Monday, November 30, 2009

Two Vermont Craft Brewers Plan to Join Forces

Here is the official press release on the Long Trail/Otter Creek merger news reported last week. Click here for the original post, which was later updated with my thoughts on what could potentially happen to the brands:

(Bridgewater Corners, VT) Excitement reigns at two local Vermont breweries in Middlebury and Bridgewater Corners, as word comes of a signed Letter of Intent by Long Trail Brewing Co. to acquire the Otter Creek Brewery, home to Otter Creek and Wolaver's Certified Organic brands. Long Trail anticipates the completion of the diligence process in the coming weeks.

"We are excited about the potential of two great Vermont companies joining forces," according to Long Trail Brewing's CEO, Brian Walsh, "We hold the same, proud Vermont traditions as creators of award winning craft beer. Our roots are in Vermont, and we are looking forward to growing our business together."

Long Trail and Otter Creek are Vermont's oldest craft breweries, with a combined brewing history of nearly 40 years. The brands are poised to continue to grow and develop in Bridgewater Corners and Middlebury, Vermont. As Mike Gerhart, Otter Creek and Wolaver's Brewmaster puts it, "We're all extremely excited about the partnership with Long Trail. There's a lot of creativity and talent in this building. Now, we'll have the resources and tools to up the ante and make each other stronger, pushing the craft beer envelope. At the end of the day, it's about making great beer." Bill Hill, Chief Financial Officer at Otter Creek added, "This is a great opportunity for each of Otter Creek's constituencies; our consumers, our distributors, our suppliers, and our associates."

Long Trail received the 2009 Vermont Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence, recognizing the brewery's innovative approach to preserving and protecting the environment. "Wolaver's is a natural extension to our ECO Brewing™ program," said Walsh, "to have a brand with such strong commitment to sustainability, and being one of the first certified organic craft beers in North America."

Two great, local, craft breweries are now looking toward the future as they continue to develop all three brands, right here in Vermont.

Hopback, beer, Long Trail, Otter Creek, Wolaver's, Organic, Vermont

Saturday, November 28, 2009

TTB Find of the Week: Two New from Harpoon

It appears as if Boston's Harpoon Brewery is expanding the offerings in it's regular lineup as well as getting ready to introduce the latest beer in it's Leviathan Series.

First up we have Harpoon BPA, a Belgian-Style Pale Ale that according to the neck label is a "golden amber ale that boasts a mellow malt body and a spicy, fruity aroma." This looks like it is a larger scale bottling of the BPA that was brewed in 2006 and offered at both the Belgium Comes to Cooperstown festival and the BeerAdvocate Belgian Beer Festival that year, and has sporadically popped up here and there since then. It seems to be a take on their IPA, just brewed with a Belgian yeast strain. No word yet as to if this will be a seasonal or one-off offering or if it is a new year round addition to the Harpoon family, but I will update if and when the brewery provides more details.

Next is an Imperial Red for the Harpoon Leviathan Series, of which each "big beer" is brewed in 120 barrel batches. This one comes in at 9.2% ABV and is "a deep amber ale [that] has an intense hop flavor that balanced by a complex malt character." The label continues on to note that the "yeast's fruity esters blend perfectly with the citrus hop aroma."

Belgian Pales and IPA's seem to be more and more popular these days so Harpoon's take on it will be interesting to see, and at the very least if it is simply the Harpoon IPA with a different yeast strain, it'll be nice to compare the two side by side, a la Victory HopDevil and Wild Devil.

As for the Imperial Red, both the 100 Barrel Series and the Leviathan Series are always interesting and more often than not are also well done, so this is another offering to look forward too...

Beer, Hopback, Harpoon, Boston, BPA, Belgian, Pale Ale, Leviathan, Imperial Red

Friday, November 27, 2009

Zero Hour, Nine A.M.

