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Downeast Cider's Ross Brockman [5 Questions]

Author // Jeff Wharton

Every once in a while that one thing comes along that changes your idea about a product category. To be honest, Downeast Cider did that to me. I like normal cider, but I'd never found a hard cider that really did it for me. As we saw cider as a category growing, we decided that we wanted to write about it as 1) Devon is a big fan and 2) it seemed to fit in with the ethos of craft beer. Furthermore, we had a willing and ready writer in Sarah, our cider writer. I was fine with it but wasn't super enthused until Sarah brought us back a test batch from a soon-to-open cidery. It tasted just like apple cider you buy at the farm stand! It was juicy and full without being too sweet. This was cider I could get behind! That company was Downeast Cider and Sarah had met up with founders Ross Brockman and Tyler Mosher to discuss their new project.

Ross from Downeast Cider

As the last time we spoke with them on the record, they had just started operations, I thought it'd be fun to take some time with Ross and put him through our 5 Questions segment...especially being as his company is the one that helped change my mind about looking at cider again.

Drink Craft Beer: How did you get into craft cider?

Ros Brockman: I have absolutely no idea. One day I was studying to be a lawyer, and the next thing I knew I was checking fermentation cycles and cleaning kegs. It was like Will Ferrell in the debate scene from Old School, I blacked out, don't know what happened, but I think I kinda killed it...

DCB: What was the turning point (a cider or moment) that made you love craft cider?

RB: It was definitely a beer that made me turn the corner in my beverage selection. During our freshman year of college, I had a...not-so-honest...ID that I used to use to go to Wal-Mart Thursday through Saturday to buy 5 30-racks of Beast Ice (Milwaukees Best Ice). We would put them in a ski bag to drag across campus and then unpack that into our mini-fridge, which conveniently held 150 cans of beer. One day Keystone Light (seriously) went on sale and turning point number 1 clicked: "Beer doesn't have to suck, it can taste exactly like water!" Skip forward a couple years and I think it was Dogfish Head 60-Minute that was turning point number 2, the real one: "Beer can be...good?!" Soon after that I had the same realizations with hard cider.

DCB: 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.

RB:

  1. Un-named Downeast grapefruit cider/mead (soon enough...)
  2. Savannah Dry Cider (more of a nostalgia thing)
  3. Ballast Point Sculpin IPA
  4. Westvleteren 12 (uhh...monks)
  5. Stone IPA
  6. Bud Heavy (because this isn't Russia)

DCB: You’re going out for one big night in Boston. Where do you go (it doesn’t all have to be beer).

RB: I'd probably get pretty liquored up with some Downeast in my apartment beforehand because I can't afford to buy our cider in an actual bar. Then I'd meet my friends at some overrated, creepy place in Faneuil Hall at which point my memory would duck out and I'll wake up with my head splitting open and, what is that, whiskey on my breath? Where the hell is my cell phone...Sorry, that didn't go as planned, I'll head over to the Salty Pig tomorrow night...

DCB: What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t in beer?

RB: I'd be pursing my childhood dream of pitching for the Red Sox, playing QB for the Patriots and PG for the Celtics, all at the same time.

DCB: What do you drink when you’re not drinking craft beer (or beer at all)?

RB: Bud heavy, fresh grapefruit juice, or cheap whiskey with a splash of club soda.

DCB: Where do you see cider 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?

RB: I think cider is going to continue to skyrocket. I can also see a lot of experimental ciders blossoming, just as you see craft beers getting wackier and wackier. In that regard, we've got a few tricks up our sleeve that we can't reveal. As far as a more conservative offering, we hope to be done with our dry cider pretty soon here.

DCB: You can make any cider you like, no matter the cost and consumer demand, what would you make and what dream ingredients would you use?

RB: I'd make Downeast Original Blend, because why would we have started this thing and not made our dream drink? And if you twisted my arm, I'd serve it over ice from another planet, because that would be pretty neat...Downeast Over Space Ice!

DCB: Thanks so much for your time, Ross. What can we do to get you make that Downeast Original Blend over space ice?!

