As craft beer continues to grow, we in Massachusetts are lucky to have great beer made right here. Like a musician or an artist is influenced by other artists, so too should the homebrewer be influenced by other beers.
The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Massachusetts Brewers Guild came up with the Craft Brewers Passport. You can pick one up at a local brewery or print it at home. As you visit the Commonwealth’s amazing local breweries, your passport gets stamped. When you complete a region you get a T-shirt; and, if you hit every brewery in the state, you get a “prize pack.” As nice as it is to get swag, it really is about the journey of visiting the breweries and supporting the local scene. This week, we went up to Newburyport to visit Riverwalk Brewing and Newburyport Brewing Co.
We started at Riverwalk since they closed earlier. While there, we tasted all the beers they had on tap. I had had most of them before at a tasting at Henry’s Wine Cellar and the American Craft Beer Fest. My favorite beer by Riverwalk is the Screendoor Summer Ale. Head Brewer Steve Sanderson was pouring. The Screendoor has a beautiful citrus flavor that I couldn’t completely put my finger on. When I asked Steve, he confirmed the beer has no actual citrus added and the flavor came from the Cascade dry hops. The Cascade hop is the quintessential modern American hop. It’s used in Harpoon IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and too many other beers to mention. It’s a hop I look forward to using again soon. It’s not as assertive as some other hops out there, but tasting the profound effect adding it during fermentation can have on a beer is food for thought … especially a lighter beer like a wheat beer. I wouldn’t hesitate to dry hop anything with Cascade unless I was going to enter a beer into a competition and was worried about conforming to a particular style.
Less than a mile away is Newburyport Brewing Company. The brewery itself has a very cool vibe. There’s plenty of space and they have live music Thursday through Saturday. It’s a place you can relax for hours. They don’t have a kitchen, but it is BYOF (Bring Your Own Food). The Belgian White is a very solid brew; it ticks all the boxes for a Witbier in terms of flavor. Their flagship Pale Ale is an excellent hop-forward interpretation of the style. The YEAT was a slightly sour ESB that, in my opinion, was their best beer. I had the Green Head IPA when it first came out and I found it oddly out of balance and harsh. We used the last can from our sixer to make redneck chicken. This time around it was still hoppy, but more balanced. I don’t know if they tweaked the recipe, if we got the proverbial bad batch or if it was just us. I thoroughly enjoyed it this time around. It was a beer I would drink instead of shoving up a dead chicken’s rear.
We went on a tour of the brew house. Given the heat and our empty beers it was mercifully brief, while still informative. I learned they use the English base malt Maris Otter in most of their beers. Looking around I saw sacks of Briess Caramel 30L, malt which I imagine is what they use in their pale ales and IPAs. It would give the beers added body and head retention and a more mild sweetness than darker caramel malts that other pales and IPAs might have. When accentuating the hops in a beer, you don’t want too much malt sweetness getting in the way. I also saw sacks of Acidulated Malt. It is a malt containing lactic acid used to give beer a touch of sourness or balance the PH level in the mash. It is typically used in wheat beers and works great if you’re trying to make a stout taste like Guinness. I imagine they use it primarily in the Belgian White and possibly the YEAT.
I don’t specifically know if this is how it happened, but I can picture one of the brewers working on an ESB recipe, seeing the Acidulated malt lying around, and throwing some in the ESB mash just to see what it would do. That is the kind of tinkering and experimentation a home brewer should do. As home brewers, we don’t have to worry about turning a profit or even making a beer that everybody likes. Throwing stuff against the wall is part of the fun! That little bit of sourness makes the YEAT different from a Redhook ESB or other imported examples of the style.
Home brewing and enjoying craft beer go hand-in-hand. When you drink local, not only are you supporting the local craft beer scene, but you also get to enjoy great beers with the people who brew them. If you find inspiration along the way … even better!
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