Going back five or six years, Bear Republic was amongst the Holy Trinity of breweries (at least to me) to seek out as a New Jersey resident. Stone Brewing Company and Bell's Brewery completed the trifecta, with none of them being available in the state at the time. Save for the likes of Sierra Nevada, Anchor, Anderson Valley and North Coast, California breweries weren't really making a big push here and Bell's was sticking to it's Michigan roots by remaining primarily a Midwest brand. I can recall a trip or two up to Half Time Beverage in Poughkeepsie, NY and coming home with a haul of stuff from these breweries (well, not Bell's as they weren't and still are not in New York either) and feeling like a kid just back from the candy store. Fortunately, Bear Republic and Stone have been available now for some time in New Jersey, so I can now drive five minutes down the street as opposed to two plus hours north to satisfy my craving (Bell's on the other hand, is still leaving the state in the dark...come on, Larry, you're in Pennsylvania...just keep going across the river!). Unfortunately, because they are in New Jersey now I skip over them more than I should, as I can get them anytime. Tonight I decided to revisit one of the beers that has eluded me (my own fault) for a while now: Red Rocket Ale.

I remember this one being much hoppier overall, with a distinct pine flavor to it, but it is much more subdued and balanced now...or perhaps I just remember incorrectly. Regardless, it's still nothing to scoff at. Caramel malt takes hold of you in both the nose and flavor and guides you throughout. Along the way, you pick up some toasted malt and the aforementioned pine hops, as well as a decent bit of darker fruit, although I'd say the fruit comes into play in the aroma more than it does in the flavor. While the ABV is fairly tame (6.8%), there's a definite alcohol presence here, but this time it comes through more in the aroma than the flavor, where it primarily keeps to the end of each sip. Mouthfeel is medium bodied and has what can best be described a a 'stickiness' to it. Interesting, in a good way.

This isn't exactly the beer I remember, as noted above, but it's close enough and works just fine as is now. Maybe I did pull a Roger Clemens and misremember this one (kinda fitting given the beer name here), or maybe my taste buds have changed over the years...who knows and really, who cares as long as it's still good in the end? Starting with the great looking pour that's a deep amber color with a huge foamy off-white head, and ending with the last sip, I've got no complaints at all with the Red Rocket Ale. It's a nice hybrid of the Red and Scottish styles and will be finding it's way back into my refrigerator soon.

Beer, Hopback, Bear Republic, California, Red Rocket, Ale, Stone, Bell's

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Long Trail to Purchase Otter Creek

Word on the street is that Long Trail Brewing Company of Bridgewater, Vermont will be purchasing Otter Creek Brewing Company, which is located in Middlebury, Vermont. Otter Creek also brews the organic Wolaver's line of beers. No word yet on how things are going to shake out in terms of all brands staying in the market, movement of production or closure of any facilities. Otter Creek would not confirm or deny the sale, saying only that they "have no meaningful information regarding this," and a Long Trail rep basically gave the same answer when I placed a call there to find out more. Read a bit more about craft brewery consolidation here at Andy Crouch's site as he is also reporting the news. Thanks to Keith Giberson for the news tip and stay tuned for an eventual press release...

2009-11-25 UPDATE: For what it’s worth, here’s my gut reaction to the sale: I don’t have a problem with the decision for either party, provided Long Trail keeps the Otter Creek and Wolaver’s brands in the marketplace. I sincerely hope this isn’t Harpoon/Catamount redux where Harpoon talked a big game about respecting the Catamount brand and products and how they were going to continue on with them in the marketplace, yet when push came to shove, Catamount was left to die after a brief mini-revival.

Keeping Wolaver’s alive is a no-brainer to me. While still holding a small piece of the pie, organic food and beverage is a growing segment for sure and Wolaver’s has been the leader in organic beer for about a dozen years now, especially in New England and much of the rest of the East Coast. Shutting the brand down would be a crushing blow to the organic beer market as a whole.

As for Long Trail and Otter Creek, clearly there’s going to have to be a bit of consolidation of portfolios, yet if you look at what each offers, there really isn’t a huge amount of crossover in terms of competition within the same style. From that perspective, I think this merger is a near perfect fit. The big one to look at right away would be the two flagships beers, Long Trail Ale and Copper Ale from Otter Creek, as both are Altbiers. In the end, the company that is making the acquisition usually does and likely should win out when it comes to cutting something from either the acquired company or their own, so if one is eliminated I’d expect it to be the Copper Ale.

