Friday, January 27, 2012

Brewery Tour Stop #13: Trinity Brewhouse

If you’re in Rhode Island, and you’re looking to taste some locally-made beer, I hope you’re standing in Providence or Middletown. Because those are the only towns in “Little Rhody” making beer. If you want a brewpub, it’s better if you’re in Providence, where you have a choice of two.

Technically, Rhode Island makes beer in one more location – Block Island. But let’s not kid ourselves. Being physically detached from Rhode Island and void of mainland character, Block Island is ultimately its own world.

Back in Providence, you have a choice between the Trinity Brewhouse and Union Station Brewery. If you’re looking for a bit of Rhode Island soul, it makes sense to try Trinity first. Since 1994, Trinity Brewhouse has been an integral part of downtown Providence. Located next to the nationally renowned Trinity Repertory Company, its clientele is a mix of is theatre-goers, sports fans, art students, journalists, and local…uhm…“characters”.

During a recent visit DBNE made to Trinity Brewhouse, I realized how much older it looks than its mere eighteen years of age. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was standing inside an old catcher’s mitt, or a repurposed WII-era soup house. It’s got character, no doubt. If nuanced interior design is what you require to enjoy beer, move on. Otherwise, step inside and keep your hands to yourself.

On this night, DBNE consisted of myself, my wife, sister, and brother-in law. Though the place was packed with people pre-gaming before moving on to the Providence College basketball game at the Civic Center next door, we got a table quickly.

First beer up – a pint of Larkin Stout on nitro. Given the bitter snowy weather outside, this roasty session-stout satisfied.  Notes of Baker’s chocolate, oats, and charcoal were noticeable. It’s a bit thin, but I didn’t see that as a downfall.

I then ordered a sampler of 6 different beers. First was the Kolsch. Given the inherent traits of the Kolsch style, it’s hard to be blown away by one. And it’s just as hard to pick up its aromas while you’re surrounded with food. It goes without saying it was hard to pick up any aroma in Trinity’s version, except for some soft malt. The flavor continued with light grains, very faint floral hops, and finished short. Its color is a proper, pale gold and this is an easy-to-drink brew at 4.2% ABV.

Another easy-drinker at 3.5% was the Belgian Saison. An aroma of bread and banana gave way to a nice yeasty spice flavor with a little lemon. A pleasant enough brew, but no matter how hard I swirled the glass, I generated no head. Thumbs down for appearance.

The IPA is Trinity’s flagship, and it’s the one brew that’s bottled and sold in select stores throughout New England. It’s a worthy east-coast IPA. It’s unfiltered and very hazy. I mainly smelled tea leaves on its aroma. The flavor sees the tea leaves carry through, along with notes of citrus notes in the form of orange and lemon. The brew is smooth but didn’t hold its head very well. It’s not as if it’s flat, so the mediocre body and appearance is not a deterrent to the beer’s enjoyment. Overall this is an enjoyable brew, and if Providence is too far for you, the Trinity IPA is worth finding in stores.

Tommy’s Red was next. This was my least favorite. Why? I tasted plastic. Fail. Some earthy grains on the aroma were inviting, and the carbonation level was good, but the flavor was almost synthetic and I just couldn’t recover.

The “Wolf’s Breath” Winter Warmer is Trinity’s agreeable take on a Barleywine. I enjoyed this. The aroma was fruity and its 9.00% ABV was noticeable. Ruby-red in color, the flavor here followed the fruity nose and served notes of apple, plum, raisin, and even lemon-tinged hops. It’s fairly sweet with above average weight in body. It sported a whisp of head, but no lace.

I finished up with Trinity’s Scotch ale which was a hit. Looking like a dense brown ale, the Scotch ale brought Autumn to mind. A fruity nose with fall-like spices were noticeable. The flavor consisted of dark fruits, cinnamon, and even a tease of rum.

A note on food: We mainly ordered burgers, which were fine, though not great. The fries are shoestring style. The low note was my sister’s lettuce on her veggie burger. It was visibly dirty, unwashed, and quite gross looking. Overall, the food seems serviceable, but not great.

In the end, I don’t feel that Trinity excels at anything in particular. But it has personality and is worth a visit if you’re into divey ambience. Soon we will report from Union Station (owned by John Harvard’s), just down the street from Trinity, and compare these two Providence brewpubs side by side.

If you do find yourself at Trinity, I personally recommend the IPA, Larkin stout, and Scotch ale. Just watch out for the lettuce.

