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Squam Brewing Golden IPA [Beer Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

A few weeks ago, I found myself skiing up in New Hampshire at Waterville Valley. I’ve been going regularly for years now and it’s been interesting seeing the entire area change during that time. One thing I’ve definitely noticed is the increased prevalence of craft beer up there! At first, if I wanted something really good after skiing, I had to bring it up from Massachusetts. As time went on, a gourmet store opened to cater to the skiing crowd and had a good selection of beer...and it was even right across the street from where I stayed! But, alas, it closed within a year or two. The good news? It probably closed because the town grocery just around the corner really stepped up it’s game on all sorts of things, including beer! So did the bars and restaurants in the Waterville Town Square and surrounding areas.

Squam Brewing Golden IPA

But the last time I was there, a couple weeks ago, the Jugtown Country Store in Waterville Town Square caught my eye with a big shelf of beer as I walked by. Upon entering I found a decent-sized but well-curated selection of craft beer, including a good bit of local stuff. Among them were some brews from Squam Brewing...beer I hadn’t heard of? Well of course I had to get it. Now, to drink it!

This is one beer that changes greatly as you move it around. Sitting, looking at it head on it’s a deep brownish, yellowish flavescent hue. Hold it up, especially near any light, and it turns to a light straw color, clear and crisp looking. With a single finger head perched atop, it looks good...but not particularly hoppy.

Aaaaaand this is one of those times when it seems looks may be deceiving. At 8.5% abv this is a bigger IPA and it seems to be hopped to keep up with that alcohol! You can definitely smell a bit of heat on this one...it is approaching 9%...but the main smell I’m getting is candied citrus fruit. I’m guessing this is some fragrant hops mixing with a big, east coast malt backbone. Only one way to tell!

If you’re looking for a big, bitter tongue number this is not your IPA. The malt is solid, strong and sweet. It’s not assertive, not brash, but smooth and toothsome. The hops are there, but it’s not a ton of early boil hops (which will make the beer bitter). It seems that the brewer reserved the entire load of wonderful little green flowers for the end of boil, imparting tons of flavor from the cones. You can almost chew on this beer; it’s thick and approaching the mouth feel of some barleywines I’ve had. Candied, tropical fruit flavor carries through from the aroma and, accompanied by some alcohol heat, makes this a quite pleasant, warming beer. I’ll definitely pick this up again next time I’m in New Hampshire. Especially as I think this would be a great brew to crack open after a day snowshoeing or on the slopes!

Can't Keep 'Em Apart - A Beer & Chocolate Love Story 2013

Author // Jeff Wharton

Some of you may remember this from last year but it seems that Valentine's Day is coming up again (didn't this just happen a year ago?). To us, what could be better than celebrating with some craft beer and chocolate? How about raising money for The Greater Boston Food Bank? What if we told you you could do all those things at the same time?!

Well on Saturday, February 2nd, 2013 from 2-6pm you can! Drink Craft Beer is taking over the Taza Chocolate Factory Store AGAIN and we're doing some pretty cool stuff AGAIN! Last year we had 550 people come out and raised over $1800 for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Let's see if we can top that this year!


UPDATE: Please note, THE EVENT IS NOT SOLD OUT AS IT'S A PAY-AT-THE-DOOR FIRST-COME-FIRST-SERVED EVENT. But, we've decided at this point to stop taking RSVP's. At this point we have 1,200 people already RSVP'ed for this event. 

We are totally humbled and floored by the reaction this event has received and so thankful to live in an area that thinks things like feeding those in need are important! Because everything is being donated for this event, we don't have an unending supply of beer and chocolate. That said, we are committed to hosting as many people as we can from 2-6pm, given the beer and chocolate we have, and raising as much money as possible for The Greater Boston Food Bank! So we look forward to seeing you all out at the Taza Chocolate Factory this Saturday from 2-6pm!

Use this link to donate directly to The Great Boston Food Bank.

