Monthly Archives: February 2015

Beer Inspiration in our Backyard: Portsmouth Beer Week Part II

(At the end of Part I we boarded Gretta The Growler Getta, and embarked on the Granite State Growler tour)


I bet wearing this name tag generated tons of page views.

Our first stop was Stoneface Brewing. I had heard nothing but good things about Stoneface and was excited to check it out. The only beer of their’s I had previously had was Hopulization which was a superlative double IPA. We went on a private tour of the brew house. Stoneface has an impressive 15 bbl system and several new 30 bbl fermenters which they ordered to keep up with demand.  It was funny listening to how the maneuvered the tank inside the brewery, hired a rigger crew to stand it upright, and had guys standing next to the tanks as they were lowered making sure it didn’t topple over. I’m not sure what was more terrifying: a massive tank falling on top of a person, or a $10,000 plus piece of equipment falling over and breaking. As makers of hoppy, contemporary American ales Stoneface is up there with Bissell Brothers and Trillium Brewing as the best in New England that I have had. (Note: still have not made a beer pilgrimage to Vermont or to Treehouse). If I had more fridge space at home I would have left with a growler of the IPA and Mozaccalypse. Shame on me for such shoddy planning.


The brewhouse at Stoneface was relatively spacious. Russian Imperial Stout is aging in barrels to the right.

The next stop was Beara Irish Brewery, a new brewery that opened in Portsmouth within the past few months. We were greeted with a flight of all four of their current offerings. The O’Sullivan Stout is a very good dry Irish stout. Their other beers while not traditional Irish styles, still used Irish barley blended with local New Hampshire ingredients. I meant to ask if they used Irish Ale yeast like WLP004/1084. The strain is very versatile, it works in any British style but probably finishes with a clean enough of a flavor that it could work in a beer like their Rye Craic IPA. I liked that the beers while not served on cask or nitro, were still lightly carbonated and served at cellar temperatures like a traditional Irish ale. The brewery and tasting room is located in a strip mall. They’re brewing in a 3 bbl system, 1/5 the size of Stoneface. It was interesting to see how a new nanobrewery operates.


Our flight at Beara along with light snacks.

The final stop was SoMe Brewing (pronounced sum) in York, Maine. When we got there we realized that we had tried one of their flagships, Whoopie Pie Stout at the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp festival last summer. We enjoyed a diverse flight of several excellent beers: stout, IPA, tripel, and even a dunkelweizen! My favorite was Whale Bait, a Black IPA where the roasted malt doesn’t clash with the hop flavor and finishes very smooth. Owner Dave Rowland lead the tour of their brewery which is similar in size to Beara. It was interesting to talk to Dave about how as a small brewer they build as much equipment as they can such as a bottle filler, labeler, and even the cool room where the draft system is housed. I joked that he should share his labeler design with Stoneface who is still labeling all of their bottles by hand. Dave also talked about the challenges of growing the business responsibly. If you’re a small brewer making beer on something of a shoestring while living off the business, how much of your initial profits do you invest in additional capacity to keep up with demand? Should you move to a bigger location? In a way having great beer that everybody loves is when your problems start.


An excellent and diverse flight at SoMe.

At the end of the tour we stopped off at Portsmouth Gas Light for a check-in toward the Portsmouth Beer Week Superstar badge. They were kind of busy so we left after a drink and went to the Portsmouth Brewery for dinner. They had 12 beers on tap and we split two flights of six. I particularly enjoyed the Cream Ale, hoppy American Pale Ale, and the Royal Impy (Imperial) Stout. By the time we went to the Brittish Beer Company I needed to slow down. I nursed an Old Brown Dog served on cask, and an O’Hara Irish Red. I can only hope my Rundown Irish Red is 75% as good as O’Hara’s.

If you needed more proof this is a cask ale, the beer engine is visible in the background.

