Drink Craft Beer
A few weeks ago, we interviewed the founder of Heavy Seas Beers, Hugh Sisson. While I was writing up the article, I got to thinking how much I’ve enjoyed many of their beers as well as how I haven’t had anything by them in a long time. Flash into the future a couple weeks and I find myself at Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, MA picking up a few bottles when what do I see? Heavy Seas Mutiny Fleet 2011 Cabernet Barrel Aged Below Decks Barleywine! I think, “This has got to be a sign!” and pick up a bottle. I’m glad I did! Heavy Seas doesn’t always get the attention it deserves up here in the well-served craft beer market of Massachusetts, but this might change a couple peoples’ minds!
Normally barleywines pour a golden to rich honey hue, but Barrel Aged Below Decks bucks that trend and falls into the glass a rich, near-opaque coffee color. A tan, single header forms on top but quickly dissipates into a patchy film on top, most likely an effect of the high alcohol and wine barrel aging.
With a barrel aged beer, I often worry that the barrel is going to overwhelm any inkling of the original expression. In this case my fear is assuaged, the first smell I get is a sweet, kind of boozy, malt. It’s rich, smooth and, honestly, smells like the perfectly comforting beer for a cold night. We haven’t had many of those in Boston this year yet, but it’s starting to trend that way so I’m happy to have this one.
Upon reexamining, though, you’ll definitely find a good, strong hint of that Cabernet barrel they splash across the front label. It’s possible to overlook it at first as the dark fruit tones of the wine blend so well with the character of the malt and slightly fruity nature of the English-style barleywine. This is a great example of finding a character that enhances the beer and playing it up. It’s always great to see barrel aging done subtly and in a thoughtful way.
Let this beer warm up a bit before drinking. Then, my instructions are simple: Sip. Pause. Enjoy. Think. Repeat. Honestly, all the components have just come together very well and I am super impressed! One of my favor aspects of this brew is just how smooth and creamy it is; it’s nothing short of incredible in the mouthfeel department. As you take the initial sip, just before it hits your tongue, there’s a quick suggestion of cocoa, but it’s gone as soon as the beer hits your lips, overtaken by plum and fig-like dark English malts. The Cabernet plays right into these aspects, adding an extra level of fruitiness that, with the sweet malt, makes this beer an enjoyment to linger over every sip. Finally, the oak wraps it all up and melds everything together while smoothing the whole shebang out. Only at the end will you note a bit of alcohol but hey, that ain’t bad for a 10% abv beer, right? Definitely go out and try this one soon, it’s a limited batch but it’s oh so worth hunting down.
By the way, this would be a great Valentine’s Day beer! It’s got notes of chocolate, fruit and is insanely smooth. Most anyone will like the beer and it will go great with desert.
I picked this bottle up at Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont.
The label and the fact that Short’s Soft Parade is a fruit beer might have you wondering why I’m writing about it in February. Honestly it isn’t a summer beer. It isn’t a spring beer. It has no season and Soft Parade is available all year round, so clearly Short’s Brewing Company agrees with me.
The first time I tried Short’s Soft Parade I was at school in the U.P. (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.) Friends had gone home to the northern Lower Peninsula and brought it back. I tried it. Thought it was weird. Decided I liked it. Weeks went by and out of nowhere I found myself wanting more. The next time my friends brought some back after a trip home I had more and, that time, I decided I loved it. It grew on me. Even now it seems as though I like Soft Parade more and more each time I drink it.
When first trying it, without reading the label, I couldn’t have told you exactly what the flavors were that I tasted. Now, of course, I realize it’s fruit. For anyone who has had fruit beer, that would instantly make you question the ability of my taste buds I have no doubt. The thing is, Soft Parade is unlike any other fruit type beer I have tasted. They usually smack you in the face with one specific fruit flavor. Or they are so sweet you don’t fancy drinking much, not even a single pint or bottle. Sometimes it’s a combination of too fruity and too sweet, but that isn’t the case with Soft Parade.
When you pour it Soft Parade smells crisp and bright with a beautiful red golden color, brighter and more pink than an amber. As you are pouring it the color of the beer, with the head rising, looks a bit like strawberries and water (or rum if you prefer) in a blender. The head rises to an off white eggshell. The first taste isn’t sweet or fruity. The high gravity ale hits you with rye and just a hint of fruit. I think the mix of the rye with a combination of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are what fooled me the first few times I tasted it. Some flavors dance alongside one another letting you taste one and then the other back and forth. Other flavors mix together and form something new, something harder to describe. That is what the Soft Parade combination was for me: something new.
If you take a sip and let it rest on your tongue for a bit the rye separates and comes to the forefront. The aftertaste leaves you with a bite of fruit. With 15 IBUs the hops don’t jump out at you much. It’s very drinkable which can get interesting at 8% ABV. The more you drink the more the fruit becomes a prominent taste rather than just an after bite. With each sip I could make a different argument as to which fruit stands out the strongest. Sometimes I am convinced it is the strawberry and the next sip it’s the blueberry and the raspberry. I can never decide.
Soft Parade is a good beer to drink with other beer. It’s palette cleansing without being too bright. You can drink anything around it and it stands up in flavor and interest. Drinking it in the middle of an evening of beer tasting brings out the fruit flavors a little stronger, in a good way.
