The West Coast: Land of IPAs
York: I've been referring to California and the rest of the coastal states as the Land of IPAs since I got here. Before moving to San Francisco, my primary go-to's for beer were mostly on the dark end of the spectrum. Since landing in the Land of IPAs, I have become completely obsessed with BIG hops and strong IPAs. A lot of these types of beers that I've shared with the guys so far have been the prototypical West Coast IPA with huge floral hops, a very light and clear color, and the crisp finish I love in any beer. While I think it’s pretty clear that this is the best style of IPA, Shane and Pete seem to opt for other styles instead, whether it be the hazy New England Style, or the darker hop brews with a bit of a toastier finish. I designed this set of beers to run the gamut of styles. Caldera Brewing from Oregon has their very own interpretation of IPA that they refer to as American instead of West Coast. They come a bit darker, but still pack a lot of hoppy freshness. The Boo Koo from Mother Earth and the Wolf Pup from Golden Road are both very hop forward but smooth as you go through the drink and finish, and the Booming Rollers offers the classic Citra hop and malt balancing act. The two beers from Local Brewing are personal favorites of mine and bring us back to the more typical West Coast IPA in all it’s high ABV, super hoppy, assertive goodness. For those not already having trouble deciding, I included a collaboration beer from Eagle Rock (CA) and Flagship Brewing (NY) that is possibly the best interpretation of an East-meets-West version of the IPA. Cheers to hops!
Pete: It is summer, I am in DC, it is perilously hot…so, York was good to get us all some nice refreshing IPAs. What I liked about this batch looking at it from afar was that it had a nice variety of IPAs. It wasn’t just West Coast IPAs or doubles or sessions, it was everything. And it is nice to have some crisp refreshing IPAs to drink in the summer, because for some reason I want that bitterness when it's really humid out. I also like how York is shaking up the breweries, but also providing a nice consistency with beers from Golden Road. We are getting a nice mix of new and unusual with some nice familiarity to fall back on.
Shane: I think this is the first group of beers we’ve reviewed that have shared a common theme, and I have to say I love the idea. So many different styles of IPA from up and down the West Coast--how could I not get excited? This batch contains a few breweries I’ve already come to appreciate (looking at you, Modern Times), as well as a few that I’m excited to try, like Local and Caldera. West Coast IPAs have been somewhat hit or miss for me, and I suspect that’s because I’ve become so accustomed to the New England style. With that in mind, looking at a huge spread like this has me pretty excited and ready to get a fresh new perspective!
Pete: I got really lucky getting all of these beers. The Savor beer is always hard to get even while attending the event, so being able to get enough to share is always special. Over the years, the beer has been a rollercoaster of odd to boring. One year it was a beer made with rose petals, one year it was an I-95 collaboration on an English Pale ale. I expect brewers to push for something new or over the top with this beer, because that’s what people expect when attending this event. Sparkling Pale ale with Saison yeast definitely is not boring. I also scored some Funky Buddha, which is always a treat. That was one of the first special breweries I got to visit, and it has stuck with me to this day because the beers are that good. This might not be one of their beers that everyone hears about (Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, No Crusts Peanut Butter Jelly Brown Ale), but it’s a solid beer that tastes as advertised. And obviously my bias for Aslin is well documented on this site. And our social media. And anyone else who will listen to me. So I am glad the guys will get a chance to try this stuff. Really excited to gauge the reaction.
York: Pumped to get some Aslin in this batch. Pete has given Aslin his rare full endorsement which has only ever delivered huge wins like Trillium and the Alchemist. He’s also got a knack for getting involved with neat events and cool venues for beer and the inclusion of a few Savor-specific brews in this batch are a lot to look forward too. I’ve become a huge fan of Deschutes and always enjoy a good collaboration story, so that one is particularly interesting to me. The reputation of Funky Buddha precedes itself, and is a brewery I haven’t had the opportunity to try yet. Blood orange always seems to be a fun component that I’ve liked a lot in some Flying Dog and Anderson Valley beers before. Really diverse lineup here, great to hit so many ends of the spectrum!
