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Kate the Great Imperial Stout Brings Beers Lovers to Portsmouth, NH


Monday February 9th, 2009 saw well over 1,000 beer enthusiasts converge on the small city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Now, this is a town used to its share of tourists but that’s usually during the summer. What could have brought this many people out on a cold February Monday? The answer is Portsmouth Brewery’s Kate the Great Imperial Russian Stout. Brewed only once or twice per year, depending on their ability to brew it, this brew has seen a huge surge in popularity lately. A few years ago, Kate the Great would go on tap and last for a few months. Now, you’re lucky to get a glass after a few days… and if you want to get a bottle you’d better get it in the first few hours.

Urban Farm Fermentory's Eli Cayer [5 Questions]

Over Columbus Day weekend Devon and I took the day to go up to Portland, ME. While craft beer has always been a big part of this city's attraction, in recent years it's just exploded with new brewers and cider makers! Before Devon joined me, I made my way to one of the more interesting places I've ever been in that makes fermented beverages, Urban Farm Fermentory. Finding myself in industral East Bayside, or yEast Bayside as they've taken to calling it, the fermentory is just steps from Rising Tide Brewing, Bunker Brewing and walkable to legendary Portland beer bar Novare Res. With a distiller nearby in addition as well as a baker and cheesemaker moving into a spot in the same warehouse, this industrial neighborhood is fixing to get a lot more crafty! After getting a cup of coffee at Tandem Coffee Roasters, an awesome coffee roaster / cafe that the guys from UFF recommended to me, I met with Adam Callaghan (center), Willis Croninger (right) and founder Eli Cayer (left) as well as Reid Emmerich, head kombucha brewer, and Neil Spillane, CFO (both not pictured).

The Urban Farm Fermentory Team

Founded in early 2010, Eli originally foresaw Urban Farm Fermentory as a place for fermented food, beverage and an apiary. They even dabbled a bit in mycology (growing mushrooms). Since Eli started producing cider in late 2010, they've added Adam and Willis and focused down onto cider and kombucha. The cider? The apples are all locally sourced and spontaneously fermented, so they're super dry and vary from batch to batch. Some is sold that way, some is aged in bourbon barrels from Allagash Brewing and some is dry-hopped (picture below). Then, because everything is fermented in small batches, there's all sorts of crazy experiments (picture far below). The kombucha? I don't normally seek out this fermented tea but UFF's is delicious! I sampled their wild blueberry and ginger infused versions. UFF self distributes in Maine (mostly the Portland area) for now, but keep your eyes open for more from these guys.

After meeting up with the guys of Urban Farm Fermentoy, I followed up with Eli to get him on the record with our 5 Questions series. Here are his answers. Also, if you don't want to trek to Portland, ME but you want to try some of their cider you've got to come out to Drink Craft Beer Fall To Winter Fest! They'll be there showing off with their spontaneously fermented goodness.

Urban Farm Fermentory Ciders

Drink Craft Beer: How did you get into craft cider?

Eli Cayer: I actually got into fermentation through bee keeping. Back in 2002, I acquired a couple bee hives with a friend. We both ended up with 80 lbs of honey and with that we made our first batches of mead. It was magical and I was hooked! That led me to fermentation of all kinds, but with a bend toward locally sourced fermentables.

DCB: What was the turning point (a beer or cider moment) that made you love craft beer and craft cider?

EC: Not to step back to the first question, but i was never much of drinker before making my own mead. My love for honey wine opened me up to so many things in the fermented beverage sphere. Up till then beer was something I drank at highschool parties...Coors, Miller, Bud, etc... basically lame. I didn't drink much at all in college. After getting into mead I began really noticing the variety of craft beers out there. Living in Portland [Maine] has also expanded my beer palate due to the many great micro breweries here such as Allagash, Maine Beer Co., and Oxbow.

DCB: You walk into a magical beer shop with every beer/cider currently available. You can put together one six-pack. What do you walk out with? Only one can be from your brewery.

EC: I imagine that all six would be from other breweries, I can get my stuff when ever i want :) I would look for any beers that would be wild fermented as they tend to truly reflect the culture currently available to that brewery/area.

Experimental UFF Ciders

DCB: You’re going out for one big night in Portland, ME. Where do you go (it doesn’t all have to be beer)?

