Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Today's entry will examine the final (and best) three beers of the Samuel Adams Winter Classics collection.
SAMUEL ADAMS OLD FEZZIWIG ALE
I had the privilege of enjoying the Old Fezziwig Ale on tap at the brewery when I went late in 2010; it was a beer revelation for me. From the bottle, Old Fezziwig comes across as a high quality version of your standard Winter Warmer: rich and malty with strong spice notes (particularly ginger and orange peel). On draft, though, it tastes like the liquid form of a beer Christmas cookie. The sweetness of the toffee and caramel notes intermingle with the deeper chocolate undertones, which are, in turn, complemented by the spice profile.
While the intensity of the flavors might be muted in bottle form, it's easy to draw them out simply by pairing the Old Fezziwig with entrees and desserts that will bring out the shared underlying flavors of both. The Samuel Adams page for Old Fezziwig recommends pairing it with carrot cake, which is a great idea but I think there are many winter treats that would do including freshly baked oatmeal cookies or warm pumpernickel bread. Either way, this beer is incredible no matter how you enjoy it.
My Grade: A
SAMUEL ADAMS BLACK & BREW COFFEE STOUT
The newcomer to this pack, the Samuel Adams Black & Brew Coffee Stout is a wonderful example of the style. Rich, deep coffee aromas permeate the pour and dark chocolate and coffee wash through the mouth upon first swallow. Though there are admittedly other better Coffee Stouts to be had, the Black & Brew fits perfectly into the family of beers that comprise this variety pack. Plus, the fact that it is available nationally makes it even better (many of the finer coffee stouts have limited distribution, which naturally makes it more difficult to enjoy them).
I enjoy my stouts most when they are big bodied and big flavored; the Black & Brew is just a touch light in both arenas. The flavors are delicious but not bold and demanding as I personally enjoy; the mouthfeel is a bit thin albeit creamy, almost like a skinnier-bodied Guinness from a nitro bottle. Regardless, fans of coffee-infused beers will love this brew; it's not to be missed! (Try it with some vanilla ice cream or make a beer float with some premium vanilla bean ice cream!)
My Grade: A-
SAMUEL ADAMS CHOCOLATE BOCK
And so I save the best for last. The Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock is not only one of my top three all-time favorite chocolate beers, it is a steal. In my opinion, the fact that this beer is included in the variety pack is a godsend. It could easily be bottled in a bomber size or larger and sold at premium cost to the consumer and marketed as a special release winter beer. Hands down, one of if not the best beer I've had from the Boston Beer Company.
Flavor-wise, the Chocolate Bock is just what you'd expect: a deep, dark beauty with complex chocolate overtones and aromas. The chocolate, itself, serves only to enhance the roasted maltiness and sweet caramel that comes through. The beer is so rich that to pair it with some sort of chocolate dessert would be to engage in overstimulation of the sweet sectors of the tastebuds. Instead, enjoy it with dinner and some sort of rich red meat or ribs. A nicely caramelized roast would work perfectly with it but, no matter what you pair it with, just make sure that you savor every drop of this remarkable brew.
My Grade: A+
--Beer Whisperer Matt
Coming on Thursday, March 1st: The Samuel Adams Brewer's Choice Variety Pack Review
Thursday, February 16, 2012
|One of the best variety packs on the market!|
One great way to explore a number of different beers for a comparatively low price is to purchase a variety pack. Usually, these samplers provide anywhere from three to as many as six different beers in a single unit, often linked through a seasonal theme or some other connection selected by the brewer. The Boston Beer Company (brewers of the Samuel Adams beers) produces some of the finest selections of microbrew variety packs that I've seen; their Winter Classics is arguably their best and my personal favorite.
Most variety packs will include two staple or flagship beers--usually the ones that anchor the brewery--as well as a season or two and some sort of specialty beer(s). In the case of the Winter Classics collection, there are six different beers provided and only one "regular" beer--the ubiquitous Samuel Adams Boston Lager. What's great about the pack, though, is the fact that it technically has three seasonal beers as well as an additional two specialties, both of which are winter-appropriate. Let's check out the first three beers in the collection:
SAMUEL ADAMS BOSTON LAGER
Samuel Adams Boston Lager has arguably been the face of East Coast microbrewed beer for nearly thirty years, though the history of the brew goes back almost to the mid-eighteen hundreds. Boston Lager is a traditional Vienna Lager, which means that it offers a balanced mix of sweet malts and fresh, crisp hoppiness. At just under 5% abv, it is the perfect session beer for the lager lover or fan of sweet-bodied malty brews. A balanced mouthfeel, nose, and head are all staples of the beer, particularly when it is consumed in a traditional, proprietary Samuel Adams pint glass.