Trinity Brewhouse
186 Fountain Street
ProvidenceRhode Island, 02903
United States

phone: (401) 453-2337

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Brewery Tour Stop #12: Cape Ann Brewing Company

Is there a better way to spend the day off after New Year’s Day than to visit a brewery? Ok, don't answer that. We did anyway. Having friends walking distance from Cape Ann Brewing in Gloucester MA, DBNE had a good excuse to visit the brewery.

Its location alone is worth a visit. Sitting on the edge of the ocean, the brewery runs a simple but inviting brew pub with comforting pub food. The pub is essentially one big room filled with long communal, wood tables along with a small bar. A pleasant-looking outside deck, almost as big as the indoor space, hung over a shoreline brimming with well-worn fishing boats, docks, and lobster traps brought in for the season. It was obviously closed while we were there due to cold weather. But, it looked like a fantastic spot to enjoy fresh beer and sea food as you gaze out over the water pretending to be on the movie set of A Perfect Storm. I half expected Mark Wahlberg to show up, sit down next to me, and ask me how my mother is doing.

Cape Ann Brewing produces those beers you see around branded as “Fisherman’s”. The first beer of theirs that comes to my mind is their Pumpkin Stout. There’s consistent adulation for it among online beer circles. As I love stouts and the flavor of pumpkin, I figured the brew would be a win-win situation. I tried it last year and was unfortunately let down. It was fairly flat, lifeless, and didn’t carry much in the way of pumpkin. However, I’ve learned that sometimes you just get a bad bottle, or your palate isn’t in the right mood. So I vowed to try it again sometime but still haven’t gotten to it.  

The one other Fisherman’s beer I’d previously had was their lager, simply called “Fisherman’s Brew”. It was a deliciously perfect pairing with a pizza from our beloved pizza joint, Flatbread. So I knew Cape Ann was capable of producing tasty brews. (Side Note - If you have not been to a Flatbread, GO. There are a few around New England and they’re stellar. Enjoy unique, organic, delicious, non-guilty pizza with well-chosen craft beer options.)

We sat down at one of the communal tables and immediately ordered beer samplers. You choose six beers from a list of about ten available. As always, I have a hard time choosing. The Pumpkin Stout was there. Heck, even an Imperial Pumpkin Stout was available. This is arguably the best time to try the Pumpkin Stout again. It’s as fresh as possible. But I just wasn’t in the mood. I wanted to try all the other brews I’d never had. But then, why did I order the Fisherman’s Brew? I’d had it before! Perhaps because it was lunchtime and the sun was beating on me through the window, I craved crisper beers, which I knew the lager would be. I promised myself I’d come back to try the two pumpkin stouts on their home turf.

In addition to trying the Fisherman’s Brew again (still delicious), I got a honey pilsner, their IPA, double IPA, schwarzbier, and doppelbock.

The doppelbock had a great caramel malt profile with great yeasty bread notes. Very drinkable. I’d definitely get it again.

The IPA was a bit underwhelming. It didn’t offer that special IPA aroma we Americans expect. It seemed to take inspiration from British IPAs, which is fine. But it was still a bit weak, even watery, and I would have guessed it was a Pale Ale. It needs more hops.

Their schwarzbier, called “Eclipse”, was properly black and pleasantly roasty. Notes of molasses and brown sugar were noticeable and refined. Full of flavor, yet very drinkable, this is a solid schwarzbier that I’d love to have again.

The honey pilsner was ok. That quintessential cracker malt profile was there, but a bit shy. Its notes of honey were also subdued, as expected. This was a serviceable brew, but it finishes a bit smooth. Normally that’s not a bad thing, but I prefer my pilsners to give a little snap in the mouthfeel, which this didn’t provide.

The double IPA, called “Greenhorn Double IPA” was the standout brew. It’s easier to please a beer geek with a double IPA, but this ones’ great. The hops were a mix bag of citrus and fresh cut grass, and there was no shortage of either on the aroma or in the flavor profile. The hops even tasted a bit resiny, chewy, and dank. Caramel malts were noticeable and provided some balance, but never upstaged the hops. I got an extra glass of this after I finished the sampler because it was too good and dangerously drinkable.

A note about the food – I tried fish and chips for the first time in my life. I know, crazy, as I’m from New England. I’m just learning to like white fish, and I figured there was no better place to get fresh fish than harbor-side in Gloucester. It was delicious and served as an agreeable accompaniment to all the beers.
While Cape Ann’s brews were a mixed bag, nothing was off-putting, and there were more highs than lows. Combine that with the setting, the enjoyable food, and you have no reason not to visit this convivial spot in a definitive New England fishing town. 

Cape Ann Brewing Company
11 Rogers Street
Gloucester, MA 01930
phone: (978) 282-7399

Winter Pub Hours:
Sun – Thurs: 11AM – 11PM
Fri & Sat: 11AM – 12AM