Posts Tagged ‘red ale’

The Repeal Day Celebration

Repeal Day!
A day for true celebration, as we mark the anniversary of the death of “The Noble Experiment,” Prohibition.

A little background: basically the country was going down the tubes because people drank WAY more alcohol back in the day than we do now. We’re talking like five gallons of hard liquor a year in Colonial times. Average. Per person. That’s nearly two shots of liquor every single day. Those numbers did start to come down with the Temperance movements of the late 1800s, until the Teetotalers got their way. Because America wildly overreacts to everything, they decided that an outright ban on alcohol would solve all their problems. The Eighteenth Amendment went into effect in 1920 and said you couldn’t manufacture, sell, or transport liquor in the US. Possession and consumption was still technically legal. The non-drinkers thought it would create a new utopia and last forever. The “Father of Prohibition,” Senator Morris Sheppard, claimed that “There is as much chance of repealing the Eighteenth Amendment as there is for a hummingbird to fly to the planet Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.” Then things went a bit south… bootlegging, moonshining and organized crime skyrocketed until even die-hard Prohibitionists had to admit that it was a bad idea. On December 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th (and final state needed) to ratify the 21st Amendment, and Prohibition was over. Though it didn’t go into effect until December 15th, the 5th is celebrated as Repeal Day.

This is like my Christmas. Only in December.

Anyway, a celebration was needed. Last year I was drinking beers with the Irish Lad and Wifey at their house, and we fittingly had our first tastes of Brew Free or Die IPA from 21st Amendment. Actually, on the way home I got pulled over because my taillight was out. The remaining beers were rolling around the back of my car (they had escaped from their carrying case), and friendly Mr. Police Officer shone his flashlight on them and asked me what brand they were. I should have offered him one, but he let me go anyway.

Repeal Day fell on a Monday this year, so that meant a great excuse for a Monday Night Cocktail Club event. The Lady Friend and I met after work at South Station, and ventured up to the Purple Shamrock, in the Government Center/Faneuil Hall area. Now, on a Friday or Saturday night, the PSham is complete chaos. All the tards from the suburbs or further think that the Faneuil area is the happening place. The reality is an evening of long lines, cover charges, lousy drinks, college kids, overly-made-up skanks, and Jersey Shore types from Revere. It’s great for a night of drunken debauchery out with a group, but if you want to enjoy a quiet drink, this is not the place.

On a Monday night, that all changes.

I had wandered in there a couple years ago on a MNCC saunter, needing to use the bathroom. Then I figured since it was cold outside and warm inside the bar, I may as well stay for a pint. I struck up a conversation with the bartender, Jackie, and we had a lovely chat. She’s from just north of London and a genuinely nice person, who knows how to pour a proper pint of Guinness (with the foam so close to the top that it has a small convex bulge across the head as the surface tension holds it together). I began to stop in for a pint and a chat on many following MNCC excursions, and even on some weekends with a rowdy Midwestern group of friends. Here’s a protip: it really pays to know the bartender personally on a busy night. It might be three deep at the bar, but I’m getting served first.

Apparently, the Purple Shamrock is named for a bit of Boston history, which I just recently found out. Former mayor/governor James Curley, who was cartoonishly corrupted and just plain criminal (seriously, he was in prison a couple of times), was nicknamed The Purple Shamrock (also, the Rascal King. Yes, like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones song). Across the street from the bar, there are two statues of this villain; one standing and one sitting on a nearby bench, both doing nothing useful, as politicians do in real life. I honestly don’t understand why such an unscrupulous person is memorialized and celebrated to that effect, but that’s Boston.

So the Lady Friend and I started there for a bite and a beer. The food is pretty good, and it’s nice and quiet on a weeknight. This time it smelled lovely, like breakfast. It took me awhile to pin down the aroma, which finally clicked as “french toast.” It turned out to be a “Maple Pancake” scented candle in the entryway, and I think it was a welcome change from the usual “holiday” scents of cinnamon and nutmeg. I had a couple Guinness (naturally) and a tasty tasty BBQ chicken sangwich, while the Lady Friend went with steak tips and a water. Apparently, she likes the steak tips at the Union Brewhouse better. We finished up, bade farewell to Jackie, and headed to our first official stop, The Bell in Hand Tavern, just down the block.

Oldest? Well, old, but not oldest.

A little more history: The Bell in Hand Tavern claims to be the oldest tavern in the country. Well, according to this article, not quite. But it is pretty damn old. Sidenote: I will have to make trips to Charlestown (Warren Tavern, 1780) and down to Newport (White Horse Tavern, 1673, beating the Bell in Hand by over 100 years). Anyway, Bell in Hand was founded by Jimmy Wilson, Boston’s town crier. It became known as a place where the colonists met to discuss and plan the revolution.