Throughout my life I have heard many people say that they refuse to drink microbrews because, to them, "beer should taste like beer." Sadly, the "beer" they are referring to is some adjunct-laden, mass-produced yellow fizzy liquid. For my money, if I had to select only one beer that "tastes like beer," it would be Samuel Adams Boston Lager.
My grade: A
SAMUEL ADAMS WINTER LAGER
Winter beers are among the boldest and most adventurous of the seasonal style beers. They are often dark, heavy, and well-spiced thus producing a hit-or-miss drinkability for some people. Samuel Adams Winter Lager, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a well-balanced Bock that strikes a palatable harmony between its dark malty character and its light spice profile. The latter consists of cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel, all of which serve to heighten the overall tasting experience by enhancing rather than overpowering the sweet maltiness that underlies. At 5.50% abv, it is relatively weak as compared to other Bocks but the lower alcohol content in conjunction with the light, almost creamy body and spices mean that you'll be able to enjoy a few Winter Lagers without fading off to a warm winter's slumber.
My Grade: A
SAMUEL ADAMS HOLIDAY PORTER
Porters are excellent year-round brews but they are especially delicious during the frigid winter months. The style is actually named after the London transportation workers ("porters") of the eighteenth century who enjoyed a specific type of beer--one that is still argued over today. Some say that it was a blend of an old ale, a new ale (usually brown), and a weak ale; others argue that the original porter was simply a brown beer that was aged before it was sent to the London pubs. Either way, it was probably delicious then and it certainly is now.
The modern American Porter can vary greatly in what constitutes its flavor profile; some porters are well-hopped, others are brewed with coffee, and still others feature chocolate under- and overtones. The Samuel Adams Holiday Porter falls under the latter category with sweet malt and chocolate with a very light underlying tinge of coffee in its palette. Sweet caramel, smooth carbonation, and a clean finish are highlights of the tasting experience.
I have grown to love the porter style of beer and have enjoyed nearly fifty different representations. As such, I have developed a strong sense of what I like in a porter and have a substantial body of liquid experience against which to judge new entries to my list. The Samuel Adams Holiday Porter was enjoyed in between a number of world-class stouts and porters including North Coast's Old Rasputin, Founders' Breakfast Stout, and Ithaca's Gorges Smoked Porter. As such, the grade reflects both its proximity to and ability to stand among these great brews while not quite living up to their legendary positions in their respective styles.
My grade: B+
Coming Tuesday, February 28th: Part II of the Sam Adams Winter Variety Pack review.
--Beer Whisperer Matt
Monday, February 13, 2012
|Heart graphic from: valentine-clipart.com|
Ah, it's that time of year again--the time when romance is in the air and moonlight kisses are exchanged beneath the sparkling heavens. Sweet words are whispered from one lover to another amid candlelit dinners, serenading the soul with promises of courtly love and chivalrous acts. Decadence is celebrated through chocolate delights and elaborate, lavish meals ensure that, while the heart is the center of attention, the stomach is not left wanting. And what do these star-crossed couples tipple whilst enjoying these culinary treats?
Oh, right. That purple crap.
Drinking wine, like exchanging Hallmark cards, purchasing ridiculous over-priced, ornate floral bouquets, and eating an inordinate amount of chocolate have ensconced themselves into the tradition of Valentine's Day...but that doesn't mean it has to be that way. Beer is often viewed as uncouth or somehow less-than in the eyes of the upper crust--something to be swilled from cans and re-tasted through hillbilly belches; nothing could be further from the truth. Many brews today rival the finest wines in their levels of sophistication and craftsmanship. Indeed, some of the best beers are labors of love--ones that require months if not years to bring to fruition.
