Lawson’s Finest Liquids: Sip of Sunshine 4/21/2017

So on the front page of my blog, I make a disclaimer that I am not in the business of blogging exclusively about beer “whales”…that said if I ever had the opportunity to review such a beer, I would be sure to do so.  Well today my wife surprised me with just such an opportunity (I love that woman).  She surprised me with a beer called “Sip of Sunshine”- a Double IPA whose reputation is on par with that of Heady Topper from The Alchemist (and its reputation is well deserved).  I know that I have been doing a lot of IPA posts lately (particularly New England-style IPAs), but just indulge me for a moment:

Beer Name: Sip of Sunshine

Brewery: Lawson’s Finest Liquids

Brewery Location: Warren, VT

Beer Style: Double IPA

ABV: 8%

IBU: 65

Appearance

Sip of Sunshine pours a hazy golden-orangey color with a creamy white head.

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Aroma

The aroma is very fruit/citrus forward.  I picked up on a little bit of orange, grapefruit, and pineapple.  Very appealing!

Taste & Aftertaste

Let’s get the obvious of this beer out of the way first- this beer is very hop forward with lots of fruit up front.  I picked up on a lot of orange and grapefruit peel character (not like taking a bite out of the fruit, but more like the zest of the fruit).  Upon the first sip, the beer doesn’t start off that bitter, however the bitterness lingers and builds more over time as you continue to drink it.  This beer is medium bodied, though I wouldn’t say it has a “soft” mouthfeel like many New England-style IPAs tend to have.  In terms of the malt character of this beer, it has a multi-grain bread-like character with an almost “wheat thin” flavor in the finish.

Overall Impressions

At the end of the day, it was hard not to want to review and critically analyze this beer.  Heady Topper was one of the beers that helped me take the plunge into the craft beer world, but I was lucky to also have this beer around the same time that I had my first Heady (so it’s special to me).  This is a great Double IPA for you hop heads out there and, in a way, is a very short look back into local beer history.  Sip of Sunshine is one of the beers that has helped shape the evolution of the New England-style IPA, and I think it’s a beer that every hop head should have the privilege to drink at least once in their lives.

Mighty Squirrel: Sport Kiwi White 4/7/2017

Today is National Beer Day!  Now I know what you’re thinking- today is one of those made up “holidays” like National “Speak Like a Pirate Day”…but there is some actual historical precedence to celebrate this day.  On April 7, 1933 FDR enacted the Cullen-Harrison Act, which legalized the sale of low alcohol beer (<4%) and led to the eventual demise of Prohibition later that year.  As someone whose livelihood is dependent on alcohol, I want to show my appreciation for the holiday by sharing my review of a local beer that was mostly unknown to me until recently.  Here’s my review of Mighty Squirrel’s: Sport Kiwi White:

Beer Name: Sport Kiwi White

Brewery: Mighty Squirrel

Brewery Location: Boston, MA

Beer Style: Witbier

ABV: 4.8%

IBU: 12

Appearance

Sport Kiwi White pours brilliantly clear light golden color and has virtually no head to it.  I could read a book through the glass- that’s how clear it is.  I was shocked- typical witbiers are never this clear.

Mighty Squirrel Kiwi White

Aroma

This beer has some extremely pungent fruit aromatics.  I detect the kiwi in this, but to me this beer smells almost identical to a green jolly rancher (Note: not in the sense that I detect acetaldehyde- an off-flavor that has a distinct green apple flavor).

Taste & Aftertaste

This beer is certainly fruit forward (as I expected based on the aroma), however it’s not as overwhelming to the senses as I anticipated.  I can definitely taste the kiwi alongside with some peach notes and hints of orange too.  However, the fruit character is a bit more subdued than I was expecting- which is a good thing for me because I believe beer should taste like beer first, and fruit/other flavorings second.  I get some light tartness in this beer which is accentuated by the citrus flavors, alongside some notes of sourdough bread from the malt.  There is some lingering astringency in the finish of this beer that I’m not a huge fan of, but it’s only a light astringency (so it’s easily ignored).  The body of this beer is very light (bordering on thin), but this beer markets itself as a low carb beer (so I’m letting it slide).

