Spring is a wonderful time of year for fans of craft beer. It's the time when we start to transition from the heavy beers of fall to the lighter beers of summer. It's also the beginning of the hop growing season. In an effort to celebrate spring and all of the wonderful brews it brings, the minds behind Drink Craft Beer organize a beer festival called Springfest. Known as "A Celebration of Hops," Springfest is held once a year to remind us of the many wonderful things that hops can do.
My first experience at one of Drink Craft Beer's fests was as a volunteer at Springfest 2013. Everyone who attends the fest will tell you that, without the volunteers, Springfest would not be nearly as successful as it has been. Volunteers help the brewers in many ways, whether they need more ice for their kegs, their dump buckets emptied out, or one of many other things. The volunteers make sure that things run smoothly (and cleanly) so that the fest attendees have a great experience.
The key to the success of Springfest has really been the efforts of those who put it together. Drink Craft Beer co-founders Devon and Jeff, along with head of volunteers Sarah (shown above assigning the volunteers their duties), make sure that everything is organized, the brewers are happy, and that everyone is having a good time. It is their hard work and dedication that really makes all of the Drink Craft Beer fests some of the best fests of all.
This year I attended Springfest's Friday night VIP "Hoppy Hour" session, not as a volunteer but to write about the event for Drink Craft Beer. Attendees were given their fest guides and sample cups upon entering, along with a gold coin in each cup. These coins were for each person to vote for who they thought the best brewery at the "Hoppy Hour" session was. At the end of the night, whichever brewery collected the most gold coins was to be crowned the Champion of Hops.
It wasn't just the awesome belt that made the VIP session special, though. All 25 breweries featured a VIP-only brew, each very unique in terms of flavor. One of the best parts about attending the VIP session was being able to try something entirely new or more familiar brews with a twist to them.
First of all, we know...this is a little late. You’d expect a “Best of 2013” list to come out right after 2013 ends, right? Not in late February. That was our bad. We got caught up putting together our Craft Beer & Chocolate for Charity Event with Taza Chocolate (where we raised over $10,000 for Greater Boston Food Bank) as well as our upcoming Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops, scheduled for April 11 & 12. But, as they say, better late than never! If 2011 was about new brewers opening up and 2012 was about established brewers putting out some great new beers, then 2013 is about innovation...and we’re not talking about “extreme” brewing. That’s not innovation anymore. What we’re talking about is flying in the face of current trends and putting out some great beer. In some cases, this meant back to basics. In some cases, it meant putting out three single hop beers because, as the founder of that company might say, “Why the fuck not?” In all cases, though, it meant delicious craft beer.
So, with that said, let's get on to the Drink Craft Beer Top 13 New Craft Beers of 2013...then, afterwards, let us know what new brews you really enjoyed in 2013 on Twitter (hashtag #CraftBeer2013), on Facebook or in the comments below! (Note: This is not a rank-ordered list.)
Rising Tide Spinnaker Hefeweizen
Speaking of back to basics, we actually had two beers from Rising Tide in the running this year. The crew from Portland came to 2013’s Springfest with the big guns, Calcutta Cutter dIPA, a new beer at the time. It was delicious! We love this beer. We bought it when it hit bottles. And we were stoked. But, come summer, they dropped a little, tiny, baby blue bottled bomb...Spinnaker Hefeweizen. This is one of those styles that has been overlooked in the extreme beer hype and hop frenzy of the past years. But there are few things quite as enjoyable as sipping on a big, tall glass of well done hefeweizen. Dry, clove and banana from the yeast, with a minerality from the wheat. This is a style that will carry craft beer into it’s next level of growth, and Spinnaker is a great example of this.
Backlash Beer Catalyst/Outbreak/Riot Double IPAs
Three beers. Count them, three. Why combine them? Especially when Riot didn’t even drop until 2014? Because this idea is awesome. We’ve seen brewpubs do single hop series. Even Danish gypsy brewery Mikkeller has released bottles of a single hop series. But this is among the first single hop series we’ve seen that isn’t relegated to a single brewpub and isn’t by a brand that only the most devoted of beer enthusiasts will pick up. Backlash is focusing on growing the craft beer market into a new territory of people and they’re pushing education at the same time with beers like these. Oh, yeah...plus these brews were delicious! Helder and team, please bring them back!