So on this Valentine's Day, why not consider substituting beer for wine during your romantic evening with your special someone? Here are some suggestions to help you set the mood:
Valentine's Day dinner is one of the most important meals of the year. As such, you want to approach your pre-meal libations cautiously: anything too heavy might fill you up and anything too strong might knock you out before you can even begin enjoying your evening. For some, wine serves as both a pre-dinner and dinnertime drink...so why not look at beer the same way? There are a few lighter-bodied styles that could serve as elegant preludes to the wonderful imbibing to come later in the evening. American Pale Ales and India Pale Ales are usually light in body but can be overpowering in terms of their hop character so you might want to avoid those (plus, drinking something that is too hoppy will interfere with your palette as you prepare to eat). Instead, why not consider trying some Tripels and Belgian Strong Pale Ales. Though moderately higher in alcohol than the average session beer, both styles represent light, crisp, and flavorful brews that enjoy a variety of constitutions that range from slightly spicy to refreshingly fruity. Some are even champagne-like in their effervescence and flavor profiles, rendering them all the more appropriate as gastronomic ushers for your special night. These are some of the best:
Tripel Karmeliet (the best I've ever had)
Westmalle Trappist Tripel Ale
La Rullés Triple (Bière De Gaume)
La Fin Du Monde (note: a STRONG beer...and perhaps one whose translation you might want to avoid for the night!)
BELGIAN STRONG PALE ALES
Duvel (one of the most revered beers in the entire world--you can definitely impress him or her with this one!)
Delirium Tremens Ale (one of the fruitier representations of the style)
Dogfish Head Pangaea (an ale brewed with ingredients from all seven continents--show off your cosmopolitan side!)
Brooklyn Local 1 (almost like champagne, this beer is sure to please)
Bière de Champagne / Bière Brut
Samuel Adams Infinium (a beer that's as close to champagne as you'll get!)
The odds are favorable that if you're dining out on Valentine's Day, one of the first things that your server will offer you will be a wine menu. Of course, if you're a true romantic, you're not really out at a restaurant, are you? Of course not! So as you prepare your own libation list to be served at Château de vous, consider calling a Cabernet audible and serving a Barleywine instead of your traditional red, white, or rosé. Both the American and English iterations are comprised of stronger-than-average beers (wine-strength, hence the name) and have flavor profiles that unite hop characteristics with an earthy wine/fruit constitution (though American Barleywines do tend to be more potent and hop-forward). The only two drawbacks to the style are that the beers tend to be powerful in their alcohol content and very strong in their flavor. Unless you're familiar with the style and know that you like these beers, you might want to consider the aforementioned Tripels and Belgian Strong Pale Ales instead.
Here are some examples of Barleywines, American Pale Ales, and American India Pale Ales that you might want to consider enjoying with your meal; all stand up to and pair well with a broad range of food styles and would thus make the perfect accompaniment to your Valentine's dinner.
Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine (Anchor first introduced this style of beer to the United States in the 1970s; their offering is still one of the best around today.)
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot
Flying Dog Horn Dog (arguably my favorite of the style).
AMERICAN PALE ALES
Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale
Captain Lawrence "Freshchester" Pale Ale
Old Dominion Dominion Hop Mountain Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
AMERICAN INDIA PALE ALES
Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA (a light, balanced offering that would pair well with more delicate proteins such as fish and poultry)
Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA (a robust, in-your-face IPA that pairs incredibly well with spicier dishes)
Captain Lawrence Captain's Reserve Imperial IPA
Kane Head High (a newer brew that is not overpowering but strong enough in both alcohol and hop flavor to enhance your evening rather than derail it)
Founders Devil Dancer Triple IPA
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (both this and the Founders are for serious hopheads only!)
AFTER DINNER / DESSERT
As important as dinner is on Valentine's Day, it's really dessert that steals the show. For many, chocolate is the go-to indulgence, whether it is the star-attraction or merely appearing in a supporting role. Strawberries, too, are frequently shared, either with chocolate or perhaps whipped cream. Cherries, like strawberries, also find their way into many Valentine's desserts because of their ability to play nice with chocolate and for their seductive hue. Beer can enhance rather than replace all of the aforementioned treats, especially those that have been brewed with those very same ingredients.
If strawberries are taking center stage in your dessert celebration, then you should consider what accompaniment you will provide them with. Whether it's whipped cream or chocolate, you can create some unforgettably delicious combinations with the right beers. Here are a few ideas:
If you're going the whipped cream route, fill two snifters or two champagne flutes with a cream ale and a strawberry ale--one in each. You can alternate between feeding each other the cream-covered strawberries and sipping the ales. Samuel Smith's Organic Strawberry Fruit Beer and Lancaster Brewing's Cream Ale are the best of the styles; Lancaster Brewing's Strawberry Wheat and Sixpoint Sweet Action are both solid back-ups.