These days, not so much. The revolution is over (we won! U-S-A! U-S-A!) and now the Bell in Hand is another douche central like the Shamrock. They have karaoke during the week (fortunately not on the Monday we were there) and live cover bands on weekends. On a Saturday night it’s usually wall-to-wall dbags. Again, I’ve been here many times before, usually with a party group, and it’s a blast, but totally not my scene of choice now. It made the list because it is a historically important spot in Boston, and if we’re drinking to celebrate a historical event, we’ll do it in the right place. The Lady Friend and I sipped on some Samuel Adams Brick Red ale, a beer that can only be found on tap in Boston. It’s pretty good… similar to a Sam Lager, but without the hoppiness. A good, easy-drinking ale; a proper Boston drink. Naturally, this necessitated a trip to the lav, which appears to have been remodeled since I was here last. At least, it’s nicer than I recall, but memories from the Bell in Hand tend to be rather fuzzy. As a puzzling feature, the urinals are awkwardly mounted about a foot higher than seems necessary. I’m not sure if this is on purpose, or for a certain reason, but it does generate an unfortunate amount of, shall we say, splashback. Just a tip for the gents. Also, apparently they just phoned it in with the soap dispenser… nothing wall mounted, just a pump-top bottle which I’d bet would go missing within the first 20 minutes of a typical Saturday. Drunk guys will steal or smash anything that’s not literally bolted down. Just because they can.

We ventured to our next stop, No. 9 Park, which is practically next to the State House. It’s a fancy restaurant and equally fancy bar where the cocktails are top notch. This was another MNCC discovery, and one worth several repeat visits. I got to know Ted, the bartender, and we chatted about drinks and such until he got promoted to bar manager, and his shifts changed. Happily, he happened to be working on Monday night, and we exchanged pleasantries. The Irish Lad and Wifey had joined us en route, and we lounged in the corner booth. While we were making our drink choices, Ted brought over a round of Last Word cocktails, a very fitting Prohibition-era tipple, which was a very generous and appreciated gesture. It also made me appear to have connections, and, who am I to argue? I’m kind of a big deal.

So, we enjoyed our Last Words, and put our drink order in. Among the drinks were a Mint Julep for the Lady Friend (her Rule 37 for the week, as she had never had one before), and a Negroni (Plymouth gin, Cinzano vermouth) for me. Wifey had some vodka drink, followed by one with apple brandy and gin, and the Irish Lad was pleased with a West Coast Green Flash IPA. We sipped and chatted, and Wifey waved out the window at passers-by. There was a guy at the bar with a top hat/rabbit puppet who seemed to be a few crayons short of a rainbow. We finished, said a quick word of thanks to Ted, and ventured out to our next stop.

This is where I’m supposed to tell you about the bar 21st Amendment, next to the State House.
They were closed.
On Repeal Day.

So, it was off to Silvertone Bar & Grill instead. I heart Silvertone. Dark, cozy, good food, good drinks. It’s a well-known place among industry types, and a great place to relax. The food and drinks are both decently cheap, but without skimping on the quality. Again, on a weekend it’ll be packed, but with a more hipster crowd than the Faneuil bars. On a Monday night you can squeeze into a booth and order up some comfort food, which is just what we did. Mmmmmm grilled cheese with bacon. Wifey had a raspberry Stoli and Sprite, or something liek that, while the rest of us had some Mayflower IPA. The IPA tasted off to me, with a spicy/nutmegginess to it. It could be that my palate was out of whack after the Negroni. I’m not sure. But this was the last stop for the night. The Lady Friend was fading fast (even though she had a half day of work on Tuesday and didn’t have to get up early) so we finished up and headed for the T. Repeal Day ended with plenty of drinks in my belly, and half of my fries and sangwich (with bacon!) in the fridge for lunch the next day. I miss the Monday Night Cocktail Club.

Lobstah tree!

Upta Potlind, Paht 7: Bray’s Brew Pub

This is Part Seven of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011. To start at Part One, click here.


Following a day of tours and tastings including Gritty McDuff’s, Allagash, The Maine Beer Company, the Great Lost Bear, Sebago Brewpub, and Novare Res, I awoke rather reluctantly Saturday morning with a case of the beer flu. Bacchus’s revenge. Morning fog, cropsick, crapulence. Suffering from intemperance. Not eager to start the day.