Other than that, there really aren't many spots where they're brewing the same thing: Long Trail has an IPA, fruit/wheat beer and a beefed up Altbier rounding out their year round beers while Otter Creek offers up a Pale Ale, Porter and Euro-style Lager. It’s a witbier, Scottish Ale and Amber Ale for Long Trail seasonals versus Kolsch, Pale Wheat, Amber Ale and Brown Ale seasonals from Otter Creek. Sure. autumn is a bit of a hiccup with Long Trail Harvest Ale and Otter Creek’s Oktoberfest and the Belgian White and Otter Summer are fairly similar, but overall brewery vs. brewery you’d be hard pressed to put two together and have as few internal competition issues as you see on the surface here.

The “Big Beer” Series is a bit stickier, and although they’ve also been surprisingly different thus far, I’d expect one of them to be dropped at some point.

As details emerge we’ll all have a better understanding of where this is heading, but for now this seems to be a good match with any capacity increase Long Trail is looking for from this acquisition hopefully coming at the minimal expense of the Otter Creek line of beers.

2009-11-28 UPDATE: Per a post from Otter Creek Brewmaster Mike Gerhart that just went up on BeerAdvocate, it looks like the official announcement and details are coming this Monday morning, as he notes that "Long Trail and Otter Creek will be sharing some extremely great news." Gee, I wonder what it could be...

Hopback, beer, Long Trail, Otter Creek, Wolaver's, Organic, Vermont, sold

Monday, November 23, 2009

Jumpin' Jack Flash

Long live American Craft Beer! While the craft beer boom has been amazing here in the United States over the past decade, it really started in earnest only a few years earlier around the mid 1990's, yet there are a handful of craft breweries that have been champions of the industry for much longer than that. One of these pioneers is the Boulder Beer Company located in Boulder, Colorado, which is celebrating it's 30th anniversary this year.

The brewery was founded in 1979 when "two Colorado University professors applied for and received the 43rd brewing license issued in the United States." Over the years they have grown considerably, now distributing in 30 states and holding a spot amongst the Top Fifty Craft Brewers in America, according to the Brewers Association. Their biggest reason for growth in recent years has arguably been the popularity and expansion of their Looking Glass Series of beers, which includes favorites such as Hazed and Infused and Mojo IPA. For their 30th anniversary, Boulder revisited the series once again by introducing Flashback Anniversary Ale, an India Brown Ale. What is an India Brown Ale, you ask? Well, in a nutshell, it's a hoppier version of the Brown Ale style, which traditionally leans toward the malty and sweet side of things overall.

So, what is presented here is a deep amber beer that does indeed come across with a big roasted malt profile in the aroma, and also gives off a very healthy dose of bread notes, along with a good bit of pine from the hops. This continues on into the flavor with a lot more of the roasted malt coming through, to the point where a bit of smokiness is almost brought out at times. Hops are mostly picked up toward the finish of each sip where the aforementioned pine blends with a nice burst of citrus and provides a good bit of slickness to the mouthfeel.

This one is definitely what it set out to be: a hoppy brown ale, and I liked it yet can't completely wrap my head around it. The hops seemed out of place, yet very much enjoyable at the same time. Maybe it was just a matter of experiencing the style in a new way. Every time I caught myself feeling that I wasn't crazy about it, I was drawn back in for another sip. It certainly makes you think, and I like that. It's one of the more interesting and unique beers that I've experienced in some time. Personally, I usually prefer a heartier/maltier/rugged/chocolaty brown ale, but that's not what Boulder was going for here and I think they did a nice job with a slight twist on the style. It's a worthwhile addition to the Boulder family for sure.

Congrats on 30 years and here's to (at least) 30 more!

