Drink Craft Beer
A pilsner brewed by Oskar Blues, this is their first canned lager. We were able to try this on-tap at Sunset Bar & Grill in Allston, MA and it's quite good. This will be a great beer to take camping or boating in the summer! A delicious beer to session, it's just hoppy enough without being overbearingly so. This will definitely make it into the regular rotation!
If you're thinking of joining a beer of the month club you've found the right place. Each month we review a beer of the month club shipment to give you an idea of what you really get. This month Gourmet Monthly Clubs sends us a local (to us) favorite, Ipswich Brewing Company. Ipswich has been brewing for 20 years now and puts out some of the most delicious brews in New England. They're definitely one to look out for, and we're stoked to have Gourmet Monthly Clubs send it to us this month!
Flying Dog Garde Dog Biere De Garde
Appearance: Garde Dog pours a crystal clear light amber with a fluffy white head. While the head is shorter than expected, it’s there and puffy for sure.
Smell: This one smells Belgian! Yeast is the prominent player in this brew, and that’s perfect for style. While it’s a French-style biere de garde, it definitely smells quite a bit like a Belgian-style saison (which is fine, as the styles are close cousins and overlap quite frequently). Yeasty phenolics, light banana and a little pepper come through, with a pale, lightly bready malt as a backdrop.
Taste: While the smell is Belgian, the taste is definitely French! This is more malt forward than the more popular Belgian cousin and finishes a little sweeter. The malt is a little earthy, while the beer transitions to finish a with a light banana flavor. To finish off the review, look out for a little spiciness from the rye malt that the crazy buggers over at Flying Dog threw into this one...it’s not traditional, but rye makes everything better!
Ipswich Brewing Company Original Ale
Appearance: Ipswich Original Ale pours a mildly hazy amber with just a tinge of orange. A bone-white head forms about two inches tall on top, but recedes to a couple of millimeters where it seems to stay almost indefinitely.
Smell: Well, it’s an “Original Ale.” What did you expect it to smell like? It smells like beer. A little malt, a little hops and some yeast...but somehow that simple combo smells delicious!
Taste: Mild hop bitterness and a clean malt character start the beer out deliciously! It has a light, but not thin body, resinous hops that are somehow not bitter or even strong in flavor and a dry finish. This is the beer you want when you just want a beer!
Now, some may accuse us of favoritism on this one as Ipswich Brewing Company is one of our local favorites, but let us tell you that they live up to anything we say about how good they are. Ipswich has been putting out delicious beers under the radar for years now, but only recently have people really started to take notice. So be happy you got this delicious local favorite from Gourmet Monthly Clubs...and if your live somewhere that you can get Ipswich, go pick up a six-pack. It’s all good, but in addition to this month’s package, we have to recommend the Oatmeal Stout as well!
Flying Dog Road Dog Porter
Appearance: Road Dog pours a clear, dark brown. When you hold it up the light you’ll see that it also has some very dark, brick red tones to it. A surprisingly light foam springs up and that heads sits at two fingers for quite a while.
Smell: This beer smells a bit like bitter chocolate with notes of coffee beans. You also get a bit of bitter, almost acrid (but in a good way) aroma from the black malt that the brewers added.
Taste: When you look at this beer you can get a good idea of how it will taste. Many porters are pitch black and you gets bitter, roasty black malt flavors. This one is much lighter and, accordingly, the flavors are a bit sweeter and you even get a little prune out of it. There is some malt bitterness on the finish but, for the most part, this is a super-interesting, if non-traditional, take on the style.
Ipswich Brewing Company IPA
Appearance: Ipswich IPA pours a rich orange and ruby body with a slight haze and a craggy, taupe head that just seems to hang around forever getting rockier and rockier.
Smell: With the pour so came the aromas of hops that permeated the room. Ipswich somehow coaxes an herbal hop aroma out of the Cascade hops they use in their interpretation of an IPA. At the same time, you get malt that is more than a hops delivery device, it provides a backbone and structure that makes this beer so much more interesting than just hop juice.