Eventually, I rallied enough to gingerly coax some Hatorade, that Lady Friend had graciously procured from the nearby Shaw’s, into the depths of my gullet. Baby steps, baby steps. But, we had an itinerary to keep, and after passing a rather interesting sign proclaiming an imminent invasion of little people, the first stop of the day was Bray’s Brew Pub in Naples, up Route 302, next to Sebago Lake (apparently there is a “Lake Sebago” in New York State).

Sebago looks like this.

Bray’s Brew Pub claims to be only about 30 minutes from Portland, but if you’re heading up Rt 302 in the summah be aware that it’s the ONE road to the lakes region, and every yahoo in Cumberland County is going boating. Bray’s is located at the intersection where Rt 35 forks off of Roosevelt Trail/Rt 302/Rt 35/Rt 11. Seriously, Maine? Anyway, if you’re goin’ up dere from Potlind, it’ll be on the left, and it looks nothing like a brewpub. It looks like an old farmhouse, mostly because it IS an old farmhouse.

Not pictured: helpful exterior shot.
I wasn’t really functioning at peak efficiency at the time.

This place was pretty cool. Seriously… picture an old-timey farmhouse, and put a bar in it.

Little Alehouse on the Prairie.

We sat down to lunch, and ordered a flight of beers to share. I was able to keep down some Pepsi (gotta get that caffeine and sugar boost going), water, and a taste of each beer. Lady Friend took up the duty of finishing off the wounded soldiers. I managed to eat one (1) french fry, and that was enough. When I get hungover, the LAST thing in the world I want is food. Others go the opposite way, like my Milwaukee mate ‘Tastic, who demolished a breakfast burrito the size of a terrier after a night of drinking, along with a Bloody Mary that was more garnish than drink.

Seriously. It’s not a “drink” if it’s mostly solid foods.

When I’m hungover, my stomach and I need some time apart. We go our separate ways and meet up after about 10 hours when my appetite returns, and we reacquaint, stronger than before. Sometimes in a relationship, you have to know when to just back off, and spend some quality time away from each other. As such, I have never been able to follow the “hair of the dog” technique, but was able to do some mild tastings of the brews that Bray’s produced. They had five pours of roughly 4-5oz, and we started sipping, one of us with much less enthusiasm than usual (this guy).

Taste order was right-to-left.

Irish Red Ale
Nose: Malty, slight copper.
Taste: Smooth & creamy. Malty, grain. Slight bitter finish, but not metallic. Very nice.

440 Blues Brew (blueberry)
Nose: Slight farmy aroma, with fruit.
Taste: Fruity, then malt, then slight bitter. Fine, but not a ton of flavor.

Old Church Pale Ale
Nose: Hoppy floral.
Taste: Hop start with malty sweetness. Well-balance. Nice.

Baa Baa Black Wheat (stout?)
Nose: Bitter coffee roast
Taste: Bitter coffee roast. Not much sweetness.

Muddy River Bog Brown (brown ale)
Nose: Weak, malt aroma
Taste: Malty, but cereal sweet.

Nothing was bad, but nothing jumped out at me. I suspect my palate was also not entirely up to snuff, but there really weren’t any surprises in this batch. However, they also do offer a 50+ bottle list, which was very nice. Sadly, the family behind us (apparently from central NH, as overheard from the patriarch’s vociferous boasting of the infinite differences between the superior glory of the NH lakes region versus the squalor of ME) did not partake of the wonders offered, choosing a Bud Light and a Michelob. At a brewpub. Sigh.

Hmm… bring me your finest, coldest, low-calorie, pasteurized, cut-with-30% rice,
St. Louis pale lager, and be quick about it, my good man.

Yes, Budweiser is brewed with up to 30% rice, taking the place of things like barley. You know, to get rid of that pesky “beer” flavor. Ick.

Bray’s also has an outdoor Bier Garden section, with tented seating, an outdoor bar, and a stage, which was put to use shortly after we arrived. A large group of bikers began walking in, including a number of police bike units. Their department patches gave away their origins, with several from Portland, Lewiston and one from Old Orchard Beach, some 50 miles away. As near as I can tell, it was some sort of memorial ride, and the bikers mostly wandered out to the bier garden where a classic rock band had started dishing out the best ear poison from BÖC, BTO and REO (Speedwagon, in case there was some confusion). It was time to go.

Don’t fear the Reaper.

This was our last beer stop in Maine. The next destination was a winery called Blacksmith’s, where Lady Friend did a tasting, and was quite impressed. I tried some local cream soda (lovely) and a very nice hard cider, made in the British style: not too sweet. We were the only ones in the place, and chatted with the bartender, Brandon (Brendon?). He sympathized with my plight, and offered his own remedy: chug a bottle of chocolate milk. He insisted that the milk gives your stomach a nice, creamy coating and helps you feel better. I retorted that everything in a radius around me would be quickly and violently coated with said milk if I attempted that cure. But it was another interesting tidbit to file away.