If you're going the chocolate route, why not try to make a modified black and tan using Samuel Smith's Organic Strawberry Fruit Beer and Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout?
If cherries are your aphrodisiac of choice, you could go directly for a cherry-infused beer like Stone Brewing's Cherry Chocolate Stout or follow the suggestions above for mixing a cherry beer with a cream/chocolate brew by substituting the strawberry beers with either a Samuel Smith's Organic Strawberry Fruit Beer or a Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat (the latter is a better option for a black and tan, especially if it's made with Guinness!)
Chocolate can certainly hold its own when it comes to desserts but it can certainly be improved by the addition of a few incredible brews. If you're enjoying a rich, chocolaty dessert (particularly if it's a baked good), then you might want to avoid beers that have chocolate in them and opt instead for beer styles that will enhance the chocolate that you're eating; oatmeal stouts like Heartland Brewery's Father's Jon's and Cooperstown Brewing's Strike Out Smooth Oatmeal Stout are perfect examples
If you'd rather have the beer, itself, take the lead, then I would recommend that you go for a brew that has a strong chocolate presence. Here are a few of the best I've ever had:
Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence Stout (hands down, the best chocolate beer EVER)
Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock (available as part of their Winter variety pack)
Great Divide Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti (smooth, strong, and delicious)
Southern Tier Choklat (Imperial Stout) (an almost overwhelming chocolate sensation--delectable)
Terrapin Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout (a Milk / Sweet Stout--this one is sticky sweet!)
I hope these suggestions have you at least considering the possibility of including beer in your Valentine's Day plans. And remember: whether you're nestling up or snuggling down, staying in or dining out, there's always a place for beer at the table!
Cheers and Happy Valentine's Day everyone!
--Beer Whisperer Matt
Friday, February 3, 2012
|One of the many pieces of esoteric beer arcana I|
encountered during my travels in 2011
Founders Brewing (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
This was arguably the holy grail beer location for me during my Chicago-Milwaukee-Minneapolis trip last year. I couldn't WAIT to visit the renowned brewpub location and I was not disappointed. There was an INSANE assortment of beers available for sampling and the bartender didn't give me a hard time about trying them all. Not only that, he honored my request of pouring only a few ounces for each sample instead of the full size (I had another two spots I wanted to hit up that night and didn't want to get sick) and when the bill rolled around, he wound up charging me for one five dollar beer (the only full one I got) instead of the nine or so samples. I had figured out what it should've come out to and left him the difference as a tip. One of my all-time favorite brewers and beer locations.
Three Floyds Brewing (Muncie, Indiana)
I read a lot of good things about Three Floyds in the 1,001 Beers Book but I was ultimately disappointed with my experience at the brewpub. The service was very slow during a moderately busy time (it wasn't completely dead but it wasn't packed either) and the sampler was extremely limited. I hate when a place has eleven beers on tap and they offer only a single sampler that's already chosen for you without offering the opportunity to sample anything else. I don't care paying more for the opportunity to sample beers that aren't on the offered flight so it annoys me that they're basically forcing me to buy seven pints of beer AND a sampler to try everything they have. I understand that they have a bottom line they're trying to meet but at the same time you have places like Russian River and the Michigan Brewing Company that offer samples of everything they offer--upwards of twenty beers or more. Weak.
Rock Bottom Chicago (Chicago, Illinois)
I love the variety in Rock Bottom locations. Unlike Heartland Brewery in New York, each place has its own identity. The one in Chicago, much to my surprise, had a very upscale appearance (as did the clientele). My wife and I felt grossly underdressed and self-conscious about our fourteen-month-old son being noisy amid the delicately clinking silverware and crystal glasses. Much to our relief and surprise, we were welcomed amiably, led to a table in a comfortable but not too ritzy area of the brewpub, and waited on by a truly wonderful waiter. The food was great, the beer was excellent, and the ambiance and experience were top notch. I'll definitely return here on a future jaunt to or through Chicago.
