Shane: It feels like some of my recent selections have been pretty Massachusetts-heavy, with Tree House in particular representing a disproportionate number of the beers that we’ve sampled. What can I say? I love Tree House. But this time, I figured the rest of New England should probably get their due. I’ve got offerings from just about every state here, including a local favorite from my hometown in New Hampshire, a pale ale from a brand new brewery up in Maine, a group of legends from rural Vermont, a popular IPA from Rhode Island, and even a special selection from just over the border in New York.
York: A huge part of the fun in exchanging beers to me is trying things from the next great brewery. We were early fans of breweries like Foam, Aslin, and Prison City, and I love seeing younger breweries like Great Rhythm and One Eye Open included in these batches. There’s something extra fun about identifying a great beer before it’s common knowledge. That said, I am nothing less than thrilled to have not one, not two, but three fresh beers from the powerhouse that is The Alchemist. Focal Banger was my first draft pick of all beer I tried in the last year, and I have no doubt that the other brews will be killer as well. Glad to see my original home state of New York making an appearance here too! Great mix of breweries and regions in this go around. Well crafted, Shane!
Pete: So this batch represents the state of beer in this world at the moment. Got hops? Yes we do. These are basically all hop bombs, and even the one stout in here has a hoppy complexion. Shane managed to grab a bunch of awesome beers that we have all been asking for. I am super excited to try Crusher, because Alchemist only recently started breaking it out again. The addition of a non-IPA from them is a bonus. I also plan on shower-beer-consuming the Focal Banger because, yes, it is one of the best IPAs out there. But is it the best shower beer? I also asked for Squeeze from Great Rhythm. Their beers just seem right up my alley and I have wanted to give them a shot for a while. I also finally get to try SingleCut, which is good news because I have a friend in Astoria who lives around the corner from them. If they live up to the hype, that might be the new go-to brewery when I visit NYC.
Shane's Thoughts: Great Rhythm has been a New Hampshire mainstay for a while now: their Resonation Pale Ale has been a refreshing and satisfying staple in many a cooler for years. But within the last year or so they opened a brand new brewery and taproom in Portsmouth, NH, and in doing so they took their beer game to the next level. Beers like Squeeze, Hi-Fi, Sticky, and others have taken the New Hampshire beer game by storm. I’ll admit--my personal favorite of the bunch is Hi-Fi, but Squeeze has really captivated the attention of beer lovers in the region. When Pete requested it, I couldn’t turn him down. Squeeze is a blast of tangerine and peach flavor that smacks you right in the mouth. It isn’t as hazy as the classic New England juice bombs like Julius, but I would call this Great Rhythm’s answer to Julius nonetheless. It’s tasty and refreshing, and while I think there are better Great Rhythm beers, that takes absolutely nothing away from Squeeze.
Pete's Thoughts: So, this was a request I made. This beer was on the internet and I saw it and said, “hey, it’s citrus, and Julius was pretty good, so this has to be good right?” Well, if you have followed us…that’s not always the case. But this lived up to what I wanted. It’s citrus, fruit, passionfruit, and some good dankness to round it out. This beer pours that right hazy dark orange that makes you think about hops. For a single IPA, this was perfect. Double IPAs sometimes walk that line of being too boozy, and that sometimes overtakes the subtle hop character. This beer shows what a good single IPA is: bright, hoppy, and to the point. You can have a couple and enjoy your evening.
York's Thoughts: Good god this is delicious. It’s citrusy but not fruity, dank but not sticky, full but not too hazy, it’s all around what I want in a beer. Would really love to know the hop profile here because it’s absolutely dynamite. I’d venture a pilsner malt base just because of how crisp it is but even that is a shot in the dark based on how smooth the transitions are. One of the best finishes I’ve had off an IPA from Shane to-date!