We had intended to drive up to Lewiston and tour Baxter Brewing Company, a canned craft brewery, (apparently New England’s first all-canned), but the distance and the enthusiasm level led us to abandon that plan and head south to visit friends in North Berwick for dinner. On the way, we pulled off at a small beach on the lake to dip our feet. Brandon had suggested diving in to help clear my head, but given the lack of appropriate swim attire, and the long car ride home, wading would have to do. It was quite nice, and was another checkmark on our Maine-approved activities, followed up by blueberry picking with the Maine friends, a lovely dinner of grilled chicken, corn on the cob and potatos (my appetite had returned by then), and a post-meal walk with Casey Sage, the golden retriever. Back into the car as night fell for the drive back to Boston, my own lovely bed, and a refrigerator now stocked with a plethora of souvenir brews, waiting to be tasted.

Upta Potlind, Paht 5: Sebago Brewpub

This is Part Five of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

I say See-bay-go, you say See-bah-go

I had stopped by Sebago Brewpub a couple years ago while interviewing for a job in Portland. It was on the corner of Market and Middle streets right in the middle of downtown/Old Port, and looked the way a brewpub should… dark wood, a proper bar, fermenting tanks lurking behind glass along the side of the dining area. However, as Lady Friend and I discovered, they had moved to a new location, on Fore Street, several months ago. This… was a bit disappointing.

Um. Not very brewpubby.

Their new location is all shiny and new, with lighter wood, brightly painted walls, and silly track lighting. The dining sections take up the majority of the space, but there is a decently long bar. I’m guessing they were doing well enough to abandon the old location in favor of this space. Good for them. I’m not saying more business is bad; I’m just of the opinion that the old location had a lot more character, and this one looks too new and manufactured, like a Boston Beer Works. I know that Sebago has several locations, but this new space LOOKS like it’s part of a chain.

Is there a bar back there somewhere?

This was a bit disappointing, but I’ll get over it. At least it means that business is good, and people are buying decent, local, craft beers, so I’ll let it slide. We asked the hostess for a table for two, and she said it’d be an hour wait. Yikes. I mean, it was Friday night, and the place was hopping, as evidenced by the interior photos above. We put our names in and headed to the bar with the idea of having at least one beer, and bouncing to another place for food if we didn’t feel like waiting. I spotted a breech in the wall of bodies at the bar and sent Lady Friend scooting over to secure a beachhead. I was staring at the taps, trying to decide what to order, when someone tapped me on the shoulder: it was Rob, the brewer from Gritty’s I had met at lunchtime. We chatted a bit about who works where, and how everybody has worked for Shipyard Brewing at some point, and I ordered a Citra Hop IPA that was on tap, not part of the normal lineup. Lady Friend snagged a blueberry ale, and as we were paying for the drinks, the hostess came up and said a table was ready. It had been about five minutes of the original hour wait estimate. Cool. We hadn’t understood why the wait was an hour in the first place, when we could see several empty tables.

We sat and started to taste our drinks. My Citra Hop IPA nosed with floral hop and a citrus aroma. The taste smacked of apple/tree fruit, a bit more sharp and/or tart than Irish Lad’s homebrew version, and drier. There was a smooth, malty undertone that didn’t so much counteract the hop, but added a counter-melody, playing along with the predominately fruit/hop flavor. It was good. Her blueberry was tasty, without being too sweet. A lot of fruit-flavored beers tend to wind up tasting like a mild ale with fruit syrup flavoring dumped in. Sebago’s version didn’t seem to have that problem. Lady Friend really enjoyed it, saying it was her favorite blueberry beer that she’s encountered so far.

We ordered dinner, and it was perfectly tasty. More importantly, we had to get a flight of beers for a tasting. There were five in a flight, decently sized at about 4 oz, and 10 varieties to choose from. Ours consisted of the five standard offerings: ale, IPA, brown ale, red ale and stout.

Saddleback Ale
Nose: Faint fruit/wheat. Faint.
Taste: Malt. Cereal grain with a touch of bitter.

Boathouse Brown Ale
Nose: Roasted and malty
Taste: Roasted and malty. (I know, very original). Sweet. Slight copper tang, but then finishes malt sweet.

Lake Trout Stout
Nose: Roast. Coffee beans.
Taste: Creamy mouthfeel. Bitter roast, but not unpleasant. Hint of vanilla sweetness. VERY good.