Taste: Aaaaaaaand this is why this is one of our favorite, if not significantly underrated, IPAs! It has the bitterness and IBUs that make you feel like the enamel is being stripped off your teeth, but the malt to balance out the beer a bit and give it some intrigue. This beer does not get the hype it deserves; it’s without a doubt one of the best IPAs to emerge from the East Coast (or anywhere) in the craft beer movement. As we mentioned, Ipswich is a local brewery and we feel that it’s our duty to alert those not lucky enough to have tried this beer to it’s deliciousness! This is the reason that clubs like Gourmet Monthly Clubs is so great, they find the delicious local beers you’d never otherwise be able to try!
Big things are happening in Somerville. Union Square is now home to both Bantam Cider and Aeronaut Brewing Company. The Legoland Discovery Center recently opened in Assembly Row. Somerville Brewing Company, the makers of Slumbrew beers, made big news when they announced that they will be bringing a new brewery, retail experience, and taproom to Boynton Yards. Yet, there is something else coming to Somerville. Something fans of Slumbrew will be very excited about. Something that has been kept a secret until now: Assembly Row will soon be the home of the very first American Fresh Taproom.
That's right; the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row by Somerville Brewing Company will be opening to the public on August 1st, before the American Fresh Taproom and Brewery Boynton Yards by Somerville Brewing Company opens in the first week of November. A family-friendly, outdoor beer garden pavilion offering high-quality food and beers from Slumbrew, the American Fresh Taproom promises to be one of the biggest things to come to Somerville yet.
The founders of Somerville Brewing Company, Caitlin Jewell and Jeff Leiter.
(All photos courtesy of Somerville Brewing Company)
To find out more about Somerville Brewing Company's history as well as their plans for the Slumbrew and American Fresh brands, I traveled out to Somerville to meet with the co-owners, Jeff Leiter and Caitlin Jewell. We sat down at Redbones Barbecue in Davis Square to talk about things over a few pints of Flagraiser IPA.
As I took my first pint from Jeff, who was sitting near the bar, the familiar aroma of Flagraiser immediately hit my nose. The smell of pine and citrus made it hard to resist. Luckily, we soon raised our glasses and toasted with a hearty "cheers" (or, as Caitlin would say, "slàinte"). After taking my first sip and enjoying the sweet yet fruity flavor of the beer, I decided to ask Jeff about where the inspiration for their beers first came from. "It came from making beers that I liked to drink or that Caitlin liked to drink," Jeff said. "I had to fight hard for Happy Sol," Caitlin told me. "That was a treat he made for me and not one of his favorites." I think many people, including myself, are glad that she fought for it.
"I like to cook," Jeff went on to say. He told me about how when he first started brewing Happy Sol and bought dozens of blood oranges that he peeled and zested himself. "It's just as good now as it was then," Jeff said with pride. "It took a while to get there," Caitlin confessed. Then she told me the first rule of Slumbrew (and no, it's not that you do not talk about Slumbrew). "Rule number one: make good liquids."
Next I asked them what they thought they key was to getting where they are today. "It was a lot of careful decisions that we've made for developing the brand, marketing it, and making friends," Jeff said. "Life gives you a lot of things that you don't expect, and it's about how you to react to those things. When life gives you bittering units, you make IPA." Most importantly, Jeff believes that to be successful as a brewer you have to make good beer. "You have to make beer that you love and that other people love," Jeff said. Then Caitlin brought up a good point: "You can't work so hard to make novel beers that you forget to make good beers."
Part of the Slumbrew crew standing in the location for the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row.
After that, Jeff began to talk about developing a culture around their beer and getting people to want to support their brand. "A lot of it's been developing relationships one-on-one. That's what we've done for 33 months, and in another 33 months we'll be that much further ahead." Slumbrew, a nickname from friends in "Slumerville" that is now a badge of honor, started with just Jeff and Caitlin. It now has a few other people on board, including Caitlin's brother. On the subject of support, Caitlin had a lot to say. "You have to activate your fans. You have to find a way to engage them. You have to allow them to participate in both your successes and your failures. You have to let them be part of the journey."
Caitlin believes that brewers should look at their fans as their friends. Sitting by the bar with my second pint of Flagraiser, I certainly felt like one. Having been part of their journey myself, I had to ask about the next chapter and what motivated them to open up their own brewery. "We spent 15 years traveling and admiring breweries. You spend so much time admiring everybody else's brewery that you eventually want one of your own," Caitlin said. Jeff then explained the motivation behind the American Fresh Taproom. "That's the endgame. That's where everyone is headed. That's the place where you get to create the experience and control the product that the consumer gets." Jeff talked about how there is a certain amount of unpredictability around beer that is sent out to the market. Depending on how their beer is shipped and stored, they might not have any idea of what the consumer is getting. "By opening up a taproom, we'll know exactly what they're getting."