After calling it a night we went to Ri Ra for lunch. Ri Ra might be the most beautiful pub I have ever been inside. The wooden bar itself is gorgeous, but the pub is located inside of an old bank and still has cathedral ceilings, a dome in the center, and even the old vault doors. Ri Ra has locations in Portsmouth, Portland, and Providence. Salem would be a perfect place for a fourth location. My maple bacon burger was excellent and I finally tried Guinness Blonde Lager which was a solid if unspectacular beer. I’d describe it as an all-malt American lager brewed with contemporary American hops as opposed to noble-type hops usually found in mass-marketed American lager.

The beer was pretty good, the glass was awesome. Perfect for the beer it was served in.

We stopped in The Thirsty Moose Taphouse. With it’s massive selection of draught lines, I fully plan to stay longer next time. They had Hop Hunter on draught. I liked the beer more than Deadspin, but the hop oils didn’t exactly replicate wet-hopping to me. If anything the bitterness felt more intense.

On the way home we toured the Redhook Brewery. Jake, our tour guide was very knowledgeable and his passion for beer was obvious. Redhook is marketing itself as “crushable craft” which I think is a fair assessment. They are making money brewing what they brew and aren’t looking to reinvent the wheel. There is a pilot system at the brewery and they do serve the experimental one-offs at their brewpub. Regrettably we did not check it out. That is another one for next time. Seeing how immaculate and state-of-the-art the brewery is shows Redhook’s commitment to quality.

Kona Brewing Company and Widmer Brothers Brewing products are also brewed at the facility; all three brands are part of the Craft Brew Alliance. I do wish they had more capacity at the brewery. I read in a separate article that the capacity at the Portsmouth brewery is part of the reason Widmer’s products aren’t more widely available on the east coast.

My favorite part of the weekend was having a chance to talk to the different brewers. I already touched on what is involved going from homebrewer to pro-brewer, but talking to people who have done it provides even more perspective.

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Beer Inspiration in our Backyard: Portsmouth Beer Week Part I

Over the years I have probably driven through Portsmouth, New Hampshire dozens of times. The last time I stepped foot in the city was at Water Country when I was eight. It had always been on my beer to-do list, and when I saw that it was Portsmouth Beer Week 2015 on Friday… let’s just say our weekend plans were made. After finding an express deal for a hotel room on Priceline, a day trip turned into a weekend.

We passed on the Seacoast Winter Brew Fest. We have tickets for Extreme Beer Fest 2015 next month, and there are only so many of these beer festivals you can go to. Don’t get me wrong, beer festivals are a blast, but it can be a long day/evening. Maybe next year we will check it out.

I actually found out about the various festivities on Twitter when Untappd tweeted that they had partnered with Portsmouth Beer Week and Granite State Growler Tour. There are similar bus tours in Portland and Boston where a guide takes you to different area breweries where you get to go on tours, sample, and buy stuff. I thought it would be fun to go on a tour, especially since we hadn’t been to Portsmouth and weren’t too familiar with the scene up there. We purchased tickets for the 4:00 p.m. tour on Saturday evening.

Before leaving the North Shore we stopped at Sylvan Street Grille when we learned they had Bourbon County Coffee Stout on draught. My God, that beer was a religuous experience! That might be a beer I would trophy hunt and/or wait in line for. The craft beer selection at Sylvan Street is as good as you will find at a sports bar that is not a pure craft beer bar. They must sell a lot of Goose Island to have received the kegs of Bourbon County.  Bourbon County Stout

On the way to Portsmouth we quickly visited the Smuttynose brewery in Hampton. Smutty has been around as long as Ipswich Ale, and like Ipswich Ale I feel their best known offerings like Shoals Pale Ale and Old Brown Dog are lost in the shuffle as drinkers obsess over what’s new and what’s rare. They were pouring several new beers at the brewery. East Coast Common was a collaberation with Stoneface Brewing Company and Great Rhythm Brewing Co. brewed for Portsmouth Beer Week 2015. Essentially it is a similar beer to Anchor Steam, but better because served brewery fresh the Northern Brewer hop flavor that is the style’s trademark is far more prominent. The other beer that stood out was an imperial stout called The Stallion, which at 11% ABV was dangerously smooth.