Hopback, beer, Boulder, Colorado, 30th Anniversary, Flashback, Hazed and Infused, Mojo IPA, Looking Glass

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tonight I'm Gonna Take That Ride, Across the River to the Jersey Side

New Jersey needs to show more respect to it's own craft breweries. Finding Brooklyn Brewery beers in New York or Harpoon in Massachusetts? No problem. Tröegs has been on tap or served in bottles in every bar or restaurant I've ever been to in Harrisburg, PA. Pyramid Brewing is a staple in Seattle and beyond in Washington and I've even had beers from SweetWater Brewing Company available both on tap and in bottle at a hotel stay in Savannah, GA earlier in the year. But New Jersey? Many stores don't even bother with our six production breweries, and the ones that do often stock one or two regulars from a brewery or two (usually Flying Fish or River Horse) and that's it. Finding them on tap at a bar or restaurant? Damn near impossible, at least around here in Central Jersey. I will very rarely see a Flying Fish tap handle and have seen Climax on tap once or twice, but that's it. Yet stuff like Long Trail Ale, Magic Hat #9, Anchor Steam and Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat can consistently be found on tap all across the state. Nothing against those breweries or their beers, but I say support your local guy first and then take care of the others!

That said, let's discuss a couple of New Jersey beers. First up is Fall Festivus from Cricket Hill. It pours nice enough, with a lighter amber color and a beige head that has good retention to it and leaves a very nice amount of residue on the inside of the glass once it subsides. I'd say the beer perhaps looks a tad thin overall but it's nothing to fret over.

There's a good balance of earthy malt and a blend of floral and pine hops in the nose. Bread/biscuit notes mix with caramel sweetness. It's simple but well done, and this continues on with the flavor, although the bread characteristics jump out at you here more so than expected, the aforementioned hops and caramel once again do their job to complement the rest of the flavors. Mouthfeel is light with a slight lean toward a bit of a medium body here and there and I also picked up a bit of slickness at times as well.

This was an enjoyable one for sure and it's a no frills beer in every way. It actually reminded me a bit of Cricket Hill's own American Ale, which is another simple but flavorful beer from their portfolio. I think brewmaster Rick Reed would be the first to tell you that he's not trying to blow your palate away with a hop or malt bomb, but is rather gunning for a quaffable, sessionable ale, and in my opinion he pretty much nailed it. While I enjoy the Pumpkin Ales and straightforward Oktoberfest beers that are common to the season, this is a nice change of pace from those styles.

Up next we've got Hefe-Ryzen from River Horse, which is in the midst of a revival as they have been revamping everything from recipes to introducing new beers into their lineup and right on down to their logo and labels. The Hefe-Ryzen is one of their newest offerings from the Brewer's Reserve series.

I was initially not impressed, as it poured looking like a glass of iced tea more than it did a beer, with a murky copper color to it and no head to speak of. It really looked like a lifeless pint of beer.

Thankfully the aroma flavor stepped it up a notch, yielding big bursts of wheat, candy/bubble gum and also banana. Yeast mixes in nicely throughout. It's pretty typical stuff for a hefeweizen but still nice nonetheless. As for any detectable rye, I maybe picked up a bit toward the back of the aroma, but it was incredibly subtle.

Banana takes control right off the bat when it comes to flavor, and bread/yeast follow closely behind. Rye is a bit more present here, yet still toward the back where it blends with a hint of cloves.

Disappointing appearance aside, I liked this one as well, but wouldn't say that I was wowed by it. I think it could certainly make a play to be a beer that appeals to someone who is just moving into craft beer for the first time, yet still work for the beer geek as well. I'd say that it is middle of the road compared to other stuff that's been coming out of Lambertville recently, such as the Oatmeal Milk Stout or Hop-a-lot-amus, but is still enjoyable in the end.

Support Local Craft Beer!

Beer, Hopback, New Jersey, Cricket Hill, River Horse, Fall Festivus, Hefe-Ryzen, Rick Reed, Climax

Thursday, November 12, 2009

TTB Find of the Week: Otter Creek Rebrands Itself and a New Seasonal From Magic Hat

While they have certainly made minor tweaks over the years, Otter Creek Brewing Company's brand identity has remained basically the same for nearly 20 years now. That's all about to change according to the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), as labels were recently approved to drastically overhaul their image, and I have to say that I'm torn. While I like the new look for it's cleanliness and sophistication, I don't love it. That said, I do always lean toward the nostalgic side of things and hate to see the old look go, especially since I think said look very much ties into and plays off of their New England heritage, something that gets lost in the more generic branding of their new labels.