Pete: Really what I want in a single IPA, walking that line of being fruity and dank without being bitter. 8/10
York: No complaints, no changes, just more of this beer. 10/10
Shane: Delicious, refreshing, and juicy. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: Captain's Daughter is an interesting beer. It is very highly regarded in New England, but it has a more “west coast” style than most of the popular New England IPAs. It’s a little bit malty and a little bit dank, but it still maintains the hoppy, citrusy profile imbued by the Citra and Mosaic hops. I admit that I was surprised to read the two reactions below, because I fully expected this beer to be much more up York’s alley. It’s a high-ABV beer that lets you taste the booze, and the maltier, northwestern style of the beer seems ready-made for him. Much to my surprise, it was Pete who came away loving this beer, despite his usual predisposition toward New England-style IPAs. I will say this: the cans I shared had a little bit of age on them (maybe a month or so), and I actually found that the beer mellowed out in a very pleasant way. I’ve had this beer fresh and I’ve had it not-so-fresh, and I actually found that letting it sit for a bit allowed the tropical flavors to develop a little more roundness and balance. It’s hard to advocate aging IPAs, and I wouldn’t recommend letting it sit TOO long, but I think you might actually be pleasantly surprised at the results if you let this one hang around a little longer than usual.
Pete's Thoughts: I went into this beer not knowing if I was going to like it. Shane kinda previewed it for me and said it was more a Brian beer not my style. I saved it for the last of the batch because of it. YOU DON’T KNOW ME AT ALL. I LOVED this beer. It’s just straight hop goodness. First off, Mosaic and Citra, already in my wheelhouse. Pours a classic hazy yellow with a robust head. Citrus notes, dankness, fruit character. Just these two impressive hops being raw and in your face. All the great mosaic tropical notes, grapefruit peel and just smooth drinking. It sums up everything I like about New England beers. Big bold flavor, robust fruit character, and just hops on hops. More of this please.
York's Thoughts: As far as Shane’s prediction, I gotta go with Pete here. We’ll have to get a little more “why” out of him to see what it is that made him expect Pete to be lower and myself to be higher on this but it's a curious study nonetheless. I think this brew is fine. It’s plenty tasty and really unobjectionable but I can’t really find anything to praise more than that. The ABV is fairly high, but it also tastes like it’s fairly high. The hop profile is good but I’m not nearly as partial to Mosaic as the others so this comes across as very typical and a bit one-note for me. Overall, definitely a great drinking beer to have around but not one that I’m going to find myself craving.
Pete: In an upset, this ended up being my favorite from the batch. Cheers! 9/10
York: Good all-around beer but a bit forgettable. 6/10
Shane: Interestingly, I think I liked this beer even more than usual after letting it sit for a couple of weeks. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: Is this cheating? I know I’m supposed to stick to New England, but New York City...well, it’s right there. Before I dig into this beer, I want to first say that SingleCut doesn’t get NEARLY the respect it deserves. With heavy hitters like Other Half sucking up all the oxygen in the NYC beer room, SingleCut sometimes gets overlooked. And that, my friends, is bullshit. I’ve never had a SingleCut beer that I didn’t absolutely love. And this one is no exception. Tell Shaky and Boxcar Joe clocks in at a hefty, hefty 9.0% alcohol, but you’d never know it. The generous dry-hopping packs this beer full of aromatic, hoppy goodness. I get pineapple and orange here, with a malt backbone that stands up to the hops but doesn’t impose itself--an important characteristic for a malt-averse IPA lover such as myself. You definitely taste some alcohol, but I wouldn’t have pegged it anywhere near 9%. This isn’t my personal favorite SingleCut beer (that honor probably goes to Softly Spoken Magic Spells), but it’s a solid representation of what the brewery is capable of.
Pete's Thoughts: Eh, Boxcar Joe, pulled himself up from the boxcar did he? Or he still lives at the train yard. This can tastes awesome. It’s got a little age but you would not know. It’s still a hazy fruit bomb. You get a nice, numbing punch of citrusy grapefruit, pineapple, and fresh orange that finishes bright and hoppy with little to no bitterness. I love the haze and the pillowy mouthfeel on this beer. It’s everything I love in a great double dry-hopped IPA. I have a friend who lives up in Astoria and, after trying this, I guess we are going to have to drop by to check out this place.