Still curious about the American Fresh brand, I decided to ask about where it came from. "So it's Slumbrew, but 8 or 9 years ago we had this idea for a restaurant," Caitlin said. "My dream was to open a restaurant where the food was from all over America." A couple of business plans and classes made them realize that it may have not been the best idea. "What came out of that were some good ideas about local food made with quality ingredients." Of course, the brand came as well. Both Caitlin and Jeff are excited about opening the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row as well as the American Fresh Taproom and Brewery Boynton Yards.
The American Fresh brand is a way for Jeff and Caitlin to further connect with their consumers and amplify what they're already doing while consolidating their objectives. The American Fresh Taproom will be a place where they can serve some of the more experimental beers that they will be brewing (including Happier Sol, which is Happy Sol aged in rum barrels). It will also be one of the few family-friendly beer gardens. In fact, Caitlin told me there will be a sign that says "Make no mistake, this is a family-friendly place" with a picture of her, Jeff, and their children. There will even be certain hours specifically meant for families to have time to enjoy themselves.
A rendering of what the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row will look like.
Caitlin showed me some of their top-secret designs for the layout of the American Fresh Taproom. The pavilion will be made of a cool collection of shipping containers that have been converted into retail and food prep spaces surrounding an open beer garden area. The plans looked great, and I am definitely looking forward to visiting and taking part in the many outdoor events they have planned.
"In our view, the taproom is the ultimate experience of the brand," Jeff said. "We wanted to be able to have a brand that embraced the idea of a fresh, local product. Food from around America. Beer that is served in the best condition possible. A brand that will be able to expand beyond the locality of Somerville." Somerville Brewing Company started in Somerville, and the first two American Fresh Taprooms will be in Somerville, but the plan is to recreate the experience and bring the American Fresh brand to even more areas with a focus on freshness and American ingredients.
Caitlin made a point of letting me know that the American Fresh Taproom will not be a brewpub. They're not going to have french fries. Their fare will include artisanal soups, cheeses, and characuterie, among other things. They are not only dedicated to putting the best ingredients they can find into their food, but also to knowing where each of those ingredients came from. "We are a brewery that's trying to have great food," Jeff said. "The number one rule is making great beer. We want to be able to pair great beer with really great food."
The label for Island Day, set to be released in late July.
I don't know if it was all of the exciting news I was hearing, or if it was Jeff handing me my third and final pint of Flagraiser, but I was feeling pretty happy about the great things that Slumbrew has in the works. As I raised my glass of Flagraiser, one of their four core beers, I had to ask about their upcoming beer, Island Day IPA. More specifically, I wanted to know how this one would be different from the 7 other unique IPAs that are part of their current 13 beer portfolio.
Jeff gave me a pretty good description of what Island Day would be like. "It's really summery. It's light in color with a lot of hops. There will be a nice bitterness. We're going to dry hop the hell out of it." The beer sounds good, and the label looks great. Friends of Jeff and Caitlin are featured sailing on the Charles River with what Bostonians will immediately recognize as the Hatch Shell and the John Hancock Tower among the rest of the city in the background.
After summer, Slumbrew's fall seasonal, Attic & Eaves, will return. Considering Attic & Eaves is my favorite beer from Slumbrew, I was excited when Caitlin shared some good news with me. "It's coming out early this year, and it's going to stay out longer. September, October, November, December. The whole quarter." Yankee Swap will also be coming back. This year's Yankee Swap is going to be an Imperial Stout using the same rum barrels and same maple syrup from the year before.
They also have plans to start a barrel program in their new brewery. Jeff is a huge sour fan, so he is really excited for Slumbrew to start making sour beers in the future. Though Slumbrew will not be at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest 2014, they will be back at Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest 2014 pouring Attic & Eaves, the new Yankee Swap, and (if Caitlin can convince Jeff) possibly some Yankee Swap from 2013 as well.
