue that the sulfurous qualities are intentionally created traits in certain brews. I don’t really buy that. I’ve had both good and bad examples from the same brewery, so either way, inconsistencies exist in the product. Maybe it’s from being light-struck, maybe not, but a beer brewed in Europe has plenty of opportunity to sit in less-than-ideal conditions, even on the supermarket shelf. So let’s do the ritual and see if the chalice can enhance my Skunky Artois.


I had my bottle chilled and ready to go. The glass was washed purified, and I popped unveiled the bottle. The alchemy part was fun, but I skipped the plum bob for the crown, also known as building a head. Having misplaced my antique Belgian dagger, I went with a samurai sword for the beheading. It seemed to work just fine. The head crown was judged to be exquisite, I cleansed my glass chalice, and bestowed the frosty beverage upon myself.

Man, this terminology gets tricky.

stella_closeupSo, how did it work out?
Well, the brew nosed sweet with cereal grains, and a mild skunky aroma. Not the worst one I’ve smelled, but that sulfur musk is still in there. It does smell corn sweet, which makes sense as corn is an adjunct used in the brew. It’s even bragged about as part of their ad campaigns.

The taste?
Well, it’s a little too sweet. Very rounded, very pleasing, very refreshing. I can’t say that I notice the difference the chalice makes to the taste, as opposed to swigging straight from the bottle. The chalice does impart a nice handfeel… there’s some weight to the chunky stem that counterbalances the liquid. The stem also allows you to handle the chalice without touching the reservoir itself, which would raise the temperature of the beer from the heat of your hand. Lagers should generally be served as cold as possible. Stella recommends serving at 36°-38°F, just a shade above freezing. Bad things happen to warm lagers.

Did it make a difference? Maybe, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Having a little ritual to a beverage can be nice sometimes, but other times you just pour the beer already. Either way, now I’ve got a brewery-specific piece of glassware should I pick up some more Stella. Actually, I’ve got one more bottle in the fridge, so I guess it’s time to start the ritual over again.

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along. Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Review: Ninkasi Oatis Oatmeal Stout

So, Ninkasi Brewing Company just started following me on teh Twitterz! They’re a West-Coast brewery doing about 56,000 bbls of beer (if facts from Wikipedia can be believed) out in Eugene, Oregon, and they’re one of the fastest growing. It was started in 2006 by two guys, Jamie and Nikos, and the company is named for Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer. For true. There’s even a Hymn to Ninkasi, which includes one of the first known beer recipes.

Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.

You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine

I had heard of Ninkasi Brewing Company, though precious little of their brews make it to the East Coast. I snagged a bottle of their Maiden the Shade ale at City Beer Store last fall on the trip to SFO. My critical tasting panel back east didn’t think much of it when we tried it… I think it was either an older bottle where the hops had fallen off their peak, or it’s simply a lighter IPA style, and we’re used to big palate crushers. Looking back at the other things we tasted that evening, it might have gotten lost too far down in the lineup. There were some big boys that seared our taste buds, like Epic Armageddon IPA and Ballast Point’s Sculpin. Still, it was enjoyable, even if it wasn’t comparable to the other hop monsters. I would LOVE to try their Tricerahops Double IPA, partly because of the style and mostly because of the awesome name.

So I was excited when my brother brought back another Ninkasi bomber from his new residence in Portland, OR. Yes, he and I both moved to cities named Portland on opposite sides of the country this summer. Now the beer trading begins. The bomber he gave me was the Oatis Oatmeal Stout, and in honor of my new Twitterz pals, the Lady Friend and I (she’s become a big fan of oatmeal stouts) cracked it and toasted Ninkasi.

Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.

What’d I think?

Well, the nose is boozy, with a strange fruity aroma. Grape! That’s it. The Lady Friend pinned it down. It’s almost like a hint of brandy. The stoutiness is lurking underneath, warm and roasty, with that hint of bitterness. But those stinging grape smells are what’s eye- (well, nose) catching. I suspect it’s a trick of the malt, which can get fruity with higher abvs. It’s not a BAD aroma by any means, but just a bit unexpected.

The taste starts with a quick hit of that alcohol astringency and fruity grape essence, before the dark roasted stout rushes in. Decently medium-light mouthfeel, avoiding the cloying syrup of others, and a nice dark mocha roast, and a bitterness almost akin to a high cacao dark chocolate, without the sweetness. There is a bit of sweetness in there, though not too creamy, just a hint of lactose. I doubt whether there’s lactose actually in the brew (like a milk stout) but there’s just a touch of creamy mouthfeel to round things out; the finish isn’t a sharp biting dark roast bitter, but rounded. The sharp edges have been sanded off, though there’s still a slight snap. Complex flavors, nice level of booziness, and very drinkable.

It’s quite excellent.

Compare this complexity to the brew we tried right behind it: Boatswain Chocolate Stout (Rhinelander Brewing, a $2.50 bomber sale from Trader Joe’s) which was like Fruit Stripe gum: a rush of flavor then suddenly gone. Wham, bam, thank you… wait where’d the flavor go? I didn’t even get to “ma’am.” It just evaporates in your mouth. That’s how you can pick a cheap brew out of a lineup. And Ninkasi is not in that cheap league.

They’re the real deal.