Shane: Whatever else may be here, this is the Aslin batch. Much as I did with Bissell Brothers and Tree House, Pete has hyped Aslin up to epic proportions. While the mid-Atlantic has a lot of quality beer, there aren’t many breweries that have hit that “must-have” craft brew sweet spot the way breweries in New England and California have. Aslin is clearly making a play to be the DMV equivalent of Russian River or Tree House, and I for one can’t wait to see how they fare. Pete has been singing Aslin’s praises for so long that I feel like I’ve been worked into a jealous frenzy just waiting to get my hands on it. Throw in a couple of Savor beers and this group features some serious quality.
Brewery Name: Ithaca Beer Company
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: Ithaca, NY
Facebook: Ithaca Beer
Background: With so many new players to the craft beer scene every year, it's easy to forget that some top notch craft breweries have been around and successful since before the fad. Ithaca Beer Co. has been pumping out solid Upstate New York craft beer since 1998 so when I had the opportunity, I had to stop into their new taproom and check them out!
Growlers: Yes, they sell and fill 64 ounce growlers.
The Beers: Ithaca is a sleepy town in upstate New York that is probably best known for Cornell University and being a free spirited area surrounded by gorgeous landscapes. The beer that Ithaca Beer Co. puts out does homage to the hippy feel with beers like Flower Power, Daydreamer, & Hopkist. They offer a HUGE range of brews spanning from Oak Aged Porters to Double IPAs to a big bold Brown Ale.
Their website offers really great notes on the beers, and even lists some ideas for food and cheese pairings. A few of their brews are available with decently broad distribution. Keep an eye out for Flower Power, Nut Brown, and Creeker, all of which I’m told can be found through other parts of the country. Here’s what I got to try at the brewery:
Unfortunately, I wasn’t there are the right time to try a few that really intrigued me like the Cayuga Cruiser (Berlinner Weisse) and the Daydreamer (Kolsch) with German sourced ingredients. They also reportedly do a pretty impressive pumpkin ale come fall season.
Vibe: As you might guess, Ithaca Beer Co. has a very chill vibe. The tasting room is big with lots of high tables and a smaller restaurant style seating area in the back. Outside is a massive seating area with picnic tables, lounge chairs, a lattice covered section to grab some shade, and a view out to the beautiful property they own.
I went at a fairly busy time and elected to drink most of my beers outside and away from the bar, but in every interaction I had with them, the staff was extremely nice and always looking to get beer in front of anyone with an empty glass. I stuck around for dinner as well since everything looked so good as it passed by and man was that a good move...
Food: YES! Some of the best I’ve had at a brewery in fact! The menu is large but not overwhelming and has an amazing mix of sharables and full plates. The pizza’s were a highlight as well as the charcuterie board that is designed to pair with their flights.
Personal food highlight was the charcuterie board pictured below that came with locally sourced bacon, sausage, veggies, apricots, mustard, bread and pate. All are as fresh as you could ever want and the components are designed to pair with their beer offerings. Our waitress even offered an ideal beer pairing with each of the dishes we ordered as well!
In case you aren’t convinced from just seeing the plates, they use local produce and fresh vegetables (some of which are grown right on premise I believe) in their dishes and you can really tell that everything is bright and fresh.
Dogs: As per norm, I didn’t see anything posted about dogs and imagine they are okay in the outdoor areas but not inside. I’d call ahead to double check on that though!
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$ - very affordable to do drinks and dinner during the week or post up and have a solid beer session on a good weekend day.
Final Thoughts: Ten out of ten! I’ve got nothing bad to say about this place and can’t even really think of anything that I’d do to enhance my experience. Great venue, awesome beer selection by going to the source, impressive food and staff that love beer! What more could you ask for!
Brewery Name: Elm City Brewing Company
Type of Brewery: Brewpub
Location: Colony Mill Marketplace, 222 West Street, Keene, NH
Facebook: Elm City Brewing Company, Restaurant & Brewery
Background: I grew up in Keene, NH, and Elm City Brewing Company has been a regional staple for my entire life. Even before I could drink, I would come here for the food. When I was in high school, they ran 35 cent wing specials once a week, and we used to come in and order 100 wings at a time. The fact that they put up with us doing that on a regular basis is really a testament to ECBC’s easygoing nature.
Growlers: Yes. You can get growler fills at the bar. You won’t find anything bottled, though.
The Beers: When I arrived, I found that Elm City Brewing had 10 of their own beers on tap. Since I had never tried any of them before, I naturally had to sample them all.
Session Ale: A little wheaty for my taste, but a solid bite of flavor here.