Goose Island Brewing (Chicago, Illinois)
Goose Island was probably the ultimate beer location that I traveled to in 2011; it was one of the few places where I could have tried every beer on the menu...but didn't. There were just too many, each more extraordinary than the last. I had more of each sample there than at any other place I visited. Dizzying array of brews on tap, a vintage bottle selection, and the ability to purchase beer to take home? The perfect place for me to visit.
Goose Island Wrigleyville (Chicago, Illinois)
I spotted the sister Goose Island location over near Wrigley Field as we headed over to the Cubs game after having an early lunch (and many, many stellar brews) at the flagship Goose Island brewpub. We wound up stopping in at the Wrigleyville location after the game just so I could see whether or not they had anything special. They did and so we grabbed two final Goose Island pints before moving on. Really great spot--certainly the perfect location to watch a Cubs game. Less of a selection than the larger spot closer to the city center and, for the most part, what they did have was the more generic Goose Island beers...but it was still worth going to.
Piece Brewery (Chicago, Illinois)
A really neat little spot that was a brief drive from the parking lot near Wrigley. The pizza is actually New Haven style, which I had only heard about right before leaving for our trip when I watched a show called Man vs. Food. The food was delicious and the beer was pretty good. The ambiance was definitely great and it's a place I could see myself going to with a big group of friends as part of a night out on the town. Cool place for sure.
Moonshine (Chicago, Illinois)
Hands-down the least favorite place I visited in 2011. My experience there was just...bizarre. First of all, it was a family sort of spot and the hostess was dressed as if she was trying to flag down johns on some crepuscular street corner. I can't explain adequately how odd she looked or why it bothered me so much but there was just something off about it. Then there was the beer. They had at least three different menus/chalkboards with three different lists of house beers--probably a dozen or more in total. Of these they had exactly four. FOUR! My flight of beers consisted of these four beers...a Lagunitas beer and a Stone beer. Seriously. The most bizarre brewpub I've ever visited. Would definitely avoid this place like the plague.
Haymarket Brewery (Chicago, Illinois)
I had one hell of an adventure getting to the Haymarket Brewery in Chicago. To begin with, I went by myself as my wife wasn't feeling too well that night. I decided to walk there and wound up heading through some of the shadiest parts of the city, missed the street I was supposed to turn on, found it, wound up walking through this dark, dank, deserted-ass tunnel before finding myself walking over an abandoned-looking train depot all the while watching an insane thunderstorm roll in from the distance. I finally make it there and the place is packed--I mean packed, asshole-to-elbow style. I manage to squeeze into a space right where they have the little door that opens at the very edge of the bar for employees to get out from and I started ordering samples. The bartender(s) probably thought I was a lunatic because I wanted to try everything they had AND I asked them to pour only half sized samples as there were ten or eleven beers on the list. Of course they kept forgetting to do that (I can't blame them--what normal person goes into a bar asking for less beer for the same price?) but in the end my original bartender took pity on me and bought me like half of my samples. Bottom line: definitely visit the Haymarket Brewery BY CAB!
Water Street Brewery (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Really awesome brewpub in a very beer-oriented part of town. Had a phenomenal black IPA and a waitress who was really great with my son. Awesome food, very solid assortment of beers. Would come back here in a heartbeat.
Lakefront Brewery (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
One of the top five brewery tours I've ever taken and probably top ten of any variety. A really interesting location for the brewery (it's beneath a gigantic bridge/overpass on the water) and a deceptively spacious drinking area, Lakefront offers a really awesome tour complete with plenty of free samples. Our tour guide was hilarious and informative; a rare combination. Loved the beer (took a bunch home), loved the tour, would definitely bring friends back here.
Sprecher Brewery (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
I definitely have a love/hate relationship with Sprecher. For as good as the tour and tour guide was at Lakefront, the guy we had here was equally as terrible. A younger guy who obviously couldn't care less about his job or the brewery, he made our group feel uncomfortable with his lack of interest and at times offensive mien. I didn't really enjoy the beer that was available for sampling at the location BUT I wound up loving the beer I took home. For me, the best part of the entire experience was being able to load up a case with one of everything they had for sale including a bunch of their very good gourmet sodas. Overall, I'd recommend visiting but if you don't have the time for the tour, don't feel bad; you can get your money's worth in the gift shop.
Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Mango Mama...I still dream about this beer! Very good food and even better beer--the type that I would drive seven hours for from Chicago. Seriously--if you're anywhere near the Twin Cities, you have to scope out this place. Tremendous.