Review: Why BLATANT beer is awesome and you should buy some.

I certainly hope you’ve heard of Blatant Beer by now.

If not, prepare for a trip to the liquor store.

BLATANT! Brewery is the ale-producing offspring of brewer/owner Matthew Steinberg, Massachusetts brewing legend. He’s been involved with breweries such as Offshore Ale, Harpoon, Rapscallion, and helped Drew Brousseau with his startup brewery, Mayflower. He left Mayflower in 2010, and decided to finally start his own brewery, though as a contract brewer without his own facilities. He’s since brewed at Just Beer in Westport, and Paper City in Holyoke. Steinberg sees nothing wrong with the stigma of contract brewing (brewing your own beer in someone else’s brewery, or even having them brew it FOR you with your recipe) but strongly advocates growing the local beer community. He and I actually seem to share a lot of similar views when it comes to beer, and Honest Pint has a GREAT interview with him here. But I want to talk about the beer.

Last summer I bought myself a bomber of a boldly graphic-ed local IPA called Blatant and was blown away. It was a true American-style IPA, combining the best of East Coast dry bitterness and West Coast sweetness. Absolutely incredible. So I gushed about it to anyone who would listen, and may have called the brewer “a magnificent bastard” on Twitter after downing 22oz of his 6.5% abv hoppy wonderfulness. He actually responded, and after some bantering and an exchange of emails, I finally got to meet up with the man himself, Matthew Steinberg. He had a couple tastings scheduled in Cambridge, and suggested that I stop by. So I did.

This is a man who knows his beer. And is excited about it. Very. In fact, he’ll talk your ear off about beer, which is kind of awesome. During our chat, in between sample pours to curious shoppers, he described his beer as being “a brand without branding appeal.” He wants the beer itself to be the important part, rather than the label. Curious, as I find the simple graphic very eye-catching and appealing. He was pouring samples of his two beers: the aforementioned IPA (which was in such short supply at the time due to wild demand he had to score some bombers from a friend’s stash) and his Session Ale.


A session ale is a low(er) alcohol beer designed to be tasty, yet, well, sessionable. Depending on who you ask, a session beer has no more than 4/ 4.5/ 5% abv, so in theory you could drink many of them in a session without getting smashed. After the arms-race of insanely hopped high-alcohol double/Imperial/triple ales coming from the West Coast the past several years, the pendulum is swinging in the other direction: session ales, a notable local example being Chris Lohring’s Notch Brewing, with no beer over 4.5% abv. Among brewers, it’s said that a true test of a brewer is to make a flavorful yet low alcohol beer, as it takes more attention to detail and craft. Blatant took the challenge, and Steinberg was kind enough to give me a bottle to sample (and a pint glass!).

Well, it’s got a lovely amber glow, and a nice thick head that dissapates slowly. The nose is certainly hoppy, but very pleasing. It smells like an IPA or strong pale ale, with sweet spruce pine, a darker, resinous sap, and a slight undercurrent of overripe tree fruit. There’s a touch of cereal grain in there, like the first whiff of a fresh box of Cheerios, but it’s blown away by the hoppy delightfulness. Let’s have a taste.

Oh wow.

Let’s have another taste.

Ok. I can type now. It’s certainly a flavorful beer. The malt is MUCH more apparent in the flavor, with a nice barley cereal flavor and a good dose of toastiness, though not to the level of a brown ale or stout. Toasted not roasted. A little bit of metallic sharpness, again from the malt, and some hop bitterness in there, dry and powdery, like a good East Coast style, which itself borrows from English style ales. It’s very reminiscent of Mayflower’s Pale Ale, with a bitter dry hop and solid malt back. This is maltier, however, though not in a caramel-syrupy-sweet-mess, but rather clean and breakfast-like. Good solid grain. Liquid bread. It starts hoppy, moves to the lovely grain in the mids, and finishes with a mix of both. Smooth, incredibly tasty, and still under 4% abv.

It’s pretty amazing. You don’t get beers like this from amateurs, and Steinberg is one of the Massachusetts pros, having worked in the brewing industry for the past 15 or so years. It’s hard to believe this brew clocks in at 3.8%… the flavor would have you thinking it’s at least 5% abv. A fantastic session ale. The IPA blew my socks off, but the session ale shows what a true crafted beer is. I wouldn’t waste time with a low-alcohol beer if it weren’t phenomenal. Go get some.

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along. Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Samuel Adams Brewery

Well, we did Harpoon Brewery, so it was about time for a post on Boston’s other big brewery, Samuel Adams. Strap in, this is a big one.

Now THAT looks like a brewery.

I’m going to go ahead and assume most people have heard of Sam Adams. It’s one of the largest domestically-owned breweries, either just ahead of, just behind, or tied with Yuengling, depending on your source. They each produce around 2.5 million barrels of beer. That’s nothing compared to the 10 million Miller cranks out in Milwaukee alone, but it’s a lot more than the 125,000 bbls from Harpoon Brewery. However, Harpoon is the largest brewery IN Boston, a point I’ll explain later.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager, the flagship beer, was born in founder Jim Koch’s kitchen in the mid-1980s. Well, kind of. What he brewed was Louis Koch Lager, an old family recipe; Koch’s family had been brewers before Prohibition. He rebranded it as Samuel Adams, named for the “brewer and patriot” of Colonial America, and publicly released the beer on Patriot’s Day in 1985. Then it started winning awards. Lots of awards.