Overall Impressions

Overall, Sport Kiwi White is not your traditional looking or tasting witbier, but it does taste good.  It’s very light, refreshing, and would be great to have on a warm summer day (those days are around the corner).  Honestly (this is the beer nerd in me talking) if I’m looking for a traditional witbier, I am not grabbing this beer… BUT if I’m outside grilling on a hot day, I’m having at least three of these.

Wachusett Brewing Company: Wally 3/28/2017

After a long, tiring shift at work, I found myself with some extra time on my hands.  So I decided to kill two birds with one stone: relieve some work-related stress with a beer and write a new review.  I decided to try Wachusett Brewing Company’s Wally because it was their take on the New England-style IPA (which I always have a soft spot for).  I was especially interested because it’s always nice to see a brewery that has been around for a long time continuing to produce good beer that is in touch today’s trends and tastes (i.e. they’re not stuck in the past).  Here are my notes:

Beer Name: Wally

Brewery: Wachusett Brewing Company

Brewery Location: Westminster, MA

Beer Style: IPA

ABV: 7%

IBU: 70

Appearance

Wally pours a hazy, golden color with a thin white lace that follows the beer all the way down the glass.

Wally

Aroma

Floral (almost perfume-like) with slight hints of grapefruit/orange qualities.  I also detect some very slight dank (marijuana-like) notes in the background.

Taste & Aftertaste

The mouthfeel of this beer is softer compared to traditional IPAs (particularly West Coast-style IPAs- which are dry, crisp, and firmly bitter).  However, the mouthfeel is neither thick nor creamy like one would expect from the popular NEIPAs on the market.  The hop bitterness is firm (yet pleasant), floral, and does not linger for too long.  In addition to being floral, I also pick up on hints of grapefruit and other indiscriminate citrus fruit notes from the hops.  Overall, the hop profile is very nice!  I get some alcohol warmth from this beer, but it’s not overbearing.  This is a very nice IPA!

Overall Impressions

This was a very interesting beer for me to evaluate.  With the ever-growing popularity of the New England-style IPA, it’s always interesting to taste a new interpretation on the style (especially one from a brewery who has been cranking out beers for over 20 years).  I would categorize this beer to be somewhere between the NEIPA and West Coast IPA.  On the one hand, the mouthfeel is not quite thick or creamy enough to constitute a NEIPA, nor does it pack a walloping citrus punch (I don’t think fanboys wouldn’t call this beer “juicy”, but that’s just my opinion).  The beer also has a bit too much of a bitter backbone to meet the NEIPA criteria.  On the other hand, the beer is hazy, and the mouthfeel is softer when you compare it to West Coast-style IPAs (which are dry and crisp with a very prominent hop bite).  But you know what?  Who cares about style?  This is an excellent IPA.  It doesn’t need to conform to trendy guidelines (or any for that matter) to be pleasing to me.  It tastes good so I’m drinking it, and you should too!

Free Will Brewing Co: Blood & Guts Sour Ale (2015) 3/14/2017

Hey there folks!  Today, Rhode Island was hit by a “blizzard”.  In Providence, we got a fair amount of snow in the morning, and at least half of it was promptly washed away by rain in the afternoon.  Either way the weather has been very poor, which means that I have stuck inside all day.  So I decided to grab myself a sour cherry ale called “Blood & Guts Sour Ale” from Free Will Brewing Co to help distract myself from my cabin fever and the schizophrenic New England weather patterns.  Here’s the scoop:

Beer Name: Blood & Guts Sour Ale (2015)

Brewery: Free Will Brewing Co

Brewery Location: Perkasie, PA

Beer Style: American Wild Ale

ABV: 6.1%

IBU: N/A

Appearance

Blood and Guts pours a deep mahogany color with a effervescent white head that disappears almost immediately- kind of like a champagne.

Blood and Guts

Aroma

Slightly vinegary with faint notes of cherries, raisins, and figs.

Taste & Aftertaste

First of all- let’s just point out that this beer is not for someone who is not into sours.  This beer is pretty aggressively sour – it has a very prominent acetic character with some lactic tones in the background to add to its complexity.  Despite the fact that this beer has no head, it actually has a very prickly mouthfeel from the high carbonation.  I pick up some strong (dark) fruit characters in this beer- cherries are definitely in the forefront, but they don’t take over the beer.  Truthfully I was expecting something more closely resembling a Kriek (a Lambic-style beer that incorporates and features cherries heavily).  Instead, the cherry notes are balanced really nicely with notes of green apple and raisin, resulting in a complex and pleasant fruity/sour medley.  This beer starts off sweet, but finishes really dry.  It was quite delicious!