Bantam Cider Rojo
Last year, we thought we’d catch some blowback for putting a cider on this list. This year, it seems like a no-brainer. And Bantam Cider was front and center in our minds. Their Rojo is a tart, cherry-laced treat that we drank way too much of during the summer. That said, it holds up just as well in the winter. If you haven’t checked out what craft cider is doing lately, you’re missing out. This stuff is blowing up big time. And a good place to start will be Bantam’s new tap room, opening in Union Square in Somerville, MA in March of 2014. We’ll be regulars...will you?
Cambridge Brewing Company CBC2 Hoppy Hefeweizen
Speaking of hefeweizens, this collaboration between both of the Boston-area CBC’s (Cambridge Brewing Company brewpub and Craft Beer Cellar store chain) took the traditional style and added delicious hops. In typical CBC fashion (the brewpub) it was done in a way that still showed off the great yeast characteristics of the Hefeweizen yeast, while allowing some earthy, hoppy goodness to come through. Both flavors greatly complimented each other. While we love some people getting back to basics, sometimes it’s nice to throw some hops in there.
Trillium Brewing Farmhouse Ale
What’s the most unlikely place for a farmhouse brewery? How about in downtown Boston’s Fort Point, one of the neighborhoods leading the charge right now in urban gentrification. After two years of building, renovating, permitting, and negotiating the morass of city and state licensing, the team at Trillium was finally able to get off the ground, and they’ve taken off like a rocket! While they’ve dropped more than their fair share of killer beers in 2013, we’ve got to give a nod to the flagship saison. It’s peppery, easy to drink and tastes like you’re stepping back into Belgium. The fact that you can only get it by the growler (or few select tap locations) is great, because it means you need to share with a friend. Look for them to keep expanding in 2014.
Otter Creek Brewing Kind Ryed Rye IPA
Honestly, the early favorite from Otter Creek this year was the collaboration with Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Double Dose IPA. What’s not to like? Otter Creek took one of the most hyped (and rightly so) brewers in the country and distributed a beer he worked on to WAY MORE people than normally get a chance to try it. But then Otter Creek put out Kind Ryed Rye IPA. It’s drinkable, it’s got an amazing rye flavor and the hops are killer. Don’t get us wrong, we loved Double Dose. But, when we looked at what we’d probably drink more often, it was Kind Ryed. Lucky for us, because Kind Ryed is coming back and Double Dose isn’t. Otter Creek is in the midst of a rebrand it seems, putting out a lot of new beers and making brewer Mike Gerhart front and center. If this is the result, we’re all for it!
Notch Brewing The Mule Corn Lager
As my Dad is sometimes fond of saying, “sometimes you just want a beer that tastes like beer.” He, of course, is talking about the only beer you could get several decades ago when “craft beer” was still just something that a few whack jobs were brewing in their garages. This is that, and so much more. The point of The Mule was to show that the much maligned corn lager isn’t necessarily bad. Brewed with heirloom corn sourced from Valley Malt in in Hadley, MA, this beer was a labor of love for brewer Chris Lohring as he even burned himself during the requisite-for-corn cereal mash. The beer did it’s job, though, showcasing what a fine, light-bodied lager can taste like when done right. If this was what beer tasted like back in the day, craft beer may have never have happened...nothing to improve on here, haha.
Victory Brewing Oak Horizontal
There’s nothing really innovative about this brew. Take barleywine and put it in an whiskey barrel. It’s been done before, right? The difference is that Victory has been a super influential brewery for us over the years and was there when we started our craft beer journey. For a while, we even had an annual pilgrimage where we’d go to the brewery and enjoy their mostly-German style brews. For years they just kept churning out quality beer but, in 2013, they suddenly let out some news...three beers, three types of barrels, all awesome. Chardonnay barrel aged Golden Monkey was a close contender, as the Monkey was one of the first craft brews we were into and continues to be a favorite. But, in the end, there’s something that’s just right about a malty, English-style barleywine in whiskey barrels.
Lost Nation Brewing Gose
There aren’t many styles that are more traditional and less adored than the Gose. A spiced wheat beer with coriander and salt, it sounds strange but it tastes delicious. Dry, slightly tart sometimes, with that wheat chalkiness, this is a brew that will change the way you look at beer...again. Still, few are making this style. But, one of the best (and we expect this to continue even as more people make this style) is Lost Nation’s. New to the Massachusetts market in 2013, we’re looking for them to blow up. They were probably the most talked about brewery at our Craft Beer & Chocolate for Charity event in February, and for damn good reason. Mark our words, 2014 will be the year of the Gose.
