A Little Bit of Everything
Shane: I love New England IPAs. They're easily my favorite beer style right now. But as I looked back on my beer selection for our last few posts, I realized that I have been pretty IPA-heavy. That won’t do. There are too many great breweries in New England doing amazing things outside the IPA genre. It's true, I did bring Alter Ego and beer.I.am, both of which technically fall under the IPA umbrella, but both beers are so different and unique that I couldn’t resist bringing them with me. Also in this batch of beers is Bissell Brothers' 2016 release of Seed, a fruit beer made entirely with local ingredients, and a selection from Liars' Bench, one of my new favorite places in town. Finally, there’s Mayan Mayhem, a spicy sour that stands alone as maybe the most interesting beer I’ve ever had. I look forward to seeing what the others think!
York: Bissell and Tree House making another appearance each. I’m yet to be fully bought into the lore of these places based on what I’ve tried so far, so I can’t wait to have some of the big, highly touted brews from them. Don’t get me wrong, beers like Swish and JJJULIUSSS have really wowed me, but not nearly to the level Shane and Pete hype them. There's some clear excitement in Shane’s description of a few of the real local beers he was able to grab and I always like a good story. Of those, I’m very excited to be getting some more from Earth Eagle since they blew me away when we visited, but I must admit that I’m reaaaaal skeptical about the spicy sour profile.
Pete: Shane refused to tell me if he was stopping at Tree House before coming down to the beach. Lucky for him, he actually did. This was also a nice collection of new breweries that Shane discovered while up in New Hampshire as well as new beers from breweries we have already tried. I was excited to try a non IPA from Bissell as well as Julius’s evil twin Alter Ego. Actually, come to think of it, is Julius the good one? I feel like we all assume that Julius is the good brother, maybe it’s the evil one? Who knows? Tree House should get back to us on that.
Brewery Name: Blue Point Brewing Company
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: 161 River Ave, Patchogue, NY 11772
Facebook: Blue Point Brewery
We’ve spent months and months visiting, touring, and drinking at some of the finest breweries in our respective locations. We’ve seen a lot of different brewing setups. We’ve seen a lot of cool and interesting taprooms. We’ve eaten a lot of delicious food, and, most of all, we’ve sampled a lot of delicious beer.
But over the weekend, we were offered the chance to do something a little outside the ordinary: Blue Point Brewing Company reached out and asked us to join them in Maine for a beer and oyster tasting aboard a schooner in the Portland harbor. As the New England representative of our little corner of the beer review world (and, more importantly, a person not in the habit of turning down free beer and oysters), I was only too happy to oblige.
Accompanying me to the event was my long-suffering girlfriend Alex, despite the fact that her gluten intolerance prevented her from actually tasting any of the beer. God bless her for putting up with my craft beer obsession as much as she does—just two weeks ago I bailed on dinner plans in favor of an impromptu trip to Tree House and she barely batted an eye—because she would have every right to tell me to kick rocks. Thankfully, she is as good a sport as ever there was, and, even without the ability to sample the beer, a boat trip and oyster tasting is hard to turn down.
We embarked on the Frances Schooner, a beautiful little wooden ship that is a perfect replica of the pilot cutters commonly seen in that waters of New England during the 1800s. Aboard the craft were 10 or so representatives from Blue Point, including Russell Thorstenberg, one of Blue Point’s senior brewers, and 20 or so local attendees, most of whom were either writers for local publications or owners of popular beer hotspots.
Blue Point was joined aboard the schooner by a talented team of oyster shuckers. Off the side of the craft, on what I can only assume was one of the lifeboats (to any nautical-minded readers, this is your cue to roll your eyes), Blue Point had set up a bed of ice filled to the brim with oysters and beer. Coolers full of additional oysters were all around, making it pretty clear that there was no possible way we were going to run out of food. Other food options included what appeared to be a puff pastry pizza, which was absolutely outstanding.
Of course, that’s all so much burying the lede. Blue Point put together an outstanding menu for this event, but their beer was the reason we were there. Blue Point treated us to four different beer selections: their flagship Toasted Lager, a Mosaic-hopped session IPA, an oyster stout (naturally), and an experimental seaweed beer. Coolers piled high with Toasted Lager and Mosaic could be found all over the ship, and the Blue Point team periodically broke out one of the other beers and passed around samples. Since this is a beer review blog, let's dig a little deeper into these beers.