From there we had just enough time to check into the hotel and make it to the pickup location for the tour. Having never been on a beer tour bus I wasn’t sure what to expect. I checked reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor before plunking down $60 per ticket. The reviews were positive, especially one on Trip Advisor where Katie K. said the trip was great for homebrewers. Well, that was a good enough endorsement for me!

The tour itself was a blast! As a history buff, I couldn’t believe how little I knew about how historic Portsmouth is. The tour guide tied in the area’s history with the area’s beer history, and did it in a fun and engaging way. The nerd in me had almost as much fun with the history as I did the beer. Let’s not get carried away, I loved the beer too! In Part II I’ll talk about the rest of the beer we enjoyed over what was an awesome weekend.

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Beer Inspiration in our Backyard: Ipswich Ale Brewery

If there is such a thing as craft beer royalty on the North Shore it is Ipswich Ale. Founded in 1991, the brand rode the wave of the first microbrew explosion. A quaint time when as Denis Leary profanely ranted, Pete’s Wicked Ale and its variants were seemingly everywhere. Thankfully Ipswich Ale had more staying power than Pete. The brand withstood being sold, brewed out of Baltimore, the microbrew market crashing, being reacquired by current owner Rob Martin, production moving back to Ipswich, and a protracted move to their new facility.

In the past Ipswich Ale’s beers didn’t necessarily all taste the same, but when you had one you knew it was from Ipswich Ale. As with other older New England craft brewers like Geary’s and Shipyard, Ipswich Ale’s beers all had a very strong English influence. The flagship Ipswich Ale is an English Pale Ale, the IPA is malty like an English IPA even though it is hopped with American hops, and Ipswich Summer is essentially an English Golden Ale. In a marketplace obsessed with hop-bombs or what’s rare, Ipswich Ale’s beers were starting to become under-appreciated.

Now that Ipswich Ale has finished the move and has settled in to the new brewery, they have focused on releasing several new beers in recent months. The Route 101 IPA is a very good and unmistakable West Coast IPA. They have also jumped on the lawnmower beer bandwagon by coming out with S.I.P.A, which is one of the most flavorful and full-bodied session IPAs I have had. The Hop Harvest is at the fore of an emerging trend I wholly support of breweries coming out with hoppy ales in the fall as opposed to pumpkin beer. My only regret is that they didn’t call the beer something else and offer it year-round. If they can have two IPAs, why not two pale ales?

We visited the brewery on Valentine’s Day for a tour and tasting of Ipswich Ale’s new spring seasonal offering, a saison called Revival. Whereas the last few releases by Ipswich Ale were definitively American, Revival has a similar flavor profile to Ipswich Ale’s older offerings while still being a departure for the brewery as their first Belgian-style ale. Aggressively hopped, it has the same Williamette/Fuggle-like hop flavor and aroma I associate with an Ipswich Ale beer. This is nicely accenuated by the phenols from the yeast which give Revival plenty of authenticity. Saison is a broad style open to intrepretation. Revival is the saison I would envision Ipswich Ale making.


Getting our samples on before the brewery tour started.

The tour of the brewery and learning about the brand was interesting. If you go on enough brewery tours, and know how beer is made, the mystery is already gone. Now when I go on brewery tours I look for things like what ingredients are lying around, what temperature the beer ferments at, or what yeast is in the fermenter. The facility in Ipswich is quite large as Ipswich Ale does a fair bit of contract brewing. When the long-awaited brewpub finally opens I hope they have all of the beer they brew under contract on tap like Clown Shoes, Notch, and White Lion, as well as Ipswich Ale products.

This was the fourth or fifth event in the past year I have been to either at the brewery, or where the tabmobiles were pouring. Not only has this given me a chance to try Ipswich Ale’s new products, but also to circle back to the older stuff too. At the Newbury Bonfire I tried the Winter Ale for the first time in two years. Having it again it reminded me a little of another personal favorite, Geary’s HSA. Having several pints reminded me of the folly of judging a beer based on a two ounce pour. Sometimes you have to spend more time with a beer than just a small sample. For a winter beer it was quite drinkable and only got better as the night wore on.