Mystic Brewing Table Beer
When Mystic first opened, we noticed that all their brews were right around the 7% abv mark. Delicious, but it’s tough to drink a 750ml of one of those by yourself and, sometimes, you’re craving a saison but don’t have a friend nearby. When we talked to owner Bryan Greenhagen, he discussed that he had the same problem. He’d get home after a long day, want a beer, but find himself dragging after a big bottle of 7% saison. And, thus, the Mystic Table Beer was born. Much like what you may have found on dinner tables of yore, the point of this beer is to quench as much as inebriate. It’s light, prickly and has enough flavor to take on brews twice its size.
Idle Hands Craft Ales First Pitch Rye Pale Ale
Normally we try not to put beers on this list that you could only get at the brewery. But, we’ll make an exception for a beer made to watch baseball with...which we drank while watching the Red Sox win the World Series at home! It’s a great beer for watching sports, low enough abv to drink all game, while the hops and rye were flavorful but not fatiguing. A great beer all around.
Slumbrew Yankee Swap
At Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest this past year, Slumbrew dropped two bombs. One was a super limited version of their Happy Sol aged in rum barrels from Massachusetts’ Turkey Shore Distillers. But their big hit of the night was Yankee Swap, a malty strong ale aged in these same rum barrels...and that beer later went on to hit stores in bottles. It’s big, it’s bold, but yet it was still smooth and drinkable. Dangerously so. Coming in around 12% abv, this was a beer that would mess you up. But it was so good, that it was worth it. I’ve still got a bottle hidden away and every once in a while I think, maybe tonight's the night I open it up to enjoy the sweet, malty, vanilla flavors. But then I think, no...I’d like to function tomorrow. But the night it gets opened will be worth it.
Stone Brewing Espresso Imperial Russian Stout
Stone Brewing’s Imperial Russian Stout was, perhaps, the first “rare” beer we really worked to find. Back in the day (2006), this was a prize to find. It was truly limited and would come and go from your local store quicker than newcomers to craft beer would believe. It’s continued to be a favorite, even as newer, more hyped alternatives came to market. Then, in 2013, Stone did something incredible: they added espresso. To Jeff, who is a coffee fiend, this was magical. Upon tasting, you’ll find that some coffee doesn’t taste as much like coffee as this beer does! We can only hope they bring it back again.
Now that we've told you our favorites of 2013, what were yours? Craft beer is just a matter of taste and taste is hugely personal, so we want to know what new brews you liked last year! With so many new beers coming out all the time, did we miss anything? Let us know what you really enjoyed in 2013 on Twitter (hashtag #CraftBeer2013), on Facebook or in the comments below!
There's a chill in the air and the holidays are just around the corner. What better way to spend this weekend than at Drink Craft Beer Fall To Winter Fest? As an early gift to you we're giving away a pair of tickets to one lucky winner! That person will be able to attend a session of their choice where they will get to sample beers from 25 New England breweries
The contest is closed but you can still get tickets! See you there!
The Fine Print:
- Contest closes at 9pm EST November 5th.
- You must be 21+ to enter.
- Winner will be chosen at random.
- Winner will choose from one of three sessions on Nov 15th or 16th
- If you have already bought tickets and win, you'll be credited the price of two tickets on your original order.
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If you’re like me then you’ve noticed that your desire to drink a great craft beer is outweighed by some of your friends’ desire to go somewhere other than one of your “weird beer bars.” Craft beer may be exploding in popularity, but we’re still far from the majority. The solution? Well, you could hit up some of Boston’s phenomenal cocktail bars. Or, you could just suck it up and get a meal somewhere without sipping on a great brew. But why would you when you don’t have to? As craft beer gets more popular, there are more and more places putting thought into their beer selection without being craft beer-focused establishments. Want to take your girlfriend out but she only wants sushi? Want to take your boyfriend somewhere but he’s looking for a great meal and wine? Want to take your folks somewhere, but not to a beer bar? We’ll be putting together a series of neighborhood specific “Secret Craft Beer Bars,” with the Sound End first. Following up, we’re looking at Kenmore/Fenway, Back Bay/Copley, Cambridge, Fort Point, Newton and more. Got suggestions? Let us know!
The Criteria For a Secret Beer Bar
A Secret Beer Bar is a place that doesn't focus on just beer, or super-heavily on beer. They don’t do beer events, their social media doesn’t focus much on it, and they’re not the traditional spots you’d expect great craft beer...like we said, they’re the secret beer bars of Boston. That said, having a generic craft beer list doesn’t count, either. These are the establishments that told their distributor, “give us the ‘craft beer’ package.” These lists have thought put into them; they’re well curated. They don’t have to be huge, just well done.
