It's early. Really early. I don't mean sunrise early but, rather, it's hours before sunrise in the middle of a freezing cold Boston winter early. The road is pitch black, my car headlights are the only illumination aside from the rare vehicle traveling in the opposite direction on the Mass Pike and the radio is still allowed to play some good tunes because nobody is listening at this godforsaken hour. Longtime Drink Craft Beer readers are probably getting familiar to this story, though, and know what it means...we're making beer!
There's something fulfilling about being the first person to drive through an industrial zone for the day. You cruise past desolate, dark buildings, past chain link fence and pull into the parking spot, climb out of the warm cocoon of your car and into the bracing winter freeze, careful not to slip on the frozen puddle you've parked on. Within moments, a car pulls up and...wait...is it? Yes! It's the guy with the key to the building which means I won't be waiting out here for long. Meet Jack Hendler, founder and brewer for the eponymously-named Jack's Abby, which he runs with his brothers Sam and Eric. "Abby" isn't misspelled, it's the name of Jack's wife.
It's 5:30 in the morning and it's almost time to mash in for the first of two 20 barrel batches that will be brewed today. Spring means hops. Many people will tell you that Autumn is the hoppiest
time of the year, with fresh hop beers abounding but, in reality,
Spring is when the hops start to poke their heads out of the ground. A
perennial that requires a winter, without Spring, there wouldn't be any
hops. And that's why both batches today will be The ABCs, a Double India Pale Lager that Jack's Abby is brewing as the official beer of our upcoming beer festival, Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops. In total, four batches will be made for a total of 80 barrels of beer. If that didn't wake you up, how about this: each batch uses over 50 lbs of hops - Apollo, Bravo, Calypso and Simcoe (hence "The ABCs"). That's a lot of hops, folks!
So check out this video about the making of The ABCs for Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops below, then make sure to get you tickets at the event website. If you want to see more behind the scenes photos of the brew day at Jack's Abby, check out this album on our Facebook page.
With Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops getting closer every day, we've been getting more and more requests on how people can be involved. If you want to be a part of the Drink Craft Beer community and help put on a great event, then we'd love to have you. One of the most important parts of a fest is having great volunteers, and Drink Craft Beer wants you!
Springfest is being held in Boston, MA at Space 57 (200 Stuart Street, Boston, MA) on Friday, April 11 and Saturday, April 12. We need volunteers for the following sessions (times are when we need the volunteers for, not the actual session times as we'll need volunteers there early for prep and to stay a little late to help clean up):
Set Up: April 11, Noon-5pm
VIP Session: April 11, 5pm-11pm
Session 2: April 12, 11am-5pm
Session 3: April 12, 5pm-10pm
Break Down: April 12, 10pm-whenever we're done, probably 11pm or so (we'd like these people to have volunteered for Session 3 as well)
NOTE: All volunteers MUST be 21+ with a valid ID. Nobody will be allowed into the fest without proper ID.
Volunteers will get:
- Admission to the session that you're volunteering at
- Tasting cup
- Staff meal from one of the food vendors
- Staff t-shirt
- Chance to meet the brewers
- Meet other craft beer drinkers
What will volunteers do?
How do you sign up?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following info (we need ALL of this information to process your sign up):
- Cell phone #
- Who you are and why you want to volunteer
- Are you TIPS Certified (those already certified get priority for the VIP Session pouring jobs)
- Past experience (Have you volunteered at other fests? Are/were you a bartender? Anything you think makes you especially qualified.)
- Which sessions are you available for? (Please note, in an effort to let more people volunteer, you can only volunteer for 2 of the 3 actual fest sessions. Set up and breakdown don't count.)
- T-shirt size (we have men's and women's sizes)
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!
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.
Sometimes I’m in the mood for something specific, and I’ll root around through the unnecessary amount of beer I have to find exactly what I want. And then, other times, circumstances are just too perfect for me not to crack a certain beer. This past weekend was Blizzard Nemo and the beer that was too perfect not to open? Slumbrew Snow Angel. The crew from Somerville Brewing made only one batch of this limited hoppy delight and I was lucky enough to find some. Before I went out to shovel (for the first of many times this past weekend), I checked this one out in an effort to stay warm in near-hurricane strength gales.
Just from pouring, you can tell that Snow Angel is a solid brew! An aggressive pour yields a flurry of bubbles throughout that almost looks like a nitrogenated beer as they settle into a creamy top atop the copper brew, clear enough to read the label through.
As mentioned, I could tell this was a full beer as I poured, but it was also apparent that this is one hoppy ale! There’s a ton of fruit forward hop aroma, citrusy orange zest brightens this blizzard of a day (seriously, it’s Blizzard Nemo out right now). Behind the hops are rich, smooth barley malt aromas and a bit of alcohol that warms my bones on this frigid day. I’ve got to get my beer blanket on to go shovel (and perhaps make a snow angel?).
There’s a lot going on as I sip this big IPA. Up front is a bitterness, not harsh and not overwhelming, but it’s there and letting its presence be known. As expected, a thickness coats the mouth, spreading that bitterness all over before turning itself over to the maltier side of life. For a moment, and just a moment, candied, sweet fruit comes through (probably from the malt and the fruity ale yeast) before the bitter hop bite comes back to linger...and linger...and linger. It’s still there in case you’re wondering.
With a bomber or two of this one, I’ll probably be out front making snow angels of my own! But, even short of inducing youthful fun, this is a damn good beer and a great example of what many have come to call an East Coast Double IPA, with big malt and huge hops. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll be bringing it to Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops in April...but they tell me they’ve got something else awesome up their sleeves for it instead!