EC: I generally start and sometimes end my nights at Novare Res. They have an excellent set up for local, national and international brews. We are also basically their house draft hard cider, so I get to try all our experimental batches in the presence of randoms. When the chance arises, I love hearing how people experience something we've worked on, while I soak up some tasty brews from home or away.

DCB: What do you drink when you’re not drinking craft beer, cider or beer at all?

EC: I guess I mostly drink cider and kombucha at this point as they both seem to work better with my digestive system.

DCB: Thanks so much for your time, Eli! Looking forward to seeing you guys at Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest in November/December!

Liter Mugs in Massachusetts: Banned; But Not Banned

This is one of those spur of the moment stories. This summer Notch Brewing has launched the Notch Patio Liter Mug Tour, a great series of events that are exactly what they sound like: people drinking session beer from Notch branded liter mugs on bar patios all around the city. Last night (Thursday, July 24, 2014), the Notch crew was to take over Firebrand Saints in Cambridge, MA...until a called from the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC), saying that liter mugs violated the Happy Hour Regulations, ABCC would be monitoring the event, and that the use of liter mugs would not be allowed. It seems that the glasses violated the rules around only serving a patron two drinks at a time.

In typical Notch fashion, they found a way to have a successful event anyway and, today, much venting online began, including this story on the episode by The Boston Herald. But the story is closed, no liter mugs allowed, too bad. Right? Well, it seems not so...

This morning (Friday, July 25, 2014), I decided to shoot an email to the ABCC to get some clarification on, 1) what constitutes a single serving; 2) why are 32 oz half yards allowed, but not ~34 oz liter mugs; and 3) why would 16 oz servings of high alcohol beer be allowed, but not ~34 oz servings of lower alcohol beer when the former has more alcohol in it?

Within a couple of hours I got a phone call (shortly after Gary Strack, owner of Firebrand Saints received a similar one) from Ralph Sacramone, Executive Director of MA ABCC, about this. He said that the call to Firebrand Saints the night before was a hoax, and that his office made no such call. He went on to say that the event at Firebrand Saints' was within Happy Hour Regulations and that they have no problem with liter mugs.

To be fair, there are some who are saying that this may just be the ABCC back pedaling on the issue after having their hand exposed more than usual on a regulatory interpretation. Who knows, but I don't find that too likely. It was a few beer and drinks industry folks unhappy about a ruling. If the ABCC back pedaled every time that happened, we'd have very different alcohol rules in Massachusetts. What do they care about a few of us being unhappy with a ruling? So, until someone shows me any evidence to prove otherwise, I'm sticking with my story: The call to Firebrand Saints was a hoax, and liter mugs are allowed in Massachusetts.

Now, let's all go down a liter of Notch Brewing Pils to celebrate!

Mystic Brewery Wigglesworth Lord Falconer Oatmeal Stout [Beer Review]

When I think of Mystic Brewery one word comes to mind, saison. Mystic has built a cult following over the last year or so based on their exceptional line of saisons. As a brewery they actually challenged my idea of what a saison was, and really opened my eyes to the unlimited possibilities out there. While perusing the shelves on my local beer store I saw a new bottle on the shelf. On first glance you might actually miss the fact that it's from Mystic. As it turns out this series was spurred by one of Mystic's original employees, Alastair Hewitt, who is originally from the UK. Let me just say right now that I'm really glad they hired him.

I really like the way they've branded this series. If you try this beer expecting traditional Mystic funk then you'll be disappointed. If, however, you go into this beer looking for an amazing English inspired Oatmeal stout then you'll be in heaven. This is one of the best oatmeal stouts I've had in recent memory, perhaps ever. The aroma is laced with a subtle sweetness with hints of roasted malt. The first sip just pulled me in, though, in reality I can't call it a sip so much as a gulp, it was just so good as soon as I tasted it that I had to have more (cue Will Ferrell jokes). Seriously though, it's incredibly smooth, the oatmeal provides a fantastically good round mouth feel that just begs you to keep drinking more of it. The roasted malt is fairly subtle and the balance between malt bitterness and sweetness is sublime. I don't normally gush over beers like this but it's that good. One of the things that makes me happiest is a single line of text on the bottle "traditional ale series." That one line means there's more to come, and if the rest are anything like this then we're in for some seriously good beer.