513 Tremont Street
I started coming to Picco years ago (back in 2006 or 2007) for the amazing pizza and the unparalleled homemade ice cream. Back then, they had only a few taps, but I was already impressed because they were some of the best curated handles I’d seen in Boston. Fast forward to 2013 and they’ve expanded to nearly 20 options on draft and many more in the bottle. Whether you’re a craft beer lover or not, you’re going to dig this place. The fish tacos in the summer are great, they always have amazing appetizers and rotate the menu seasonally with a variety of amazing options. But, if you really want my recommendation, wait until the heat wanes and then get a calzone with mozzarella, sausage and caramelized onions. My wife and I get it pretty much every time and it never gets old! That said, during warmer times of the year, they have a great patio and sitting on that patio is a real bonus. Also, make sure to leave room for dessert as their ice cream is some of the best in the Boston-area. The coffee ice cream is especially amazing! But, for real, this is an amazing place with a great vibe, an ever-expanding draft list and some of the most well chosen brews in town. Also they have good wine.
1415 Washington Street
This is a new find for me and I actually ended up here for my wedding anniversary recently after grabbing appetizers and a drink leading up to the date. They have nearly ten taps, but Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, Pretty Things Jack D’Or and the like are your choices, so any true craft beer lover will be stoked. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, curation was key here. Beyond that, though, the food is amazing and the vibe it great. Given the assumptions about craft beer bars, you’d never think that this place would please, but it really does! Check out the eggplant, the roasted pearl onions with potatoes and pretty much all of the entrees. Pair it with a great pint and I was a happy camper. You will be too!
1721 Washington Street
Sushi. I love it. If you don’t, this is not the place for you. But, if you’ve been craving raw fish with your craft beer than this is the best place in Boston that I’ve found. I took my younger brother here a while back and we had a Pretty Things Jack D’Or and a Slumbrew Happy Sol. They’ve got a moderately sized, but very well selected, list of craft brews in the bottle that will not disappoint. Again, the key here is not the vastness of the choices, but the quality of what you can choose. There is clearly someone here who knows his or her beer. And the raw fish was great! If you want an excuse to drink craft beer while eating sushi, don’t go anywhere else! (I was really happy with photos from here, so I'm including three.)
A few weeks ago our friends over at Thrillist Boston contacted us for our top two beer recommendations for summer. It was a hard choice and made me realize just how many awesome options there are for the hot weather! Many people decry summer as a time of mediocre golden ales, but we’re here to tell you that this ain’t so! From easy drinking cream ales to crazy, tart German-styled brews we’ve got you covered for any cookout, camping/beach trip, stoop drinking (for you city folks like me) or what have you.
So come join us in drinking these delicious summer libations! And, if you’re not in the New England area, we’re trying to help by providing a style to look for and we’d love to hear your suggestions! Finally, if you're in Boston for July 12 & 13, come down to Drink Craft Beer Summerfest (at Space 57 in Downtown Boston) to sample 80+ summery beers from 25 of New England's best brewers! Get the info here.
Grey Sail Flagship Ale - The All Day Drinker
When you think of a lower alcohol all-day drinker, this is it. A cream ale is similar to lager in taste, clean and crisp, and this one fits the bill. It’s got a mild aroma with a grainy character that says, “this is just a beer.” It’s going to go great with a burger or bbq chicken…plus, it’s low alcohol enough that it won’t mess up your ability to play yard games!
Can’t get this one? Try a few different cream ales. What do you suggest?
Mayflower Summer Rye - The All Day Drinker, But More Interesting
If you’ve been reading Drink Craft Beer for any length of time, you know of our love for this beer! We were going to select it for our Thrillist recommendations, but the wise Suzanne from Craft Beer Cellar beat us to it. This was the surprise hit at a buddy’s wedding a couple years ago, with craft beer lovers and grandparents who drink nothing but lager all going back for more! Slight Belgian-influenced, it’s got fruity/citrusy notes, a wheaty, minerally dry body and carbonation that keeps you asking for more. And, again, low alcohol makes it great for the heat!
Can’t get this one? Try some Belgian Wits. It’s not identical, but they’re close. Or do you have other ideas? What do you suggest?