Runabout Red Ale
Nose: Very faint. Slight fruity malt, but hard to tell.
Taste: Starts fruity sweet, changes over to copper/metallic. Finishes copper bitter, but there is an interesting point in the middle of the taste when the sweetness starts to mix with the copper bitter. Unfortunately, the copper keeps going and leaves a sour taste after a nice transition.

Frye’s Leap IPA
Nose: Floral hop with a sweetness behind it
Taste: Syrupy mouthfeel. Starts with hop bitter, finishes medicinal. Alcohol. Middle has tart apple, and a bit of earthy flavor. Terrible finish. Too harsh. Like the red ale, there’s a lot of interest in the middle transitional flavors, but then gets ruined by a bad finish.

So, Sebago was a mixed bag. I miss the character of the old location, but if they’re doing business well enough to open this new space, good for them. The food was good, standard burgers-and-fries type pub grub. The beers were tasty overall, with a few disappointing finishes. However, the Lake Trout Stout stood out as the clear winner in the batch we had… a nice roast, smooth mouthfeel and pleasant experience start to finish. Lady Friend saved half for an after dinner treat. I was horrified to see a table of four behind us with only one member drinking beer. There was actually some dbag drinking a martini. In a brewpub. I bet it was vodka.

Next up: Novare Res Bier Cafe

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.

Beercation 2011: Part 1, Enter the Vermont

I had been thinking of a quick blast up to Canada for some time for the specific purpose of acquiring a certain whisky, until Lady Friend came along. Between the two of us, we decided to expand it to a tour of several Vermont breweries, and a night in Montreal. After several various planning changes, we had a decent itinerary worked out, and went on the long 4th of July weekend.

We sauntered up I93 from Boston, hopped over the border into New Hampshire (Live Free or Die), banged a left onto I89 at Concord (Cahnkid), and bade farewell to traffic, tolls, and, well, people. NH has the White Mountains, but they get moldy in VT and become the Green Mountains. Ah, Vermont. New Hampshire’s upside-down sister, 69-ing since 1791. Land of cows, trees, and… I can’t think of anything else.

This is what Vermont looks like.

It’s about 215 miles to Burlington from Boston, and we got there around 11am. Burlington has a couple of breweries, and a number of brewpubs, so the Vermont Pub and Brewery brewpub was our first stop. They had 10 craft beers available, and you could order a 3oz sample for $1, four for $4, or a flight of six for $6.

We went with six.

Out of the ten beers, you could choose which six you wanted, or have the bartender choose for you. Lady Friend left it up to fate but I deliberately chose my targets, knowing I didn’t want to bother with any wheat beers or popsicle-flavored brews. I went with the Bohemian Pilsner, Grandslam Baseball Beer (American Ale), Burly Irish Ale (Red), Dogbite Bitter (ESB), Opa Pale Ale, and Bombay Grab IPA. Least favorite was the pilsner, since I’m not particularly a fan, and winner was the Grandslam American Ale. The IPA just didn’t have enough punch to win me over, but the AAle was delicious.

Lady Friend’s flight skipped the IPA, pale ale and ESB, and got the Forbidden Fruit (raspberry flavored), Beetlejuice (Weissbier) and Tulach Leis, which was a Brettanomyces-yeasted sour red ale. Yikes. She liked all three, but wishes she hadn’t started with the sour. Neither of us had the Milk Stout, which was a shame, since we both tasted all of the beers between us, and it would have been nice to hit the entire menu. I found the raspberry too fruity (I call it chick beer), the Weissbier acceptable (though I’m not a fan… what makes it taste like banana?) and the sour was a whole other category. Think vinegar. She’ll drink that but won’t eat a pickle. Irish Lad is making headway into the sour beer world, but it is a voyage he will partake alone. I’m not following him down that rabbit hole.

Overall, the experience was a pleasant one. The food was as it should be: good, solid, pub style fare, but with a long and varied menu that should please just about everyone. Good prices, good beer. Didn’t have anything that blew me away, but there also weren’t any duds in the bunch. Their motto of “Drink good beer, eat good food” sums it up quite well.

Our waitress let us in on a tip we hadn’t known about. There is a “Vermont Brewery Challenge Passport” with many regional brewers’ and brewpubs’ logos on the inside. It’s a promotional piece for the upcoming VT Craft Brewers Festival. The idea is to go to the different places, and get them to stamp your passport. Depending on the number of stamps you receive, you can redeem it for various prizes. Lady Friend and I got our first stamp at VT Pub & Brew… onto Part 2, Switchback Brewery!

Return top