Sam looks pretty smug about that.

Basically, Jim hit it at the right time. Craft beer was just starting to take hold in America in the mid-80s, and Sam Lager was a powerful tasting beer compared to the macrobrews on the market. However, it was still drinkable, and tasty enough to convince people to give it a try. Boston Beer Company, doing business as Samuel Adams Brewery, has been cranking ever since, all the way to 2.5 million barrels in 2011. The trick is, that beer isn’t coming from Boston. Sam Adams owns two other breweries in Cincinnati, OH and Breinigsville, PA; the facility in Boston is only for R&D and tours. That’s why Harpoon is the biggest brewery in Boston, though Sam is much bigger as a whole.

So, let’s get to the tour. First of all, Sam is located in Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood of Boston south of the city (not to be confused with South Boston). The Boston Beer Company facility resides in the old Haffenreffer Brewery, which was in business from 1870 to 1965. They started up in JP because of the Stony Brook aquifer, which provided them with fresh water to brew with. Haffenreffer’s remaining legacy (aside from the smokestack that reads “Fenreffer Brewers”) is Private Stock malt liquor, which is currently brewed by MillerCoors, though the family also had ties with Narragansett Brewery. The current site is only a part of the previous brewery complex, and old solid brick buildings are scattered throughout the area. It’s a few blocks from the Stony Brook T stop (on the Orange line) but the past couple times we’ve been able to find street parking in the area. Occasionally you can score a spot in the Sam lot, but I wouldn’t count on it.

The tour is free, with a suggested donation of $2 to local charities. Get there EARLY, especially if it’s nice weather, if there’s a local sporting event, if it’s a holiday, in spring, in summer, in fall and sometimes winter. Given the national familiarity with the Sam Adams brand, it’s a popular Boston attraction, even if you have to go to the wasteland of JP to get there. I’ve been several times, but this time we got up there nice and early, and scored a spot on the 10:20 “Nobel Pils” tour. After showing ID, you get a hand stamp and a beer label which acts as your ticket and corresponds to the time of your tour. While our tour was the Nobel Pils label, the next one might be Alpine Spring or Cherry Wheat. Just a simple way of keeping people on the proper tour. Naturally, the later you get there, the more the tours fill up, so around noon they might be booking the 2pm tours. Plan accordingly.

The first stop on the tour is in the back where our very chipper tour guide, Katie, gave a brief history of the brewing process and passed around samples of hops and barley. Breakfast! Sam is big on their connection to Reinheitsgebot, the German beer purity law of 1516 which states that beer can only be made from water, hops and barley. Back then, they didn’t know about yeast yet, so that didn’t make the cut (it was later added into the law). Sam uses two-row barley (Harrington and Metcalfe) because it’s “plumper and juicier” and they can get more fermentable sugars out of it. The barley is toasted mainly in three varieties: pale malt, for lighter beers, caramel 60, which gives Boston Lager a darker amber color and slightly toasted flavor, and chocolate malt, for their darker beers, such as black lager and chocolate bock. The primary hop used is Hallertau Mittelfrueh, a noble hop from Bavaria. Each year, Jim travels over to Germany to personally check out the hop crops. Sam’s water source isn’t JP’s Stony Brook, but rather the Quabbin Reservoir that supplies all of Boston’s fresh water, though Sam also filters onsite.

Once the barley had been munched, and everyone’s hands reeked of hop, the group moved to the second portion of the tour, the brewhouse, flanked by towering fermenters and conditioning tanks. It’s here that the beer is brewed, fermented, conditioned (Boston Lager takes five weeks to condition) and kegged. There is no canning or bottling in the small Boston facility, and the kegs go to one of three destinations – local bars, beer competitions, or the tasting room. Here’s a handy tip: when the group moves into the brewhouse area, hang near the back. You’ll still be able to hear, because the tour guides are miked, but once their little speech is done, it’s an about-face into the tasting room. By staying near the back of the brewhouse, you’ll be first in line for the tasting room.

On the way into the room, you’ll get a 4oz tasting glass, with one of the qualities of beer tasting printed on it, like aroma, color, and taste. Pitchers are poured and passed down the tables, starting with the Boston Lager, an amber, medium-bodied (“heavier than water, lighter than cream”) brew. Tour Guide Katie went on to tell us of Sam’s commitment to fresh beer, which in all honesty is important. Sam gets a “best by” date on the side of the bottle, and will buy back beer from retailers if it’s past that date. The old beer gets dumped, although once a year it goes into a dunk tank with Jim Koch in the hot seat. The quote was that “Jim would rather put himself in old beer than put old beer in you.” The importance of this struck home the very next day, when I “borrowed” a Sam Lager from my dad’s stash in his basement, only to find out it was dated “Best By April, 2010.” Two year old Sam Lager. It’s still drinkable, just not very good. The hop character is COMPLETELY gone, leaving a malty sickly ale flavor behind. It tastes like mediocre homebrew. Fresh Sam Lager however is mighty tasty. Incredibly flavorful compared to most light pilsner-style lagers from the macrobrewers.

