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.
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:
- Troegs Nugget Nectar
- Zunft Kolsch, Erzquell Brauerei
- Left Hand Milk Stout
- Southern Tier Unearthly
- Alchemist Heady Topper
- (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!
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!
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.
On Saturday, February 2, 2013 Taza Chocolate let us take over their factory store for the second time to benefit The Greater Boston Food Bank. We were completely floored by the response that we got from our wonderful community; many of you waited over an hour to get inside while temperatures outside dipped into the low twenties. With nearly 700 attendees coming through the door and proceeds from Roxy's Grilled Cheese's chocolate-covered bacon grilled cheese sandwiches we raised $3,600, doubling the proceeds from 2012! That's enough money for The Greater Boston Food Bank to provide 8,496 meals to those in need. Pretty epic!
With that in mind, we want to thank each and every one of you for coming out, for braving the cold and for being a part of this great event!
The line before the doors opened. You can't see it, but it went all the way to the
end of the block, turned the corner, then half way down the next block.
The line for Roxy's Grilled Cheese...luckily the line to get into the event was right in front of the truck!
Of course, we couldn't have done it without our wonderful event sponsors either, all of whom donated their time and products. So we'd like to give a special thanks to:
- Taza Chocolate - Our hosts, for donating their space and their chocolate.
- Advanced Protection Services - For donating security services for the event.
- Backlash Beer Company - For donating their Famine Tripel Ale.
- Ipswich Ale Brewery - For donating their Rye Porter.
- Narragansett Brewing Co. - For donating their Bock.
- Roxy's Grilled Cheese - For donating a dollar for every chocolate-covered bacon grilled cheese sold.
- Slumbrew - For donating their My Better Half Imperial Cream Ale (and some bonus Porter Square Porter).
Again, thanks to everyone involved, from the attendees to the event sponsors! We could not have done it without any of you! We look forward to seeing you all again!
The first attendees in the door finally get some beer and chocolate. They got here an hour before the event!
The end of the line: inside the Taza Chocolate Factory Store after trying all four pairings.