Monday, January 28, 2008

Lew's Been Busy!

Lew Bryson always makes for good reading. Hell, he's probably the main reason that this silly little corner of the interweb even exists. Lately, he's been on a quixotic quest to reach 365 posts before his blog reaches its first birthday on January 31st. That means lots more Lew for me and you to enjoy. Seriously, the man is prolific - he even managed to post again in the time it took us to rattle off this little blurb. So what are you waiting for? Quit wasting your time here and check on his progress.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Berkshire Brewing Company

Not to continue witth the decidedly New England-ish bent that this blog has taken recently or anything, but there was another rather pleasing element of our recent Invasion of Western Mass that Bill touched on only briefly in his post. On our way home, we made a quick stop at, as Ron over at Hop Talk would say, a "candy store" to pick up a few selections not available to us in New York.

There was a nice cover story on Berkshire Brewing Company in the December issue of Yankee Brew News (click here and scroll all the way down to view it). In reading that piece, you get a good feel for what BBC is - a small brewery that makes good, solid beers and has been successful self distributing their beer within a pretty limited radius. They are located in South Deerfield, MA, about 100 miles from Albany, but none of their beers are yet available outside of New England. Hopefully, that will change soon, as BBC has recently expanded and are poised for growth, as our man Lew so presciently pointed out last summer.

Anyway, back to the candy store. We'd had a couple of BBC brews here and there, and the Yankee Brew News article served as a friendly reminder that we should pick some more up as soon as was convenient. BBC beers are only available on draft and in 22 oz. bombers. Since we had already had the Lost Sailor IPA on draft at Ye Olde Forge, and the trunk of a Saturn SL1 is more conducive to transporting a selection of bottles than multiple kegs, we elected to purchase a few 22's of BBC stuff to smuggle back across the border. Thankfully, there is no known video footage of me giddily giggling like a school girl in front of the cooler with an armload of carefully chosen BBC bombers.

We ended up with six lovely beers that Bill and I managed to work our way through over the balance of the weekend:

  • Berkshire Ale - An enjoyable, easy drinkin' tranditional Pale Ale
  • River Ale - Dark ale? Old Ale? Brown Ale? Whatever, it's damned tasty.
  • Lost Sailor IPA - A nice, English style IPA that ventures close to ESB territory
  • Holidale 2007 - An excellent barleywine. Full bodied and balanced, with a big grapefruity finish. Right Bill?

Most of the beers share a sort of soft, almost nutty, creaminess that was quite pleasant. Not sure if it's the yeast, or a soft water, but it is nice. Despite the similarity, they manage to remain distinctive, without the flavour of one blurring into that of another at all. Just a really enjoyable experience with a really likable brewery, made slightly more exotic by the fact that they aren't available in our home state.

Add in the fact that (other than the big beer, Holidale, which was also handsomely screen printed a la Stone beers) they were sold at the very popular price of only $3.60 each, and we're already plotting our next journey to the Commonwealth. Here's hoping that their promised expansion pushes Berkshire Brewing's availability a bit farther westward.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Yankee Quartet Invades Western Mass

The border that exists between the states of New York and Massachusetts is a thin, nondescript strip of land with no border guards or checkpoints. When it comes to beer, however, the line of demarcation that separates the Empire State from New England is significant in that it is an endline of sorts for many of the Bay State's more lesser known offerings.

With an afternoon to kill, Javen and I decided to break out the passports and and cross from New York's Capital District into Western Mass to scope out what our fine state might be missing out on.

Enlisting my sister Mary Katherine and brother-in-law Scott, we headed to Lanesboro, Mass., and Ye Olde Forge, a small, charming colonial-style tavern. At the entrance, a small, inviting dining area lies straight ahead. There isn't very much seating, but enough to accommodate the crowd that was there on a Saturday afternoon.

Scott noted that the bar "feels like a place Paul Revere would have drank in." Indeed, the bar imparts a very colonial feel, with lots of wood and brick. The whole vibe of the place is very old-timey and authentically New Englandy. The walls are very ornate, with cardboard coasters of beers you've never heard of adorning nearly every square inch of wallspace.

We were told by the hostess that there would be a 6-7 minute wait, so we headed to the bar. We noticed about a dozen taps, many with offerings not often available on tap in New York State. On tap were such diverse brews as Lagunitas Lumpy Gravy, Mars Xmas Bock, Boulder Buffalo Gold, Great Divide Hiberator and Berkshire Brewing Lost Sailor. Javen and I tried the latter, a nice roasted English IPA with the vibe of an Extra Special Bitter.