I'll say it again: having the opportunity to talk to one of Blue Point’s actual brewers while sampling these beers was great. Russell gave us a little bit of background on the tour itself, which covers a whole host of east coast cities from Portland, Maine, all the way down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with stops everywhere in between. Blue Point is sure to have at least one brewer at every event, and, according to Russell, which brewer goes to which event can get a little bit competitive.
"Everyone wants to go to places like Portland," he explained. "Since I have a little bit of seniority, this year I got to go."
Not every event on the Toasted Tour is as elaborate as Portland's beer and oyster tasting on the open water—more straightforward events, like tap takeovers, are often on the docket. Still, Blue Point is all about making sure everyone there has a good time, and there is no doubt in my mind that every event on the tour is well worth checking out if you ever have the chance.
After two hours of cruising around the Portland harbor, chatting with other local beer aficionados (including the owner of The Thirsty Pig, one of my personal favorite restaurants in Portland—and one with a tap list to die for) and gobbling up outstanding food and beer, we made our way back to the pier and said our farewells. Blue Point made sure to send us away with a nice little gift bag, which included a bottle of their New York Oyster Stout and, somewhat hilariously, an oyster shucking kit. I’m not really sure when I’ll need to personally shuck any oysters, but I’d be lying if I said the Blue Point monogrammed knife it included wasn’t pretty cool.
All-in-all, I was incredibly impressed with Blue Point. They aren’t a brewery that I was overly familiar with—outside of their famous Toasted Lager—and I came away eager to try more of their offerings. I was also thrilled with how laid back and easygoing their representatives were, and I enjoyed the chance to talk to Russell (a man of great height who, like me, was nearly decapitated by the schooner’s boom about a half dozen times) about favorite beers and beer styles. If I ever find myself on Long Island, I will definitely make it a point to check out their brewery—and so should you!
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Brewery Name: Hop Dogma Brewing Company
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: El Granada, California
Facebook: Hop Dogma
Background: A few months ago I tried the Fides in Fermento. It’s an imperial stout from Hop Dogma that I grabbed one day when I was looking for something dark. Good porters and stouts are few and far between in California, so this was truly taking a flyer. My goodness was I impressed. That beer was, hands down, the best dark beer I’ve had from the West Coast, and I went so far as to say it belongs in the same discussion as Mott the Lesser. I immediately went out to find more and got some to Shane and Pete so that we could all share in this brew (take a look at the full write up from all of us here). Driving back up the coast with a friend visiting from out of town, we hit that hour-away-from-San Francisco part of our trip where we wanted a place to chill out and wind down the day. Fortunately, Hop Dogma is at the middle of a lovely little coastal town just off the highway. It was a no-brainer stop, even knowing nothing about these guys other than the Fides experience I had.
Growlers: Yes! Growlers and bottles both available to walk away with. Awesome glassware too!
The Beers: Hop Dogma does all sorts of great work across multiple spectrums and styles. As you might guess by the name, a lot of their work is hop-centric, including their darker beers, which gives an awesomely unique West Coast flair to more traditional styles. I tried everything that their ample taproom had to offer, but here are a couple noteworthy favorites:
Vibe: Ever walk into a place and feel like you just belong? That is the best way to sum up the vibe of Hop Dogma. You can tell immediately that it is a neighborhood go-to in a place where people have the right kind of attitude. We were met with incredibly friendly staff and seemed to make great conversation with everyone who sat anywhere near us.
The venue is a large shore house on a small coastal side road, and the taproom sits on the first floor. Modest branding and a neat paint job help you notice the location, and inside it’s a really comfortable bar with an assortment of stools, high tops, and few standard restaurant tables. A small cooler with beers to go, a rack with shirts, and a small spot for live music performers rounds out the homey feel.
I honestly could not have designed a more perfect end of the day spot to grab a delicious brew if I tried. Everyone at Hop Dogma, staff and customers alike, seemed purely happy to be there and ready to enjoy the moment. Absolutely love the vibe this place gives off and will absolutely be making it a regular stopping point any time I’m up and down the coast.
Dogs: Yes! Dogs are welcome in the taproom.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$ - Priced very well for some of the high-quality brews. The pint prices are right about average for craft beer, and the growlers are normal-ish to a bit high. Tons of swag and bottles to go priced fairly as well.
Food: No food menu at Hop Dogma, but they had a few snacks available for purchase to keep ya going.
Final Thoughts: Absolutely on the top of my list of taprooms to visit in the greater SF area. Truly enjoyed the people, the beer, and the overall vibe of Hop Dogma. The clear local feel really enhances the experience and the beer would be worth high praise even without the wonderful venue.