The next sample is generally the current seasonal, which meant that Sam Summer was on tap. It’s an unfiltered weizen (wheat) beer flavored with lemon peel and Grains of Paradise. Seasonal beers aren’t my favorite, and Sam Summer is no exception, even though that statement might put a bounty on my head. It’s got a fanatical following in Boston, but I don’t really like lemony beers. I’ll take the lager any day. I like hops, not fruit in my beer. One question from the crowd was something I’d been wondering: are the seasonal recipes tweaked? Many people, including myself, feel that some of the seasonals, especially the summer and winter offerings, taste different year-to-year. The “official” answer was that the recipes are not tweaked, though there may be variances in the crops, like lemons. So… the taste DOES change. They were also quick to point out that you can’t “remember” a flavor accurately, but I suspect there’s a fair amount of variation going on. This year’s summer, for example, is not quite as lemony as I recall.

The final sample was a new offering, Boston 26.2 Marathon Brew, which was created in conjunction with Sam’s sponsorship of the Boston Marathon this year, and served on tap only in Boston. This one doesn’t conform to Reinheitsgebot, as it contains coriander and kosher salt. It’s a 4.5% abv session beer with a light, fruity aroma, and tangy, fruit taste with a candy-like finish. There’s a gummy-snack fruitiness going on in there, but overall tasty. Might make a refreshing way to rehydrate after running 26 miles.

While tasting the Marathon Beer and thinking how happy I was to not be running a marathon, Katie launched into the story of Sam’s “perfect pint” glass. Jim was over in Germany, in a bar (shocking!) and ordered a beer. The server came back and said they couldn’t give him that beer because they were out of the proper glass for it. Anyone who’s been to a decent beer bar in Europe can attest to that: it’s a big deal over there. Ever wonder why there are so many beer glasses with brewery logos on them? It’s because the breweries contract companies to produce glasses specifically for their beer, which are shipped to bars for serving. The proper beer goes in the proper glass. Jim saw this and thought “Why don’t I have a glass for MY beer?” So he contacted a company in Lexington called TIAX to design a glass for Boston Lager. Two years and many free “sample” kegs later, they developed the Sam Adams glass.


With the final sample quaffed, the tour was over. You get your tasting glass rinsed out, and exit through the gift shop chock full of Sam gear. But the adventure doesn’t have to end here. For the past several years, the brewery has been running a promotion with local JP establishment Doyle’s Cafe, which was the first bar to carry Sam Adams in the city of Boston. So they’ve been buddies for awhile, even though Doyle’s has been there since freaking 1882. It’s an Irish bar full of history well worth stopping into for a pint, and Sam makes it even easier: there’s a trolley that runs from the brewery to Doyle’s for free (it also makes a stop at the Stony Brook T station). If you order a Sam Adams beer (they were $6) at Doyle’s and show your hand stamp or ticket from the brewery tour, you get to keep the perfect pint glass. Highly recommended.

Be prepared: Jason, the driver, runs a party trolley, complete with lasers, disco ball, fog machine, bubble machine, brass poles, music blasting, and pumping the brakes to make it bounce. We started off with a Neil Diamond singalong to “Sweet Caroline” followed by “Cracklin’ Rosie” before arriving at the bar. An order of potato skins, two Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPAs and free glasses later, the Lady Friend and I reboarded the rolling dance party to the strains of “Fire Burning.” Over the pumping beats, Jason, a Boston tour guide for 15 years, shouted out some fun facts such as “30 years before they thought of Fenway, they were partying at DOYLE’S,” and “DOYLE’S has the best chowdah in the city. I eat chowdah like cereal in the morning,” and that Doyle’s burgers are “…a cut above Five Guys,” which drew jeers from the crowd and a comment of “That’s a bold statement!

So, the Sam experience is a giant draw for good reason. One of the biggest craft brewers in the country in Boston’s backyard, with an informative (free) tour and samples. The tie-in with Doyle’s is a highly recommended experience of its own, and will get you a souvenir pint glass to keep with your tasting glass. I personally feel that Sam brews their beers as crowd-pleasers, and while they have a WIDE variety of brews, they’re mostly stepping stones into the different styles. While I love the Boston Lager, their Campfire Rauchbier (smoked beer) has just a hint of smoke, especially compared to a REAL rauchbier, and their Latitude 48 IPA is like a hoppy version of the Boston Lager. I always feel they could do so much more, but that would be at the risk of hurting sales. You don’t get to 2.5 million barrels of production by alienating people, and there’s plenty of smaller breweries pushing the boundaries so Sam doesn’t have to. As long as Sam keeps making good beer, I’ll forgive them. Go take a tour.

The Lady Friend approves.

Mil-wacky in March, Part 4: Miller Brewery

Yet another travel series that I never seem to finish. This one tells the tales of our Milwaukee adventures in late March of 2012. We went there to do some serious drinking. Oh, and also Trevtastic got married. Yeah, some girl actually married that boy. But still, it was a good excuse to show the Lady Friend the various drinking landmarks of Milwaukee, so that’s what we did. Wistful wanderings in Wisco. Part 1 is here.
Yah dere hey.