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About Taza Chocolate

Taza Chocolate is a bean-to-bar, organic, direct trade chocolate company that has been growing like crazy over the past years. We met them when it was just a couple guys in a factory in Somerville and we’ve watched them grow to national distribution. To us, it’s incredible what Taza Chocolate is able to do with just a few select, high quality ingredients. It actually mirrors our love of craft beer, as brewers do the same with a few simple ingredients. That’s why we think that these two are such a perfect complement to each other.

About Can't Keep 'Em Apart 2013

It’s no secret, Taza Chocolate and Drink Craft Beer have long been friends. We’ve done a ton of events together in the past, they've come to our fests and we've done chocolate and beer classes where we’ve paired some of the best craft beer on the market with our favorite bean-to-bar, organic chocolates. And then last year we even brought you all to the factory! Well we're doing it all again for 2013!

Given the reaction to last year's factory takeover (550 attendees and $1800+ raised), we knew we had to do it again for Valentine’s Day. So, with that in mind, we’re taking over the Taza Chocolate Factory Store again on Saturday, February 2nd, 2013 from 2-6pm and offering you a chance to try four delicious chocolate and craft beer pairings, featuring Slumbrew, Narragansett, Backlash & Ipswich Ale! We'll also have Roxy's Grilled Cheese on hand, selling Chocolate-Covered-Bacon Grilled Cheese (as well as their normal menu) with $1 from each purchase of this featured sandwich going to Greater Boston Food Bank! All we ask in return is a $5 donation at the door, 100% of which will go to The Greater Boston Food Bank. Come join us at:

Taza Chocolate Factory Store
561 Windsor Street
Somerville, MA 02143

Every dollar that gets donated allows them to provide 2.5 meals to those in need, so your $5 donation will provide 12.5 meals! If you bring just one friend, that’s 25 meals for people who are going hungry!

For just $5, you'll get:

  • Four samples of craft beer paired with four Taza Mexicano Chocolates
  • Meet the crews from Slumbrew, Narragansett, Backlash & Ipswich Ale
  • Hang out with Devon and Jeff from Drink Craft Beer
  • A chance to provide 12.5 meals to those who are in need
  • Roxy's Grilled Cheese on hand, selling Chocolate-Covered-Bacon Grilled Cheese with $1 from each going to Greater Boston Food Bank

The pairings you'll get to try are:

Narragansett Bock with Taza Mexicano Cinnamon Chocolate

Narragansett Bock & Taza Mexicano Cinnamon Chocolate

Warning, this pairing has been known to induce epic high fives. Seriously though, this was our first pairing we did we’re stoked by how well these two come together. We tried this beer with the vanilla chocolate, thinking the sweetness of the malt would pair nicely with the the vanilla bean flavors, sadly that fell flat so we grabbed the cinnamon. The Bock has some nice roasted flavors that really get heightened by the cinnamon. While some of the flavors in Taza’s mexicano line can be subtle, the cinnamon is right there in your face. The sweetness of the beer in this case helps mellow things out in just the right way.

Backlash Beer Famine Tripel with Taza Guajillo Pepper Mexicano

Backlash Beer Famine Tripel & Taza Guajillo Pepper Chocolate

Ok, ok...we know, doesn’t it seem like we always include a pairing of the Taza Guajillo Pepper Mexicano chocolate and a yeasty, dry, minerally beer? Well there’s a reason! Because it’s sooooo damn good. This time Backlash’s new single hop single malt Belgian-style tripel ale, Famine, is the beer to pair with this chocolate. The yeast from the brew and the earthy spice from the chocolate just come together in a magnificent flavor combination that will make you gasp and ask for more. After you swallow the spice lingers just long enough to mix with the Belgian funk of the yeast and it’s great. Honestly, you’re going to want seconds.