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As Coast-to-Coast as it Gets
York: Every year, Pete, Shane, and I meet up in Ocean City, MD to catch up, drink beer, and put a nice cap on the summer. That means this set of beer is traveling from the sea cliffs of San Francisco, to the boardwalk in Maryland; the very epitome of coast to coast.
My last batch was riddled with IPAs of all styles. It was a lot of fun going through that batch with they guys and trying to really hone in on what it is that makes us each identify with particular IPA styles. For this batch, I went the complete opposite direction. Of course, coming from the Land of IPA's, I had to include one, but I chose a really interesting summer style IPA and then followed it up with a dark sour, a HUGE stout, and capped it all with an in your face Rye with tons of complex flavor notes.
Shane: Looks like York and I had a similar thought process going into this batch of beers: all over the map, and as creative as possible. I’m very excited to try these beers because, with the exception of Almanac, they are all entirely new breweries to me. York has hyped the Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch to an outrageous level, so I really can’t wait to get a taste of that one. He has also boasted that the Fides in Fermento belongs in the same conversation as Mott the Lesser--and to say that I am skeptical would be an extreme understatement. Still, if the quality of these beers is even HALF of what York promises, we are in for a HUGE treat.
Pete: I was completely focused on this Vanilla Cherry beer from Almanac. The rest of the stuff was all window dressing to that beer for me. I was pleasantly surprised by the stout the York brought as well as the collection of IPAs that he was able to bring. This became a very stylistically eclectic collection of beers that steered away from the traditional onslaught of IPAs that we have been doing.
York's Thoughts: This may be my new go-to summer brew this year. This beer is extremely fresh and crisp with huge fruity notes of citrus in the nose and a nice full palate of hops in the drink. It’s got a bit of an amber complexion and you can definitely tell that it’s a touch on the roasty malt side, but that certainly doesn’t interfere with the lightness this drinks with. I like this sort of beer extremely cold to really come through as crisp as possible. Great art and an incredible lineup of beers makes this brewer a no brainer to keep on reaching for. This is my first experience with Hop Valley and I can’t wait to get my hands on a few of their flagship IPAs.
Shane's Thoughts: I dig this beer. Big citrus flavor right from the get-go, but it also has the maltiness that I expect from more West Coast-style IPAs. It definitely boasts a pretty complex hop combination, and I wish I could put my finger on exactly what hops they used, because it’s a really refreshing combination. There is also a good amount of bitterness to this beer, although it comes through in a very “grapefruit rind” sort of way, which is entirely welcome. All in all I would say that this beer is a pretty nice blending of styles, with East Coast fruit-forwardness and West Coast maltiness and clarity. I would definitely love to try more from Hop Valley.
Pete's Thoughts: Sadly I do not want to jump to conclusions on this beer because I fear the hops have faded. When a beer fades, you get this sensation that it is very malty and you get more of the bittering hops so it gives you a flavor that I equate with iced tea. That was definitely present here as well as a faded nose. What I did detect was a nice bright citrusy juice base which I am sure is very lovely when fresh, I just don’t feel right giving this a full rating.
Shane: Beach beer for sure. 8/10
Pete: Has potential and would definitely seek this out again. 7/10
York: So perfect for a summer beer. Excellently balanced hops and malt. 8/10
York's Thoughts: Almanac just does not miss. Yet another brew style with their sour tint that has lots of components reminiscent of a red ale. It’s got that perfect level of pucker that the other Almanac’s we’ve reviewed have and comes with a present but not overbearing sweetness from the cherry and vanilla. I love cherry in beer and am thankful that I get a bit more cherry than I do vanilla here - it’s balanced extremely effectively to bring the flavors out very well without making you forget that it’s a beer after all. This one is high on my list and I know Pete is a fiend for all good vanilla brews so I’m looking forward to that assessment.
Shane's Thoughts: My relationship with sours has taken time to develop. I still remember the very first sour I ever had: we were sitting in Washington DC’s Smoke and Barrel (a beer and BBQ bar that DC residents should absolutely make it a priority to check out), and we decided to order every beer on the menu. What we didn’t count on was sour beers, which none of us were familiar with. When the final beer arrived, it took four of us working together to finish it. Our brains were just not prepared to comprehend what it was we were drinking. Well, I’m happy to say that those days are long gone, and (largely thanks to York’s concerted efforts) I am FULLY on board the sour train. When York first introduced us to Almanac’s Wakatu Sour a few months back, that really set the bar in my mind for how good sours could be. Well, this is better. There is an amazing amount of cherry pucker on the nose, and a huge blast of smooth, rich vanilla flavor at the end. Both of those elements are wildly successful, but I have to say that the most impressive aspect of the beer for me is the transition. I don’t know how Almanac managed to make the transition between sharp pucker and smooth vanilla seamless, but they did. Magic. This beer is magic.