It’s Miller Time. ™ © ®

Friday morning was rather dreary and damp, but we had drinking to do. The first stop of the day was the behemoth complex of the Miller Brewing Company. Obviously, I’m a craft beer fan, but with many friends in the Midwest, and several trips to Milwaukee, I’ve had my fair share of Miller Lite as well. I insisted that the Miller tour was a mandatory part of our trip for the Lady Friend, so she can truly appreciate the SCALE of these macrobreweries. The facility in Milwaukee produces 10 MILLION BARRELS of beer every year, and that’s just one of their 11 breweries across the country. By comparison, Harpoon Brewery in Boston produces 125,000 bbls a year. Miller makes 80 TIMES more beer from ONE facility. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

So, we started our tour. It’s free, but has a number of rules and warnings. Nothing too scary, but yes, there is walking involved, and yes, there are a number of stairs to climb in the brewhouse. It’s not the most fun tour on a rainy or cold day, as you hoof it down the road and in and out of various buildings, but totally worth it in the end. No smoking, no bathroom breaks (this was a concern for the Lady Friend), and no strollers, though if you’re the sort of psychopath that thinks it’s cute and fun to bring very small children who wail incessantly on a public tour, then I hope you develop an ear infection that makes you drastically more sensitive to sound, rendering the cries of your little stinkcritter as unbearable to you as it is to everyone else around you. This goes for airplanes, restaurants, and movies theaters as well. No one likes your horrible offspring except you, so just stay home to raise your brood where you won’t bother the rest of us.

Yes, there were some children on this tour… what makes you ask?

Anyway, they start off by taking your picture in front of a painted Miller mural in the lobby that you can purchase later, packaged with a keychain, for about $20. A nice Disney-level scam to add to the magic. The actual tour begins with a little propaganda film that tells a brief history of Miller Brewing so the tour guides don’t have to. They changed the film since the last tour I took, where the slogan “It’s Miller Time!” was flashed so many times on the screen that it was laughable. I stopped counting at 15 references in a 10-minute film. However, that’s gone now, and they focus instead on a Katy Perry-wannabe dressed as the Girl in the Moon logo from the Miller High Life branding. According to the film, the brewery was started in 1855 by German immigrant Frederick Miller, when he purchased the Plank-Road Brewery. They brewed 300 bbls in their first year, and really expanded the brand in 1871, when they provided beer to the citizens of Chicago following the Great Fire. Ownership of the company finally left the family when Miller’s anti-alcohol granddaughter sold the majority to W.R. Grace and Company in 1966, which was later purchased by Phillip Morris in 1969. Miller Lite came along in 1973, creating a new horrific category of “low-calorie” beers. In 2002, Phillip Morris sold Miller to South African Breweries (SAB) to create SABMiller, similar to Budweiser’s Anheuser-Busch InBev conglomerate. In 2007, SABMiller and the Molson Coors Brewing Company combined to create the MillerCoors joint venture, which is currently where the branding remains today. So, Miller Brewing Company is actually SABMiller in a joint venture with MillerCoors. Big business.

Handily labeled.

Following the film, the tour guide takes over. Our guide, whose name I didn’t catch, was like an excitable version of a T.G.I. Friday’s waiter on meth. You know that overly-friendly “everything is magical and happy here, all day, every day, never any problems nope nope nope” tooth-grinding forced-smile kind of attitude? Like that. As if he’d be beaten with a pillowcase full of Miller Lite cans for not reaching his smile quota, or having too few pieces of flair. So Chipper McGee led us on a short walk down the street to the bottling plant and distribution warehouse. They put the beer into bottles, cans, and kegs, and ship it out. There’s really not much else to tell about this place, except for throwing out some numbers. Staggering numbers. They package 500,000 cases of beer per DAY, enough beer to fill 30,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools in a year. 60% of the beer goes to cans, 30% to bottles, and the remaining 10% into kegs. It’s pretty quick too: 1400 bottles are filled per minute, while cans can go at 2000 per minute (1.5 cases per second). 15,000 kegs are filled per day, going to bars and restaurants nation-wide. The kegs are stored cool, and aren’t pasteurized like the cans and bottles. The big argument there is that pasteurizing (heating the beer, then cooling rapidly to increase shelf-life) eliminates bacteria in the beer. Well, allegedly, it also decreases flavor, which you certainly won’t notice in Miller Lite, but might notice in a hoppy craft brew. That’s why many craft beers are best drunk within a certain window of time, before the hops and flavors start to diminish, whereas a pasteurized macrobrew can likely sit on the shelf for years with no ill-effects. According to Miller, pasteurizing beer buys them 17 weeks of unrefrigerated storage. Ick.

Pictured: Half a million cases of beer.

From the bottling line, we go down to their 200,000 sq ft warehouse, which has a capacity of 500,000 cases. Since they package 500,000 cases per day, there’s a nearly daily turnover rate, which is staggering for that amount of beer. 3% of the product is loaded onto train boxcars (which used to be the primary shipping method back in the day) but the whopping majority, 97%, simply goes into trucks.

