“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” — Benjamin Franklin
Part I — Late Winter / Early Spring
One of the best aspects of Microbreweries is the vast variety of beers that each brewery releases over the course of the year. Seasonal releases, limited one off batches, and new additions make for an exciting line up of beers that change as the year does. The following is a list of just some of my favorite brews that are out right now. Many are from the New England area, as I am born and raised in Massachusetts and I like to support the local guys, but there are some very notable brews from other areas of the country as well. So here we go…. no fizzy yellow beers allowed!
Berkshire Brewing Company, South Deerfield, MA
One of my perennial favorites, this is one of the first microbreweries I got into several years ago. They make some really great beer, and I’m always keeping an eye out for their tap handles when Streak has a gig in Western MA. They have two beers of interest out right now:
Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout (ABV ???) is a limited release that is available now in 22oz bottles with a cool painted on label. According to the bottle, “This Imperial Stout was allowed to mellow for nine months in used oak barrels.” It is very black in color, and smells great. You can definitely taste that it was aged in a Bourbon barrel. It goes down real smooth, but it does have a little bit of a hard alcohol bite to it. I’m not sure what the ABV % is, but it’s probably up there around 9% or so I’m guessing. It’s a great beer to have with a tasty chocolate desert on a cold winter night.
Raspberry Barleywine Style Ale (9% ABV), formerly known as Raspberry Strong Ale, is BBC’s Late Winter Seasonal release. This is a very interesting brew that comes in 22oz bottles, that I usually only get one of every year. It has a very, very strong Raspberry flavor to it. According to the website, “The ruby color is achieved from using a 1/2lb. of fresh raspberries per gallon of beer.” The first time I ever had it, I had to pour about half of the bottle down the drain. I just couldn’t finish it because it had such an overpowering raspberry flavor. What I have found is, the best way to enjoy this beer, is with one or two friends. Splitting it up two or three ways makes it very enjoyable, plus it won’t knock you on your ass quite as much as it has a high alcohol content.
Long Trail Brewing Company, Bridgewater Corners, VT
Long Trail is another great microbrewery, located in Vermont. They have a really cool brewpub up there, that is definitely worth checking out if you are ever in the area. In the warmer months, you can eat outside on the deck that is right along the Ottauquechee River. It’s well off the beaten path, but that’s OK because Vermont’s countryside is beautiful.
Coffee Stout (8% ABV) is the first release of Long Trail’s “Brewmaster Series,” a new series of limited small batch brews that are coming out this year. It is an Imperial Stout made with coffee from the Vermont Coffee Company. I was a little afraid to try this, as I don’t particularly like coffee, and I usually stay away from anything that calls itself a Coffee Stout. However, this winter I have gotten into a lot of stouts and porters, and a lot of them have an underlying coffee flavor to them. So I figured, since my palate has changed a little, I’d give it a shot. It definitely has a strong coffee flavor to it, but not too overpowering. This is another great stout to have with a desert as you try to warm up by the fire. It comes in a 22oz bottle with a plain looking white label.
Magic Hat Brewing Company, South Burlington, VT
Magic Hat is another cool Vermont based brewery. They have great seasonals, really cool artwork on the bottles and packaging, and goofy sayings underneath each bottle cap. One of my favorites, that I had to save, says “Condoms prevent minivans.” So true.
HI.P.A. (5.8% ABV) is Magic Hat’s Spring seasonal. It’s real hoppy, as expected for an IPA, but it is by no means a bitter “hop bomb.” It is extremely crisp tasting, and very easily drinkable. This one is up there in the list of my favorite IPAs, and it isn’t around for too long. They seem to like to release the Summer seasonal real early. This bottle has my favorite of all the Magic Hat designs on it. It has this trippy looking woman’s face designed by Stanley Mouse, who is most well known for his psychedelic art designs for rock concert posters and Grateful Dead album covers.