My inspiration as a brewer and beer lover is the importance of finding the right balance between drinking and/or brewing what you like with stepping out of your comfort zone. Ipswich Ale previously would experiment with one-offs through the 5 Mile series, but recently they have branched out beyond their traditional English-inspired offerings. As a brewer I know I have probably swung too far the other way in the past, but my last three batches have all been re-brews. My hope is that the improved focus will help me grow as a brewer.

As a beer drinker I have made it a point to circle back to old favorites like Ipswich Ale. This week I couldn’t find two beers I was looking for and instead bought two beers from Pretty Things I was overdue to circle back to, Saint Botolph’s Town and Jack D’Or. Too many beer drinkers are caught up in the hype of what’s new or what’s rare that they look past excellent beers that are available every day.

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Brew Day: Spring Training Stout (Foreign Extra Stout)

Jim Koch has asked “what is spring?” In the past when he has changed Samuel Adams’ spring offering. In the past decade Boston Beer Company has gone from White Ale, to Noble Pils, to Alpine Spring, and last year to Cold Snap. Harpoon has relegated Celtic Ale to six packs and started pushing The Long Thaw last year.

Bock is a traditional spring beer. It was brewed late in the fall and before refrigeration it was lagered in caves during the cold winter months. By March the beautiful, malty perfection was ready to go. One way or another I will brew a Bock or Dopplebock for next spring. For this year Narragansett Bock, Weihenstephanner Korbinian, and Pretty Things Bocky Bier will have to fill the void.

The major beer-drinking holiday during Spring is St. Patrick’s Day, making Irish styles of beer also seasonably appropriate. With Rundown Irish Red conditioning in bottles, I needed to brew my planned Irish stout ASAP to have it be ready for March 17.

Like Rundown Irish Red, Spring Training Stout is a re-brew of a beer from 2013. The beer was hugely influenced by Guinness. Guinness exports three different stouts to the U.S. Guinness Draught, a Dry Stout, is the most common. It is the beer that is poured out of the funny looking tap, or out of cans with a widget bouncing around inside. Both are methods to diffuse nitrogen into the beer. In addition to roasted coffee notes from roasted barley, the beer has a creamy mouthfeel from the nitrogen and flaked barley, along with a very subtle tartness in the finish. At 4.3% it is the most sessionable of the three. If anybody says Guinness Draught is “heavy” just because of its color, feel free to completely disregard anything they have to say about beer. While the brewery has been around since 1759, Guinness Draught served on nitrogen is a 20th Century innovation designed to replicate ale served on cask. Guinness Extra Stout is a slightly bigger (US version 5%), and more traditional bottle dry stout. Guinness developed bigger stouts for the export market from which the Foreign Extra Stout style was born. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout at 7.5% alcohol by volume is the hoppiest and highest rated stout made by Guinness.

As much as I love Guinness Draught, I didn’t want to make a clone of it. I also wanted my stout to have a little more oomph than 4.3%. What I set out to do was take the familiar taste of Guinness Draught and have a similar flavor in a bigger beer. The original beer was one of the smoothest stouts I’ve ever had. My cousin’s wife said it was the best stout she ever had. Revisiting the beer two years later I set out to make the smoothest Irish stout I could. A beer I would enjoy at home on St. Patrick’s Day.

This time around I doubled the amount of flaked barley to further enhance the creamy mouthfeel. I mashed it with even more Malting Company of Ireland Irish Stout Malt to convert the increased percentage of unmalted grain, and added only 3.15 pounds of Maris Otter malt extract at flameout. Roasted barley is essential in an Irish stout. To further darken the beer I used a de-husked roasted malt from Germany, Carafa III. It is just as dark as Black Patent Malt, but the with the barley husks removed it doesn’t add nearly the astringency that other roasted malts do.