Night Shift Brewing's Michael Oxton and Rob Burns [5 Questions]

The latest brewer to be a part of our 5 Questions series, Night Shift Brewing, is also one of the breweries coming to Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale! On July 13 & 14 we'll showcase 70+ Farmhouse Ales and summer beers from 25 New England breweries! Get your tickets now!

With so many new breweries starting up these days it's increasingly hard to stand out in the crowd. Night Shift has managed to do just that by creating some fantastically interesting beers. It's hard to live in the Boston area without hearing something about these guys, and for good reason. We'll admit we approached some of their beers with a bit of apprehension at first but were quickly converted to believers at first sip. With beers like Bee Tea (made with orange blossom honey and green tea), Viva Habanera (rye ale brewed with agave nectar and habanero peppers) and Somer Weisee (a sour with lemon grass and ginger) it's clear these guys are taking on some completely new flavors. But here's the thing, every single one of their beers is an exercise in restraint. Viva Habanera, while having some slight spice, is incredibly balanced and you could easily drink a pint or two. Somer Weise? Well that's easily one of my new favorite beers, the ginger comes out just enough, the lemongrass ads amazing citrus character and it's just sour enough to be tart but won't give you "sour beer face". Enough with the praise from me though, lets get on to the good stuff and see what Michael Oxton and Rob Burns, two of the three founders of Night Shift, have to say about their beer. When you're done reading check out the pictures from our visit to Night Shift

From Left to Right: Michael O'Mara, Michael Oxton, Rob Burns

Drink Craft Beer: How did you get into craft beer?

Rob: I brewed my first craft beer in college from a cheap little beer kit. It tasted like crappy cider. Michael Oxton and I went to Bowdoin College in Maine and were exposed to a lot of great craft beer. At first I drank a lot of "Natty Light" and "Natty Ice" - so much in fact that I wallpapered my dorm room with cases. But that started to change as I became exposed to Allagash, Geary's and Shipyard. By my senior year of college, I actually painted that Geary's Summer Ale label on my wall. 

Drink Craft Beer:  What was the turning point (a beer or moment) that made you love craft beer?

Rob: An early turning point for me was one of those Maine blueberry beers. I was shocked by the flavor it had - it constantly reminded me of blueberry pancakes. I didn't know that was possible with beer. After tasting that, I went on a quest to try as many beers as possible, really set on understanding the differences in styles and ingredients. I realized that the best way to learn more about the beer I was drinking was to start brewing. During my senior year, I brewed my first batch, but it wasn't until post-graduation that the hobby really became addictive.

Michael: A bottle of Dogfish Head World Wide Stout. I remember it cost me around $10 to buy just that single bottle, and despite being a college junior with zero spending money, I loved that fact (such a savvy consumer). I weakly followed their instructions to bury it in a hole in the ground outside (buried it in a pile of my laundry) and cracked it my senior spring with a few good friends (Rob included). We spent about half an hour sipping it and talking about all the intricate flavors - I'd never done that with a beer before. My beer vocabulary was super limited, but I knew there was a dialogue to be had. Beer that compelled discussion and analysis - as an English major, I was hooked. 

Drink Craft Beer:  You walk into a magical beer shop with every beer currently available. You can put together one six-pack. What do you walk out with? Only one beer can be from your brewery.

Rob: This is obviously a really tough question. There are so many amazing beers out today that I can never really narrow down my favorites. My ideal 6 pack would include some aged beers and some fresh ones. 

1. Cantillon Vignerrone
2. J.W. Lees 1999 Harvest Ale - this aged barleywine is one of my favorite beers of all time
3. Drie Fontaine Kriek
4. Six point Bengali Tiger IPA
5. Rochefort 10
6. Russian River Beautification 


[no particular order] 

1. Hair of the Dog Fred
2. DFH 120
3. Avery Samael's Oak Aged Ale
4. North Coast 2009 Old Stock Ale
5. St. Bernardus Abt 12
6. 1996 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

Drink Craft Beer:  You have one night in your favorite beer city. What city are you in and where do you go (it doesn’t all have to be beer)?

