The Alchemist — Headytopper

Headytopper

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Allagash with Maine Beer Company and Rising Tide — Prince Tuesday

Prince Tuesday — A Collaboration beer between Allagash, Rising Tide, and Maine Beer Company

Prince Tuesday is a collaboration beer by Allagash, Rising Tide, and Maine Beer Company that was released only in Maine.  The beer is in Allagash’s corked Belgian bottles, so it would stand to reason it was brewed there.  However, the grist includes Maine grown rye, which is something Rising Tide uses in their beer Daymark.  However, the hops are big and bold, a Maine Beer Company signature.  Part of the proceeds go to Portland Trails, which takes some of the sting out of the $21.69  price tag.  This beer also clocks in at 8.1% ABV.

Appearance:  Hazy light gold color, slight orange highlights, highly carbonated with a thick head that just sits on the beer all the way down

Aroma:  Grapefruit up front, with some tropical fruit (mango and some pineapple), followed by pine,  and finishes with a peppery note.  Definitely dry hopped.  Not much alcohol I could detect.  I have a hard time picking out specific fruit esters with all the hops, but you get the spiciness on the back

Taste:  Hops up front, lots of citrus and pine, but with a graham crackery note in the middle and a slight fruity sweetness from the hops.  It ends with a very peppery bite.  It finishes very pleasingly dry and bitter.

Critique:  I really like this beer.  Not as heavy in body as most American IPA’s, but has the hops.  There is the pepper and the crispness to it, some from the rye and some from the yeast, that just blends wonderfully with the fruity notes of the hops.  Basically, this is a cross between an IPA and a Saison, and it was really good, and very easy to drink.  The only downsides are price point ($21 for a 750mL) and the ABV.  It is only available in Maine, but I highly recommend it if you get a chance to try it.

UFF — Dry Cidah and Homa

Urban Farm Fermentory is an outfit in Portland that is working on bringing fermented foods, both beverages and veggies, back to the home kitchens.  They teach classes and hold events about lots of cool stuff like making your own Kimchi.  Anyone, one of the other things they do is make cider, or as they say in Maine, “Cidah!”

Urban Farm Fermentory “Dry Cidah” and “Homa”

My wife picked up two bottles of their cider from our local store, and we had a chance to try them out tonight.  One was their “Dry Cidah” which clocks in at 6.5% ABV.  The other is their “Homa” which is a dry cider dry hopped with Cascade hops, and that is 6.8% ABV.  Looking at those numbers, that is pretty close to what I get from my cider, so I suspect it is just straight freshly pressed cider that is fermented dry.  They do say that their ciders are not filtered, which makes sense when you look at them.

Tasting notes on “Dry Cidah”

Appearance:  Cloudy, light, almost pale straw color.  Moderate carbonation

Aroma:  Crisp apple but not very strong.  Pleasant.  Pretty clean otherwise.

Taste:  Nice apple taste up front, with a little acidity to balance it.  It fades fairly quickly.  It is dry, but has a long finish that seems to coat the tongue that is not entirely pleasant.

Mouthfeel:  Very thin, which I would expect from a dry cider.

 

Tasting Notes on “Homa”

Appearance:  A clear, golden hue.  Moderate carbonation

Aroma:  Green herbal and citrus (lemon) notes.  I don’t smell any apple at all.

Taste:  Orange/lemon flavors followed by herbal green notes, with no real apple notes.  The hops flavor just carries all the way through, leaving a slicker, herbally taste on the tongue.

Mouthfeel:  Thin, but has more body then the Dry.

 

Critique:  The Dry Cidah is actually one of the better commercial ciders I have had, but it is still a bit thin on the taste and the aroma.  Dry ciders tends to not have as much taste as people think, the lack of sugar seems to hide the flavor.  If you don’t like a dry cider, just put a little simple syrup in, and try it again, it just seems to blossom.   That being said, this was pleasantly apply, but I just could not quite get past the finish, which has an odd quality to it I just can’t describe.  Not helpful, I know, but I just can’t put into words what I was tasting.  The Homa I did not like at all.  It just did not work for me.  I like dry hops in beer, but it just overpowered the taste of the apples, and I got more herbal and green notes than the citrus from the hops.  I applaud their creativity, but just not my bag.  As a comparison, I poured some of my latest cider.  Mine has just much more apple on the nose, but has a faint woodiness to it from the oak.  The apple flavor was much more pronounced.  It was much more tannic, and had a much fuller mouthfeel, but was very dry.  Overall, I preferred mine pretty much across the board.