York's Thoughts: I’m going to go ahead and call BS on the “no sign of 9%” here. Perhaps it's the super high IBU’s and west coast hop profile that's causing an associative misread but I’m actually surprised this is in the single digits. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good strong IIPA any day, but this actually reminds me a lot of that tough-to-pin-down flavor profile that I find (and don’t care for) in triple IPAs. Based on the description from SingleCut and Pete’s write up, I’m actually convinced at some level that this isn’t even the same beer. I’ve recently gotten to try a few other SingleCut brews and have been extremely high on all of them, but this one doesn’t make the first cut (ha) for me. Certainly won’t hold this against our priority of getting to and trying more SingleCut, but this falls far too outside my preferences.
Pete: Wow, this place goes on the must try in NYC list for breweries. 9/10
York: Most definitely not for me. Hard for me to really appreciate whether it's what SingleCut was going for, but my experience doesn't match their description nor my expectations. 5/10
Shane: Disappointed that York didn't like this one as much as me, but I think it's a solid representation of SingleCut. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: Focal Banger. The myth, the legend. Well, at least it was until recently--now you can walk right into The Alchemist’s new location and buy an entire case of it. And honestly, thank God for that. As much as I love to play "beer hipster" and hang my hat on acquiring rare beers, there’s something wonderful about being able to walk into a brewery and grab a case of one of the most delicious beers in the world. Last year, our Burlington Beercation took us on a mad dash around the city searching for a place serving Focal Banger--and we found it in the diviest of dive bars. It was an amazing quest and a fantastic journey, and one of our finest memories from the entire trip. But being able to buy as much of this delicious Citra/Mosaic hop bomb as I want is outstanding, too. Focal Banger is a triumph of subtlety, and it does a great job of letting the hops speak for themselves. While my personal preference still lies with the legendary Heady Topper, it’s a genuine 1A and 1B situation.
Pete's Thoughts: So as the resident beer science guy at TWD, I decided to try this beer in the shower to check if it is as wonderful in the shower. We all got to try this beer in our Burlington beercation but does it hold up in a different setting? I can say, unequivocally, with science, this is the best shower beer ever. Drinking from the can just makes it better for the shower because it guards against offending water getting into the beer. Now, science aside, this is a wonderful hop bomb. Bright citrus fruity notes, dankness, and bright hoppy goodness on the back end. Fresh, this is still one of my favorite IPAs that I have had. I could drink this all day. I am still bitter that York took this beer in our beer draft before I could.
York's Thoughts: Not much to be said here other than this is one of my top ranked beers of any style, region, varietal and any other subset you can come up with. I won’t lie, it was just a touch better during our beer-cation in Burlington, but this experience was still aces. The best way I can describe this is ironically clean. It’s got so much particulate from the infamous Alchemist yeast strain and heavy hopping that the brewers recommend (in writing on the can!) to drink it without pouring into a glass. That's normally enough of an indication to me that I won’t enjoy the beer much but Focal Banger is so crisp and so bright and so clean that there’s no sign of the chewiness I expected the first time I tried it. I maintain that this beer is even more enjoyable than Heady and after a second go, I’m happy to say it's on the list of my top few beers ever tried.