Ipswich Ale Brewery Rye Porter with Taza Vanilla Mexicano

Ipswich Ale Brewery Rye Porter & Taza Vanilla Mexicano Chocolate

When we tried the vanilla with the bock, both the chocolate and beer got quite muted. As soon as we took a sip of this combo, though, both beer and chocolate jumped off our tongues and really lit up. The vanilla amplifies the chocolatey sweetness of the porter while the beer brings out some sweet, dark berry notes that are usually hidden in this chocolate. This is a good, smooth experience just like the moves you’re going to spring on on your valentine on Valentine’s Day. You don’t have to think too hard about this one, so just sit back and enjoy.

Slumbrew My Better Half Imperial Cream Ale

To find out what My Better Half's better half is when it comes to chocolate, you're going to have to come on out to the Taza Chocolate factory on February 2nd! This will be your first chance to try this year's batch of My Better Half as it's only being packaged days before. So come meet the Slumbrew crew and try some super-fresh imperial cream ale!

Cisco Brewers HBC 342 Hopsicle Ale [Beer Review]

Author // Jeff Wharton

In early November, Devon and I were invited to the Craft Brewers Guild Tradeshow in Boston. Craft Brewers Guild is one of the big beer distributors to bars and bottle shops in the Boston area and they carry a ton of craft brewers, Cisco Brewers included. It was a great experience to talk with brewery reps from companies all over the country and even the world. Because they were trying to show off for potential new on- and off-premise accounts, some companies had broken out the big guns, of which Cisco was one. We were talking with one of their crew when I noticed some 750 ml bottles sitting all alone behind the ice tub...I had to ask, right? Turns out that one of the bottles was HBC 342, a beer made only with the hop for which the brew was named and 75% buckwheat in the grain bill. I got a small sample that night, but stumbled upon a whole bottle while at Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont, MA.

With Cisco Brewers coming to Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops in April, I figured I had to look at this beer more closely! So here’s the story on the brew, and here's to hoping they bring it (or something like it) to Spingfest!

Cisco Brewers HBC 342 Hopsicle Ale

If you handed me this beer and didn’t let me smell or taste it, I’d tell you it was some type of wheat beer: hefeweizen, Belgian wit, etc...But I’d be wrong! Hazy to high Hell and back with a white, creamy, thick and voluminous head you’d be forgiven for mistaking this for just another hoppy American wheat ale. An opaque tan color, it’s almost murky from either yeast or, more likely, buckwheat.

This is a hoppy, hoppy, hoppy smelling beer! As I was pouring the head puffed up and aromas of peach and watermelon shot into my nostrils like moths to a light. As I take a second to really get a whiff, I’m noticing some orange creamsicle and cantaloupe in there as well. Listen, I’m not one to make up a bunch of flavors in beer but this one is crazy with a capital “C!”

On my honeymoon, my wife and I visited Mexico. At the hotel we got watermelon juice on the patio, overlooking the waves crashing onto a deathly rocky shore. Perhaps it was the heat and humidity, or maybe it was the romanticism of the whole trip, or maybe it was because I was finally relaxing after a crazy year of work and wedding planning, but it was the single most delicious drink I’ve ever had. I bring this up because, and stay with me here as it’s about to get weird...there’s some watermelon hitting my olfactory nerves with good ol’ HBC 342! It smells a lot like that watermelon juice, so this one is going to have to have some serious flavor issues for me to not like it now. It’s summertime in a bottle! Fruity, soft and refreshing. All capped off by the slightest tart note, maybe from the buckwheat? Or maybe from the incredible amount of hops.

Wow! If I thought the smell was outlandish I should’ve waited for the taste. Those melon flavors are standing at attention and holding on to my taste buds for dear life! The buckwheat lends a super dry, spicy component to the whole thing that adds another level of complexity onto hops already utilized artfully. It’s a round, soft and fuzzy beer that, at 4.7% abv, could be drank all day in hot weather. Throw this in a can and your friends would enjoy the crap out of it in the backyard playing baggo! I’d do a lot of unsavory things to get some of this served on cask.