Also of note is the introduction of a new beer to the lineup: Solstice Ale. The label itself calls the beer an "interpretation of the perfect session ale," and at 4% ABV it certainly fits the bill.

And finally in what could be classified as the least shocking news ever as it seems to be never-ending news, Magic Hat is tweaking their lineup yet again! This time they are introducing Vinyl Lager as their new Spring seasonal beer. It comes in at 5.1% ABV and via their Twitter account, Magic Hat gave it the basic description of "a malt-based lager that will be [our] spring offering in 2010." It looks like this beer has been around in some form since at least early 2009, as there are a handful of reviews that have popped up on the internet already. The label for this one (seen below) was designed by Jim Pollock, perhaps most famous for his Phish concert poster designs, which makes him a fitting tie-in for Magic Hat.

Beer, Hopback; Otter Creek, New Hampshire; Solstice, Magic Hat; Vermont, Vinyl; Jim Pollock, Phish

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tripel Dubbel Q&A: Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project

And so it returns. After a four or five month hiatus for no reason other than lack of sending out questions on my part, the Tripel Dubbel Q&A has descended upon us once again. Bob Sylvester from Saint Somewhere Brewing tackled the first session here, and this time we've turned to a Massachusetts/New England fixture (except for when he decides to brew overseas): Dann Paquette of the Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project.

Dann has been brewing professionally since the early 1990's and his career has included stops at Ipswich Brewing Company, The Pilgrim Brewery, Mill City Brewing Company, John Harvard's Brew House, North East Brewing Company, The Concorde Brewery, The Haverhill Brewery (all located in Massachusetts) and The Daleside Brewery (in North Yorkshire, England).

His latest labor of (beer) love is Pretty Things, a "Beer and Ale Project" that was founded with his wife Martha and which brews a small but growing lineup of artisanal beer that includes, amongst others, flagship Jack D'Or (an American-Belgian saison hybrid), Baby Tree (a quadrupel brewed with dried plums) and Saint Botolph's Town (a "big malty brown ale"). All of Dann's beers are not contract brewed at Buzzards Bay Brewing in Westport, MA, which he will explain to you, well, now:

What made you choose Buzzards Bay as your production facility for Pretty Things, and please explain to those who might not understand the business side of the brewing process how you are NOT in fact a contract brewed brand.

Well, I've been friends with Bill Russell from Buzzard's Bay before there was even a brewery. For a while back in the mid 1990's when I was a brewer at North East Brewing Company in Allston, MA we were the only brewery in New England doing wood-aged beer. Since I've always been a weirdo, sour beer in wood was on my radar. I called Bill at his winery and he let me take a lovely French wine barrel off his hands. We made several of the first sour beers made in the US, using lactobacili for acidification in that barrel. By the way if you want to see it, last I knew it was sitting in a corner in the dining room of The Tap in Haverhill.
Anyway, there's a really amazing brewery down in Westy, on a 500 acre farm. Why wouldn't I like to be brewing there?

Why is Pretty Things NOT a contract? Well a contract brewing situation is where you pay someone to make beer for you. I make beer for us in someone else's brewery. That's why!

You've done the brewpub thing, been a brewer at production facilities both domestically and overseas, and even developed Rapscallion, a unique artisanal line within the structure of an existing brewery: which has proven to be the most valuable challenge for you and why?

Yorkshire was a decent challenge. It took me ages to understand my coworkers' accents and it felt (brewery-wise at least) that I had gone back in time. But I have to admit that I'm not eager to brew at brewpubs. I've worked at three over the years. With brewpubs you can be only as good as the neighborhood that drinks your beer wants you to be, and if the nachos come out cold then my beer sucks. It's all about all of that restaurant stuff. I prefer to be in the brewing industry where you connect with people who love beer - not good table service.

