Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Enjoy Fall with Ayinger.

As you enjoy your Octoberfest beers this fall, be sure you pick up one of the classics. To me, the Ayinger brewery in Bavaria represents a benchmark of German beer excellence. Their marzen is a classic to be consumed during Oktoberfest season. Interestingly, one would never see Ayinger at the real Oktoberfest in Munich, as that event doesn’t allow breweries outside its city limits to participate. (Instead, Ayinger flows freely at smaller festivals held in the countryside outside Munich.)

Thankfully, most decent beer stores carry the Ayinger line and their “OktoberFest-Marzen” during fall months. Go find it. It’s brewed to traditional perfection. Here’s what to expect:

Deep gold in color.  A stark white head is big at first, but diminishes to a faint film. Lacing isn't significant, but usually isn’t for the style. The aroma smells of caramel, bread, faint brown sugar, and a little spice.

The taste is simple but fulfilling. Notes of biscuit and caramel balance the moderate bittering hops. The yeast is a little spicy. Overall it leans a tad to the sweet side, and enjoyable so. The mouthfeel is appropriately on the lighter side, but it’s soft, and even a bit creamy. The drinkability is easy-going and – if you want an odd food pairing idea – I found it to go oddly well with sweet onions dipped in hummus. Don’t grimace until you try it.

I love the Bavarian scene on the bottle cap, and the fact that it comes in a 17oz bottle means it begs to be poured into a tall weizen glass. And there’s not a sexier looking beer than a tall 
weizen glass overflowing with a frothy, quality German brew. Grab'em while they're around. 

Grade: A+

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Brewery Tour Stop #6: Haverhill Brewery

My wife and I had another toddler birthday party to go to this past weekend. Just like we’ve done before, we immediately think of breweries nearby to make the trip more interesting. As the kiddie bash was in Haverhill MA, we obviously thought of Haverhill Brewery. One brewery is all we planned to hit. But as the day progressed we didn’t stop there. We found ourselves at the Red Hook and Portsmouth Breweries as well. But let's look at Haverhill Brewery today (also known as “The Tap”, locally) and the sexy women that adorn their bottle labels.

We strolled into the Brewery’s pub around 2:30PM on a beautiful Saturday. This is a fairly large place split into two sides; restaurant on one, pub/bar on the other. It’s fairly dark inside. Old, gritty, well-loved. We sat at the bar and only after ordering a couple beer samplers did we discover a beautiful deck out back. We wished we sat outside, but I didn’t know if one had to order food out there, which wasn’t our original plan. We did end up ordering pickle chips, but I didn’t want to move at this point as I felt the bartender would lose out on the tip she earned thus far. If you visit The Tap and it’s a nice day, check out the deck first. 

Diving into our samplers, I first tasted my wife’s Homerun pale ale. Interestingly, this one doesn’t score well on BeerAdvocate or RateBeer, but my wife and I couldn't understand why. A significant hop profile was citrusy and leaf-like, while the malt was doughy and prominent. My wife loved this one, and as I can’t always notice such distinct hop and malt profiles simultaneously in other pale ales, it gets two thumbs up from me, too.

Next was their altbier, called Gestalt. It’s a pretty, dark copper ale that tastes and smells fairly simple; a little nutty and bready. Earthy hops are barely there, and carbonation is a little low. This is quite similar to Long Trail’s flagship ale. Satisfactory enough, if not a bit boring. Moving on...

What ended up as my favorite of the bunch was next in line – a hoppy schwarzbier. I recently brewed my own hoppy schwarzbier at a brew-on-premise facility, thinking “nobody’s done that before!” Haverhill shut me up. Their version had a great charcoal/bonfire note to it that was immediately noticeable. It sported relatively low carbonation (something my homebrew cannot claim), and a floral hop bouquet on the finish. This is my top recommendation at Haverhill for malt lovers.

My next sample took a nosedive down the enjoyment ladder. Their berliner weissbier was a complete change of pace from the schwarzbier. Picture a higher-end, alcoholic lemonade. It's one of the higher rated Haverhill beers on BeerAdvocate. Granted, it’s not as if it isn’t brewed to style. Its yellow, foggy straw color and its tart, sour, lemony flavor is appropriate for its breed, as well as its low, 3% ABV. But, I don’t drink enough “berliners”, and therefore can't say how well it compares to others. This one may work well on a hot day for people who normally drink Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

I, on the other hand, will pass.

Next up was a sample of the one beer I know fairly well from Haverhill - Leatherlips IPA. They bottle it and it's easy enough to find at a decent beer store. What I love about this IPA is that it's full of grassy, piney hops, which gives you the impression it's higher in alcohol. Normally, when an IPA tastes like this, I expect it to be at least 6.5% ABV. This is a mere 5.0%. That's unheard of for an IPA that offers such an abundance of citric, piney, and bitter hop notes. It would please any hophead looking for a serious fix. If you've ever been on the hunt for a (dare I say) sessionable IPA, this may do the trick. But, for me, it's bitterness would get cumbersome after two or three glasses.  One glass is certainly enjoyable, though.

I finished with their Oktoberfest. I love this style and hoped for greatness. It was fine enough. Typical, accurate, but didn’t stand out. I wished it had a bigger malt presence, but there was nothing wrong with it. It’s probably agreeable enough with most patrons.

