Drink Craft Beer
Living in New England has its perks. Boston, our homebase, has a vibrant and growing craft beer scene, delicious restaurants, and great access to the outdoors only a short drive away. Beyond that, though, we’re close to several other cities with their own, independent epicurian delights. Of those, we’ve found ourselves in Portland, ME the most over the past few years. Recently Devon and I took a trip up there to visit some of our brewer friends, make some new ones...oh, yeah, and to eat awesome food and drink delicious beer we don’t get in Boston, yet is made only a few hours away. While up there, we hit one of the many stores in downtown with a solid craft beer selection and picked up a few gifts for ourselves. One of these was Bull Jager Portland Lager.
Whoa! OK, so first and foremost, as you’re pouring this bad boy of a lager, watch your head...or, rather, its head. It’s big, puffy and white and it’ll come out of nowhere to overflow your glass. It took me 5 minutes to pour this beer, even pouring gently you’ll get more bubble than liquid, then you have to let it settle. The good news? The craggy, cream-colored head makes the crystal clear, golden beer look oh so good!
As a beer of this style should, the smell is muted with mild biscuity malt tones and just the lightest touch of that not-quite-sulfury smell that often comes with a good lager. The “lager funk,” we call it. This smells like it’d be good after a hard time shoveling snow (as I’m about to do) or after mowing the lawn come summer.
And just as I expected, this is one of those beers I could drink all day long. The malt is a serious presence, rich, smooth and grainy with a touch of toasted bread crust. There’s enough bitterness just to keep it from being sweet. Surprisingly, it coats your mouth in a way I didn’t expect, filling every last bit with a surprisingly full-flavored brew. For real, Portland, ME is doing everything well, from Belgian-styles on through to German lagers.
Belgian-Style Saison Ale
Golden in color with a fresh hoppiness and a wild and rustic Brettanomyces character, this saison of Spring is perfect for warmer weather and Easter celebrations.
Our Spring Saison will evolve over time; chelan and hoppy when fresh, and drier with earthy, wild notes when aged up to two years. Best stored and cellared about 55 degrees F in a dark place. Ideal serving temperature is 50 degrees F. Please pour carefully, leaving the yeast sediment behind in the bottle. Best served in a tulip or wine glass.
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.]
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 is from Gourmet Monthly Clubs.
RJ Rockers Patriot Pale
Appearance: The Patriot Pale pours a rich orange color with a thick cream colored head about one finger thick. The beer is hazy, with a little bit of sediment floating around.
Smell: As soon as we poured this one we could smell some citrusy, orangey hops. Smells like a pale ale that’s going to hit on the hoppier end of the spectrum! Closer examination yields about the same as the pungent aroma of the hops overwhelms any malt that might be there. This one definitely smells dry.
Taste: Surprising! RJ Rockers is one of those companies we’ve passed over time and time again in the store, but this is a tasty brew! It has a nice bitterness that’s balanced and not overwhelming, but this is still quite the hop forward brew. Late in the boil they must have added a ton of hops, because the orange citrus smells we got are there in flavor too! At 6% abv, it’s not light weight pale ale, but it’ll still do the trick on a day you need something delicious!
Lakefront Brewing Company IPA
Appearance: Lakefront’s IPA pours a deep, hazy orange. A thick, off-white heads forms on top that is so thick it looks like the top of a vanilla milkshake!
Smell: This brew is quite hoppy smelling as well, but not as much as the Patriot Pale. Where that was orange and citrus, this one is much more pine. Again, the malt is more of a hops delivery vehicle on this one than a flavor.
Taste: Whew! That’s an IPA! The body is fairly thin, which allows the bitterness of the hops to come through. Again, the bitterness is balanced by malt, but this one definitely leans heavily towards the hoppy side of balance. The aroma hops that were in the Patriot Pale aren’t here as strongly, they’re much more front-loaded...but that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes you want an orange/citrus flavor IPA and sometimes you want some more bitterness. This is the latter.
RJ Rockers Bell Ringer
Appearance: Bell Ringer pours a super hazy, nearly opaque ruddy red and orange color with white yeast and protein particles suspended throughout. A light tan head forms on top but quickly recedes (probably due to the alcohol in this beer).