Mystic Brewery Table Beer - The Fancy Beer
So you need to fancy up that cookout? Everybody is going to sit around a table together, all formal-style? Well then grab a couple of these corked and caged beauties from Mystic Brewery and you’re good to go! You can tell your friends this is basically what Belgian farmhands drank after a hard day in the fields…very similar to a leisurely day at your place, right? Crisp and complex, this one derives everything from the yeast isolated by the fermentation geniuses over at Mystic (seriously, founder Bryan Greenhagen has a PhD in fermentation). It’s a little spicy, just a touch of apples and a hint of banana…but it’s all so restrained that it’ll go great with whatever you’re serving.
Can’t get this one? Try a few different saisons! Almost every region has at least one brewer making one now. What do you suggest?
Mystic will be at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest in downtown Boston on July 12 & 13. Get your tickets and come on by to try more than 80 beers by them and 24 other New England brewers!
Wormtown MassWhole Hefeweizen - Traditional, Yet Different From Your Normal
Someone once said, “there aren’t enough Hefeweizens in craft beer!” OK, that someone was me. But it’s true. Check this one out and then tell me it’s not. Banana and clove are in your nose as you bring the glass to your mouth. It’s effervescent, minerally and dry from the wheat. It’s full on your tongue, yet doesn’t coat it nor is it overwhelming. This may be the perfect hot weather beer! Interesting, yet it doesn't get in the way. And this particular version is chock full of local ingredients, including wheat from Valley Malt, in Hadley, MA which we love! The local grain gives an especially neat distinctive component to the flavor.
Can’t get this one? Try a few different hefeweizens! Almost every region has at least one brewer making one now. What do you suggest?
Wormtown will be at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest in downtown Boston on July 12 & 13. Get your tickets and come on by to try more than 80 beers by them and 24 other New England brewers!
Founders Brewing All Day IPA - The All Day Drinker, Plus Hops
OK, OK! We hear you, you want hops! Well if you like citrusy, juicy, flavorful hops without an overwhelming bitterness, then this is your cookout beer of choice my friend. It smells like a bucket of those delicious flowers that give beer its bitterness and flavor, yet, it’s not 1000+ IBUs. Honestly, I just want to go get another one now because it’s so good. Tropical fruit flavors will cascade down your tongue as you drink this elixir. “But,” you say, “there’s tons of great IPAs…why this one?” Well, because it’s only 4.5% abv. Which makes it great for hot weather and outdoor drinking over long periods of time. Am I right?
Can’t get this one? Try a few different pale ales! It’s a fairly ubiquitous style...just watch the alcohol as it can rise quickly! What do you suggest?
The Tap Intergalactic Acid - And Now for Something Completely Different
2013 is a year that will go down in history here at Drink Craft Beer…it’s the year that The Tap Brewing Company in Haverhill, MA started bottling their amazing berliner weisse. This is a beer that Devon and I usually go to the brewpub every summer to drink by the pitcher (it’s only 3% abv, so we each get one), then we bring several growlers home. This beer means summer here at Drink Craft Beer! And now you can drink it at home. It’s mildly tart and refreshing, perfect for a hot summer day. We’ve heard of this style being sold as “Belgian Lemonade” at some brewpubs in other areas and, with the acid, slight citrus notes and tartness it makes sense. Traditionally you can put raspberry of woodruff syrup into the beer to temper the tartness, but we say try it plain!
Can’t get this one? You might be out of luck...this style is rarely made. Have you had a good local version? What do you suggest?
The Tap will be at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest in downtown Boston on July 12 & 13. Get your tickets and come on by to try more than 80 beers by them and 24 other New England brewers!
Oskar Blues Dales Pale Ale - Bonus Beer!
Yes, we know this is the seventh beer in a six-pack article. Consider it a baker’s six-pack? Or a bonus beer. Basically, we know we don’t need to tell you have great Dale’s Pale Ale is. It’s bitter, it’s grapefruity hoppy, it’s delicious! If you like IPAs then this beer is for you. We’re not here to tell you how good it is…we’re here to point out that they have a new stovepipe can! Almost 20oz of this brew, all for you. Yeah, sometimes you just want a big can of hops to the face while you’re walking around the yard on a 90° day. And, when that happens, this is the one you should check out.
Let’s be honest...almost everyone can get Dales Pale Ale. If not, there are several other local IPAs in cans throughout the country. But you may be hard pressed to find it in a stovepipe can.
So what are your summer suggestions? Live in New England, well then what did we miss? Live somewhere else? Let us know some alternatives, what’s in style for our recommendations? Cheers, and enjoy the heat! And, if you're in Boston for July 12 & 13, come down to Drink Craft Beer Summerfest (at Space 57 in Downtown Boston) to sample 80+ summery beers from 25 of New England's best brewers! Get the info here.