Peachy Keene: Named after is city of origin, this is a fruit bomb. It basically tastes like peach extract. I’m not sure how it rates as a beer, but it’s a delicious, delicious beverage.
Keene Kolsch: Kolsches have been growing on me lately, and this is no exception. It’s dry and flavorful, and really lives up to that German style. I enjoyed this quite a bit.
Raspberry Wheat: I’m not usually a huge fan of wheat beers, but when paired with fruit they can really be something special. This beer is delicious. It literally tastes like you’re drinking a raspberry cobbler. It’s too sweet to drink too many of, but it’s fantastic.
Kamikaze IPA: Made with all Japanese hops, and everything is big. Big head. Big hops. Big bitterness. The citrus rind on the back end really elevates this though. Very nice beer.
Blurred Lines: This Belgian IPA was probably my favorite beer I tasted. It has that new-wave New England haze and that well-rounded citrus flavor that I love.
Red IPA: It’s hard to say too much about this beer because the style is pretty hard to stand out in, but I’m a big red IPA fan and this beer was a solid representation of the style. Another one of my favorites.
Tilt Yer Kilt: This is a Scottish brown ale, and while I am a fan of ESBs this beer was a little thin for my taste. It tasted more or less like you’d expect: the scotch ale version of an english brown. Whether that works for you or not will probably come down to your general opinion of scotch ales.
Abbey Dubbel: This is a tough beer for me to judge, because I just don’t have a palate for dubbels. I’ll say this though: it’s very strong and very rich, which is what I want and expect from this style.
Baltic Porter: My favorite beer I ever had from Elm City Brewing was a porter, and I think generally this is a brewery that does that style right. It’s dark, rich, and a little smokey.
Vibe: Elm City Brewing is a fixture in Keene, woven into the fabric of the town. It is located inside the Colony Mill Marketplace, an old mill converted into a shopping center. Though some of the other businesses located in the building have met with mixed success, Elm City Brewing has been going strong for what feels like forever.
The beers are mostly classic styles done very, very well, and the more creative beers rarely miss. An IPA made entirely with Japanese hops isn’t something I expected to find in Keene, NH, but I’m very glad I did--it was well worth a try! The staff is very knowledgable and the regulars are friendly. You can easily sit at the bar and watch a few innings of the Red Sox game while sucking down a plate of wings and tasted upwards of a dozen beers.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the look and feel of the brewery, too. The all-brick Colony Mill Marketplace has a very old-world New England feel, and you really do feel like you’re in an old-timey beer hall the moment you set foot in the Elm City Brewery. The pillars, arches, and soaring ceilings lend an ambiance that you just don’t find in a lot of places. It’s a very, very cool setup.
Keene isn’t known as a beer destination, but neither is it far off the beaten path. Those heading up to Vermont for a weekend of beer tourism would serve themselves well to check out Elm City and see what they have to offer. Why not stop off for lunch and sample a few beers? Keene is a great town with more than a few beer lovers (shoutout to Brewtopia!), and this is a brewery that is well worth your time.
Dogs: No. Elm City Brewing Company is a full restaurant, so your dog will have to stay home. [UPDATE FROM THE BREWERY] While dogs are not welcome inside, Elm City informs us that they are more than welcome on the patio! If you bring your pup along, they will be greeted with a fresh bowl of water and a Greenie from Deb, the owner.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$ / $$$. Beer prices are reasonable, and the food isn’t overpriced, but it’s still a restaurant.
Food: Great food that goes above and beyond just normal bar fare. Whether you’re looking for sandwiches, burgers, sausages, or even a creative salad, Elm City Brewing has got you covered. The dining area is very nice.
Brewery Rating: 8/10. Elm City Brewing Company has a special place in my heart, so I fully admit that I may not be able to be fully objective here. But it’s a really great place to sit down and have a few beers while enjoying a food menu that puts most other breweries to shame. It’s a really fantastic brewpub with an amazing ambiance to go along with friendly staff and tasty beers. If you find yourself in Keene and you’re looking for a place to grab a quick pint, you should definitely make a point to check out this great venue.
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Brewery Name: Rapscallion Brewery
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery (though they also have a Brewpub in Acton, MA)
Location: 195 Arnold Road, Sturbridge, MA. Get off Interstate 84 and onto Route 20. Once you hit Arnold Road, head due north and don’t stop until you see the brewery (about a five minute drive).
