The Alchemist — Headytopper



I was recently had the chance to go to The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury.  This past summer, I was visiting with family in Vermont, and while I was there, I had Headytopper for the first time.  Well, it was a revelation.  It changed how I perceived the use of hops in beer, as this was the first time I really “got it” when they talked about all the layers of flavor you can get with your hoping.  What also was interesting was to see my wife’s reaction.  When she tried it she said, “wow, that is really hoppy, but you can actually drink it.”  This from a devoted malt disciple.  So, when I went back to Vermont, I was hoping to get my hands on some more, and was successful.

Appearance:  light orange color, low carbonation, very cloudy, it looks like a German hefeweizen.

Aroma:  Hops aroma, spicy, herbal, with citrus and tropical fruits (banana, mango), and a low level of pine in the background.  Smells very fruity.

Taste:  Spicy hops at the front, with some fruit coming right after.  It has a nice, piney aftertaste.  There is also some apple and pear on the back, with a touch of banana.  It is a touch tart, quite dry.  Pleasing bitterness hangs on and on.

Critique:  First off, it says to drink it out of the can on the can, and well, outside of it being hard to appreciate the nose, it may be good advice.  This is just an ugly beer.  Murky and cloudy, it kinda looks like very fresh homebrew before the yeast has dropped, which is probably pretty close to what it is.  However, once you get past that, you got a real gem.   Just layer on layer of hoppiness, from the nose to the tongue to the back of the palate.  It is more then your typical citrusy/piney hops though.  There is more depth here, with woody and herbal flavors, and some apple flavors as well.  I get an initial sweetness when it first hits the tongue, but there is a bracing bitterness and dryness to the beer.  Subtle it is not, balanced it is not, but damn tasty it is.

It it interesting in I had this beer right after the Cant Dog from Marshall’s Wharf.  This beer is more spicy and herbal on the nose, the citrus and fruit flavors are more on the back, as is the pine.  It is actually more bitter as well then the Cant Dog, which maybe related to the slight tartness I get from this beer.  The Cant dog was far more carbonated, so I don’t think it was the bite from the carbonation, but there was much more yeast in this I think, so that may have been it.  I also believe there are some esters from the yeast, as the apple/pear flavors I don’t usually get from hops, but I do from English yeasts, and this strain is an English strain.  This is the best Double IPA I have ever had, but I have not had any West Coast DIPA’s such as Pliny the Elder.  It is really easy to drink, which at 8%, is a scary thing.  Seek it out if you can, it is worth it if you like big, over the top IPA’s.


Marshall’s Wharf — Cant Dog Imperial IPA

Marshall Wharf Cant Dog Imperial IPA

Marshall Wharf Cant Dog Imperial IPA

It has been a while since I posted.  Things have been very busy, but I hope to be able to get back to the occasional post here now and again.  To mark the New Year, I picked up two double IPA’s.  This is the review of the first.  Marshall Wharf is a brewery out of Belfast, ME.  They make some very nice beers, but until recently, it was only available on draft.  They added a canning line, and their Cant Dog has been a success.  I would say it is Maine’s first really good stab at a double IPA that is packaged.

On a personal note, I am growing more and more into a hop head.  I still love my bitters for a kick back and have a few beers while watching the ballgame, but the different aroma’s and flavors has really changed how I look at these beers.  It is like all of a sudden, there are more colors to paint with.  Some hops  mask the yeast esters to a degree, but some seem to meld beautifully with different strains of yeast.  I am very much enjoying how those flavors compliment and work with each other, and to a large extent, the double IPA, as the unabashed king of hoppiness, are where you see the boldest strokes.

Appearance — coppery, slight hazy, with a nice white head, leaving a nice lacing.

Aroma –  Big fruity aroma, tangerine, floral, with a piney/resiny background

Taste – Sweet citrusy notes at the front with tropical fruit (mango/pinapple).  Slight piney, resinous background notes.  It is a pretty dry beer, there is a nice bitterness at the end, cleans the palate nicely.   Slight warming at the back.

Critique — well, I have to say I am impressed.  This is a very nice Double IPA.  Lots of hops on the nose, and through the palate.  Almost sweet from the fruit flavors.  The pine is there, giving depth to the hop flavors.  The rest of the beer does its job, it carries the hops, without getting in the way.  It is light, and surprisingly drinkable at 9.7%.  I preferred it to Hopslam, but I have to admit, I suspect if I drank Hopslam again, I would have a different impression then I did the first time, likely more from my perceptions changing then anything else.