Overall Impressions

This is definitely one of the better sours that I’ve had in awhile.  This beer is neither overly fruity nor overly sweet while still packing a big sour punch.  I dove into this beer with the expectations of being delivered a cherry bomb, but instead I was given something with cherry overtones that are complimented by a supporting cast of other fruits- it was a nice surprise!  To any sour-heads out there, this beer will certainly meet your needs- it teeters on mouth-puckering, but doesn’t go over the edge.  It was definitely a good find on my part!

Nadia Kali, Barney Flats, and Spencer IPA 3/2/2017

One thing that frustrates me about the month of February is that I have fewer days in the month to meet the arbitrary deadlines that I set for myself.  Nevertheless, the flight panel is back for the month of February with three new participants!  With this particular panel, I decided to branch out a little and select a couple of beers that don’t conform perfectly with their identified style (with the exception of Barney Flats).  We all had fun, great beer conversation and, as usual, some colorful tasting notes.

Remember, none of the participants know what beer is being given to them (myself excluded)- this is a blind taste test and I only inform them of what style of beer they are drinking.  Not every person on every panel is an expert at reviewing beer and nobody’s palate is ever wrong- taste is purely subjective.

Panelist Profiles

Name: Steve Name: Matt Name: Teresa
Age: 32 Age: 34 Age: 55
Occupation: Graduate Student Occupation: Federal Employee Occupation: Cook
Level of Beer Appreciation (1-5): 3 Level of Beer Appreciation (1-5):  5 Level of Beer Appreciation (1-5): 5
Favorite Beer/Beer Style: Dislikes IPAs Favorite Beer/Beer Style: IPA Favorite Beer/Beer Style: Anything aged in bourbon barrels, IPA, gueze.
Additional Qualifications/Info: Additional Qualifications/Info: Additional Qualifications/Info:

 

Great Divide: Nadia Kali

Beer Name: Nadia Kali

Brewery: Great Divide Brewing Co

Brewery Location: Denver, CO

Beer Style: Saison

ABV: 6.3%

IBU: N/A

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Usually when I pick a beer for one of these panels, I have generally avoided beers that have too many added flavors or unusual twists to them.  This is because I only tell them the style of beer they are drinking, and they tell me the flavors they pick up (I don’t want the power of suggestion to influence them too much).  However, this time around I decided to experiment with the taste buds of my panelists by introducing them to Nadia Kali: a hibiscus saison brewed with ginger and lemon.  I wanted to see if they could pick up and identify the added flavors without being told they were in there.  Here’s what the group said:

Nadia Kali poured a hazy amber color with a light white head- most of the group said it doesn’t look like a typical saison.  The entire group said that the beer smelled pretty fruity, while Matt and Teresa thought the beer smelled sour to some degree.  In addition, Matt detected some spicy notes on the nose, Steve picked up on notes of sourdough bread, and I thought it seemed lightly flowery and citrusy.

In terms of the dominant flavors present, there were some similarities between the tasters’ notes.  Every participant mentioned some sort of fruit in their notes- Steve thought he tasted raspberry (or some other berry), Matt tasted some citrus (maybe blood orange), while Teresa and I thought it tasted lemony in varying degrees.  The entire group also detected notes of spice- Matt and Steve thought that there was likely some sort of spice blend involved, while Teresa and I detected notes of black pepper.  The entire group admitted they could detect the ginger, however they could only do so after the beer was revealed (the power of suggestion is a major factor that I take very seriously).

The group varied in terms of how much they enjoyed this beer.  I enjoyed this beer for what it was- my opinion was that this tasted like the lovechild of a saison and a shandy.  Matt liked the beer as well, however he felt that the beer finished a little bit bland (the initial sip was excellent, however).  Teresa liked the beer, though it admittedly was not her favorite saison.  Steve was not a fan of this beer.  To him, the beer’s spicy character started off pleasant, but the beer got more bitter and metallic tasting as time went on- he likes saisons, but not this particular saison.