Across the street is the actual brewhouse, a multi-story affair with six, 590 bbl kettles that are 18′ deep, producing 26,000 bbls of beer every DAY. It takes 3-4 weeks to finish the brewing process before the beer is packaged. Miller claims to run at 98% waste free, with their spent grain going to livestock feed. A question about the usage of genetically-modified (GM) hops stopped the otherwise chipper tour guide cold, with a forced smile and shaky reply of “I’m not sure, but I will find out that answer for you!” As we descended the stairs, I remarked to the Lady Friend that perhaps a bigger concern would be the use of GM corn, rather than hops, since Miller is a major producer of adjunct lagers. Later on, at the tasting portion of the tour, the guide informed us that yes, GM hops are used, but with a twist: Miller actually owns several patents on specific hops, I’m assuming some sort of proprietary hybrids. I wasn’t aware you could patent a hop. Moreover, the guide confirmed that yes, lots of GM corn was used as well.

The Brewhouse. Big time.

The side of the modern brewhouse is slathered with an absolutely immense mural which can be seen for MILES. The tour guide told me it was one of the largest hand-painted murals in the country. Like most things on the tour, it’s mind-blowingly big.

Here’s a picture from a sunnier day.

Next, we popped into the “famous caves” built to keep the lager beer cool and happy. Dug into a hillside, the lagering caves were packed with ice to keep the lager yeast satisfied, even in warm summer weather. Ale yeast likes warm (room temp) climates to ferment, while lager needs cooler surroundings. There’s even a “spooky” visitor in the caves: a projected video of the ghost of Frederick Miller, talking about the social, family aspects of his fine German beer. Some of the small children weren’t terribly fond of this portion of the tour, and there was some hullabaloo to that effect.

Following the caves, it’s sample time. You’ll either head across the street to the Beer Garden, an outdoor patio, or into the Miller Inn, depending on the season. Last time was a beautiful sunny September day, but the cool rainy climate of this March visit meant we popped into the Inn. There were three samples provided, with a larger-than-usual pour of about 8oz, in a tasting glass (the Beer Garden serves in plastic cups). We went through Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and a new offering, Miller Valley Ale, with a sweetish malt nose and taste, and reddish amber color, dark when compared to the usual pale straw yellow pilsners. It wasn’t bad, but was especially tasty compared to Lite and High Life. But really, what isn’t?

Left to right: Plank Road Brewery replica, Historic Caves, Miller Inn, Refrigeration Building,
Brewhouse (1886). Modern Brewhouse is on far right of frame.

That’s pretty much the tour. You hike back down the road to the main visitor’s building, and can browse the ludicrous number of logo-emblazoned products in the gift shop. We didn’t linger, because there were other stops to make (more breweries!) and we didn’t need any Miller Lite pint glasses. They’re not terribly exclusive. There are quite a few to choose from, as the MillerCoors venture produces Coors, Coors Light, Hamm’s, Icehouse, Keystone, Mickey’s, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller High Life, Miller Lite, Miller 64 (new! It’s Miller Lite LIGHT), Milwaukee’s Best (Beast), Beast Ice, Olde English, Red Dog, Steel Reserve, Blue Moon (Coors’s “craft” beer), Killian’s, the Leinenkugel lineup (bought in 1988), Foster’s, Molson Canadian, Molson Golden, Molson Ice, Molson XXX, Sharps, and Sparks. Oh, and they contract brew PBR. That doesn’t even include the imports owned by SAB. Here’s the full list.

As a whole, the tour doesn’t sound that exciting because it’s a very corporate, very controlled affair, and they really don’t like it when you wander off the marked path or ask uncomfortable questions. It attracts a LOT of tourists and families, so be prepared for that as well. Still, the tour is WELL worth doing if you’re in Milwaukee. It’s free and there are samples at the end. Even if you’re a craft beer/ anti-macro type drinker, you really need to go on this tour just to see the sheer SCALE of this operation. Miller puts out something like 40 MILLION BARRELS of beer a year, with 10 million coming from this facility alone. It’s simply staggering. Go there and see for yourself.

Everything’s bigger at Miller.

The Monday Hangover: April 21-22

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

The end of the week was way too hot for mid-April, so a refreshing, tropically named, cocktail was required. Dale DeGroff’s South Beach cocktail worked quite nicely. I also tried a version using grenadine instead of simple syrup, which just added another layer of flavor, and is going to be my go-to variation on the drink. Still sweetened, but with more taste than the original. Very good. The Lady Friend and I also split a bomber of Bar Harbor Brewing’s Thunder Hole Ale. I was expecting it to be along the lines of a bitter British malty ale, but it was actually a brown ale. Strangely, it smelled roasted and creamy like a good stout, but had a sharp stale hop bite to the start, then malty brown through the rest. However, the aroma put me in the mood for a stout, so I finished off the last survivor of my Left Hand Brewing Milk Stout Nitro. Delicious.

Saturday brought a bit of a twist: a wine event. I know. It doesn’t happen often, and I’m usually not too happy about it. Silly wine. However, Ke$hia got herself a job with Second Glass, a company that does wine events, tech, mobile apps… that sort of stuff. Apparently they do a thing called “Wine Riot,” a tasting event held in Boston for the past several years. This year it’s expanded to a multi-city tour, and Ke$hia scored us some tickets for the Boston stop. We don’t do much wine drinking (as little as possible if I have anything to do with it) but after all the brewery and distillery visits, this was something that appealed to the Lady Friend. Plus, cheap tickets.

Lots of brotards wearing plaid shorts. Didn’t we all agree that wasn’t allowed anymore?