Mt. Rainer Smash — Tasting

Mt Ranier Smash

The recipe for this beer is here.

I fermented the beer at 67F with a temperature control device.  After 8 days, I added 1 oz of the pellets as a dryhop.  The beer then sat for 2 weeks before I could get it kegged.  The final gravity is 1.012, with a IBU/FG ratio of 3.5.  It is 5.2% ABV.  The beer was force carbonated.

Appearance:  Straw colored beer, hazy, almost looks like a hefe weizen.

Aroma:  Slight fruitiness to the beer, green apple and banana both at lower levels, followed by a floral and a bit spicy hop note.

Taste:  Slight, malt sweetness, a bit grassy and green, followed by an earthy bitterness.  There is more of the green apple taste on the back with a hint of the banana, with a spicy bitterness in the aftertaste, pretty smooth.  It leaves the mouth dry, and a touch tart.

Mouthfeel:  coats the mouth well, feels full in the mouth, but leaves a slight drying sensation at the end.

Critique:  First off, the hops.   The hops aroma reminded me of Saaz but the taste has a bit of Golding to go with it.  It is a pretty clean bittering.  I did not get any of the licorice or citrus notes they talked about, it tasted…like a pretty clean noble hop.    I can see this going well anywhere you want more of a clean, spicy/fruity hop profile.  The bitterness was rather pleasant.  Next, the yeast.  Much more fruity then I was expecting.  It is not to the level of many English strains, but there was definitely some apple.  There was also banana going on, but at fairly low levels.  This gives the beer a more sweet perception, but then it actually finishes with a tartness at the end.  Interesting yeast, I doubt it will give the classic hop bite side by side with 1056, but if you want a bit of fruitness in your beers, without going as far as many of the English strains, this would work well.  It actually kinda reminds me a bit of WLP 007, but that had more apple, and less banana then this strain.  I should qualify, those flavors are there, but in the back, they are not overbearing or dominating.  Finally, the grain.  Well, it is pilsnery, without as much of the grassy sweetness.  It is just kinda there in my opinion.  I would make a decent base to play off specialty malts as I think it is a pretty clean palate, but overall, if I wanted to make a pale beer, I would use Pilsner for its sweetness and green flavors, just more interesting.  So, at the end of the day, I have a light colored, well bittered blond ale with some nice fruity esters to keep it interesting that ends fairly dry with a touch of tartness.  A step up from your typical lawnmower beer, I can see this guy going down easily after a day of yardwork.

American IPA, 3 hops, 2 yeasts, 1 wort — tasting

The recipe for this beer is here.

I had a chance to try the IPA’s side by side.  A note before we begin.  I am still working on my mashing process with the HERMs system I built, and yeah, well, I must have screwed it up.  I ended up with a very dextrinous wort.  The finishing gravity on both was 1.025.  Yeah, bummer.  Unfortunately, this has left me with a heavier beer then I intended.  I chalk this up to learning a new process, but I was still miffed it ended this way.  I guess this just means I will have to try again in the future!  The biggest problem is, I don’t really like sweet and heavy with my IPA’s.  I prefer drier beers generally, but particularly in the IPA, which is supposed to highlight the hop.  I have a hard time doing that with too much malt.  Also, I wanted to see how much hop character I could get without dryhopping this beer.  Dryhopping, what used to be a rarity less then 10 years ago, seems to be the norm now.  I now drink a pale ale or an IPA, and if I don’t get smacked in the face with hops, it seems off.  So, this was a bit of a challenge to see how much hops I could get just from kettle additions.

Tasting Notes

WLP 028

Appearance: hazy golden color, well carbonated, hangs on

Aroma: Spicy, herbal hop, some pine and apple

Taste: sweet full maltiness at first, immediately followed by a strong bitterness.  Some apple and some darker fruit esters.   Beer is more hop forward, but there is a malty note in the aftertaste to balance the hops

Mouthfeel:  Full body to the beer, but the hops give a drying sensation on the cheeks.

Wyeast 1056

Appearance:  Hazy golden color, about 2 fingers on the head, dropped a bit faster.  Not as carbonated as WLP 028

Aroma:  citrus, floral, spicy hops.  some malt

Taste:  touch of malt, but quickly moves to a very bitter taste from the hops.  No esters noted.  Hops pop out, and it lends to a fairly dry finish.  The hops outlast the malt on the aftertaste.

