Thursday, April 18, 2013

New England & E Coast tasting notes

On a recent trip to New England and the Sprawl (Boston -> Providence -> New York -> Washington DC) I made notes on a few ales I tasted, and in some cases the venues I tasted them in. Notes below are in roughly chronological order, and include state (or country) of origin, so that I can label the beers from the same state I was in as #LocAle).

Bottled beers at house party in Providence (at which a wonderful spinach pie was also served):

Lagunitas Rich Copper Ale (CA): a light smoky copper color, with thin frothy head and a constant stream of bubbles; this pint had a very gentle, sweet, slightly maritime smell to it. The taste is very bright, bitterly metallic, but a bit sweet and lambic too; it tastes a lot stronger that its 6.5%. There are quite coarse charcoal and hop notes on the swallow. As it warmed up, the smell of sap and green leaf got stronger and nicer. Should have taken it out of the fridge half an hour ago.

Smuttynose Robust Porter (NH): an opaque pitch dark brown ale with a healthy head and creamy, smoky wood aroma. Very coarse charcoal overwhelms the subtle sweetness in the first taste, and also dominates the swill; a bit of green hops and chocolate emerge in the swallow, but smoky bitterness predominates throughout, as you'd want from a porter, perhaps, but a bit monotonous nevertheless.

Wolaver's India Pale Ale (VT): this is an unfiltered ale, but the label kept fairly quiet about it, so I got a shook-up, cloudy, slightly yeasty glass of this light amber beer, very sparkly but overwhelmed by the bready bitterness of the yeast. It is a bit fruity, sweet, and wheaty, and would probably have been fine for someone who tolerated yeast better than I do, but I had to give up halfway down the glass and move onto the next. Sorry.

Foolproof Backyahd IPA (Pawtucket, RI) #LocAle: a very cloudy light amber ale; sparkly with no head at all, warmly fruity with a hint of berry, and lingering yeast. Subtly sweet and intensely hoppy in the first taste, more red fruit than citrus, pithy and sappy with a smoky honey swill and some chewy eucalyptus on the swallow. Very intense IPA by British beer standards, but very nice and quite satisfyingly complex, if not really a session ale in my book. (Sold in a can, which is apparently the trendy new thing for some US craft brewers.)

The "English Cellar", a food pub (sharing a kitchen and bar with the tapas place upstairs), which sports a few local and national beers among a very impressive list of imports. Sadly it was quite hard to find out about the beers from the wait staff, who were also not very knowledgeable about the food, but downstairs the list is above the bar, and the staff can talk about beers til their legs drop off.

Long Trail Ale (VT): this Irn Bru-colored orange/amber beer, with not much fuzz and a bland, metallic-cum-berry smell, had a sweet and tart first taste, a bit of vine fruit and was very tangy on the tongue, but was a bit of a nonentity when swallowing. Not a terrible beer, but too disappointing at the finish to be worth trying again.

Shed Mountain Ale (VT): a rich, medium brown ale that was sparkly but with a very thin creamy meniscus-like head, had pitch and apple in the aroma, a sweetly tangy first taste, and was sappy in the mouth but not very bitter. It's pleasant enough but not especially satisfying or memorable on the swallow.

Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye (CA) was very different to the first two: a bubbly, cloudy amber with lemon and zesty aroma, a sharp hoppy first taste with gentle tangerine or kumquat, lingering pithy pine sap and powdery fruit-candy, and finally a satisfying finish after a less-than-enthusiastic start to this pro beer. I liked it best of the three I tasted in the Cellar.

Red Fez (a small restaurant with interesting food, but terrible service, both quality and attitude were appalling; I almost walked out before we were even seated).

Foolproof Raincloud Porter (RI) #LocAle: a dark and syrupy, thick brown beer, slow pouring with no head; smells of smoky molasses, yeast & chocolate, with sweet tangy treacle and coffee on the first taste. Heavy carob and chicory in the mouth, with dark coffee and a bitter finish. Interesting, very nice, eye-opening and a great pleasure to experience, but a bit too intense to drink for an entire evening. Definitely try this, but prepare to be a bit overwhelmed by the dark, sweet stickiness.