Great Waters Brewing (St. Paul, Minnesota)
Ugh. Great Waters. Again, for as great an experience I had at the previously mentioned spot, I had an equally horrendous one here...and it's all Tim McGraw's fault. Apparently, the country singer had a concert later in the evening on the day I came to St. Paul. This, evidently, was a huge deal for the area and so Great Waters was absolutely mobbed with people. I'm from New York and thus am used to waiting ninety minutes for a table...I just hate when I'm told that it's going to be a twenty minute wait...that turns into a ninety minute one. The staff was clearly overwhelmed and the service suffered tremendously. I was pissed because I asked for a flight and the bartender refused. I told the waitress I'd wait for however long it would take for him to pour those oh-so-precious tiny samples but again was rebuffed. In total, I spent two hours plus there and got a shitty sandwich and a pint of a beer that was good enough to piss me off even more (it made me want that sampler that I couldn't get). Upsetting that a simple dining experience could be thrown off by an equally simple situation (big star in town for a concert); not sure if I'd be willing to give the spot a second chance...or St. Paul for that matter. What a dump!
Barley John's Brewpub (New Brighton, Minnesota)
Barley John's was a very cool, very small spot that reminded me of a restaurant called O'Brien's located up in Waverly, New York. Small number of beers available but a very accommodating bartender who hooked me up with an extra sample so that I could try their entire array. Good beer and a good spot to swing by if you're in the area.
The Herkimer Pub and Brewery (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
We visited the Herkimer before heading over to see the Twins play in Minneapolis. There was some sort of street fair that was going to be happening later in the day and thus the area was abuzz with activity. Seemed like a nice area and a fun place to hang out. The beer was fresh, crisp, and tasty. Definitely a place I'd return to.
Rock Bottom Minneapolis (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Visited this spot after the Twins game. Pretty good beer and decent food but a nice place to hang out, eat, and drink. Nothing spectacular but worth hitting up if you're in Minneapolis.
Capital Brewing (Middleton, Wisconsin)
Capital's renowned for their beer garden and I'm bummed that I wasn't able to enjoy it as we were just passing through Middleton on our way back down south and east from Minneapolis. What was great though was that the woman staffing the gift shop was incredibly nice and helpful. She hooked me up with a case of every beer they had available for sale, which I wound up enjoying over the course of the next few weeks after we returned home. Solid set of brews and a great place to scope out.
Milwaukee Ale House (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
I fell in love with so many beers here, it was ridiculous. My favorite place in Milwaukee and second only to Goose Island in terms of the places I visited on the trip...but a close second. Will definitely go into greater detail in my individual review of the location; a must see brewpub.
Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery (Flossmoor, Illinois)
The brewery is located literally inside of the old train station. Interesting place to visit in a cute inviting hamlet-type village called Flossmoor. There were your typical-looking locals at the bar but where we wound up being seated was a huge variety of people including a few kids grabbing burgers on their way home from school. A few unforgettable brews and a really nice, sizable flight for me to enjoy. Worth the trek from Chicago for sure!
Great Lakes Brewing (Cleveland, Ohio) (OLD)
My favorite place to drink in Cleveland, great beer and, at least on fair weather days, a great place to visit. We got seated in a downstairs area this last time in 2011 and it wasn't the most inviting of places. Plus, the sampler included these nearly thimble-sized samples that I was told were so-poured because the beers are "strong." Funny how Dogfish Head still offers full sized samples of their beers, including the 120 Minute IPA that was literally double the strength of their "strong" brews.
Captain Lawrence Brewing (Pleasantville, New York)
Can't say enough positive things about this place and I can't wait to visit their new location in 2012. GO TO CAPTAIN LAWRENCE!!!
Chelsea Brewing (New York, New York)
I was underwhelmed by the beer but sitting outside and watching the sun set over the Hudson on a nice summer's night? Well-worth the trip over to the west side of Manhattan.
Thomas Hooker Brewing Company (Bloomfield, Connecticut)
Moonshine might've been my least favorite place...but at least it had food. The beer here wasn't even all that good and the trip there was insane. Wouldn't come back here if I was paid to!