The event took place in the Park Plaza Castle, which I had never been to. Apparently it used to be an armory. We hit the 1-5p afternoon session and made our way into the city. Despite a line stretching all the way down the block, we got inside fairly quickly. Annoyingly, one of the “security” guards checked our ID once we got in the line, then the SAME guy checked us AGAIN at the door. Dude, what was the point of that? Just stand at the door, Mongo. Once, inside, we met up with Ke$hia, and she showed us around off and on through the afternoon. There was… wine. Lots of it. Second Glass had a nifty phone app for the event so you could keep track of the wines you liked, and it’ll tell you where to buy them locally. A pretty good idea. We stuck to mostly bigger, red wines, though I also like sparkling because it’s fancy. Oh! And I won a handy little keychain bottle opener from the Yelp! table, which was mostly the highlight of my day.

You can never have enough bottle openers.

The Lady Friend tells me tales of these wine events she’s been to in the past with all kinds of free givaways: glasses, corkscrews, stickers, hats, um, corks, uhhhh, hedgehogs…? I don’t know what they usually give away, but the LF says it’s a haul of free stuff. There really wasn’t much of that at this event. A few stickers, and a pen or two, plus my awesome bottle opener. The event “glasses” were stemless plastic, which makes more sense from a spillage/droppage point of view, but doesn’t really give you much of a souvenir. At least there was plenty of alcohol, which helped because the DJ felt it necessary to BLAST her Top-40 remix tunes loud enough so that everyone had to shout their conversations. What is it with events that they feel the need for 747 jet engine decibel levels of horrible music? I guess when the event is called a “Riot” you need to step it up.

“This totally sick Journey remix is going to blow some minds.”

I won our bet of “which one of us will see someone we know first” when I ran into John Hafferty of Bin Ends. John was sampling the fares and making introductions, but also gave a seminar, which we attended, called “F*ck the Wine Police.” Basically, it was all about wines that were snubbed by the critics and given low scores, but are actually excellent wines. He gave four examples (and we tasted along with the talk) and sure enough, all four were quite good. Critics usually have SOME sort of reason for panning a wine, and John gave the example of a particular Spanish wine. I forget what year he mentioned, but apparently it was a bad year for Spain, so critics avoid Spanish wines from that vintage. Well, as John says, “it turns out that Spain is a pretty big place.” He had us taste a Spanish wine that was actually quite good, but no one would buy it because of the vintage. Hence, the price drops and they snag it by the case to sell at Bin Ends. That’s what they’re all about… finding the hidden bargain wines, so you can get something that tastes like a $60 bottle for a third of the price. THAT is when I start to get really interested in wine; getting something tasty and amazing, but without draining my bank account. An excellent beer might set you back $10 for a 22oz bomber, but an excellent wine could be $80. A very steep learning curve. However, if I can get some tasty wines for beer-type money, now I’m a lot more willing to give it a shot. John’s lecture was right up my alley… if you know what to look for, you can ignore what the “experts” say and find some real bargains. If that appeals to you, go check them out. They’re in Braintree, near the South Shore Plaza on Wood Road (the same road as the F1 go-kart building).

The vendors started packing up about 20 minutes early, which was annoying, so we said our goodbyes to Ke$hia, who told us the gritty horror stories that happened behind the scenes (people changing clothes behind curtains, seven pukers, and other fun). We didn’t see any of this, so our afternoon was quite pleasant. I did actually taste some decent wines, and thanks to the Second Glass app, I know which ones they were. Also, John’s lecture was really enjoyable and, without trying to sound corny, really does make me want to learn more about these wines. I’ll be stopping by Bin Ends this weekend for some more info (FYI, they’re doing a tasting of Mayflower’s beers on Friday night, and The Knot, an Irish whiskey liqueur, on Saturday) and likely do some damage to my bank account, and liver, in the process.

The Lady Friend and I did some wandering around the city, stopping at Wagamamas for dinner, and grabbing a beer in the theatre district before heading to a going-away party for a friend of mine. The party was at a ridiculously nice apartment in the Leather District, and there were REAL Margaritas (fresh lime juice) and some variations (fresh grapefruit juice, and a float of St. Germain). The Lady Friend’s eyes lit up at the prospect of high-quality Margaritas, and she sampled several, leading to her crawling around my apartment later in the evening. Literally crawling. Altogether, a decently boozy day.

That is the Lady Friend with her jacket on upside down.

Sunday was a comedy of errors. We had planned to meet up with Ke$hia after her company brunch, so we drove into Back Bay and headed to the OtherSide Cafe for a beer while we waited, since the OtherSide is set to close (again) on April 28th. It’s a punk/hipster kind of place, but they have decent beers on tap, and it was pouring rain, so a nearby location was key. I sipped on High & Mighty’s Beer of the Gods, a blonde ale which was quite tasty, with a decent amount of sharp hop. Ke$hia got tied up with her company outing, so we headed over to the Sheraton’s SideBar, unique for their “sunken” bar arrangement. Patrons sit on ottomans at a low bar, while the bartenders stand in a sunken pit. Groovy.