Smell: For the first time of this review session, we’re getting some pretty serious malt out of this one. At 8.5% abv that makes sense, too! There’s some hops there, too, but we’re willing to bet most of the 53 IBUs are in the bitterness to balance the booze and malt. The big surprise, though, is that the alcohol is unnoticeable...good job to RJ Rockers on that!
Taste: Oh! This is good! Again, it’s too bad we’ve passed over RJ Rockers so many times. This is a tasty beer! There is some major malt to this, but the bitterness is there to keep it at bay. The beer actually has a little more fruity flavor to it than we expected, but we’re trying to figure out if it’s from the Cascade hops or from the yeast. The alcohol doesn’t show through too prominently in the flavor, but it does effect the body of the beer and thins it a bit.
Lakefront Fuel Cafe Coffee Stout
Appearance: It’s coffee...and it’s stout...it’s black. The Fuel Cafe Coffee Stout is black. The head on it, to continue the theme, is like coffee with cream in it and a quickly receding half finger tall.
Smell: Jeff over here at DrinkCraftBeer loves coffee, and all he can say is, “Yum!” This one smells just like coffee.
Taste: Wow! Roasty, slightly bitter (just like black coffee) and dry, this is a delicious coffee stout! The roast from chocolate male and roasted barley go great with the coffee to give you a brew that is coffee strong yet still tastes like a stout. The beer is dry throughout, which fits well with the style. Again, a strong beer to finish this month’s Gourmet Monthly Club Beer of the Month Club on!
There’s no doubt that 2012 was a big year for Drink Craft Beer! Last year was the year that we really took the bull by the horns and decided to see how far we could really take this company we started from meager beginnings back in 2006. Just how big did we go? Well let’s take a quick walk back through time and we’ll paint you a picture.
OK, we admit, we got off to a seemingly slow start. But we took a lot of meetings, talked with a lot of people (read: pestered a bunch of brewers) and this is when the groundwork for the year was laid. It’s not the fun part, but it’s necessary.
That said, January was the month we started writing about craft cider, and we even brought on a dedicated writer: Sarah, our cider writer! Since then, we’ve deepened our affection for this historic beverage and have had ciders at both of our festivals.
In February we held our biggest event to-date at that point! Over 550 people came out to the Taza Factory Store in Somerville for our craft beer and chocolate pairing event, “Can’t Keep ‘Em Apart: A Beer & Chocolate Love Story." With Taza donating chocolate and space and Slumbrew, Narragansett, Peak Organic and Sixpoint donating beer, we raised over $1800 for the Great Boston Food Bank - about 4,570 meals worth of donation! It even got covered on Boston.com!
March...well March was a prep month. Plus it was St. Patrick’s Day. We were busy. Let’s leave it at that.
In April it was up to Maine, something we would end up getting quite used to, to brew a collaboration beer with one of our favorite local brewers, Chris Lohring of Notch Brewing Co. After weeks of brainstorming and testing ingredients, we brewed and casked our true breakfast stout: a coffee milk session stout on cask! Coming in a little under 4% abv, this was truly one that you could have a couple pints of and not ruin the rest of your day. We launched it to a packed house at Lower Depths in Boston’s Kenmore Square and kicked the cask in just over an hour. We even had awesome coffee/beer mugs made up for the occasion! Chris said it would never be brewed again...but maybe if we all bug him enough it’ll make another appearance?
In May, we made some new friends in the form of the folks over at Grand Ten Distilling. If you’re not familiar, Grand Ten is a new distillery over in South Boston. It’s run by two cousins, one is a chemistry PhD and the other is an MBA. The split the work as you’d expect two people with those qualifications to. Spence, the distiller, is heavily influenced by time he spent in France and loves the tradition of their liqueurs. And their product shows it. They make possibly the best gin we’ve ever tasted (seriously, we use it a lot...especially in craft beer cocktails).
We hung out with them one night and worked (which I use in the lightest sense of the word) to pair their Wire Works gin with craft beer, doing a new take on the ancient practice of Kopstootje, or a shot of gin with beer. Check it out for yourself!
They’re great guys and we’ve since been back many times, including to make 2 hop liqueurs with Spence. One used an obscene amount of Sorachi Ace hops, the other had a dangerous amount of Chinook!
In June, while it may not seem huge, we had a revelation, and it’s name was Shandy! Take about equal parts craft beer and quality lemonade, combine and (if you’ve picked the right beer) you have a delicious sessionable concoction perfect for the hottest of days and the longest of all-day barbecues!