So, long story short, if you see this one on the shelf, make sure to check it out. It’s limited but, more importantly, it’s delicious. So don’t delay. Another well done beer by the folks living the island life on Nantucket! Looking forward to seeing them and some other great hoppy beers of theirs at Drink Craft Beer Springfest: A Celebration of Hops in April!

Top 12 Craft Beers of 2012

Author // Jeff Wharton

2012 was a very different year for craft beer from 2011. In 2011, we saw an incredible number of breweries and brewing companies open in our region and a flurry of new beers were released. It got to the point where we were attending two or more openings/releases in a night at times. 2011 truly was an exciting time to be in New England and we inadvertently made our Top 11 Craft Beers of 2011 list totally Northeast-based. Oops, our bad. If you were here, though, you would have understood.

We still saw some new kettles come on line in 2012, but this year was more about established brands putting out some delicious new stuff. There's no doubt that brewers are putting out great, locally-made beer here in New England, but this year we found some inspiration from all across the country. In addition, we saw many new establishments carrying more and better craft beer. All in all 2012 was a good year!

So, with that said, let's get on to the Drink Craft Beer Top 12 New Craft Beers of 2012...then, afterwards, let us know what you really enjoyed in 2012 on Twitter (hastag #CraftBeer2012), on Facebook or in the comments below! (Note: This is not a rank-ordered list.)

Downeast Cider House Original Blend

We can already hear the dissension, “But this is a cider!” Yep, it is. 2012 was the year that cider hit in a big way...which makes sense, given our history with the apple. What used to be a novelty that your one weird friend would drink is now all the rage and a super-fast growing cousin of the craft beer industry. And, in our minds, no one represented the face of this new guard more than the boys from Downeast Cider House. It’s a juicy, yet not too sweet, cider that comes in cans and on draft. It mixes great with several different types of beer. They presented it just like beer, in cans and on tap, so the adoption of this drink was easy to beer drinkers. And we were sold on it ever since we got a secret test bottle way back in late 2011. To be fair, local cider-makers Bantam Cider, Urban Farm Fermentory, Farnum Hill and many others are all making great ciders as well. But in cider, to us, 2012 belonged to Downeast.

Downeast Cider Original Blend

Mystic Brewery Vinland One

In 2012, we launched our first beer festival, Drink Craft Beer Summerfest: A Celebration of Farmhouse Ale. And who better to make the official fest beer than Massachusetts’ own saison brewery? Launched at Summerfest, Vinland One took locally-sourced to a whole new level when Bryan Greenhagen and the Mystic crew made a beer with yeast cultured from Massachusetts plums. Pale, light, clean and refreshing with an underlying hint of plum, this brew took attendees back to the days when beer was fermented by local, naturally occurring yeast. Since being bottled, this has definitely been one to pick up and enjoy.

Stone Enjoy By IPA (12.21.12)

We’ve led off this list with a few game-changing libations and that’s not going to stop here. While we’ll be the first to say that some in the beer community take freshness a little too far (I’m sorry, but your 3 week old IPA is just fine...trust me), it’s definitely still important. We’ve seen too many dusty bottles of delicate styles of beer that we know are waaaaaay past their prime on store shelves. We may know better, but the casual consumer probably won’t and she’s not going to be too happy when she pops open that stale, 11-month-old bottle of pale ale. Stone used their status as one of the biggest and most influential companies in the industry to take a stand on this topic and got a huge amount of attention for their effort and the resulting beer. The Stone Enjoy By IPA series puts the expiration date of their super-hoppy IPA front and center as part of the name of the beer. And this sure is a beer for those who love hops. Be on the lookout if Stone says it’s coming to your city, though. Between the brewery’s intention for this beer to be consumed fresh and the attention it’s gotten across the country, it’ll come and go quick!