Mouthfeel:  Medium body, prickly on the tongue.

Critique:  Wow, what a difference the yeast makes.  What impressed me most was the difference in how the hop and malt were balanced.  I felt the WLP028 gave a more balanced beer.  The malt profile was there, but so were the hops.  You also get more esters from it, it is not as clean as the 1056.  However, even though the final gravity was the same in both, it tasted sweeter and fuller, more in keeping with what I would expect from a 1.025 FG beer.  The 1056 has a way of hiding that sweetness.  It accentuates the hops much more, and the citrus note really popped on this beer, where I got more of the pine and herbal notes on the 028.  I would be curious to see which I liked more if I had not mashed too hot.  The hops pop much more on the tongue with the 1056.  It is definitely very clean, I did not get really any esters at all.  However, I am worried the 1056 may actually have made the beer seem too thin, without enough malt to hold up to the hops.  Only way to know would be to retry.  In the end, I concede 1056 is the yeast for the hophead.  They just jump out at you with this yeast, and it gets out of the way to let the other ingredients do their thing.  However, the WLP028 had a nice hop aroma and taste, not as bright, but it definitely was more balanced with the malt.  I can see this being a great yeast where you want more malt expression, but it still plays well with the hops.

As far as the hops go, I liked this blend.  Very “American” but it gives a wide range of hop flavors and aroma that work well with each other.  I will likely play with it a bit, I would like more of a citrus presence, but I think this is a solid starting point for a very classic American hop signature.  There is lots of hops on the nose and on the tongue, but you miss that brightness you get from dryhopping.

Bitter #5

Bitter #5

I have a friend who just turned 50.  His wife is throwing a big bash at his house.  He grew up just west of London, and “proper bitter” is one of the things he misses from home.  He will have several family members visiting from the UK as well, and my gift to him for the party is a “proper pint of bitter.”  He is part of my regular tasting victims, er, I mean panel, so I have a fairly good idea of what he likes.  Nice malt body, decent bitterness in the back and on the palate, nice subtle hop aroma, and “none of those catty, piney American hops.”

For the recipe, I went with a pretty straight forward 90/10 build on the malt bill of 2 row pale malt and crystal.  I also had run out of Kent Golding, so I used some Willamette whole leaf hops I had in the freezer.  There is a new home brew store in my town, and I popped in to grab some malt and check the place out.  Unfortunately, he is just getting started, and while the shop owner is a homebrewer, he extract brews and did not really grasp the importance of good base malts.  He did have some Crisp 2 row pale in a 10# sack, but it was pre ground.   I bought it anyway because I needed it, but I have no idea how long it has been in the bag.  He told me just a few weeks in the store, but at the distributor, no idea. I always grind my own grain, and have gotten used to how my mill works, but I had no idea how good the grind would be on this.  However, I was in a bit of a pinch, so I bought it and gave it a try.

8.00 lb       Pale Malt, Crisp                Grain        91.43 %
0.50 lb       Caramel/Crystal Malt Muntons (60.0 SRM)           Grain        5.71 %
0.25 lb       Caramel/Crystal Malt Dark Simpsons (150.0 SRM)     Grain        2.86 %
1.50 oz       Williamette [4.50 %]  (60 min)           24.8 IBU
0.50 oz       Williamette [4.50 %]  (30 min)           5.8 IBU
0.50 oz       Williamette [4.50 %]  (15 min)            3.7 IBU
1 Pkgs        London Ale III (Wyeast Labs #1318)        Yeast-Ale

Simple infusion mash at 155F for 1 hour, finished at 152F.  Batch sparged with 6 gallons of 168F water in 2 stages.  The OG was 1.042, giving me a 73% efficiency.  I was not thrilled by this, but it was in the ballpark, I was shooting for 1.045.  This beer will have 33.9 IBU’s with a IBU/GU ration of 0.759.  I had made a 2 L start with London Ale III, and pitched that after aerating the wort with oxygen.  I let it ferment for 2 weeks, ambient was about 66F, and the FG was 1.012.  The beer ended at 3.8% ABV.  I then racked off the beer to a keg, and I added about 1/4 oz of Williamette leaf hop to the keg.


Color:   hazy orange color, has a nice head that just hangs on.