After hearing about plans for a barrel program and how there is still some Yankee Swap from last year stored away, we started talking about aging beers. "I remember chuckling when we bought a cave-aged beer from Ommegang," Caitlin said. "But you know what? It was brilliant. It was some relative's cave that was dark and cold. So they drove all their cases down, they put them down there, and they left them there for a couple of years. Then they brought them back up. It was a beautiful beer." So, if anyone's got a cave, Jeff and Caitlin would love to use it.
As we finished our beers, Jeff and Caitlin left me with some parting thoughts. "When it comes to craft beer, inclusion matters a lot. That's what has made us so strong, people participating. We've been so lucky, but we still need help." There are already plenty of "slumbassadors" out there. They are people who are dedicated to Slumbrew and want to support it in any way they can. Though, there could always be more of them. I have a feeling that after Slumbrew opens its new brewery and taproom, there most definitely will be.
The logo for the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row.
A soft opening for the American Fresh Taproom Assembly Row is planned for July 30 and July 31, but access will be by ticketed invitation only during the first two days. American Fresh Taproom will be open to the public on Friday, August 1, 2014. Operating hours are expected to be 11am-10pm Monday - Saturday and noon-8pm Sunday.
For more information, visit www.slumbrew.com.
Outside of Boston, I’m probably in the White Mountains up in New Hampshire more than anywhere else. I’m not going to claim to be Mr. Outdoorsy but, that said, I definitely enjoy a bit of hiking, skiing, camping, etc...and the White Mountains have plenty of that. You know what else outdoorsy places often have, though? Beer! The same people who like to do all those things I just listed also like to drink a good beer after they’re done, so inevitably places spring up to serve that need. There’s plenty of them up in the White Mountains but I always find myself near, and so frequent, the Woodstock Inn Brewery in Woodstock, NH. With hearty grub in the restaurant, great beer, a cask usually tapped and a ton of outdoor space in the warmer months, it’s easy to keep coming back.
Situated up in the White Mountains, Woodstock puts out beers that will satisfy the outdoors crowd after a day of hiking/skiing/snowshoeing/what have you...and with the deep caramel-copper color of Thru Hiker, you know this one will satiate you as you hike through! A big, cappuccino head needs just a minute to settle down into a super-thick, creamy topper to the beer.
You can smell some piney hops from this one the second you start pouring, and those don’t go away. Not many people think of Woodstock as putting out big, hoppy beers...and this one still isn’t huge...but they’ve definitely shown they know how to utilize the hops between this and 4000'er IPA. Behind the hops you’ll find some spicy rye notes that go great with the pine and a neutral-ish, if not slightly earthy, English yeast signature.
Taking my first sip I think, “Yep, I’d be more than happy to hike through this place and get this beer!” And I’d know! As a regular to the White Mountains and the area around where Woodstock is located, I’ve settled down for a pint or two after a day of being outside more times than I can remember. It’s got a creamy, full mouthfeel that doesn’t leave you thinking you’ve got yourself a weak beer. This has some sustenance to it! The hops are strong and bitter, but in balance with a significant bit of sweet, doughy malt. The rye kicks a bit of spice into the mid-palate, again complementing the piney hop flavors well!
All in all this is a great beer to sit and drink, either at the bar inside or out on their fantastic patio when the weather allows!
Way back in the blustery days of February I had the pleasure of meeting up with two-thirds of Downeast Cider House: Ross Brockman, Co-Founder/Admiral of the Market/Carpenter, and Tyler Mosher, Co-Founder/Chief of Selling/Electrician (unfortunately Ben Manter, Co-Founder/Master of Fermentation/Plumber wasn’t able to join us). When they aren’t creating & fulfilling their crazy titles, these three are more than busy growing their unfiltered craft cider house which launched in early 2012, producing their juicy flagship offering, Downeast Original Blend with a second addition to the lineup due later this summer. Here’s what Tyler and Ross shared with Drink Craft Beer.
Drink Craft Beer: So guys, how did Downeast Cider come to be?
Tyler Mosher: My dad knew Ben [Manter, co-founder] grew up on an apple orchard and that the three of us didn’t know exactly what we wanted to do after school except NOT a desk job & he casually said, "Oh why don’t you guys start a hard cider company?" We probably took it far more seriously than he intended, ha ha. Basically a few weeks after that we started homebrewing ciders.
