Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Brewery Tour Stop #3: Opa Opa Brewery and Steakhouse

On Sunday, we attended a 4-year old’s birthday party (the daughter of my wife’s dear friend, who also married us earlier this year) two hours west, in central MA.

Though I knew there was free food and birthday cake at our destination, I wondered how we could make the four-hour round trip more exciting. My brain immediately started to do what it naturally does whenever we leave our neck of the woods. I wonder what breweries or craft-beer bars are nearby, or on the way. And I wonder what beers are distributed on the way that I can’t get at home. It’s automatic and I can’t help it. Thinking of central Massachusetts, there are no beers sold in stores there that I can’t get at home. However, there are a couple of breweries and brew pubs in the area.

We chose to hit the Opa Opa Brewery & Steakhouse over others because 1) they’re open on Sunday, and 2) I’ve never been there. Easy as that. All of a sudden this four-hour round trip doesn’t sound so bad.

I didn’t have extremely high hopes for this place. I’ve had their flagship beer before, as it’s sold in stores, and it’s always been satisfactorily serviceable. Never anything to tell your friends about. But not bad at all. And the restaurant itself had mixed reviews.

The brewery/restaurant lies in the sleepy town of Southampton MA. We arrived at 1:30PM and the place was essentially empty. A brunch buffet was set up with no takers. We sat at the large bar to have lunch off the menu and try some beer.

As I looked at the beer menu and noticed there were at least twenty house-made beers on tap, I opted for the sampler. This served me six different four-ounce samples of my choice. I chose their Octoberfest lager, their “American Wheat”, brown ale, porter, “Red Rock” flagship, and the Warthog Double IPA.

My wife had the Honesty pale ale which was quite flavorful. I noticed a strong malt profile and a pleasant kiss of bright hops.

The Octoberfest presented the traditional flavors of a Märzen, but unfortunately also yielded a little too much bitterness for the style. The faint taste of soap didn’t help either.

The American Wheat was served with a lemon in it. I wanted nothing more than to throw that lemon across the room as hard as possible. Please, people. If you throw a piece of fruit in your beer, you’re telling me you didn’t put much effort into making the beer itself. No respectable beer should have a piece of fruit in it (yet this would haunt me again moments later). Needless to say, this wheat beer was low in carbonation, taste, and life. And there’s that soapy aftertaste again... (Get a better dishwasher!)

Thankfully, the brown ale provided solace. It was smooth, properly sweet with caramel malt, and offered a faint note of roasted coffee. Things are looking up. I bet it would pair very well with the BBQ dishes on their menu.

Ahhh, porter. My favorite style. It hardly ever disappoints me, and Opa Opa’s Southampton Porter came through nicely. It’s a classic take on the style. Straight forward with notes of bittersweet coffee, unsweetened chocolate, and oatmeal. It goes down easy. Nicely done. Whenever I have a classic porter, I imagine pilgrims drinking it. (Don’t ask)

The Warthog Double IPA  started sweet and finished with a grassy and citrus character. Its mouthfeel was surprisingly creamy. Definitely a slightly different take on the style, but very enjoyable. 

The sample I left for last was the Red Rock amber ale – their flagship. Just like the brown ale, it compliments their steak and BBQ menu well. I think it would also work well with Chinese food. Just saying. It’s perfectly sweet and smooth, albeit a little low in carbonation.

At this point, after I tasted a bit of each sample, the bartender came over and asked which of them was my favorite. I said the porter. Her body language insinuated this was an incorrect answer. She asked if I’d like to try something else, complimentary. I asked for the milk stout, and I was glad I did.

The milk stout looked beautiful – almost like a Russian imperial stout. Its head was a dark, khaki color and offered a terrific aroma. I smelled dark roasted coffee with a nod toward cappuccino, and some lactose sweetness on top of oats. It was a soft sweetness. Just right, with a fairly short finish leading to easy drinkability for the style. This was now my favorite.

Somehow another free sample ends up on the bar. Something she declared as “the Opa Opa lager”. It’s based off the German style called “Helles”, and is appropriately light, bright, and refreshing. It could use a bit more character, even for the subdued style it strived for.

At this point the bartender asked if I liked fruit beers. I wanted to say no, but tried to be nice. The best I could say was, “mehh… I don’t discriminate, but…”. She cut me off and asked, “are you saying I should give you a sample of our watermelon beer? It’s our best seller.” 

There we go again. The previous brewery we visited (Blue Hills) also declared their watermelon beer to be the best seller in summer months.

I never turn down free samples. But this watermelon beer was not even worth a sample, let alone a free one. It’s a lackluster pale ale with an oversized chunk of watermelon dumped into it (fruit in my beer again!). It looked ridiculous and tasted pathetic.

The bartender can tell we didn’t care for it and proceeds to give us yet another complimentary sample. This time, a mix of their Red Rock and the strawberry ale. OK, maybe it’s because I set my expectations at absolute rock bottom (mixing beers sounds blasphemous), but it wasn’t horrible and I could see it may have its place out in the backyard, on a warm summer day...I guess. I’d still never reach for it.

We had a pleasant and generous bartender, but she seemed hell-bent on getting me to like the fruity gimmick beers. Not happening. Neither my wife or I fall for them often enough. But we did appreciate her allowing us to try other beers we didn’t pay for. This is not uncommon at other breweries, but most bartenders at breweries typically give you one ounce when you ask for a complimentary sample. Our friend here at Opa Opa filled a 4 oz glass to the brim four separate times, without us asking. That’s a full pint’s worth of free beer. Not bad. We like to think she’s not just suckering us into giving her a larger tip. But she probably was.

As a side, the food here wasn’t half bad. The BBQ chicken sandwich on Texas toast was tasty enough. The steak fries were great. The chilli hearty and delicious. And the free bread was a peasant-style loaf baked with a little molasses. Thumbs up.

Overall, if you’re in the area of Southampton MA, I recommend trying the Opa Opa brewery and Steakhouse. We enjoyed enough worthy beer and a tasty enough lunch with friendly service. I couldn’t ask for much more.

69 College Highway
Southampton, Massachusetts, 01073

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