Idle Hands Bourbon Barrel Aged Triplication

Pouring their first beer at the end of 2011, 2012 really saw Idle Hands Craft Ales turning some heads. On top of their standard line-up of Belgian-inspired ales (which are delicious) they put out some real head turners, including Oh BABY!, Charlton Rouge, Dubbel Dimples, Blanche de Grace and more. But the one that we really couldn’t leave off this list barely made the cut-off for 2012: Bourbon Barrel Aged Triplication, their trippel aged in barrels. One smell and smooth, vanilla bourbon almost smacks you upside the head. Take a sip, though, and it’s a liquid of masterful balance with the oaky tannins and vanilla from the barrels lying down nicely with the fruity esters and sweetness of the beer. We popped one of these on New Year’s Eve with friends and everyone loved it, not just the craft beer drinkers. We wish we had more!

Sixpoint Resin Double IPA

While Sixpoint started canning their until-then only kegged craft ales and lagers in 2011, 2012 saw a change possibly even bigger...they brought on a new brewmaster! German born and trained Jan Matysiak took over for founder Shane Welch (he has stepped into a role of focusing more on the business side of his brewery). While Jan has been brewing in the States for a while, this is the first time that many East Coasters got to try his beer and Sixpoint’s Resin Double IPA was his first new beer for Sixpoint. A chewy, full-bodied, almost-creamy beer the bitterness hits you after a few seconds and damn! The name is appropriate as its resiny, coating your mouth with hoppy goodness! This is one we kept coming back to all year. And the 12oz slim tallboy can? It’s just a fun little plus. Hey, people say we eat and drink with our eyes, and this can is a good way to start the drinking.

New Belgium Shift Lager

In 2012 we found ourselves in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area a couple of times for a friend’s wedding. While there, we of course tried a ton of the local beers and were supremely impressed by what’s going on in the region. We also drank a ton of New Belgium’s latest year-round offering, Shift Lager. This is what many would call a pre-prohibition lager and is what my father would call “a beer that tastes like beer” (he’s a big time craft beer drinker, but still remembers back before this whole craft beer thing was going on like it is now). This is a beer made for a bachelor party, hanging out before a wedding, or just hanging out with the guys. If you’re going to drink a quite a few and don’t want to think too much about it, this is a great go-to brew. The good part? It’s tasty enough that you definitely can think about it if you so choose, and you’ll be quite happy!

Enlightenment Ales Illumination Farmhouse IPA

Enlightenment Ales is Massachusetts’ latest nano-brewery. We met founder Ben Howe back in 2009 when he was an assistant brewer at Cambridge Brewing Company and he’s obviously learned quite a bit from CBC’s Brewmaster, Will Meyers. Enlightenment’s flagship is a Biere de Champagne but our favorite thing he put out this year was his hoppy Saison, Illumination Farmhouse IPA, showcased for one of the first times at Drink Craft Beer Summerfest. Oftentimes we find that this style has two competing flavor profiles, but Ben’s version has spicy yeast and fruity hops playing together in a way that would have had farmhands of yesteryear drinking the hell out of this beer!

Maine Beer Company MO Pale Ale

In 2011, Maine Beer Company’s Lunch IPA was all the rage...and everybody knew it. If word got out that Lunch was available on tap or at a store, you better cut work and get over there if you wanted some. Cut to 2012, though, and we’ve found another new Maine Beer Co. beer that we like even more. Being a pale ale, MO obviously attracts a bit less attention. But we were sucked in by the awesome hop aroma and flavor with less hop bitterness. Also, at 6% abv it was a little more drinkable. Finally, as a pale ale it didn’t have quite the same amount of malt behind it, which was nice. A showcase of hops. Thanks Maine Beer Co!