Pete: Oh yeah, this is as good as I remember and is the perfect shower beer. 10/10
York: If Shane was ever going to include a beer I’d already tried, this would be the pick. 10/10
Shane: I like Heady Topper better, but like I said...it’s 1A and 1B. 10/10
Shane's Thoughts: When The Alchemist opened their new taproom, one of the first beers they brought back was Crusher, an old favorite from their restaurant days. It’s not hard to see why they pushed this beer to the front of the line. It has an amazing, citrusy aroma that smacks you in the face from the moment you crack the can, and with your very first sip you can see that the beer has a strong enough malt backbone to stand up to its hop content. I love Heady Topper. I love Focal Banger. But Crusher might be the most balanced IPA/DIPA that The Alchemist makes--and, depending on your personal preference, that might just make it best of all. For me, while I appreciate a well-balanced beer, my preference lies with the brewery’s juicier varietals. But that takes nothing away from Crusher, which is an absolutely delicious double IPA clocking in at a monstrous 9.0% alcohol. Despite the name, I definitely don’t recommend crushing these.
Pete's Thoughts: Wow. I need to think about this. This beer needs a step back. So, I have a friend who has told me the story of the Alchemist--the small brew pub that grew up to brew the best beer in the world. A hurricane destroyed the brewery but they kept a cannery to produce the iconic Heady Topper. So the history aside, you have to understand that the Alchemist knew they had a really popular product and only one way to produce it, so they could not produce anything else. They deviated from this on very rare occasions, and this beer was one of them. Crusher was a double IPA released sporadically, but only to ravenous beer fans willing to travel for it. Well, now there is an open brewery for the Alchemist willing to produce more beers for the portfolio so the first reaction is to ask...was this beer a product of exclusivity or is it that good?
Well, Shane was nice enough to share, and let me tell you: it is that good. A perfect IPA beer. I think that we have worked to try to expect specific flavors from our beers. We want citrus mango pineapple passion fruit, but sometimes we just want a great beer that makes you think. This beer doesn’t try to show you a flavor, it invites you to try them all. It has a bright citrusy nose that leads into a fruity hop salad palate. Its got dank flavors, citrus, stone fruit, and tropical fruit. Nothing overwhelms but everything works together. You want to just keep sipping this wonderful beer and it keeps you guessing up to the end. A real treat and something that everyone should try.
York's Thoughts: Would it be too blasphemous to say that I think Heady is actually the third best beer coming out of The Alchemist? I’ve already gone on record saying that Focal Banger is more enjoyable than Heady and I’m going to go ahead and say the same thing about Crusher. I’d say this is just about everything I could ask for in a IIPA. It’s amazing how smooth this is at 9% and I’d have pinned it at least 2 percent lower. That allows them to punch in flavor at every level and establish a really well rounded brew. That roundness starts with a shot to the face of dank (I know they keep it secret but I get Simcoe all day here), resinous hops and bridges perfectly into whatever varietal they’re using to impart the fruity brightness with just a hint of spice into the body (since I’m already playing the guessing game, I’ll go with Amarillo and/or Columbus). That stays with you right til the bitter end (yay puns!). Finish is lasting but not overwhelming, which, at this ABV and bitterness, is quite a feat.
Pete: Wowww this is so on point, I can’t say anything else. 9/10
York: Getting to compare multiple tens from a single brewery is a lovely problem to have. 10/10
Shane: I prefer Alchemist's juicier beers, but this is remarkably well-balanced. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: Hopped stouts can be tricky. Some people don’t particularly like them because the bitter buzz of the hops takes away from the rich, chocolatey goodness that they expect from a stout. Personally, I’m a fan. I think a big part of the reason for that is the fact that I’ve always been a fan of black IPAs, red ales, and other styles that mix a healthy dose of hops in with a richer, maltier backbone (which is surprising, because I don’t tend to like standard IPAs that feature too much malt). Beelzebub does an amazing job of straddling that line between richness and hoppiness, building a chocolatey foundation with a slightly lighter mouthfeel than a standard imperial stout and building a flavorful castle of hoppy goodness on top. I honestly wouldn’t have guessed that a Citra dry-hop would work with a stout, but the flavors actually meld really nicely here.