Anyway, I've done a lot since 1992. The biggest challenge was ages ago when most people didn't want good beer. We were marketing to anyone who would even pretend to want us. I remember many tastings, charity events and festivals back in the day (like many dozens) where I wasted a lot of time setting up, pouring and driving home late at night for people who would never even think of drinking good beer again (at least anytime soon). We're all spoiled now with the great consumers here in our market. We all need to thank Jason and Todd Alström for bringing it all together. The only problem is that these days, consumers that have been drinking beer for three months are spoiled for good beer, it's a different place than where my generation is from. For instance, growing up in good beer in my late teens I knew almost no one else who was into it or knowledgeable - so it was largely a personal thing. Now it's ALL about other people's opinions. I think that's sad.

Pretty Things has grown steadily but fairly quickly. Besides your home turf of Massachusetts, you're now available in Philadelphia and parts of eastern Pennsylvania, New York City and Minnesota. What's next in terms of distribution expansion? Is there even capacity to do so within your current facility agreement?

There's plenty of capacity and Rhode Island is an obvious place to go to. We're also in an agreement with a new distributor in Vancouver BC. But our biggest growth market is Massachusetts and that's our focus.

Which Pretty Things beer is your favorite and why?

Jack D'Or is my favorite. It was the first and just like children you always love the first one the best.

If you could brew a collaborative beer with any other US brewer/brewery, who would it be an why?

Am I the only one who doesn't get the whole collaboration thing? You fly a thousand miles to make a throw-away beer for what: ego and one shelf space? But if someone were to ask me I'd like it to be in a brewery I was interested in brewing on their equipment. How is Yuengling for an answer?

What is your proudest moment as a professional brewer?

With Pretty Things I've had some great moments. It's been like a rebirth for me. Around the time John Lennon was killed I remember hearing and reading all of the interviews about how happy he was at 40. I remember as a young kid wondering how anything could be better than standing there in a green Sgt Pepper's costume knowing you had just recorded "A Day in the Life" with the Beatles? But there comes a time when it is your time and it's all positive. Listen, I do things my way and I'm happy to have the opportunity with Martha to put this all together. We brew beer to our tastes, based on real experiences in Europe and the US as beer-lovers. There's no style, no nonsense like that. Just flavours and ingredients we know. Style is essentially a bunch of numbers that don't translate into flavour and imposed on culturally-authentic beers in the past tense. They were never meant to be "recipes", just historical records. Beer is an ephemeral thing - it's got a very short relevance. In other words: styles are meaningless in the present tense to American brewers. Doing my own thing with Martha and having people out there to enjoy it? That's the best thing ever.

Thanks to Dann for a quick reply with answers that were both thoughtful and insightful, and keep on the lookout for the next round of Tripel Dubbel, which I assure you is not months away this time...

Beer, Hopback, Pretty Things, Massachusetts, Dann Paquette, Jack D'Or, Baby Tree, Saint Botolph's Town, Yuengling, New England, Buzzards Bay, Rapscallion

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Low End Theory

Oatmeal Stout is probably my favorite beer style. There's just something about it's overall smoothness mixed with it's typical sweetness that gets me every time, especially when said sweetness is countered with a nice dose of roasted malt flavor. So, when I saw a single bomber of Conspiracy Theory from Manchester Brewing Company sitting all by it's lonesome on the store shelf, I had to take it home.

This one is such a deep, dark brown color that you could almost call it black as night. A slightly creamy tan head tops the beer off, but subsides fairly quickly leaving bits of residue clinging to the sides of the glass. Not bad.

The aroma and flavor go pretty much hand in hand here: there's a good amount of sweet milk chocolate in the aroma, however it takes on more bitter characteristics in the flavor as it blends with coffee notes that are present but more subtle in the aroma. Darker fruit notes help to keep the sweetness alive throughout. I think I picked up some hints of licorice here and there, and there is also a fairly strong alcohol presence. You can sense it in the aroma and it definitely helps to accent any burnt or roasted malt flavoring. It actually makes the beer seem a bit "hot" at times, especially in the mouth feel, which is a bit thin at times for the style. I tend to associate a stronger alcohol presence with Imperial Stouts, and would much prefer a creamier, smoother body with an Oatmeal Stout.