Pete's Thoughts: I spotted this beer on Instagram going into barrels and IMMEDIATELY told York that he had to track this down. York is also 10000% correct that I am Team Vanilla all day as well as Team Cherry. If you have a beer with vanilla in it, I absolutely must try it. And most of the time the same thing goes for cherry. This has been a "thing" ever since the old staple beer bar the Brickskeller listed the Breckenridge Vanilla Porter on their menu. In classic fashion, they never actually HAD 60% of what was on that list, but that never stopped me from always asking for this beer every time I went into that bar. This beer is awesome. Cherry juice, really great vanilla presence. You almost get a floral sensation in your mouth from the vanilla. This is just loaded with fruit on top of a world-class sour base. Absolutely A+ beer. I need more of this in my life.
Shane: Unbelievable flavor combination that sets a new bar for sours. 10/10
Pete: If sour beer tried to make cherry vanilla ice cream. 10/10
York: Full credit all day. Aces on flavor--wish I could give extra for uniqueness too! 10/10
York's Thoughts: I’m going to go ahead and make a really bold comparison here (cue gasps from Shane and Pete). I think this beer deserves mention in the same conversation as Mott the Lesser. It’s not quite the same start to finish style, but shares a lot of similar notes. I describe this beer as a liquid macaroon that can be drank for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. It is INSANELY complex and well crafted on multiple levels. First, it comes in at a massive 10.4 ABV and drinks with just a touch of booziness. That booze is completely cut on the finish though and you’re left with no trace at all of that bite often associated with a brew like this. Also, and perhaps even more impressively, this is a bold, robust stout… that is aggressively hopped! I’ve never experienced a beer quite like this with such a combo of the dark, malty, rich flavor that also has a hop presence and an IBU that comes in significantly higher than I’d have ever guessed. Such flavor and complexity here, it’s a true treat to me.
Shane's Thoughts: Look--it’s not Mott the Lesser. And that’s not even a knock. Mott is just that far above any other stout I’ve ever had. But York is right: this is a beer that definitely deserves to be discussed with the upper echelon of stouts. Never in my life would I have guessed that this beer was clocking in at a hefty 10.4%, because it drinks shockingly smoothly and with a lightness that I wouldn’t have expected. It’s ridiculously smooth and rich, almost to the point that I would call this a dessert beer. There’s just the right amount of bready maltiness to this. So many high gravity stouts fall into the trap where they become cloyingly rich and sweet, almost like drinking melted fudge. Not so here. This is more like an ice cream sandwich. York calls it a "liquid macaroon" and I think I could get on board with that, too. Whatever you want to call it, however you want to describe it, this is an awesome beer.
Pete's Thoughts: I am not getting involved in any of the "what this beer is or isn’t." This is a really good rich imperial stout. Great night cap, it has some nice burnt sugar, nuttiness, and general chocolate roast. A lot of what we have gotten from York has been IPA-based, but this shows that you can still find a great, rich imperial stout on the west coast.
Shane: Fantastic stout that’s a lot stronger than it tastes. 9/10
Pete: Solid stout, would absolutely seek this out to age for the winter. 9/10
York: Elite dark beer. Bonuses for complexity and layered flavor. 10/10
York's Thoughts: This is the first beer I’ve included in our exchange that I didn’t vet before giving it to the guys. Marin makes tons of bottled beers so it’s a bit overwhelming to pick one. The 3 Flowers was a recommendation from one of the Marin brewers I ran into at a local beer bar and boy did it not disappoint. 3 Flowers has a big label on the side that says “LIVE ALE” as if it will jump out of the bottle. As one might expect, this led to a hazy, unfiltered body which as I’ve sufficiently complained about at this point, is not my style. This was quickly forgotten once I started drinking and got the waves of complexity it has to offer. The aggressive hopping works really well with the combination of rye elements they use. It all ties in really well and comes off as super fresh and crisp without sacrificing and of the bold flavors in the nose and drink.