It is believed Guinness blends a small amount of sour beer to Guinness Draught, which is what gives the beer it’s slightly sour finish. The easiest way to add a similar flavor as a homebrewer is to add lactic acid or Acidulated malt. On brew day I realized I was out of Acidulated malt and started to panic. Luckily I found this post on the BeerSmith blog that recommended pulling some un-fermented wort and letting it sour naturally before boiling and adding it to the fermenter.

Souring beer is similar to making sourdough bread. The wort or the mash is exposed to the elements. Wild yeast and/or other organisms that are naturally present in the air will infect and sour the beer. Once the soured beer is boiled the bugs are killed off and are not a threat to the rest of the wort when added to the fermenter. I filled a one pint mason jar and covered it with a coffee filter. That will keep dust out, but still expose the wort to the air.

The rest of the brew day wasn’t much better. I made a mess while bottling the Irish red. My bottling wand slipped off it’s tubing and beer gushed everywhere. I mashed the stout with too much water and didn’t finish with enough wort. I had to boil some additional top-off water which caused the wort to take longer to cool to safe yeast pitching temperature. I knocked over my test tube with my hydrometer inside breaking my hydrometer. My reading beforehand indicated my efficiency was poor and the beer will finish with a much lower starting gravity than I was shooting for.

The good news is that it should just be ready in a month. I’ve been very happy with my last few batches. If this one is just average or doesn’t come out how I have envisioned it’s not the end of the world.





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Tasting Notes: Curly’s Milk Stout

The original one gallon batch of Curly’s Milk Stout was an amalgam of a quintessential example of the style: Mackeson XXX Stout, the most popular contemporary example: Left Hand Milk Stout, and other ingredients I like to use in porters and stouts. The beer more than met my modest expectations. It was a cruel twist of fate I only had a gallon to show for my efforts.

I couldn’t believe until I checked my notes that I brewed the original batch February 23, 2014. As I brewed and prepared to drink the second batch of what I hoped to be a flagship beer I was concerned that perhaps the beer was not as good as I remember? Would the minor changes I made make the beer better?

The beer pours dark brown and completely opaque. The head is light tan like a regular coffee from Dunkin Donuts. The head retention is not particularly great, but that could be the glass I was using.

The distinctive esters from the Burton Ale yeast are prominent in the aroma. The fruit and honey notes of the yeast blend perfectly with light toffee and cream notes. There is enough hop aroma and and roast in the grist to provide balance.

The flavor starts out tasting like milk chocolate. It is sweet and chocolaty, then a slight roasted malt character leads to a dry and almost smokey. Hop bitterness is sufficient to provide balance. The beer pushes the envelope in terms of hop flavor. The mint flavor from Northern Brewer hops in the first batch was almost distracting. I didn’t want the beer to taste like a peppermint patty. By boiling the Northern Brewer just a bit longer this character is much more restrained. It adds complexity without dominating. The late addition of Fuggles combine with the roasted barley to make the beer finish almost like a Dry (Irish) Stout.

At this point I’d say the beer came out how I wanted it to. I plan on entering the beer in the National Homebrew Competition and am interested in the kind of feedback I get from the judges.



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Brew Day: Rundown Irish Red

As St. Patrick’s Day, or Evacuation Day if you are a state employee, approaches there are no more appropriate styles of beer to enjoy than the traditional Irish Red and Irish Stout. The most prominent examples are brewed by Guinness: Smithwick’s Ale and Guinness Draught. Smithwick’s is a fine example of the Irish Red style, as well as O’Hara’s Irish Red, Samuel Adams under-appreciated Irish Red, and Harpoon Celtic Red. Another well known ‘Irish Red”, Killians Irish Red, a beer that used to be my go-to when it was a $2 tall draught at the old Uno’s in Danvers, was actually bought by Coors and reformulated as a lager. It probably has more in common with a Yuengling than a traditional Irish Red. To be fair, I haven’t had it in a very long time.