 

Anderson Valley: Barney Flats

Beer Name: Barney Flats

Brewery: Anderson Valley Brewing Company

Brewery Location: Boonville, CA

Beer Style: Oatmeal Stout

ABV: 5.8%

IBU: 15

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The brewery that brews the next beer for today’s flight panel features on their bottles my favorite animal in the world: a Beer (a bear/deer hybrid).  We truly live in wonderful times that I can witness the creation of this animal….anyways! Barney Flats is their oatmeal stout that is available year-round, and I’m a particular fan of the style.  Here’s what the group thought:

Barney Flats pours a dark-brown to black color with a creamy tan head that lingers as you drink it.  The group more or less agreed that the aroma of this beer was fairly tame, but individually we picked up notes of coffee, chocolate (I got milk chocolate), oatmeal, and white bread.  Interestingly enough, everybody except for myself picked up on a sort of spice note from the flavor of the beer- Teresa identified it as peppery, while Matt and Steve thought it was more of an indiscriminate spice flavor.  The entire group detected varying notes of coffee in the flavor accompanied by a slightly bitter aftertaste (possibly from roast).  Matt picked up on hints of oatmeal and caramel in the back of his throat, while Steve and I picked up on a definite chocolate flavor.  In terms of the overall impression of this beer, the group marched to the beat of the same drum, more or less.  We thought it was a good, run-of-the-mill stout, however it was not terribly exciting to any of us.  For myself, the beer seemed a little bit two-dimensional, and I agreed with Steve who said he would likely buy any number of 10-20 stouts before he would settle on this one.  Overall, the beer is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but we weren’t going crazy for this one either.

 

Spencer: India Pale Ale

Beer Name: India Pale Ale

Brewery: Spencer Brewery

Brewery Location: Spencer, MA

Beer Style: IPA

ABV: 7.2%

IBU: 75

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Admittedly I picked up this last beer out of sheer curiosity- for years I had only really known about/had Spencer’s flagship Trappist ale, but I’ve been seeing their IPA pop up more recently.  I wasn’t sure from the onset if this was going to be a straight forward IPA, or an IPA that incorporates Spencer’s Belgian-style of yeast (which would make this a Belgian-style IPA).  Similar to Nadia Kali, I decided to not warn the participants about this beer potentially being a Belgian-style IPA (partly because I wasn’t sure going into it, myself).  Here’s our notes:

Spencer IPA pours a hazy orangey-golden color with a thin white head.  The group picked up on varying degrees of fruit and spice.  Steve detected hops (of course) along with notes of indiscriminate fruit and vanilla.  Matt thought it smelled citrusy and spicy, while I detected notes of orange, grapefruit, and a sort of earthy/woodsy character.  Overall, the aroma was enticing to most of the group.

However, the appreciation for this beer ended with the aroma for most of the group.  Steve and I picked up on notes of fruit (I tasted oranges primarily), while Matt and Teresa were overwhelmed by the plethora of flavors that this beer had to offer.  They struggled to elaborate when pressed for details because after the first couple of sips of this beer, you were hit over the head with an aggressive bitterness that lingered long after you drank it (hop bitterness will often ruin your palate, which is why I rarely like to drink more than 1-2 hoppy beers in a single sitting).

The intense bitterness of this beer seemed to be a deal breaker for the entire group- it lingered a lot and was not very pleasant.  Even once I revealed that this beer was (likely) a Belgian-style IPA, the opinion of the beer did not change much.  Teresa said she could detect (and appreciate) the fruity esters once the beer was revealed, but overall the bitterness proved to be too overwhelming and unpleasant.  Matt thought that there was too much going on with the initial flavor, and then you are nailed by the aggressive bitterness.  Lastly, Steve liked this beer…until the bitterness set in.  Enough said.  Overall, nobody was terribly fond of this beer.

 

Long Live Beerworks: The All Seeing Eye 3/1/2017

Hey folks! I’ve been falling a little bit behind on my personal reviews of beer (in large part due to work and other blog posts), but I’m back with a new review of a beer almost literally in my own backyard: The All Seeing Eye from Longlive Beerworks.  I recognize that I don’t always review the most trendy and hip beers out there (I am trying to do a variety after all), however this beer has been gathering a lot of buzz in the local craft beer scene, so I figured that I had to check it out.  So for your reading and tasting pleasure I give you The All Seeing Eye:

Beer Name: The All Seeing Eye

Brewery: Long Live Beerworks

Brewery Location: Providence, RI

Beer Style: Double IPA

ABV: 8.4%

IBU: N/A

Appearance

The All Seeing Eye pours an opaque pale-golden color with a thin white head that clings to life (and slowly dies) over time.  Let’s face it- if I put this in front of you and just called it “juice”, you would probably believe me (I still refuse to call these beers “juicy” though).