Shane's Thoughts: Certainly an interesting beer. I don’t know that I’ve ever had anything described as a "live ale" before, and I'm still not 100% clear on what that means. I found this beer to strike a really nice balance between citrus and floral, with a little bit of toastiness on the back end that was very inviting. I also taste a little hint of honey in the body, and while I don’t usually love honey beers, I thought it worked well with the complex arrangement of flavors that Marin has created here. This beer was clearly brewed with a deft hand, and while it finishes a little drier than I usually prefer, I would definitely drink it again.
Pete's Thoughts: I cannot put my finger on what this beer is. The rye is spicy and there are some spicy resinous hops in this blend. Maybe I was expecting the Citra and Cascade to dominate this beer more than they did, or maybe this one feels faded. I am not sure. But this is decent if you are into a nice rich spicy bitter IPA with some solid citrus undertones.
Shane: Floral, citrus, and honey all wrapped up tight with a crisp, dry finish. 7/10
Pete: Still confused by this beer, but it is very well made. 6/10
York: Really enjoyed the fresh finish and complexity beginning to end. 8/10
Best of the Bunch
York: I never thought something could beat out an Almanac within one of my batches, but I’ve got to give this one to the Fides in Fermento. One of the top two or three dark beers I’ve ever enjoyed!
Shane: I definitely didn’t expect to be the one choosing a sour instead of York, but the Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch is astonishingly good.
Pete: Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch. Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch. Vanilla Cherry Dogpatch. That is all.
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(3 Flowers IPA photo credit: Chasing Kendall)
Brewery Name: Backshore Brewing Co.
Type of Brewery: Retail Brewery
Location: Ocean City, Maryland
Facebook: Backshore Brewing Company
Background: The three of us have been meeting in Ocean City for a week at the beach for years now. There’s always a lot of sand, stories, and of course, beer. Backshore has been a long time go-to for Shane and Pete, but this was my first experience. I certainly see why they’ve made it part of our tradition and made sure to stake a claim to doing the writeup!
For some bonus points, Backshore was one of very few places open during this year’s trip, being in was hurricane-ing quite emphatically outside. We turned the weather into a fun story and took advantage of an authentic beach experience with Backshore.
The Beers: As it normally goes whenever we are all at the same spot, we went ahead and just ordered everything Backshore had to offer. It included a MASSIVE range in spectrum of styles which fit us all in our own way. Here are the highlights:
Vibe: Backshore very successfully captures the "beach bar" vibe while being much more than just a frozen margarita bar. An old VW bus, tons of colorful art, driftwood style furniture, flights served on skateboards will make you 100% sure you’re at the beach. We went during a hurricane, but you’d never have known based on how great the folks at Backshore were...as long as you didn’t look outside of course.
They partner up with Hammerheads, a next door restaurant/bar which gives them a bit more space for seating inside in the event you can’t or don’t want to sit outdoors. They share the same sort of environment so there’s certainly nothing lost there. When the weather is nice, Backshore has plenty of outdoor high-top tables that are an ideal place to stop after a sun and sand filled day.
Pete: I just had to throw in my two cents here. This place is just awesome because of what it is: simple and unassuming. Our first visit to this place we asked the waitress what they have there. Beer, pizza, and moonshine cocktails. That’s it. There is always something endearing about a place that does what they want and doesn’t get caught up in what everyone else does. It’s this attitude that makes this place a must stop every time we are in Ocean City.
Shane: York kind of glossed over it, but I want to touch on my favorite part of Backshore (other than the beer itself): the skateboard flights. It is kitchy? Sure. Is is necessary? Sure isn't! But I love it. In years past, my favorite thing to do was grab a skateboard and sit outside in the sun. That wasn't really an option this year (and I'm pretty sure the hurricane would have blown the flight all the way to Burley Oak), but I think it's a cool little personal touch that Backshore throws on their presentation.
Dogs: I don't believe dogs would be allowed inside, nor would you want to bring them there. Outside, however, is boardwalk seating, which makes a great warm spot for your woofer.
Price ($ to $$$$$): $$$. Nothing is cheap at the beach, but these guys are definitely fair. The value is certainly there if you’re looking for something other than a typical cheap domestic for the beach
Food: To be totally honest, it’s slightly unclear if food is from Backshore or their partner, Hammerheads. Either way, it’s available in both spots: a full menu that spans from bar nosh to burgers and sandwiches. More or less anything you could conceivably be looking for after waddling off the sand.
Final Thoughts: Truly, this is a must do for any beer fans who spend the weekend in OC. The space is everything they want it to be, the beer is good with plenty to offer, and it’s one of the only worthwhile places I’ve come across on the boardwalk for alcohol that isn’t called an Orange Crush.
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