In The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, Charlie Papazian said an Irish Red should taste like a batch of fresh-baked cookies. This comes from the sweet caramel malts that give the beer its red color, and a small amount of dark roasted barley. Roasted barley is what gives Irish stout it’s dark color and roasted flavor. In an Irish Red, a much smaller amount of roasted barley not only further darkens the beer, but it helps dry out the finish of a beer that would otherwise finish quite sweet. The sweetness of the malt is cookie-like, and the roasted barley provides a similar flavor to chocolate chips.

Like the Walk-off White, the Rundown Irish Red is a beer I last brewed in 2013. I was quite happy with how the beer turned out at that time. This time I made a few changes to the recipe I thought would make the beer better, simplify the recipe, and utilize leftover ingredients from previous batches. The original recipe used three different caramel malts (10L, 120L, and CaraRed) and roasted barley. For this batch I eliminated the CaraRed which in itself doesn’t add much in the way of flavor. I used Special B leftover from the Ground Rule Double which will provide a more intense dried fruit and burnt sugar flavor than the 120L Caramel malt. To provide a lighter sweetness I added an equal amount of Honey Malt.

In 2013 I was still mostly an extract brewer. I easily could have saved myself a bit of time and brewed this with just extract and steeped specialty grains, but I wanted most of the base malt to be Irish. I used Malting Company of Ireland Irish Stout Malt as my base malt, and topped it off with 3.15 lbs of Maris Otter extract. Hop flavor is low to none; 0.75 oz Bramling Cross provided more than enough bitterness. I pitched a decent sized yeast starter of Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale yeast which I plan to use in at least my next two batches.

St. Patrick’s Day is on a Tuesday this year. I am well past dealing with the crowds and people who only go out twice a year making complete fools of themselves. At 5.0% ABV, this Irish Red can be enjoyed on a quiet night at home and I will be able to make it to work bright and early on Wednesday.


L to R: Special B, Honey Malt, Roasted Barley. The base malt is underneath.


A small amount of sample wort. Nice copper color


The red ale descents to the fermenter.

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Budweiser misses the mark with “Brewed The Hard Way”

Lats week I wrote about what I would do to revitalize Budweiser. For the Super Bowl it does appear AB InBev is trying a different strategy to market the product.

There was plenty of Bud-hate on my Twitter feed last night after the previously unreleased “Brewed The Hard Way” ad aired during the Super Bowl. The reaction ranged from those that found it offensive, to those that found the inherent hypocrisy that a company who is gobbling up craft brewers like Goose Island and Elysian, looked like they were taking a shot at craft beer.  While not personally offended, I initially took it as a shot. Budweiser is insisting that no offense was intended. Budweiser’s Twitter account was on the defensive after the ad aired.

Taking Budweiser at face value it appear that Budweiser was trying to send a message of quality and forge an emotional bond with beer drinkers. They just did it poorly in this ad. Instead of marketing their beer as unpretentious, whether they intended to or not, the ad came across as calling an increasingly growing segment of the beer drinking public as being pretentious. When the ad actually talked about “macro beer” and “beechwood aging”, it did not say how that makes the beer better in any way.

The advantages of being proudly macro beer are access to the best ingredients, equipment, and quality controls. Resources most craft brewers can only dream about. Beechwood aging occurs during secondary fermentation. Budweiser employs a traditional process called krausening. When the beer is finished with primary fermentation, a small amount of wort in the middle of fermentation is blended in the secondary, and the beechwood chips give the bottom-fermenting lager yeast additional contact area with the beer. Krausening and beechwood aging dry out the finish by making sure as many of the fermentable sugars in the beer are converted into alcohol. It also helps clean up other off-flavors from fermentation giving the beer a cleaner taste.

When Budweiser talks about “Brewed the hard way” that is probably what they mean. From their ad that isn’t what a lot of people got. The lesson that AB InBev needs to learn is that they have to figure out how to convey a message that Budweiser is a quality beer that is approachable and unpretentious, while not being seen as mocking the increasing number of beer drinkers who not choosing their product. Or if they are really serious they could address the quality of the beer too.

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