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Aroma

Hoppy. The most dominant notes in the aroma are a plethora of tropical fruit with some grassy notes present as well.

Taste & Aftertaste

Right off the bat, I get notes of mango and pineapple, accompanied by light hints of orange and lime in the background.  This beer is a definite fruit/citrus bomb.  I get some bitterness in this beer, but it’s at comparatively low levels for a double IPA (which is typical for the New England-style IPA).  The mouthfeel is on the thicker side (I do detect a perceived sweetness to it), but the beer actually finishes pretty dry.  To top it all off, the beer has virtually no alcohol burn to it at all (which is scary considering listed alcohol percentage).  The perceived sweetness that I pick up is likely the indicator towards the beer’s high alcohol content.  I’m not complaining- I feel warm inside now.

Overall Impressions

This beer is excellent and I take a lot of pride knowing that it is brewed right in my home city.  The fruit and citrus notes derived from the hops makes this beer unbelievably accessible to the average beer drinker.  Just to clarify that statement- I wouldn’t introduce a novice beer drinker to a normal IPA (in large part due to the bitterness), but I would certainly introduce them to a New England-style IPA because the bitterness isn’t so intense that it would scare them off.  If anything- it’s a gateway beer to other IPAs.  Honestly, I would put this beer on par with any of the super trendy New England IPAs on the market right now (see my review on Tree House: Green).  This beer is an excellent representation of what my home state can produce, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Buttonwoods Brewery

Buttonwoods Brewery is among the handful of Rhode Island breweries slotted to open its doors to the public in 2017.  Named for the neighborhood in Warwick, RI where his parents live, Buttonwoods is the brainchild of Morgan Clark Snyder Jr. who, after five years of homebrewing, as well as working for both a distributor and small brewery in New York City, saw an opportunity to open a brewery in Rhode Island where the craft beer movement is still very much on the rise.  Teaming up with his father, who moved to the state three years earlier and is the business side of the brewery, Morgan plans to brew a wide array of beers to satisfy any beer drinker who walks into his brewery.  As a homebrewer and all around beer nerd, I was very excited to talk to Morgan about his beer, brewing, and craft beer perspective.

I visited Morgan at his still-under-construction brewery to find out more about his plans.

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Rich: What types of beer do you plan to have on tap?

Morgan: Everything.  Part of this whole project is that it’s literally a science experiment for me.  I’m coming in with two years of experience as a professional brewer, and I want to do all those things that I wanted to do (but couldn’t do) at the Bronx Brewery.  I always wanted to be more creative, but they already had set expectations for what their beers should be.  So coming out of the gate, I hope to always have four different styles on tap: Saison (because that’s my favorite beer), IPA, Kölsch, and some kind of mixed fermentation.  We are going to have berliner weisses and goses.  We are going to have some barrel aged sours (though obviously it’s going to take a lot of time to get to those).  I plan to brew some of those barrel aged sours now so that I can put them straight into barrels.

R:Will you have any “flagship” beers that you will build your brand around?  Or are you planning more towards a model of all “one-off” beers?

M: That’s all part of the experiment right there.  Truth be told, with the exception of working at the Bronx Brewery, there has only been one recipe that I have ever rebrewed a second time in five years of homebrewing.  Everything else has been a one-off. Year one I am planning on doing all one-offs.  Year two I will repeat some recipes that did exceptionally well from year one and mix in some new recipes as well.  As we grow, we will refine the core beers that we keep around as often as possible, and also do a bunch of crazy one-offs.  I was reading this morning that 36% of the beers consumed on the market (not manufactured) are IPAs.  So we are going to brew a lot of IPAs, while the saisons, kölsches, berliner weisses, and goses are what will make us unique.