This is a decent take on the style overall and is actually quite an easy beer to drink. It also gets bonus points because I finished off the bottle just as the World Champion New York Yankees were clinching their 27th World Series title. But seriously, it was an enjoyable stout in the end but I would definitely rein in the alcohol. Toning that down a bit and giving this one a bit more of a full body would take Conspiracy Theory from good to very good, but that's just my opinion. Still, I'm intrigued to try more from these guys, who I hadn't even heard of until this weekend as they are fairly new to the craft beer scene, brewing out of New Hampshire for only about a year or so now from what I can gather. Check out their stuff if you can.

Beer, Hopback, Manchester Brewing, New Hampshire, Conspiracy Theory, Oatmeal Stout

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

TTB Find of the Week: Sam Adams Strikes Yet Again

My apologies if my sporadic posts have been heavy on the Samuel Adams chatter of late, but they've clearly had a lot going on in 2009. The latest find from them via the always great TTB site is the forthcoming release of a new seasonal beer called Noble Pils.

According to the label it is one of the only beers to be brewed using "all five noble hops from the world's oldest growing regions." It appears as if it will be available in both 12 ounce and 22 ounce bottles.

To give credit when it's due, user MarioL66 from BeerAdvocate provided some further details on this one, noting that it will be replacing the White Ale (which previously replaced the Spring Ale) as the SA Spring seasonal in 2010. It was supposedly originally developed and brewed for the wedding of Jim Koch's daughter. Said user apparently got the details from a Boston Beer Company marketing e-mail that was testing names for the beer.

It'll be nice to have a pilsner back in the SA lineup. The Golden Pilsner that got the axe in the late '90's was always solid, and while I didn't hate the White Ale, it didn't separate itself enough from the Summer Ale in my opinion and especially now with the recent introduction of Coastal Wheat, which to me is a White/Summer hybrid as previously mentioned, the White just didn't fit in anymore. I wouldn't have minded a return to the underated Spring Ale kolsch, but the Noble Pils seems like it may be a welcome addition.

Hopback, beer, Samuel Adams, Noble Pils, White Ale, BeerAdvocate, Jim Koch, Boston, TTB

Smashing Pumpkins

For reasons I still can't figure out, I always seem to overlook the Heavy Seas lineup from Maryland's Clipper City Brewery at stores. It's not that they make bad beer. Aside from one or two hiccups their lineup is actually quite solid, and has some real gems like their Loose Cannon IPA, Peg Leg Imperial Stout and Winter Storm "Category 5" ESB. Anyway, a recent trip to the store had me staring at a few of their most recent offerings from their Mutiny Series of big beers. Always on the lookout for a new Pumpkin Ale, I picked up a bottle of The Great Pumpkin and gave it a go.

It's got the typical Pumpkin Ale look to it: an orange-copper color with an average sized off-white head that settles into a thin lace fairly quickly. It looks very clean and crisp overall.

Although many say that the use of actual pumpkins in beer provides little to no aroma or flavor, I actually found there to be a definite pumpkin vibe here that was balanced nicely by a subtle spice blend that consisted of cinnamon, a bit of nutmeg and a healthy dose of caramel. There may have even been a hint of ginger in the mix.

Sip after sip the flavor takes on all of the characteristics of the aroma but pumps up the spice a bit, yet not to the point of being overbearing. Cinnamon and nutmeg take the lead most of the way and then caramel finds its way into the mix toward the finish of each sip. I'm still picking up a bit of ginger as well. Call me crazy, but it's there.

Where Clipper City hits the mark with this one is that they beef everything up to make it "Imperial," but they don't go over the top with the spices, which is the dagger that most breweries fall on when they miss the mark with a spiced ale. The Great Pumpkin thankfully makes the grade across the board and also hides it's somewhat high 8.5% ABV quite well over the course of the bottle. A very good job. This one is as direct as can be for the style yet packs a nice flavor punch that's balanced and memorable. I would definitely pick it up again...

Hopback, Beer, Clipper City, Maryland, Mutiny Series, The Great Pumpkin, Imperial, Pumpkin Ale, Heavy Seas, Baltimore