Rob: I haven't been to some of the best beer cities in the US like Portland, OR or Asheville, NC, so I can't really pick those. But I would probably pick Philadelphia, PA. I grew up just north of the city, and regularly return. I would visit some of the great local breweries like Yard's Brewing and Nodding Head Brewpub. I would then head to Eulogy for their amazing Belgian beer selection. Afterwards, I would check out my new favorite beer bar, The Farmer's Cabinet, whose selection has so many breweries I have never even heard of. They have an amazing choice of Italian, Dutch, Swiss and other European craft breweries...not to mention a ton of vintage beers. I would probably end the night in a smaller bar like Good Dog or Devil's Den, which both have a chill atmosphere and solid beer selection.

Drink Craft Beer:  What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t in beer?

Rob: I currently have two jobs. For my day shift, I write code for an internet company. I really enjoy my day job, so would be happy to continue a career in software. But the beer world is way more fun, and is challenging in a much different way. With software, I create a virtual product; with beer, my own physical labor and hands create a tangible thing. I think there's something so primal about doing manual labor that really attracts me to brewing and makes me want to leave my desk job.

Michael: Struggling novelist, vagrant world traveler, lawyer, undrafted baseball pitcher, college professor, potter, or one of the dozen other career choices I've at least once considered. In running a brewery, I think I've found the perfect career (for me) because it affords almost limitless independence, creativity, responsibility, and social interaction all at once. I went through a number of careers - Chilean English teacher, corporate software trainer, publishing production assistant, Seth MacFarlane's driver (for a week) - before committing myself to the brewery, and I'm finding it to be an ideal fit (ask me this question tomorrow night while I'm shoveling hot grain out of a mash tun and my answer will be slightly different).
Night Shift Taza Stout
Drink Craft Beer: What do you drink when you’re not drinking craft beer (or beer at all)?

Rob: Lately I have been really getting into Kombucha. I love the parallels it has to wild/sour beers. The flavors are similar but I can enjoy it at my day job and still function. 

Michael: Water (no, not Bud Light - actual water). And a lot of fruit smoothies. 

Drink Craft Beer:  Where do you see the craft beer industry going in the next year? And, in that vein, can we get a sneak peak at what new to expect from you in the coming year?

Rob: It's a very interesting time for craft beer. I think a lot of the bigger craft breweries have very ambitious expansion plans. At the same time, there seems to be a shift towards buying local and supporting local businesses. So, I think there's room both for local breweries to continue growing, and for new ones to pop up. It's exciting, and, as a consumer, I'm loving the variety. 

For Night Shift Brewing, we are looking to grow on a monthly basis as we expand to more accounts. However, we want to maintain an organic, grass-roots type growth. We dont want expand outside of our means too quickly. We're constantly learning so much, and there's no need to rush anything. Right now, what's super exciting for us is to see regulars returning to our brewery each week to pick up the latest bottle or beer refill for their growlers - we're developing so many awesome relationships with the community around us, so we don't feel a huge need to move outside of it anytime soon.

As for new beers, we have a lot in the pipeline that we are really excited to brew and share with people. We just need to figure out when we want to introduce new beers. Right now, the thinking is on a monthly basis, although we just released 3 beers in the last 2 weeks. Being so small gives us great flexibility to do that.

Drink Craft Beer:  What’s your “Last Supper” of food and beer? Pick up to three dishes and the beers that you think go best with them.

Fresh ceviche with our own Somer Wiesse (Berliner weisse style ale w/ lemongrass and ginger) 
Lamb chops with Cambridge Brewing Company's Brett Gossett, a saison with Brett. 
My grandmother's ginger snaps with vanilla ice cream and Brooklyn Brewery's Chocolate Stout, preferably aged for several years

Drink Craft Beer:  You can brew any beer you like, no matter the cost and consumer demand, what would you make and what dream ingredients would you use?

Rob: Night Shift Brewing is only a three person company, and there is really nothing off-limits to what we'll consider brewing. I am a huge fan of fruit beers - not the fake, sweet, syrupy types, but more of the Belgian tradition, like lambics. So I hope to brew those beers styles fairly soon. I would love to brew a beer with Star Fruit or Dragon Fruit. They both have such unique flavors, but would be very costly to brew with. If money AND time aren't a factor, then we'll start talking hard-to-find barrels...