Bottled, at home in NY:

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog (NH): a rich but not very dark ale, slightly sparkly, with a light, sweet malty head, chocolatey swill and a swallow that's more sweet than bitter. Not bad, but not quite as satisfying as a hoppier finish might have been.

At the Churchkey in DC, a beer pub with a massive range and a pretty good kitchen. It's a large, noisy venue though, even on the Monday night we were there, and not terribly physically comfortable. For a swift visit for three or four beers it was fine, but I don't think would become a local.

New Holland Mad Hatter (MI): very light, yellow amber with a big frothy head and delicious orange/mandarin aroma; very gentle soda-pop sweetness in the first taste, steadily building intensity further into the mouth, and ending with a nice citric bitterness and a cloying pithy aftertaste. Very nice, but feels stronger than a session ale. Probably my favorite of the evening.

Williams Brothers, Midnight Sun (from Scotland!): opaque, slightly reddish black ale with tan rim-hugging head, very slight burnt rubber smokiness, and sweet but almost watery first taste. A bit syrupy in the mouth, but still bland until the swallow which is sweeter and just slightly charcoal-bitter. All in all not much going on though.

Asheville Fire Escape (NC): pale amber ale with an odd smell of spinach or aloe vera, green pepper in the mouth and pretty wimpy hop in the swallow. Meh. (I only had 4oz of this; RV said that with a full pint the hops was more evident, but it still got a bit boring by the bottom of the glass.)

Maui, Lahaina Town Brown (HI): dark, reddish-brown, slightly cloudy, with a caramel/candyfloss aroma mixed with woodsmoke; watery with a bit of berry sweetness in the first taste, smokier and more bitter in the back on the mouth, but still pretty pathetic on the swallow. I do like that they don't serve the beers ice cold in this place, so you can taste their characteristics a bit, but that wasn't enough to make the Lahaina interesting. Three out of four beers I tasted were quite watery, which I'm going to be generous and not blame on the venue (but they're on a warning)...

In RJ Bentley's in College Park (a little sports pub just off the Baltimore Road; studenty, but tolerable if you sit outside and with a very nice burger menu):

New Belgium, Dig Pale Ale (CO): bright, orange-brown amber with creamy head and sweet, fruity aroma even when cold. Dusty citrus notes with both orange and green flavors, candy and bitterness blending nicely, before finishing with a nice pithy hoppiness, not really in-yer-face by American pale ale standard, but pleasant enough.

In the Saloon, U Street, DC, which is a wonderful little pub that specializes in Belgian beers but also has a lovely food menu, a friendly owner, and a fund-raising policy that has donated over $20,000 to building schools in the developing world. Apparently they're having zoning problems at the moment because it's a restaurant but they make too much money from their beers (which are not cheap, 'tis true). Do everyone a favor: go there and eat something!

Bells Porter (MI): dead black ale with creamy but short-lived head, slight smoky smell and sweet treacly first taste. Sparkly in the mouth with dark, almost stout-like bitterness and some lingering charcoal crunchiness, but fairly monotonous smoky bitter finish. Not bad, but not a classic porter.

Brasserie de Silly, Scotch Silly (Belgium): a dark amber/brown ale with a cheeky head, a drop of pith in the aroma, hitting the tip of your tongue hard with sickly-sweet, syrupy berry and red fruit, spreading around the mouth like a cassis liqueur, but not lingering much at all; nutty and almost black forest gateaux further in, going down deceptively smoothly, and fragrant woodsmoke like a greasy barbecue lingers in the swallow. This beer has lots of interesting notes, but is obviously a typical Belgian rather than having anything Scottish about it.

Affligem Blond (Belgium): an orange ale with a fruity smell and powdery froth, spicy on the mouth and with a hoppy swallow. A classic beer, nicely maintained, served chilled in a tulip glass, meant for sipping rather than enjoying, and on that front the Saloon on a balmy spring night is a perfect place to appreciate it, but I could never bring myself to drink this all night.

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