Aroma:  Nice, spicy and a bit earthy hop nose, with some of the dark fruit esters (cherry) in the back, along with some of the crystal malt.  On the back, you get more of the toasty aroma from the grain

Taste:  toasty malt up front, then you get a touch of sweetness that is quickly washed away by a firm bittering at the backend.  There is a spicy quality I think is from the Williamette.  Finishes with a mouth cleaning bitterness, and a slight prickly from the carbonation.  Medium mouthfeel, coats the mouth, but is not thick.

Critique:  I am pretty happy with this beer.  It is actually more bitter and hoppy then I had anticipated, but I really like the Williamette.  There is a nice spiciness and roundness to the hop, and a clean bitterness that makes it very easy to drink.  I did not get as much of the fruit from the yeast as I usually have, and I think it is because the beer was fermented at cooler temperatures then I usually do.  Overall, the net effect is the same, a very easy to drink, refreshing beer that is low gravity.  I will be curious to see how the Englishman take it, my guess it is going to be a touch hoppier then they prefer, but the Yanks will dig it!

Post-Mortum — The beer was universally well received at the party.  Probably 15 people tried it, and most went back for more.  This just cements for me that a nice Bitter is one of the best crowd pleasers out there.  I got the keg back with dregs.  The nice thing about that is, now I have to fill it again!

Blacksmiths — Fatty Bumpkin Cider

A Fatty Bumpkin is a cider offering from one of Maine’s Wineries, Blacksmiths.  Listed at 5.0% ABV, this is a bit lower in alcohol then many ciders, which tend to come in around 6-7% naturally.  I am not sure why this is lower, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.  I had a chance to sample their product on draft a few weeks ago.  However, they also bottle their product, and my wife wanted to try it (she very much enjoys a good cider, having been introduced to it in the UK) so we picked up a bottle for dinner a few days ago.

Appearance:  Crystal clear, moderate carbonation

Aroma:  Apple at the front, with a slight mustiness at the back

Taste:  Full apple flavor, with a nice acidic bite.  Again, there is a hint of earthy mustiness in the back, not unappealing, but there.  The cider finishes with a bit of sweetness.  It has a light body, as expected.

Critique:  Pretty good cider overall.  However, I don’t think it is as good as Kennebec Cider’s.  That said, it is better then most of the commercial ciders I have had.  There is a nice apple taste, and has some nice fullness and acidity.  Maine tends to grow acidic tasting apples, which I enjoy, and that is reflected in the local ciders.   The sweetness at the back will also make this more approachable, as it is a nice counter to the acidity.  Overall, I would certainly drink this again, and I know my wife will look for it on draft when we go out.

Kennebec Cider — Traditional Hard Cider

Kennebec Cider Traditional Hard Cider

So, I had a chance to met the owner and cider maker at Kennebec Cider, and of course, I had to try some of his product.  I am very happy that I did.  A little background.  They are a small cider producer, going into their 3rd year, based in Winthrop, ME.  They get apples from the central Maine region, which has a tradition as a great apple growing region going back over 2 centuries.  His process is very interesting.  He gets fresh fruit in the fall, crushes and presses it as it comes in, and then blends it later.  He ferments the cider with wine yeast, but very cold, in the 30’s F, over several months, using the natural cold of winter to essentially lager his cider.  In the spring, he bottles it up, and ships it out.  It is never filtered, and it is bottle conditioned.  He has a small production, about 800 cases a year currently.

Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  Light carbonation that falls quickly.  Rich, golden color, crystal clear.

Aroma:  Intense apple aroma.  It is more like apple juice then sweet cider.  Very clean, no oak.

Taste:  Again, an intense apple taste with a slight sweetness, followed by a nice acidity that gives it some grip.  A light body, but it is a bit more viscous then many ciders I have had, but very pleasant. Nice, tart, tangy aftertaste.

Critique:  This is a very good cider.  Actually, this is one of the best I have had.  It is not super fizzy, it is not overly tart, but you get the acidity, and there is a nice body to it.  The apple flavor and aroma is quite pronounced, but very clean.  I am going to get a few bottles of this years vintage (mine was from 2010, his 2011 was just released) for the cellar.  I e-mailed him after I tried it, and asked him about how he gets the intense apple aroma and flavor, and he said he attributes that to the blend of apples he uses (looks for some very aromatic apples in his blend) as well as using a very estery wine yeast.  Give it a try, you will not be disappointed.