Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Brewery Tour Stop #11: Element Brewing

I love the phase a new brewery is in when they’ve only got a handful of beers to their name. To me, it’s those first few beers a brewer produces that represent the soul of the brewery’s vision. They’re the reason someone decided to put everything on the line and start a business.

Or, maybe I just enjoy breweries with fewer choices. More choice is not always better (I’m looking at you, Mikkeller). I was reminded of this when DBNE recently made a visit to Element Brewing.

Located in the small town of Millers Falls, the brewery sits in a space one would hardly imagine a brewery to be in. It looked as if a modest-sized town store once occupied it. Turns out, as we later learned, the space was previously home to a post office.

This is the smallest brewery I have ever been in. Because of its size, I was immediately reminded how young Element is. It’s just two years old. But, I can already say this with assurance – it has a very bright future.

Walking inside, we were greeted by a friendly young lady and a gentleman named Tom Fields. Tom explains he’s one of the brewery’s three partners. A self-proclaimed “numbers guy”, Tom admits that he “can’t make you an ounce of beer”. He leaves that up to his two partners, Ben Anhalt and Dan Kramer, who combine nearly forty years of brewing experience.

We quickly received a sample of a beer called Extra Special Oak (ESO), and Tom brought us back to briefly show us the brewing space. Although he admits no credit to anything they brew, he still knew the process and pointed out where they milled, mashed, boiled, fermented, conditioned, and bottled.

I enjoyed my sample of ESO. Light amber in color, it contains the malt characteristics of an English Strong Ale without the typical bitterness.  Earthy, citrus hops and a little smoke make up its aroma. Its flavor profile serves notes of lemon, oak, vanilla, and toasty malts.  It’s very smooth, and boasts 7.75% ABV. Element refers to this level of alcohol as “the sweet spot that gives you a gentle warming sensation of alcohol without the shock value and booziness of more extreme styles”. They preach it creates a more full-bodied, multi-dimensional and pleasant beer. I certainly don’t disagree.

That ABV sweet spot, 7% - 9%, is found in all three of Element’s flagship beers, and six of the eight total beers they have produced.

A second common trait among their beers, beyond the ABV, is that they’re all bottle conditioned. So expect them to age well.

Our next tasting was Red Giant, the second of their three flagships. Solid caramel malt, along with a solid hop presence make up its backbone. Its flavor also brings to mind citrus, pine, bread, and earthy fruits.

Dark Element, an American Black Ale, rounds out their three flagships. This is the one Element brew I’ve had before, albeit a year ago. I loved it then, I love it now. Picture a hoppy schwarzbier blended with the fruity qualities of a Belgian Dubbel. It offers layers and layers of flavor with an amazing balance of roasted malts, hops, and soft fruit. Notes of apple, cherry, dates, and grapes are at play. I like to think there's something in Dark Element’s flavor profile for everyone.

We finished with samples of two seasonal beers. The first was their summer seasonal – an “Oatmeal Pilsner.” Those are two words I’d never seen next to each other. Needless to say, it made for an interesting brew. Oatmeal is usually associated with oatmeal stouts, which have a creamy mouthfeel. Pilsners often have a crisper mouthfeel. So, marrying the two styles was not something my brain could compute easily. But I had to try it. Firm biscuit-like malts balanced assertive hops, while mild oats provided an almost powdery sense and a soft mouthfeel. It weighs in at 8.8% ABV and is truly unique.

The other seasonal we had was called Altoberfest. It combines an Altbier with a traditional Oktoberfest marzen, and brings it up to Element’s ABV sweet spot. Bready malts, spicey hops, and a little faint fruit round out this one. It’s a more robust take on the fall classic, without any booziness rearing its head.

Though I loved everything we tasted, and probably their three flagship beers the best, we took home a bottle of the Oatmeal Pilsner, as well as a one-year aged bottle of the Altoberfest. They were both just too unique to pass up, and I’m sure they’d be nearly impossible to find in stores.

What you can find in stores more easily are their three flagships; Dark Element, Red Giant, and ESO. However, Element is only distributed within Massachusetts, and only the better beer stores carry them. But believe me, they are worth it. Yes, their product is priced above many other choices, but the quality matches what you pay.

Among the online beer geek circles, Element is known locally, but not yet recognized nationally. But I don’t think much time will pass before the hype train makes a stop on Element’s doorstep. As word slowly creeps out of New England, beer trading circles will see people outside of Massachusetts looking to trade their local gems for Element. But the hype will be backed up in this case. Element’s beers are too good to go unnoticed for long.

Look for Element’s beers at your closest fine beer purveyor in Massachusetts. They’re easy to spot on the shelves. Practically gift-wrapped just for you!

Element Brewing Company
30 Bridge Street
Milers Falls, MA 01349
Phone: 413- 835-6340

Brewery Hours:
Monday: Noon - 6PM
Thursday: Noon- 6PM
Friday: Noon - 6PM
Saturday: Noon - 6PM

Impromptu tours and tastes available most times.

Growlers and Bottled Conditioned 750's available to go. 


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