Another impressive element of Ye Olde Forge is its two full coolers of diverse and sometimes obscure bottles. Usually when you see such tall coolers, they are filled with Molson and Michelob Ultra. To see the fridges full of Fullers ESB and Franziskaner Dunkel-Weisse warms the heart on a cold day.

Once seated, we scoured the menu filled with a good selection of pub fare. Since Javen had read about the wings, we started with a dozen of them, which were deceptively spicy. Jables enjoyed the Cup of Chili with cheese (only $3.50), and was even more impressed by the presentation. It was the right combination of spicy and sweet, he noted. I had the Turkey sandwich on focacci, which was moist and really delicious. The food received positive reviews all around.

There were a couple missteps (the server seemed slightly annoyed that we were there, she brought me the wrong beer, and Scott got a slight hassle due to having a perfectly valid NYS driver's license),but nothing to sour a very positive experience. We all noted that we would spend 4-7 nights a week here if we lived anywhere near it.

Our second stop was Pittsfield Brew Works, a place we had both been before. The vibe in this stop was decidedly more modern, but no less charming. The PBW has a nice oak bar with a flat-screen TV, as well as a small dining area near the bar and a larger section behind it near the entrance. The traffic was very light, but we were told that it would pick up after about 7 or so.

The bar is stocked with a full selection of liquor, as well as up to 10 different microbrews made right on the premises. We ordered a huge bowl of nachos for $4.95, a bargain. But that value is nothing compared to the sampler: 10 selections for just $5.00.

Pittsfield Brew Works' beers are all very competent, and some are excellent. This visit featured their Legacy IPA both on cask and on tap, McKenna's Irish Red, as well as a very nice Pitch Pilsner and Dohoney's gold. All the beers offered were competent and good, and a few stood out from the rest.

The Gerry Dog Oatmeal Stout was a nice coffee-ish stout with a motor-oil consistency and bitter finish. Javen and I agreed that our favorites were the Rauchbier -- a smoky, delicious dark brew that has an almost BBQ flavor and aroma wafting out of it -- and the Bees Knees Barleywine, a heavy brew with sweet and smooth honey accent which eases the harshness of what is likely a high ABV beer.

The barkeep at Pittsfield was friendly and knowledgeable, explaining some of the brewing processes, editorializing on the styles, and giving a brief history of the pub itself; exactly what you want out of a bartender. The whole experience was really enjoyable, so much that we sort of lost track of time (generally the telltale sign of a fun experience).

We had hoped to sample a few more spots in Western Mass but the sun went down and we had to begrudgingly come back across the border back into civilization. Perhaps next time we'll get to visit Moe's Tavern in Lee or Barrington Brewing Company. But for this brief visit, Mass. appealed to the beer enthusiast in all of us.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Yes that's right, Willie Moe is back! After some mild controversy over my Pilsner Urquell post, I have returned and am ready to take the beer blogging world by storm! Newport Storm that is. You see Willie Moe has packed up and moved from Syracuse to Boston. The Sunshine State, gorgeous. So, if moving weren't stressful enough, now I have to find where they hide the good beer in the Commonwealth. Which means I am out on a beer voyage (pronounced like you'd pronounce it when saying, "bon voyage"), and you, my loyal readers, okay reader, are about to reap all the benefits! Now as excited as we are to dive right in and conduct the Boston hops, we decided to broaden our horizons, or at least our beer selection, and thus I welcome you to Brew England......

Our first stop in Brew England is Middletown, Rhode Island home of the Coastal Extreme Brewing Company, producers of Newport Storm. Now I know, it sounds like an Arena Football team or something, but it's actually beer, go figure? Now I gotta say the labeling is not all that eye catching. I really only picked it because it was from Rhodey and I had partaken of most every other sixer they had available at this particular package store. Plus unlike most of the half dozens available it had two different beers in it. Three of each, for those of you not quick with the math. And of course we are gonna give you a taste of both of those offerings. Well not literally, if you wanna taste you're gonna have to buy it yourself. So enough babbling, into the eye of the storm we go.....

The first one we're gonna give a whirl is the Regenschauer Oktoberfest, which is by far easier to drink than it is to pronounce. Now out of the bottle, this pours a thin orange, honey color, with a nice head that quickly dissolves away. Not very cloudy, giving no warning that a storm's a comin'. I would say the appearance is roughly average. It's not as beautiful as some other Oktoberfests or Marzen style lagers, but it's look would not dissuade you from throwing it down your gullet. It sure didn't stop me, but very little would, let's be honest here. Now that I've painted you a picture of this brew, let's get our face in their and dig out the nosefeel, or smell, as you may call it.

