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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!

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 

Michael:

[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.

Rob: 
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...


Beer of the Month Club Review - February 2011 - Gourmet Monthly Clubs

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!

Join this beer of the month club or compare other beer of the month clubs.

Flying Dog Garde Dog Biere de GardeFlying 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 AleIpswich 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 PorterFlying 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 IPAIpswich 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!

Mama's Little Yella Pils by Oskar Blues Brewery - Coming Soon

ImageA 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!

12oz can
5.3% abv

Mayflower Brewing Spring Hop [Beer Review]

I love Spring, not just because the snow is thawing, the days are getting longer and the salt and grime washes away with each passing rainstorm (though I do love it for all of those reasons) but, rather, because Spring seasonals comprise some of my favorite beers. Big stouts get lots of love in Winter and the pumpkin beer craze gets bigger every year in Autumn. Spring on the other hand is open to a lot of interpretation; in general though I see a theme of something fresh, something new and something exciting.

Mayflower Spring Hop is one of those beers that signals the start of Spring to me. OK, sure, hops are not a seasonal ingredient in the strictest sense. But Spring is when our dormant hop plants begin sprouting, hinting at a new crop to come, and for that reason this is a perfect Spring beer. Normally I prefer beers that are late hopped, which tends to lead to stronger citrus or spice notes, but this beer has a serious in-your-face bitterness. Mayflower calls this a red ale, and it does have an awesome deep copper hue to it and a killer malt backbone, but as the name might hint at the real star is the hops. Citrusy, floral and definitely bitter this beer packs a serious punch, though at only 5.3% ABV you can have a few. In fact, I think I'm going to go open another right now.

I'd encourage you to go out an pick some up, but you can also try it at Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops this April.