Ross Brockman: Tyler had to write a senior thesis soon after his dad’s comment and decided to write his senior thesis on hard cider basically. We formed the company in April (2011) and moved up to Waterville, Maine full time in August (2011) to work on it.
Downeast Founders from right to left: Tyler Mosher, Ben Manter & Ross Brockman
(Image used with permission of Downeast Cider House)
DCB: What was your experience with hard ciders before that?
Ross: We actually started to experience cider more abroad. Ben and I were down at the World Cup in South Africa and we would go out to the bars and there was always lots of hard cider being drank. With that we learned what we enjoyed and [what we] didn’t and what we were looking to make. One way some big companies do it is to use apple concentrate and add water and we wanted our cider to be kind of in the ballpark of what it’s like to drink fresh cider at the Manter’s orchard. We all know the difference between drinking Mott’s Apple Juice and fresh cider from a farm stand. Our goal was to make our cider the real apple flavor, not the “Motts” of cider. The aroma is distinctly like the apple fruit, not like green apple Jolly Rancher “apple” flavor. That was our goal, and we use real, fresh ingredients and not the shortcut.
DCB: Speak of your flagship offering, tell us more about your Original Blend.
Tyler: Our Original Blend is straight down the middle, not too dry, not too sweet, a decent body – it’s unfiltered. Just a true apple taste, the yeast is a lot of flavor too. We use an ale yeast to brew with.
Ross: Typically lots of hard ciders are made with champagne yeast which makes it a lot drier, more like champagne. But using the ale yeast was part of our goal of making this be more of an alternative to beer and the way it drinks than drinking a champagne with that dryness. One of the reasons I love Allegash White is that it has that yeast flavor that I look for, really drinkable.
Tyler: We use a combination of Cortland, MacIntosh, Red Delicious and Gala.
DCB: Having starting just this year how has it gone so far?
Ross: We wouldn’t say smooth sailing but nothing too crazy. I mean if it was easy to start a company everyone would be starting up companies. How much everything cost was a shock. We’ve come to the conclusion that everything costs double what you expect it to cost.
Tyler Mosher with the multiple test batches that led to Original Blend.
(Image used with permission of Downeast Cider House)
DCB: It’s got to be exciting the first time you see your cider out at a bar or restaurant.
Tyler: First time we saw a tap handle at a bar [with our cider] we had gone to the local bar because we were being interviewed by a local paper and they were documenting it - pretty exciting and nerve - wracking. It’s been received well, which is great.
Ross: Pretty funny story. We started pouring that first day and the paper was interviewing these few regulars who spend all day at the bar since they were the only other people [there] at that time. So we come to find out that after that first day, these guys have switched over from drinking Bud all day to drinking our cider. We go through sooo much cider at this place because these four guys drink it all day long; one guy was telling us he feels cleaner & better drinking it. That is the local bar, we lived down the street - it’s definitely fun to see.
DCB: We always love to hear different food & drink suggestions, what have you discovered with Downeast Cider?
Tyler: For food, cider is great in marinades and sauces as a starting point. It’s also a great gluten-free alternative for anything you might use beer in for cooking or baking.
Ross: There is a big population with gluten-free needs due to illness or even personal diet preference; we’re happy to offer them a great option. Cider goes with everything! Apple is a great base and so it is hard to find something that DOESN’T go with cider. [For drinks] Fireball whiskey is a big one with cider, really good. Honey, wine – all are great twist to it.
[Writer’s note: Downeast has a whole page dedicated to different cider beverages check it out or create & submit one of your own.]
DCB: Thanks for sharing with us Ross & Tyler, can’t wait to see what Downeast brings in the future. Cheers!
[Since the Interview: Exciting news for Downeast Cider (and us Massachusetts residents), as of May 1st their cider is available in Massachusetts and they're finalizing paperwork for New Hampshire. As we hear where to find their delicious cider, we will be sure to pass that on to all of you via our Twitter and our Facebook page, or follow Downeast Cider on Twitter and Facebook to get their latest updates as well.
Also, Downeast Cider will now be at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale! They're making a special cider fermented with Saison yeast just for the event, so you're definitely not going to want to miss this! Get tickets here.]