However, their service didn’t impress me too much. While the Lady Friend snacked on a trio of Whoopie Pies, I excitedly ordered a Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, only to be told they were out of it. Since it was a cold and rainy big IPA sort of day, I went with the next choice on the list, Harpoon’s Leviathan Imperial IPA. When I saw the bartender pouring my beer from a tap, I got suspicious, and sure enough, it was Harpoon’s standard IPA that they tried to serve me under the guise of the Leviathan. When I called them on it, they said they were out of all their craft bottles, leading me to wonder why they didn’t just say that in the first place. That’s kind of an underhanded move. Don’t try that with someone who drinks as much beer as I do. I settled with the Harpoon IPA (which is plenty tasty, just not what I wanted), and we grabbed some food at the Pru before heading back to SquirrelFarts Headquarters to dry out. A day better spent entirely indoors with sleepy pants on.

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.

Mil-wacky in March, Part 2: Mil-wacky, Wis-cahn-sin

Yet another travel series that I never seem to finish. This one tells the tales of our Milwaukee adventures in late March of 2012. We went there to do some serious drinking. Oh, and also Trevtastic got married. Yeah, some girl actually married that boy. But still, it was a good excuse to show the Lady Friend the various drinking landmarks of Milwaukee, so that’s what we did. Wistful wanderings in Wisco. Part 1 is here.
Yah dere hey.

Ok. Enough Chicago. Time for the real destination: Milwaukee, WI. We flew into O’Hare with the intention of driving up to MKE, so we started off with the acquisition of our sweet rental vehicle, a Chevy Captiva/ Daewoo Winstorm. The Lady Friend had reserved a “small” vehicle, and we got this monsterous crossover contraption that looked like a Big Wheel made from Legos, stale breadsticks, and shellac. Since I’m used to driving Elsa, who is only about 4′ tall, or Phantom, the Lady Friend’s Corolla, the Captiva was like sitting in a ski lift. Apparently this counts as a compact vehicle in the Midwest. Still, it did seem to move better than most domestic plastic monsters, and in about an hour, we hit Milwaukee.

Holy redneck, Batman. I think we made a wrong turn and drove to Alabama.

We met Trevtastic and cohort Meissner for brunch at The Wicked Hop (Milwaukee is really into brunch) and started with a few beers. The Lady Friend asked me to find her something new and local, and got Oscar’s Chocolate Oatmeal Stout from Sand Creek Brewing in Black River Falls, WI, about halfway between Milwaukee and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Not exactly local, but at least in the same state. I went with a Central Waters Mud Puppy Porter, which was quite tasty. Much smoother than her Oatmeal Stout, which was on the bitter side. The Lady Friend was content with sipping her stout while I went for a second round: Lakefront’s Poison Arrow IPA. I’m told it’s only available on tap at The Wicked Hop, but I wasn’t able to confirm that. Still, I’d never seen it before, and it was mighty tasty: an excellent West-Coast style IPA. While finishing up, I got a message from LB, a friend from high school who moved to Milwaukee (by way of Flore-da) several years ago. We were crashing at her house for the rest of the trip, and she shot me a text to say she was doing some work around the corner above the Milwaukee Ale House. We still had a bit of time to kill before our 2pm Great Lakes tour, so the Lady Friend and I headed over for a hello, and a quick drink.

Can’t have an alehouse without ales. And mugs.

The Milwaukee Ale House is the brewpub for Milwaukee Brewing Company. I had been here for dinner on my previous trip, and found their beers to be good, but not great. Their IPA in particular irked me last time, as it was described as “aggressively hopped” but was pretty weak. It had some hop to it, but was nowhere near anything I’d call aggressive. I made a point this time to try some other hoppy offerings to see if they could stand up. While the Lady Friend tried their Hop Happy IPA, I went with a pale ale, followed by a sample of their dIPA.

Pull Chain Pale Ale 5% abv 43 IBU
Nose: Bitter aroma; sharp, slightly savory, English-style hop with a decent cereal malt sweetness.
Taste: Tastes much as it smells. Sharp, bitter English-style hop with a cereal maltiness. Overall bitter, but drinkable.

Double IPA Double Imperial Pale Ale 9.5% abv, no IBU listed.
For some unfathomable reason, this beer was listed under the heading “Session Beer.” WTF? Session beers are defined at 4-5% abv, depending on who you ask. How could a 9.5% double IPA possibly fit that category? Anyway, the menu also claimed that their dry hop was “totally over 25 pounds!” when making the beer. Ok then. Let’s taste it.
Nose: Candy sweet, almost like a bubblegum Belgian, but heavier, with more body behind it.
Taste: Wheaty bubblegum sweetness, but with an alcohol kick. Tastes like a wheat beer with a shot of grain alcohol. Not very well balanced, since I didn’t get much hop bitterness, and too boozy.

So, not the greatest experience. I’d still love to give the full lineup of MKE Brewing a run and see if there’s some gems in the mix, because I haven’t hit any yet. That said, the beers I have sampled were all perfectly drinkable, just not anything I’d seek out specifically. Perhaps on my next MKE voyage I’ll have time to give them my full attention, but this last trip had other priorities. It was time for a tour of Great Lakes Distillery. Right after I took some shots of a Lamborghini Murciélago that was parked at the curb.

A Lamborghini in Milwaukee seems as out of place as a John Deere tractor in NYC.

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