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Our conversation then turned to New England-style IPAs, how Morgan brews them, and the consumer buzz surrounding them.  He poured me a pilot batch that was his take on the New England IPA and told me that he brewed it with 75% Maris Otter malt , 25% Flaked Oats, and a homebrewer yeast that is called “The Juice”.  He used 100% Chinook hops, and the beer didn’t receive its first hop addition until there were 15 minutes left in the boil- lending itself to a profile that focuses more on hop flavor than hop bitterness.  The beer was a very pale straw color (he says he has an obsession with making the palest beers ever), had very distinguished fruity and piny flavors from the hops, and a very dry finish.  It was quite tasty!  Buttonwoods plans to satisfy the part of the craft beer market that seeks New England IPAs.  But not every person will be happy with that.

R: There are some who argue that brewing an IPA with this type of turbidity is flawed brewing, that the yeast shouldn’t be present.  It sounds like you disagree with that when it comes to the New England IPA?

M: Just look at Belgian witbier and German hefeweizens- it’s the same thing.  It tastes great.  Or a zwickelbier- they’re fantastic.  [Zwickelbier is] an unfiltered lager with a yeast that has very poor flocculation.  The yeast adds its own lemony character- not quite tart, but like the sweeter side of a lemon, like the lemon head.  The yeast can add some good things to beer… some bad things too, but as far as the New England IPA is concerned there is nothing bad going on here- if you’re doing it right.

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Our conversation then turned to the local community and the Rhode Island craft beer scene at large.

R: A lot has changed in the Rhode Island beer scene in the past few years. You are one of a few new breweries that are slotted to open their doors this year.  How does it feel to be part of that growth?

M: It’s great.  When I first came up with the idea to do it here, there wasn’t anything here.  So it’s great to see other things happening here.  Last year Long Live opened…that’s it.  The year before that I don’t think anything opened.  Everywhere I’ve lived since college has had a new brewery opening up every couple of months.  It’s exploded, it’s great.  But here there hasn’t been as much.

R: So you think that there’s still lots more room to grow?  More room for more breweries?

M: There’s so much more room to grow.  It’s a very friendly environment among the local breweries.  I hang out with the guys at Proclamation pretty often, I talk to Armando at Long Live about once a month, and Matt down at Tilted Barn has let me pick his brain a few times.  It seems like everybody wants the local craft beer scene in Rhode Island to grow.

R: So it sounds like there’s a common interest amongst breweries in this state to both improve and grow the local beer scene?

M: We kind of get tied in together.  So if someone has a bad beer from Rhode Island, then all of Rhode Island beer hurts as a result.  So it helps to work together.  A high tide raises all boats.  I want this to be a very open and welcoming community.

R: Have many locals taken notice to you working on the brewery?  Have people been welcoming?

M: It’s been great! People have been so receptive and so kind.  People stop by all the time and ask how are you doing and when are you going to be open?  It’s great, people are excited.  For me to be adopted into a community- it’s worked out way better than I expected.

R: Do you plan to collaborate/cooperate with local businesses?

M: My big things is that I want to work with as many local people as possible.  Whether it’s my electrician or the guy who makes my tap handles, I want to work with as many locals as I possibly can. I talked with a guy who is growing his own hops in his back yard, and we are talking about potentially using some of his stuff.

R: One thing that I don’t think I’ve seen in Rhode Island that much (if at all) is collaboration beers between breweries within the state.  Do you see yourself doing commercial collaborations ?

M: I knew you were going to ask that question! In my head, I will have done a collaboration with every single brewery here.  Realistically, I don’t know if I’ll get to every brewery, but I’ll try.

R: Do you have an idea about when you might be ready to open your doors and start selling beer to the public?

M: I’m still waiting on some licensing from the Federal Government.  But we should be open before the end of April.  I have a strong feeling it’ll be April 4th– a lot of people in my life were born on April 4th and a lot of things have happened in my life on April 4th, so I have a strong feeling…

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Morgan has designed his business with the probability for growth in mind.  He has a large space with more space in units adjacent to his that he would love to move into in the future.  At the start, the vast majority of Buttonwoods’ offerings will only be available in the tap room, but he hinted that he was in the process of working with distributors to get his beer out to local bars.  Morgan told me that the quality of the beer should speak for itself, and if Morgan comes out swinging like he plans to, it sounds like his beer will sell itself (though him being a good salesman helps too).  Keep an eye out for Buttonwoods, Rhode Island!  The beer tastes good and it’s something to get excited about!

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