Appalachian Brewing Company (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)
One of the true gems of 2011, the Appalachian Brewing Company brews some of the very best beer I had during the year and the food was both filling and delicious. I can't wait to get back here and if you're anywhere near Harrisburg or even just taking a trip out to Lancaster, go here!
Tröegs Brewing Company (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)
I've never been a huge fan of Tröegs; I feel like the hype surrounding their beer far exceeds its quality. My visit to the brewery was mediocre at best as was the beer. I had a great conversation about homebrewing with one of the employees there but that was really the only highlight. Beer Whisperer Nicole said that when she went and took the tour, the guide kept ripping other brewers and trying to promote Tröegs as the better location. That's bush league (most brewers--even direct competitors--will still support their fellow beer makers and keep it clean) and sadly not something that surprises me. Wouldn't come back here again.
Lancaster Brewing Company (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)
Amish beer might just be as awesome as Amish food (okay...the beer itself isn't really Amish but it is in Lancaster!). Amazing Cream Ale, IPA, Milk Stout, and Pale Ale among a stellar array of other beers. A place you cannot pass up on if you're in the area.
Stoudts Brewing Company (Adamstown, Pennsylvania)
Another place that seemed sort of highbrow based solely on appearance (which, as we all know, can be deceiving), Stoudts wound up being pretty cool. The beer was run-of-the-mill with a few standouts but overall a worthwhile venture. I'd probably hit this up again if I was near Adamstown.
Pizzeria Uno Brewpub (Metuchen, New Jersey)
As the legend goes, this particular Pizzeria Uno is the only one in the world that brews its own beer. It started out as an experiment but for whatever reason it never went nationwide. More importantly, the eatery continued making its own beer and it was some of the highest quality stuff I had in 2011. Unfortunately, the brewmaster recently left but he went to Basil T's further south in New Jersey. Needless to say, after enjoying his unforgettable porter and hefeweizen, I'll be making the trip down to his new digs in 2012!
J.J. Bitting Brewery (Woodbridge, New Jersey)
Such a resounding disappointment, J.J. Bitting had been hyped up by a few people who touted it as an awesome microbrewery. Maybe I just got a bad batch of beer(s) but I was not impressed with what they had to offer. I'd be willing to go again because it's only a half hour away and there's a chance that the beer actually is quite good. The only problem is that the one time I did go, it wasn't. It was terrible.
Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn, New York)
Already reviewed this spot in a previous entry, the Brooklyn Brewery is a great place to pre-game before heading out for a night in the city or even in Williamsburg. An assortment of beers that range from good to excellent, you really can't go wrong with dropping twenty bucks or more at the brewery during its happy hour. Definitely a place you should visit if you're in New York!
Bethlehem Brew Works (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania)
A very family-friendly spot, this is definitely a great place to come for lunch and to try a few solid beers. Had a nice time here but I didn't get to visit Abe's (another amazing beer store). Perhaps on a future visit!
Allentown Brew Works (Allentown, Pennsylvania)
My experience at the Allentown Brew Works wound up being unexpectedly awesome. We went during a dead time in the day so we were able to eat at a bar table and order directly from the bartender without any sort of hassle. I tried a bunch of what they had on tap and then told my wife to head out to the car. I think I had a question for the bartender but however it started, we struck up a conversation about beer and sports. The sports actually led to the beer, which led to him discovering that I was a big fan of craft beer. The next thing I know, he's sitting me back down at the table and serving me three or four more gigantic samples of stuff that wasn't included in their flights. After hitting up these, he then takes me on a personally guided tour of their brewing facility and made me giddy when he showed me the bourbon-barrel aging pumpkin ale that was to be released later in the year. Unfortunately, I forgot about the beer and missed the release (and my wife was stuck waiting for me for almost a half an hour while all this was going on) but this was definitely a worthwhile venture. Scope out both Brew Works spots if you can!
Tun Tavern (Atlantic City, New Jersey)
The last new place I visited in 2011 (and the last brewpub overall) was Tun Tavern in Atlantic City. I couldn't believe I had never been there before and was admittedly a little nervous about what the quality of the beer would be like. Totally blown away. They had a maple brown ale that was top notch and a few other impeccable beers. This place will definitely be the first place I hit up on every future Atlantic City trip!
Thanks for joining me on a trip down beer memory lane. Hope you've been to some of these spots as well and, if you haven't, that you'd be interested in scoping out at least a few! Cheers!
--Beer Whisperer Matt