Lagunitas DayTime Fractional IPA

Does it seem to you that the craft beer industry is finally peeling away a little bit from the 10%+ abv imperial beers? Are you starting to seek out, and find, more full-flavored, lower-alcohol beers? That’s certainly how it seems to us. While we’re lucky to have a dedicated, high-quality session beer producer in Massachusetts we’re stoked to see other, less focused brewers picking up the mantel as well. Lagunitas was one of those in 2012, putting out DayTime IPA, what they call a “fractional IPA.” Crisp, dry and aromatic with super fruity hops, this is one that you can definitely drink during the day that won’t lead to an early bedtime. We’re excited by anybody who wants to brew a great, lower-alcohol option...but if they want to put a ton of hops in it? Well then that’s something we’ll definitely smile while we try it.

Lagunitas DayTime Fractional IPA

Night Shift Somer Weisse

A little under a year ago (March 2012 to be exact) Night Shift Brewery introduced the Boston-area to their unorthodox beers like a honey & tea wheat ale, a rye, agave nectar & habanero pepper beer, a rosemary, rose hips & pink peppercorns saison and more. All of their offerings deliver a complicated set of ingredients with impressive balance, showing a deft brewing hand and years spent perfecting recipes. With that said, one of Night Shift’s beers really captured our attention in 2012 and we drank it over and over again. With Somer Weisse, Night Shift showed they were incredibly capable of brewing an impressive sour beer. Hovering between 5% - 6% abv, it was a tart and refreshing beer perfect for summer drinking. And drink it we did (and continue to). When they released Ever Weisse and, later, Mainer Weisse they showed everyone that Somer Weisse wasn’t a one-time sour fluke, they really knew how to make tart beer. But our hearts and taste buds have continued on with this old mainstay.

Notch Tafelbier

Our love of session beer is no secret. We drink a lot of beer over here at Drink Craft Beer and we can’t be wearing out early after having a few beers, which sometimes makes the big imperial stuff a bit tough (they’ve got their time and place, don’t worry!). As lovers of session beer, and being in Massachusetts, there is one man who does it like nobody else. Last year we had a toss-up between Notch Brewing’s Saison and Pils for our Top 11 of 2011 list. This year, we had an easier choice (we couldn’t select our Coffee Milk Stout collaboration beer we made with Notch) and there was one new Notch beer that we drank way more than any other. Notch Tafelbier was a sub-3% abv brew that delivered on flavor with a distinctly dry Belgian profile, a nice hop kick and just a touch of tartness. This beer took session to the next level and showed just how small you can go with alcohol and still deliver an awesome beer. We look forward to it this summer!

Founders Frangelic Mountain Brown Ale

Back in 2007 we went on a road trip throughout the Great Lakes region, stopping at a ton of breweries, talking with brewers, checking out awesome beer bars and coming home with a much of beer we can’t get in Boston. One of our favorite stops was Founders Brewing Company (at their old location). We hit the taproom up three days in a row where the most interesting beer on tap was Frangelic Stout, a rich stout with hazelnut tones. And let’s keep in mind both Breakfast Stout and Founders’ much-hyped Kentucky Breakfast Stout were on tap. Unfortunately once we drove out of town, so did our chance to drink this amazing elixir. So let’s fast forward to 2012 and, lo-and-behold, Founders releases Frangelic Mountain Brown Ale as part of their Backstage Series. While not the same beer (the brown ale is 9% abv while the stout was about 4.5%, along with the obvious style difference), it clearly received the same treatment. We made sure to pick up a bottle and it definitely delivered on returning us to those awesome bar stools back in Grand Rapids. This was a great beer that we had to give props to Founders for. Now how about you guys send some six-packs of Frangelic Stout this way?

Now that we've told you our favorites of 2012, what were yours? Craft beer is just a matter of taste and taste is hugely personal, so we want to know what you liked! With so many new beers coming out all the time, did we miss anything? Let us know what you really enjoyed in 2012 on Twitter (hastag #CraftBeer2012), on Facebook or in the comments below!