McNiell’s Brewery, Brattleboro, VT
This is a brewery I just recently discovered, although it has been in existence for quite some time. They have just recently reopened in a new location in Brattleboro, and have started to distribute 22oz bottles in the Massachusetts area. I’m not sure what their seasonal and limited releases are yet, as this brewery is new to me, but I have tried their Extra Special Bitter Ale, and it was quite good. Try one if you are looking for something with a little extra bite to it. I have found their 22oz’s for only $3.50 per bottle, which is very cheap these days. From what I’ve read, they have a very cool brewpub up there, so I’m definitely going to have to check it out some day. Oh, and they have a great motto on their MySpace page: “Beer is the reason I get up each afternoon.” Classic.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Chico, CA
One of the more well known microbreweries, Sierra Nevada has been making great beers since it’s inception in 1980. However, in almost 30 years as a brewery, they have never had a year round IPA available… until now.
Torpedo Extra IPA (7.2% ABV) is the new year round IPA now available from Sierra Nevada. According to the website, “Sierra Nevada has brewed with 100% whole-cone hops for 29 years with the belief that it makes a better, more natural tasting beer. Whole-cone hops offer subtle flavors and complexities that are unavailable in processed form. Rather than sacrifice flavor, they invented a way to do it better. Torpedo celebrates the brewery’s dedication to 100% whole-cone hops all the way through the brewing process. The name itself comes from a device called the ‘hop torpedo’ that was conceived, designed and developed at the brewery. The result is a revolutionary method of dry-hopping that harnesses the vital hop oils and resins that lead to an unusually flavorful and aromatic beer featuring the full, nuanced range of spicy complexity that hops have to offer.” MMMM, hops. This is a really nice tasting IPA. Super hoppy, but in a good way.
Troegs Brewing Company, Harrisburg, PA
Troegs is another brewing company that I just recently had the pleasure of discovering. They are now distributing their beer in Massachusetts, and what I’ve had so far is fantastic, so keep your eyes peeled at your local package store for their brews.
Nugget Nectar (7.5% ABV) is their Late Winter / Early Spring seasonal Imperial Amber Ale. It is a hoppier, more potent version of their flagship beer HopBack Amber Ale. The label on the bottle is pretty cool and sums it all up. It’s a fist in the air, squeezing a hop cone to get every last bit of flavor into the brew.
Wachusett Brewing Company, Westminster, MA
This is the brewery that led me out of the world of fizzy yellow beers. Yes, it is true. I once swilled can after can of Milwaukee’s Best Light. 30 pack after wasteful 30 pack. Little did I realize what I was missing all that time. Since I like to support local businesses, I decided one day to try a Wachusett six pack since the brewery was located 30 minutes from home, and only 5 minutes from where I work. Wachusett’s flagship brew Country Ale was the first microbrew that led me into what I call “the dark side.” At first, I’d have a couple Milwaukee’s Beast, then a Country Ale, then a couple more Beasts. Soon enough, I phased out The Beast altogether, and started getting Wachusett all the time. The old adage is true, “you get what you pay for.” Funny thing is, now that I’ve tried so many other beers, Wachusett’s Country Ale is now one of my least favorite Pale Ales out there. It pales in comparison to so many other microbreweries’ Pale Ales. Pun highly intended.
Quinn’s Amber Ale (ABV % ???) is Wachusett’s Spring Seasonal, although it usually comes out in January, and is quickly replaced by their Summer Seasonal, much much too early. It is an Irish Red Ale, named after one of the breweries three founders, Peter Quinn. It is super malty sweet, and goes down so damn smooth. This is one of my favorite beers of all time. In fact, writing this makes me think, “why the hell don’t I have some in my fridge right now!”
California-Style IPA (ABV % ???) is the first of four releases in Wachusett’s limited “Hometown Brewery Series.” This series celebrates both Wachusett’s 15th anniversary as a brewery, and the Town of Westminster’s 250th anniversary. These limited releases will only be available this year at several select Westminster restaurants, and at the brewery itself in their 64oz growlers. I have always considered Wachusett’s year round IPA to be one of the best IPAs out there. Very crisp and easily drinkable, not over-hopped. The California-Style IPA gives you a hoppier, yet still crisp, version of their year round IPA.
Well, that about does it for this installment of “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” I could write all day about this stuff. If you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed this, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on any of these beers listed above, and any beers I left out, too. Like I always say, “So many beers, so little time.” Until the next installment, keep trying new brews… They are just sitting on that shelf begging to be drank. I know I’m doing my very best. 😀 Cheers.
Currently drinking: Hometown Brewery Series California-Style IPA (ABV % ???), Wachusett Brewing Company, Westminster, MA