(Speaking of drinking it with other beer, Short’s has an Oatmeal Stout with peanuts called Uber Goober. They blend it with the Soft Parade and call it PB&J Stout; available in November. I’m allergic to peanuts but not in an anaphylactic shock way so it won’t stop me from tasting and getting back to you. I’m extremely interested.)
Soft Parade always keeps me guessing. It is just as new and interesting and increasingly enjoyable each time I have some. The woman on the label may be in a beach chair, but I highly encourage you to drink some before beach weather. Soft Parade is appropriate on a snowy day…I promise! I’ve definitely stood around in the cold enjoying a bottle or two. It is absolutely one of my favorite beers.
Crispin Artisinal Reserve Lansdowne (fermented with Irish Stout yeast and organic molasses) is cloudy, unfiltered comfort in a bomber. Somehow they managed to bottle the feeling of sitting fireside in a pub while the weather is whipping outside (you'll see what I mean). The 22 oz. bottle starts out instructing you to give it a "full bottoms-up tilt & swirl" to mix in the unfiltered apple-wine sediment and you are going to be glad you did! This is the first cider that I've had to switch over to the white Drink Craft Beer glass - it's my darkest & densest so far! After the initial fizz from the pour, you don't see any bubbles moving around and with the murky cedar brown coloring it looks like a true unfiltered non-alcoholic cider. I'm talking the gallon or quarts you buy in the fall, that you might have drank at an elementary school Halloween or Thanksgiving party, and that you now sometimes heat up and mull. That's what this looks like, with the same cloudy brown with the red undertones, no bubbles, the light only gets a few millimeters into the glass. Lansdowne doesn't have any perfect beer comparison in appearance but the closest would be a red/brown ale - no one is going to be mistaking this for anything but a cider. To be honest I'm not quite sure what to expect coming in for the sip.
Pulling up the glass, my nose finds the molasses first. And is that a little bit of honey mixed in with the apple scent? After checking the label, yup, in addition to having racked apple wine and organic molasses, their Lansdowne lists a "kiss of organic honey." At the end you barely get a bit of stout yeast. Maybe it's because it's on the label and was in my mind, but just barely sneaking up the nose.
Sipping at last, here comes a rich, winter-autumny flood. First that apple wine with the burnt sugary taste that molasses has, almost like a bite of burnt caramel candied apple. Right after that you get the slightly heavier mouth feel of the cider, a lot slicker & smoother than usual, probably due to the Irish Stout yeast. Not too shockingly the best way to describe it is that light but weighty stillness that a sip of stout has, not a flurry of carbonation like many other ciders. The apple notes are not that bright, crisp Macintosh or Gala feel, more a subtle Red or Golden Delicious. Every exhale is all molasses and burnt sugar with the stout trying to shoulder it's way up. The further you get into your glass, the apple fights its way back to the tasting ground, but that molasses & honey notes hold onto every single breath out. This is a bottle to bring out on that rainy or snowy weekend when you have a good pot of stew going, those earthy savory meals are going to be complimented by the warm molasses notes and still weight of Lansdowne. It's a little like a boozy equivalent of that old blanket your grandmother knitted that you grab on those chilly raw days. Snuggle up with this Lansdowne as well.
I bought a 22oz bottle of this cider at Bauer Wines & Spirits, Newbury Street, Boston.
In their Food & Wine section, the top story on the Today Show's website is about canned beer and how it's getting more popular. An interesting article that proves that craft beer is getting ever more pervasive in our culture. It's a fairly good selection being that they featured 5 beers and are a mainstream show.
They also pair each brew with an entree and a snack, which is pretty neat. I think the Today Show should have Devon and I come on to do one of our tasting events. You know that'd be a fun show!
We here at DrinkCraftBeer.com are definitely glad to see beer, especially canned beer getting more attention. So happy in fact, that I'll totally ignore that they talk about the only-recently-canned Fat Tire as "a cult canned ale among mountain bikers in Colorado in the early 1990's." While it's been around a while, it was only canned this year. But, if that's the biggest error, then this article is pretty good.
Read the whole artilce on the Today Show Website.
So between starting a new brewery, self distributing, winner an award for cask beer at the Great British Beer Fest (Silver for their porter), the guys over at Mayflower Brewing Co. have been pretty busy. So what better to do in that situation than brew your first seasonal?!
On September 2nd Director of Brewing Operations Matt Steinberg and Assistant Brewer Ryan Gwozdz will mash in on their first seasonal beer. It's going to be a super-appropriately named Mayflower Thanksgiving Ale. What's so special about it? Well let's see... It's going to have oats, rye, flaked barley and much more... 40 IBUs of East Kent Golding, yum... a secret yeast (damn you and your secrets, Matt!)... and it will all be aged on American Oak Spirals with a light toast. Oh, and it clocks in at 6.5% abv.
Way to put together what sounds like it will be a delicious beer without going hop or alcohol crazy! This should be something you can drink during Thanksgiving Dinner that won't put you to sleep faster than the meal itself. They're looking for a style similar to American Old Ale/Strong Ale, "malty and earthy with subtle spiciness." Sounds like it'll go with turkey and mashed potatoes pretty well. We'll have a full report when we taste it.