Last night’s Hyper-Local Craft Brew Tasting at the Armory in Somerville reminded me how lucky I am to live in a place with an amazing and growing local beer and food scene. Sponsored by the Boston Local Food Festival, there were, by my count, 18 breweries represented (along with some wineries, a meadery, and a few local food vendors) and, aside from Peak Organic (Maine) and Narragansett (RI), they were all from eastern Mass. And even with this great showing, there were some excellent local breweries missing: Blatant, Cody, and Pretty Things among others. Here’s my brief report…
Trends – More Session Beers/Less High Alcohol; Belgians Still Rein; German Styles on the Rise
After a period in which high (often too high) alcohol beers dominated, lower alcohol beers are making a comeback, particularly as people discover the “session” style: lower alcohol beers (designed for a drinking “session,” hence the name) that are still flavorful. Notch started this trend locally (as far as I know) and they were well represented last night, including an excellent new entry, their “tafelbier” (Dutch for table beer), a 2.8% ale with great flavor. You won’t believe it’s that low in alcohol. Jack’s Abby had Jabby Brau session lager and I tried one other session beer but didn’t write down the brewery! Sorry!
I continue to see a lot of Belgian styles, most executed very well. Belgian IPAs (a style started by Belgian brewers who wanted to create something hoppier for the U.S. market and then picked up by U.S. brewers – it’s a bottle conditioned ale with a nice bite and clean finish) were well represented with good examples from Backlash (our newest local brewery), Idle Hands and Watch City. Backlash also had a really nice Belgian Blonde called Groundswell, and Idle Hands produced a lovely Belgian wit called Blanche de Grâce. Saisons are gaining popularity as well, and I tried a really nice Renaud Saison from Mystic (whose Descendant Suffolk Dark Ale is one of my favorite beers this year).
I’m also really excited to see more and more breweries discovering the great German styles that we don’t hear much about here in the face of the generally bland and middle-of-the-road pilsners that tend to dominate the German export market. Jack’s Abby is brewing a number of interesting German styles. I tried their Maibock last night and have previously tried their schwarzbier and dunkles doppelbock. And Blue Hills had their Antimatter 4 (Antimatter is their single malt series), a Kölsch-style ale.
Experiments – Failed and Successful
One of the fun things about a beer festival is that brewers often bring new and/or experimental beers. While I don’t always care for the results of these (particularly since I don’t usually care for beer using ingredients other than the Big Four – water malted barley, hops and yeast – call me a Reinheitsgebot snob), I appreciate the artistry. Lots of interesting experiments last night, most of which didn’t do it for me but many of which the rest of the crowd seemed to enjoy. Some highlights:
- Surprised to see Sam Adams there. I really don’t think of them as a local brewery given how big they are and the amount of contract brewing they do, but more power to them for showing, and with three very new, experimental brews at that. (They also had a shandy, Porchrocker, which was quite refreshing.) I only tried two of the new brews: Oyster Stout (yuck – it actually has oysters in it, which is apparently a style that’s been around for a long time) and Hazel Brown (a strongly hazelnut flavored brew that I actually liked but the people with me hated). I didn’t touch the blueberry beer as it’s not my thing at all.
- Ipswich Brewery had two new beers in its 5 Mile line (at least 50% sourced in Mass. plus at least one ingredient produced within five miles of their brewery). One of them is a Pumpernickel Rye Porter, which I really enjoyed and hope to find in bottles soon. Quite dark with some very interesting and different flavors. The other, a Corn Bock, wasn’t quite as successful but kudos to them for trying to make good beer with corn!
- The surprise of the night for me was Viva Habanera from Night Shift. Yes, it contains habanero pepper and, shockingly, I liked it! Their Bee Tea Wheat Ale is another interesting experiment that mixes green tea, honey and Belgian style wheat beer. Not a huge wheat beer fan but this beer is nicely done. Good afternoon sipping beer!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite local brewery, Slumbrew. Every time they make a new beer, they knock it out of the park as their two most recent beers – Rising Sun and Trekker Trippel demonstrate. Check them out! And don’t miss the next Hyper Local Beer Fest on Oct. 6.