This made a huge difference in our summer as we were able to drink great beer, and still last all day as more and more of our friends seem to be getting yards...which inevitably means cook outs. Also, it helps that we can drink and it doesn’t hurt our skills at baggo, a favorite summer pastime of ours.
Nothing big really happened in July...oh, except that we launched our first craft beer fest! Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ales was a huge success, thanks to our volunteers, the brewers and all the awesome folks that came out. We had 25 brewers, all from New England and all of them brought at least one farmhouse ale or saison! All three sessions sold out and we had 1200 attendees drinking awesome summer beer on Friday night and all day Saturday. We also had B. Good and Culinary Cruisers serving up awesome grilled burgers and hot dogs, as well as Taza Chocolate and Quinn Popcorn on hand sampling. Damn this was a great event!
In August we launched a post about our five rules to rare craft beer that generated a lot of discussion on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and elsewhere. While not everybody agreed with us (and that’s fine, we don’t pretend to be the autocrats of craft beer), many did on many points. The idea was to get a discussion going as it seems a portion of the craft beer audience is moving more into a ticker mentality of chasing down everything new and hyped. We just wanted to remember that beer is supposed to be fun and social. To recap, Drink Craft Beer’s 5 Rules to Rare Beer can be summed up as:
- Don’t be greedy
- Don’t sell it
- Drink it now
- Share it
- Beer should be fun
In September we made another new friend, Chris Olds bar manager at Park Cambridge. After Devon had a couple great experiences with their beer cocktails he was a convert to the idea of craft beer cocktails. The folks on bar there told him there were a whole bunch of off-menu beer cocktails available and, resultantly, our curious nature took over. Next thing we knew, we were hanging out with Chris at Park before opening, mixing up cocktails so that we could tell the world about the awesomeness available here.
In October, Devon and I used Columbus Day to go up to Portland, ME to check out the growing scene up there. We ended up hanging out with the folks at Urban Farm Fermentory for the morning and saw the great set up that they have over there. They’re turning out some awesome spontaneously fermented cider and doing all sorts of neat stuff to it. They also make some killer kombucha!
After a delicious lunch of burgers and beer at Nosh, we met up with Heather and Nathan from Rising Tide Brewing and checked out their new brewery, which is huge. It’s a good thing their new space is so big, because the beer rocks and we see big things for this husband and wife team!
We did a quick stop at Allagash Brewing to pick up some of their new House Beer, which unfortunately was sold out, but we ended up capping off the day by grabbing dinner with Heather and Natchan at Novare Res Bier Cafe, a joint that never ceases to amaze us, and even had a surprise chance to finally meet Craig, proprietor of the Pour Farm Tavern in New Bedford, MA. Great trip all around!
November was a busy, busy month! First, we went up to Maine again (we’ve been in Maine a lot this year it seems) to brew the Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest official beer with Peak Organic Brewing. Nut Your Average Ginger, a harvest brown ale with local ginger, hops, malt, honey and then some France-sourced chestnut puree, turned out great and was a hit at the fest. Not to mention we had a great time with Jon from Peak Organic as well as Josh from Puritan & Co. (the chef there, Will Gilson, supplied the honey for the beer from his family farm) and his girlfriend Stevie, and Brooks, the head brewer at the brewery we used to make the beer. Check the video:
Later in the month was our second beer fest ever, Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest. We again featured 25 New England brewers who this time each brought at least one beer featuring a fall or winter seasonal ingredient. The diversity of offerings was incredible, with fresh hops, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, Christmas spices, cider, rosemary, nuts and so much more all used to brew beers or ciders. Again, we couldn’t have done it without our awesome volunteers, the brewers or the 1500+ attendees that came out. These things just seem to keep growing!
As December just wrapped up, we look back at it and are just trying to get ready for 2013! We hit 200,000 followers on Twitter. We announced our next fest, Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops. We’re lining up some other great stuff for the coming year.
So we hope you all enjoyed 2012, we know we did! And, also, let’s look forward to what 2013 has coming for us. It’s going to be a big one! Thanks to everyone who helped make 2012 such a banner year for Drink Craft Beer. When we launched this thing in 2006, we never thought it would grow so big, but we’re stoked and flattered and, honestly, just overwhelmed by the support we’ve gotten. Thanks again, keep reading and drinking craft beer, and we hope to see you at Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops in April!