To tell you the truth, the nosefeel did not entice me. Now, I'm not saying it doesn't smell good, it's just not my cup of tea, or glass of beer, if you would. Well, if you want to be literal it is my glass, but come on! The malt is the first thing that hits your nostrils, and burrows itself up in there for a while. Now, me I'm not a fan of the overly malty aroma, but if that's your thing, go for it. There's also the slightest, I say slightest, hint of something sweet in the smell, I can't quite place. Perhaps a snozzberry, I'm not sure? What I am sure of, is it's time to go in for a taste.

The Regajblhdeur gives you the taste of dry woody hop. It's not uber dry, that's for sure, but you feel that woody flavor in every sip. It kind of has that sharp little tingle as it rolls over your tongue en route to your gullet. The bitterness is slight, but leaves a nice little dry aftertaste that you'd expect from a Regnbkjjfbaksbldeur Oktoberfest. There is that hint of sweetness that we took in through the nose that also presents itself in the mouth as well. And I still can't quite place it. Overall I'd say this was not blow your hair back spectacular, but is definitely worth a nip, if you have the means.

Bottoms Up!
Willie 3:16

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Beer of the Moment: Southern Tier Gemini

Southern Tier has always impressed us with its high quality, and constantly evolving product line. It seems that every 2 months or so, the brewers at this Lakewood, New York-based brewery are coming out with new 22oz bottles, and always with beers for a variety of tastes.

Southern Tier not only casts a wide net in terms of styles (Pumking, Raspberry Porter, Uber Sun Imperial Summer Wheat, Heavy Weizen Imperial Unfiltered Wheat Ale, Jahva Imperial Coffee Stout), but they have one of the most versatile 12-packs around, with three-each of their IPA, Raspberry Wheat, the crowd-pleasing Phin-N-Matt's Extraordinary Ale, and a rotating "mystery beer."

They have never been shy about creating good beers with hops, and with their newest release -- Gemini, an Imperial IPA -- they have created a sort of hoppy Frankenstein's Monster. The label of the bottle calls Gemini a "blended unfiltered ale." In this case, the blend is between Southern Tier's own hoppy fraternal twins.

The brew is a mixture of Southern Tier's Hoppe, an Imperial Extra Pale Ale, and Unearthly, their Herculean Imperial IPA. With Gemini, Southern Tier manages to capture the best of both brews, while combining them to form a beer that puts it on a par with either one.

Perhaps a brief examination of each of the twins is in order. Unearthly, which has been around for several years, is a very strong (11% abv) ale that came out before double-digit alcohol-content beers were in vogue. Unearthly is a reddish-orange brew with a supremely fragrant hop aroma. The hops are extremely strong on the sip, but mellow at the swallow. They don't punish the taste buds as they would have every right to. It's smoothness is a surprise. Though it is a thick brew, but the high alcohol is relatively understated.

Hoppe, on the other hand, is a bright, clear brew that might look like a light lager save for it's colossal head. The smell is hoppy, but with traces of oak and pine. The aroma is also balanced by a dry malt, differentiating it from it's hop-heavy brother. Whereas the hops come out nicely in this brew too, they are more flowery and woody. The alcohol (10% abv) is a lot more noticeable here. It is a good beer but not one we've craved like we have the Unearthly.

Gemini takes the best of both beers and creates one that we really enjoyed. The look of Gemini is closer to Hoppe: clear and bright and with a rocky mountain of head that evaporates quickly, but leaves a nice Brussels lace. It doesn't look imposing.

The aroma is this beer's best quality. The hops are a wonderful, fragrant citrusy hop smell. It's sweet and refreshing, and only a little bit perfumey. The pale malt aroma is very complimentary and keeps this beer from teetering over the edge to a classic overhop. The citrusy smell is enchanting and intoxicating (no pun intended).

The taste is supremely bitter hops, with some traces of pine and flowers. The taste is more bitter than the sweet aroma, but terrific nonetheless. The sweetness acts as a calming accent to the sharp hops. It's hoppy as hell, but not in the "extreme" category.

The beer feels chewy and rough, but in a very good way. It's leaves a nice bouncy, bitter film. Substantial, but not a choker-downer.

It seems brewers are starting to revisit their approach to their heavier beers and realizing that strong flavors are good, but balance is crucial to the enjoyment of any fine brew. We all enjoy the novelty of a beer with an insane amount of hops, or a roasted malt that tastes like a burnt cookie. But the brews that are going to stick around -- the brews that Southern Tier are routinely releasing -- are the ones that offer a tug-of-war between sweet and bitter, between strong and drinkable. Here's hoping that Gemini is more than just a seasonal offering.