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!

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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.

 

Tree House Brewing Company: Green 12/13/2016

As many of you know (if you read the About Me section), the beer that turned me from a craft beer drinker to a craft beer fanatic was Heady Topper by The Alchemist.  Heady Topper is known as the original “New England Style IPA” (or Vermont IPA…depending on how much you care about labels).  There are many people out there who love the “hazy” IPAs, and many who absolutely despise them- I’m part of the former.  The New England style IPA is known for being an opaque color, with a softer bitterness compared to a traditional IPA, and bursting with citrus and tropical fruit flavors derived from the hops.  Tree House Brewing Company is one of the up-and-coming breweries that has not only joined the hazy IPA trend, but they are among those leading the charge (in a very big way for that matter).  I hate waiting in lines for beer, but there are some beers that are deserving of the lines they generate (short story: I sucked it up).  Here is my take on one of their many hop forward beers: Green.  Check it out:

Beer Name: Green

Brewery: Tree House Brewing Company

Brewery Location: Monson, MA

Beer Style: IPA

ABV: 7.5%

IBU: 90

Appearance

Green pours an opaque light-orange color with a creamy white head.  Actually opaque doesn’t do the description justice.  It’s like somebody took orange juice and added milk to it- that’s the appearance.  In short: it looks like a New England style IPA.

green

Aroma

Orange, grassy, mango, and other tropical fruits.  The hop character of this beer is really, really pungent.

Taste & Aftertaste

Traditional to the New England IPA style, this beer has a creamy mouthfeel without being too sweet.  Up front, the bitterness is soft and smooth- which is in contrast to traditional IPAs that are less afraid of a sharper bitterness.  The hop flavor of this beer is pretty consistent with its aroma- I picked up some pineapple, mango, and tropical fruits with a bitter, grassy finish (almost like fresh lawn clippings).  Uber fans of this beer style will call them “juicy”- referring to the combination of the creamy mouthfeel paired with the intense fruit flavors (it’s like drinking juice).  In that respect, I will call this beer “juicy”, but know that I despise the term because it’s overused now and it really doesn’t tell you anything about the specifics of the beer’s actual flavor.  Moving on.

The bitterness lingers in the aftertaste some (like one might expect), but it’s not remotely harsh or unpleasant.  The one critique I have of this beer is that there is a slight bite/burn on the back corners of my palate in the aftertaste of this beer that I don’t typically attribute to hop bitterness or high alcohol burn.  Some might say that this is a “yeast bite” (some New England style IPAs allegedly have yeast still in suspension- giving it its signature hazy appearance, but consequentially also a slight burn/bite).  That said: I did not look at this beer under a microscope, so I am not saying with any certainty why I perceive this quality (I’m a drinker, not a scientist dammit).  We can leave this note open for debate.

Overall Impressions

What we have here is the epitome of the New England style IPA- a murky, silky-smooth IPA bursting with citrusy and tropical-fruity hop characteristics.  I absolutely love this beer, and it’s one of my favorite IPAs.  This beer is absolutely stellar, and I can easily understand why Tree House has long lines every single day that they are open for business.  Tree House has not merely followed in the footsteps of the Alchemist, they have made the New England style IPA all their own and are now among the shining examples of the style.  If you have the patience to wait in a long line, and you’re in the area on a release date… Get. This. Beer.

Stone Brewing Co: Enjoy By 10.31.16 Tangerine IPA 10/11/2016

My blogging binge into Providence Craft Beer Week continues today with my first IPA review (c’mon- you had to know IPA was coming).  Most beer is meant to be enjoyed fresh, and so I thought I would drive this point home by tasting a beer whose entire premise was to be enjoyed as fresh as possible.  IPA’s especially need to be enjoyed at their freshest because they begin to lose their hop flavor over time, which is where an IPA derives most of its flavor.  Period.

“Brewed to be enjoyed within 37 days”, the enjoy by series tries to emphasize this point that you need to enjoy beer fresh.  An aged IPA simply does not taste as good as a fresh IPA.  Stone Brewing Co is one of the quintessential brewers of the West Coast Style IPA, and their Enjoy By Series have, more often than not, impressed me.  Enjoy By 10.31.16 is a Tangerine IPA, although I am having trouble finding the connection between Tangerines and Halloween…oh well.  Here is my take:

Beer Name: Enjoy By 10.31.16 Tangerine IPA

Brewery: Stone Brewing Co

Brewery Location: Escondido, CA

Beer Style: Double IPA

ABV: 9.4%

IBU: 90

Appearance

Enjoy By 10.31.16 pours a crystal clear orange-copper color with a creamy white head that follows you down as you sip without dissipating.  A very inviting beer which is scary because spoiler alert: this is a boozy monster (Get it? Halloween? Moving on…)

stone-enjoy-by-10-31-16

Aroma

Intense citrus dominates the nose of the beer: think orange and grapefruit.  The aroma definitely lives up to what is advertised: a tangerine IPA.  I also pick up a hint of dankness (if you’ve ever lived in a college dorm, you’re at least somewhat familiar with this term and aroma).

Taste & Aftertaste

A really pungent and hard hitting orange-grapefruit juice flavor hits you over the head with your first sip, followed by a very strong bitter backbone (appropriate for a Double IPA).  As you swallow the beer and breathe out through your nose, you do get that “dank” quality from the aroma, though I have perceived this quality more in other IPA’s (this is not a bad thing, just a point of differentiation).  There is some crystal malt character to this beer to help balance out the hops, but the hops (as they should be) are the true super star of this beer.  The back of the bottle boasts that the beer uses 10 different hops (BAM).  Furthermore, this beer delivers on its promise as a tangerine IPA- it’s fantastic! (Though I am still struggling to find the connection between Tangerines and Halloween…any ideas?)  Clocking in at 9.4%, there is definitely some alcohol warmth in this beer, which is cool with me (especially as the weather cools, I sometimes need a booze blanket).

Overall Impressions

My past experiences with the Stone Enjoy By Series have been hit and miss: this one definitely hits the mark.  The appearance is extremely inviting, and the hop flavor packs a huge flavorful punch.  IPA lovers would enjoy this beer a lot.  Stone Brewing Co tries to emphasize that beers (and IPA’s in particular) need to be enjoyed fresh, so with a little less than three weeks until Halloween, don’t wait to pick this bad boy up.