So there were highs and lows at The Tap/Haverhill Brewery. I do recommend a visit to see for yourself, and there’s no better time to make the trip than this weekend. They’re putting on a brewfest this Saturday and other local brewers will be there pouring their own deliciousness. Participating breweries beyond Haverhill themselves, include: Notch, John Harvard’s, High and Mighty, Clown Shoes, Ipswich, Martha’s Exchange, Cisco, Sam Adams, Cape Ann, Boston Beer Works, Jack’s Abby, Harpoon, Watch City, Mayflower, Original Sin Cider, Frosty Knuckle, Narragansett, Woodchuck Cider, and Woodstock Inn Station. More info at www.haverhillbrewery.com/.

Stay tuned for a report from Red Hook Brewery in NH – a brand I struggle with and the cause of debates with my best friend.

Haverhill, MA

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pumpkin Beer Installment # 2: Shipyard vs. Shipyard

A discussion about pumpkin beers in New England is not complete without mention of Shipyard Brewing from Portland ME. Why? Because their Pumpkinhead Ale is seemingly the most available pumpkin beer around in Autumn. You’ll often see 6-packs, 12-packs, and cases of it stacked high in every corner of liquor stores. Most people either love it or hate it.

I…do not love it. When I gave it a thorough critique 
last year on BeerAdvocate.com, its aroma was flat immediately after the pour. I told myself the aroma was just...uhm, distant. Subtle. And therefore the flavor would be elegant. Yeah, elegant. I was wrong. It was mediocre at best with only a faint hint of fall spices and a malt profile that tasted cheaper than the free coffee at Building 19. My message to Shipyard is this: Budweiser called - they lost their pumpkin ale recipe and they suspect you have it.

Shipyard makes another pumpkin beer called “Smashed Pumpkin”. It’s part of the brewery’s “Pugsley's Signature Series” that consists of unique beers, with higher ABV's, released in 22oz bottles. 

I recently poured a Smashed Pumpkin into a tulip glass and saw a nice copper/amber brew with little head. The aroma was stern with nutmeg and cinamon spices. Pumpkin notes lied underneath.

The flavor was big. Pumpkin pie hit me first. It’s strong, but not cloying. Munich malts add significant bread-like malt flavors. Cinnamon and nutmeg spices linger on the tongue in the end, along with a little alcohol warmth.

The mouthfeel isn’t too heavy. It’s generally smooth, albeit a little prickly at the beginning from the alcohol bite.

In the end I was happy that Shipyard is able to make a decent pumpkin beer. Although it’s more expensive, I’d always choose Smashed Pumpkin over the Pumpkinhead Ale. The thing is, there are still plenty of people who love Pumpkinhead.  I’d strongly argue that there are way too many good pumpkin brews in New England to waste your time with Pumpkinhead, but see for yourself if you haven’t already. After all, if taste wasn't subjective, none of this would be any fun.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hello Fall Seasonals! - Berkshire Brewing's Oktoberfest Lager

It’s my favorite time of year. For beer that is. Labor Day is in the books and the unofficial beginning of Autumn has begun. That means brewers across the world are now unleashing their Fall seasonal beers - märzens/oktoberfests, pumpkin ales – they’re all delicious to me. Some more than others, but my beer palate is easy to please at this time of year. I’ll be reviewing a handful of them this season, and up first is Berkshire Brewing’s Oktoberfest lager.

Berkshire Brewing, in South Deerfield Massachusetts, is in the zone between Summer and Fall. I find their Summer seasonal, “Czech Pilsner”, to be stellar. But the greatness doesn’t stop there. As September rolls in I find their Oktoberfest Lager on the shelves. Between those 2 beers, I’m not sure which I like more.

Taking a closer look at their Oktoberfest, it’s rusty copper in color, with an off-white head that laces well.  The aroma showcases a sweeter malt than one would expect for the style. Most märzens have a sweeter malt profile, but Berkshire’s kicks it up a notch. Caramel and brown sugar come to mind immediately. I also didn’t expect to get esters of pumpkin in the aroma, as beers with characteristics of pumpkin are typically have the word “pumpkin” in their name.

Letting a few gulps roll on my tongue, I get a dominant flavor of brown-sugar malts. Notes of pumpkin and banana are present with a touch of hops. And there’s an underlying breadiness to it all. Its medium-to-bold body is another area that helps set it apart from other oktoberfests.

Definitely one of the tastier oktoberfest lagers out there, and it's my wife's favorite for the style. Is it a traditional märzen/oktoberfest? Essentially, no. The volume on the malt profile is turned up and beyond where other märzens lie. It’s as if it pays homage to the best characteristic of a traditional märzen by exaggerating it, and it's a successfully creative take on the style. But, what is traditional about it is that it’s brewed with appropriate German hops and yeasts, and also because it’s aged for months before release. (Traditional märzens are brewed in March, and aged until oktoberfest season in Setpember.)  If you like maltier beers and fall spices, I encourage you to run to the store for this one.

Grade: B+

Berkshire Brewing Company Inc.
Berkshire Oktoberfest Lager
Märzen / Oktoberfest |  6.80% ABV