Facebook: Rapscallion Brewery
Background: The Rapscallion story is fascinating, and I don’t think I can do it justice in a little blurb here. You should head over to their website and take a look at the About Us section. The brewery itself also features an interesting timeline that sums up the key parts of the story, which I thought was pretty cool. Take a look!
The Beers: I had two flights, because, hey, why not? Served in what seem to be little 4 oz honey or jam jars, the flights really captured the rustic feel of the brewery as a whole. The beer menu was pretty varied and seems to turn over fairly often (I was sad to see that I missed sampling their Gose by one day), so I had a lot to choose from.
Rye IPA: The first beer I tried, this was nice and crisp with a delicious, citrusy finish. It’s a little drier than I usually prefer, but I think that’s a symptom of the rye IPA style, so I can’t exactly complain.
Black IPA: There isn’t much to say about black IPAs. I’m a big fan of the style, but the good ones, for the most part, taste more or less the same. This was really well executed with a good amount of that bitterness you want.
Red: This beer had a really nice color, but it was a little too thin for me. Has almost a weiss or kolsch-like quality. The flavor is there, though--it’s rich and coppery, just what you want from a red. If it was a little stronger I think I would like it quite a bit.
Glacier: This is part of an ongoing series that Rapscallion produces. This time around, it was single-hopped with Glacier hops and has a really nice, understated flavor. Cool beer, and definitely one of my favorites here.
Session: Huge flavor for a session! I was expecting a watered-down version of the rye IPA, but instead I got an unexpected burst of floral awesomeness.
Coffee Stout: As long as you hit that nice, roasty flavor on the nose, a coffee stout should be tough to screw up. Rapscallion nails it. I put this up against Night Shift’s coffee stout, easy.
White: The sweet and bitter play really well together. Just an excelled wit.
Lager: Even though it’s probably their most celebrated beer, I saved this for last for a reason. Wow. The Rapscallion Lager is incredible. The brewery claims that this it is made from the oldest beer recipe in Massachusetts, dating back to 1898 at Harvard Brewing, and wow does it ever deliver. It’s light for a lager, and it’s crisp and refreshing. I’m not typically a lager guy, but I fell in love with this beer immediately. I get why people crave lagers now. I can’t praise it enough. I even took a crowler home with me.
Vibe: Really cool vibe. Honestly, I wish I had been there when it was a little busier, because I could easily see this place lighting up when it’s bustling. The guys tending bar were cool to talk to, and there were a few people hanging around who I can only assume are regulars, which is always good to see.
Of course, that’s all burying the lede, which is the fact that this brewery is located on a farm. And not just a farm, but a disc golf course as well. How cool is that? You can try a few beers, throw the frisbee around, have a few more beers, look out over the gorgeous little pond that sits right outside the front door, have a few more beers...you get the picture. It’s a really cool space in a really cool area.
You’ve got to go a few miles down winding back roads through what feels like a legit forest, only to have everything open up before your very eyes when arrive at the brewery. The inside is nice, with a rustic, old-world feel, and there’s even some outdoor seating if you feel like soaking up some sun. You can hear people playing on the disc golf course while you sit and drink, which gives it a pretty neat ambiance. Hearing a group of people erupt into cheers when one makes a particularly difficult shot should always bring a smile to your face.
And oh-by-the-way...Rapscallion has my single favorite item of brewery merchandise that I’ve gotten my hands on: crowler koozies! That’s right, it’s a beer koozie, but crowler-sized. So weird. So unnecessary. So PERFECT. I bought one immediately, and you should, too.
Dogs: I didn’t see any while I was there, but given that the brewery is located on a farm and they don’t serve food, I would guess that they don’t have a problem with dogs.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$. Pretty reasonable prices all around. You can even walk out with a crowler for less than $10, which is pretty awesome.
Food: Sort of. There are some very basic snack options like chips and pretzels, but they don’t have a kitchen in-house. The same cannot be said for Rapscallion’s other location, which is a full brewpub. If you’re looking for a meal while you drink, you may want to head up to Acton to check it out!
Final Thoughts: I wish I had been able to stay longer, but my time there was more than enough to see that Rapscallion is a clear winner. Great beer, friendly staff, and one of the coolest brewery locations I’ve ever visited. Next time I’m there, I fully intend to take advantage of the disc golf course and take a look around the property. I’m really impressed with the Rapscallion operation, and I really can’t wait to come back!
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