Woodstock Inn Brewery Thru Hiker Rye Pale Ale [Beer Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

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.

Woodstock Inn Brewery Thru Hiker Rye Pale Ale

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!

Drink Craft Beer & Jack's Abby Brewing Springfest Beer

Author // Jeff Wharton

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.

Jack's Abby The ABCs Brew Day

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.

Portico Brewing's Alex Zielke [5 Questions]

Author // Jeff Wharton

When we heard there was another brewing company opening up in the Boston area, with a German trained brewmaster, we knew we had to go check it out. It was in a small bar in Camrbidge, MA's Harvard Square that we first tried Portico's beer in early 2012, and we knew we had to have more. They've been growing around Boston since then, adding tap handle after tap handle and putting out some seriously delicious beer. They joined us at both Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale as well as Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest and we always look forward to getting another chance to drink some of their delicious beer. Somehow, between making and selling beer, we were able to get a hold of head brewer Alex Zielke to ask him some questions.

Portico Brewing Team
The Portico team at Drink Craft Beer Fall to Winter Fest. Alex Zielke is second from left.

Drink Craft Beer: How did you get into craft beer?

Alex Zielke: I wasn’t really into craft beer until I took a ‘Beers of the World’ class in college. Yes, my school offered that for credit.  I had some equipment left over from my failed attempt at making wine the previous semester, so a friend and I decided to try homebrewing beer instead because, why not.  After college I kept homebrewing while I worked in biotech, a job that came in handy because I could use the autoclave to sterilize tons of bottles.  Like many other brewers, I found my weekend hobby much more fun than my weekday job and in late 2008 I decided to take the plunge and focus on brewing.  I quit my job and moved to Berlin for six months to join the Brewmaster program at the Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei (VLB).  After Germany and a short stint interning at Rohrbach's Brewery I came to Boston, met Alex and Ian, and here we are.

DCB: What was the turning point (a beer or moment) that made you love craft beer?

AZ: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was the turning point for me. That was my gateway craft beer. Growing up in Seattle, there were so many incredible local breweries to choose from.  My friends and I used to spend Sundays going on brewery tours, usually first to Red Hook, then over to Mac and Jack’s.

DCB: 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.

AZ: Off the top of my head, I'd say:

  1. Troegs Nugget Nectar
  2. Zunft Kolsch, Erzquell Brauerei
  3. Left Hand Milk Stout
  4. Southern Tier Unearthly
  5. Alchemist Heady Topper
  6. (and of course) Portico Fuzzy Logic

DCB: 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)?

AZ: My favorite beer city is still Seattle, and this adventure would be all beer.  I would start out in the burbs on the eastside (Woodinville) and hit up Dirty Bucket and Triplehorn brewing.  Last time I was in town I had a great Dirty Blond Ale and IPA at their respective places.  Next, and assuming I am not the one driving for this escapade, I’d head one town over to Redmond to stop at Black Raven Brewing for some of their amazing cask ales and then over to Mac & Jack's, for posterity's sake.  Then out to Seattle to the Pike Brewing Company just off the waterfront for a sampler and probably a pint.  After all the beer, grab a bowl of fresh mac & cheese at Beecher's Handmade Cheese just up the street in Pike Place Market and then head north to Fremont. In Fremont a quick, or not so quick, stop at Brouwer's for some Belgian beer, and then head north again to finish off the night at Naked City Brewery & Taphouse.

DCB: What would you be doing for a career if you weren’t in beer?

AZ: I'd probably still be working in science, doing a post-doc in microbiology or maybe working for another biotech startup.

DCB: What do you drink when you’re not drinking craft beer (or beer at all)?

AZ: Maybe it's because I am from Seattle, but I'm actually a pretty big fan of coffee. Sure it gets you going in the morning but there is also a lot of depth and flavor to coffee if you get it from the right place.  I am not talking sugary frappa-whosawhatsits, but black, fresh brewed coffee that tastes like roasty, dark chocolate.

DCB: Thanks so much for your time, Alex!