Pete's Thoughts: I had a lot of high hopes for this beer, but it didn’t really hit the mark for me. I usually like my imperial stouts to be on the chocolatey, roasty side. I also like Russian stouts because they have this bitter back end that really hits the spot for me. This is a little too bitter for me on the hop end, which isn’t really what I like. I can see why this beer is popular, but it’s more bitter than I expected. Hoppiness in stouts doesn’t do it for me.
York's Thoughts: Before I was the hop fiend that I am today, my wheelhouse consisted of dark beers and the red part of the beer spectrum. I’ve always had a soft spot for a really rich stout that doesn’t come with booziness or coffee but still packs a decent ABV and tons of that sweet, roasty, stouty goodness. Beelzebub hits every single one of those notes AND has the added element of dry hopping WHICH turns out to be something I am absolutely in love with. I’m typically less interested in classifying styles than Shane and Pete, but calling this an American Imperial Stout sums it up perfectly. Incredibly rich without tasting burnt, and big ‘n mean without being boozy. Hopping this gives it a unique but not weird quality that makes it that much more memorable.
Pete: Well made just not for me. 7/10
York: Exceeded already high expectations. 9/10
Shane: The Alchemist isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of a style I already like a lot. 9/10
Shane's Thoughts: One Eye Open is a relatively new brewery located up in Portland, ME. Portland is home to some of New England’s heaviest beer hitters, and every new brewery that opens its doors does so knowing it has a lot to live up to. I am thrilled to say that One Eye Open’s inaugural efforts have proven them to be an excellent addition to the Portland beer scene. Friday Night Pints is the third beer from One Eye Open that I have had, and it is definitely my favorite so far. I’ve always found Amarillo hops to be a nice complement to Citra and Mosaic, adding a little bit of orange and tangerine flavor that goes well with the sometimes one-note citrus elements of the other two. I’m thrilled that this beer will be the first in an ongoing series, and, even more than that, I’m just generally thrilled to see where this young brewery goes next. York correctly points out below that this beer drinks a bit heavy for 5.5% ABV, but when that’s my only complaint, you’re doing something very right.
York's Thoughts: All oranges out of this one for me. Hazy is an understatement, as this pours with an ability-to-block-sunlight hue, and it’s definitely got some heft to the drink. To be honest, I’m really torn on how this rates with me. I really enjoy the flavor on each level. It smells like sexy hops, tastes like citrusy hops, and finishes really clean--likely that pilsner malt bill. That said, I would never consider this either light or crushable. Really enjoyed the one pint worth I had, and can definitely see myself getting the exact same one in the future, but it’s really unlikely I’d enjoy a second one nearly as much as the first if I drank it right away. I’d love to see a 5.5% pale ale be a bit easier to drink, but, nonetheless, the flavor and smoothness are both top notch.
Pete's Thoughts: Really chunky mouthfeel for a pale ale. In a good way. This beer has so much bright, hoppy, fruit flavor for a pale ale. Really great orange-Mosaic funk going on, and all in a pale ale. This is the vision of beer that I want. A nice, hoppy pale ale that pours like a normal New England IPA. There is some nice candied orange peel on the back end, and you get a little hint of passionfruit and some oats. Really solid pale ale walking the line as an IPA.
York: Reminds me a lot of the Vengeful Barbarian in my batch, just a bit clunkier. Flavor is right in my wheelhouse and loooove the finish. 8/10
Pete: Blind, I would not have been able to tell you this was a pale ale. Great beer. 8/10
Shane: Fresh, juicy, and indicative of more great beer to come. This is a solid 8/10
Best of the Bunch
Shane: I'll take the low-hanging fruit and say Focal Banger. I have a feeling I know what the other two will choose, and I don’t want to let Focal go unappreciated here.
Pete: I am going to say Captain’s Daughter, it really hit the spot for me.
York: I assumed Focal Banger was going to be a layup here, but I really enjoyed Squeeze that much. Plus, its not pushy about what vessel I drink it from. Well done Great Rhythm, can't wait to get my hands on some more.
Drink With Us
Three friends. Three corners of the country. One passion for beer.
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