Shane: From Bissell Brothers in Maine to Treehouse in Massachusetts to Alchemist in Vermont, when you visit New England you’re never far from a brewery that has drawn national acclaim. From my vantage point in New Hampshire, I have access to some of the best, and I wanted to ensure that, for the first New England-based post, at least a couple of the major names were represented. I made a trip up to Portland, ME to visit the Bissell Brothers Brewery and grab a few beers. Bissell is a stone’s throw from at least three other breweries, including Foundation Brewing (some of whose offerings are also included in this post), Austin Street Brewery, and the more well-known Allagash. The area is basically a beer Mecca. I have to admit, my expectations were thrown out of whack during my first visit: with only The Substance and Lux on offer, it didn’t take long to get in and out. This created...well...let’s just say false expectations. When I returned a few weeks later for the Swish release, it drove home just how much of a big deal Bissell really is. So with that in mind, let’s dive in.
Pete: New England is my favorite location for beer right now. At first, I just loved Sam Adams and only wanted to drink their beer, then on a random Saturday Churchkey in Washington, DC managed to score a few cases of Heady Topper and that changed the game. The cloudy fruit-forward New England IPA was on my mind and I could not get enough. This beer list really excited me because clearly everyone in New England is producing these wonderful beers, and I had not tried most of these breweries before.
York: I haven’t had much from the New England area before this. I’ve always been sort of apathetic to most of Sam Adams’ beers and just hadn’t been exposed to much else. I am really interested in wrapping my head around the 'New England' IPA and where if falls in my preference spectrum, as well as getting to try all the different hop combos listed for these beers. Looking forward to the complex and drinkable combo Shane seems to endorse from the region.
Shane's Thoughts: Boy oh boy is this drinkable. The Substance is the perfect introduction to Bissell Brothers. It highlights what they do best: balance unique flavors and innovative hop blends. The Substance isn’t Bissell’s most popular beer (that honor belongs to Swish, which we’ll visit in the next New England post), but it’s still tough to get your hands on. Bissell distributes to a very limited number of stores, none of which are south of Wells, Maine, and none of which can be relied upon to have anything left an hour after delivery. To get my hands on The Substance and Lux, I went straight to the brewery. I had a relatively easy time getting in and out, which gave me a false sense of bravado, because when I returned on a Swish release day, I was a little bit shocked to find about 80 people in line ahead of me despite arriving close to an hour early. That’s the level of notoriety that Bissell Brothers Brewing has cultivated, and, after tasting The Substance, it isn’t hard to see why.
Pete's Thoughts: I have had this beer before and it just keeps getting better. You get a nice hint of peach and mango on the front end, mid palate you get notes of pineapple and it finishes with some nice reserved bitterness that keeps it from being overly sweet. I could drink this all day every day.
York's Thoughts: This tastes like a craft beer in the best sort of way. Flavor is great and drinks smooth. I think it would benefit from being a bit stronger to really pop with each sip, but overall is great. Perfect beer to start or end your night with.
Pete: I love this beer. It has that right balance of fruity and some nice bitterness on the back end. 8/10
York: Great representation of the region and top notch flavor/drinkability balance. 8/10
Shane: A great introduction to Bissell. Shows what they’re capable of in the best way. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: Lux doesn’t get the respect that many of Bissell’s other brews enjoy, but it’s worth going out of your way to drink for its novelty alone. Lux has the gravity of session beer and the taste of a good rye, though it’s a little hop-heavy for my taste. It also lacks some of the lightness that I usually expect from a good session beer. That said, heavy-handed hops aside, it has great fruit flavor that makes its presence felt without being overwhelming. I probably wouldn’t drink more than one or two of these at a time, but it’s something a little off the beaten path, and it’s very drinkable.
York's Thoughts: Drinks really heavy to me, almost like a witiber or something on that vein, but has the taste of a nice crisp, citrusy IPA. Great fruit forwardness, but I’d have to disagree with the brewery alluding that this is a summer beer. Just too heavy in my mind to keep pace with other citrus hopped entries as a summer drink. That said, taste is top notch, well done, Bissell.
Pete's Thoughts: The texture of the rye really ups the mouthfeel on this which I really like. The beer has a beautiful sunset orange color. I love the flavor of the rye with the intense hoppiness of this beer. Intense juicy peach and tangerine flavors, but it really is a unique flavor as well. It’s not quite like any hoppy beer I have tried before. There is also a lingering spiciness that I like.
York: Top ratings for taste, below average for body/drinkability to me. 7/10
Pete: Very strong peach and tangerine flavor, the rye really changes the flavor up. 8/10
Shane: A little over-hopped for my personal palate, but still on par with what I’ve come to expect from Bissell. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: Epiphany is my favorite beer of the bunch. It’s not perfect...but it’s damn close. When Foundation calls Epiphany a "Maine IPA," that isn’t just them trying to put a unique stamp on their personal beer. It really is something different. It has a beautiful aroma of citrus and pine, and an incredibly flavorful taste to match. If it weren’t for the fact that it clocks in at a hefty 8% alcohol, I could drink a dozen of these. My only complaint is that I wish it was a tiny bit less hoppy, because if it isn’t absolutely fresh it can be a little abrasive. But that is an extremely minor complaint against a beer that is one of my personal favorites. I feel spoiled, because while Foundation distributes almost nowhere, I've managed to find a regular hookup. That’s not really relevant. I just wanted to brag.
Pete's Thoughts: This was the first beer Shane gave me before we broke into our epic haul of Treehouse beers, so, my memory of this beer was very muted. It was my first New England style IPA besides Heady Topper. It really has a nice balance of different flavors. It feels sometimes like a mashup of New England and West Coast IPAs, but it also has some unique flavors that aren’t in either style normally. There is citrus, passion fruit, mango, pine, berry flavor that all transition nicely. The beer really changes as you drink it while not being astringent with the bitterness at the end.
York's Thoughts: I really like west coast IPAs, and have found some east coast ones I like as well. Foundation makes a point to have Epiphany be something different than those two styles and it certainly is. I like this beer, but I want some more flavor out of it. I get parts of that west coast big hop flavor, and it definitely follows the low-bitterness east coast style, but I feel like something got left out. The hops don’t seem to come through with nearly the complexity I’d expect out of that mix and while the beer drinks smooth, I don’t particularly care for the finish that sticks to your tongue. This was the last of the three Foundation beers I tried, and overall, they are doing great stuff. Looking forward to hopefully getting there some day.
Pete: Has a lot of the great New England IPA traits but manages to distinguish itself very well. 9/10.
York: Maybe the New England IPA just isn’t for me. I like it, but don’t get the impression the other guys are getting from it. 6/10
Shane: One of my favorite beers. Foundation’s best work. 9/10
Shane's Thoughts: It’s been a while since I had Afterglow, and the tangerine flavor really shines through a lot more than I remembered. That’s a good thing. Afterglow might not be a high-end IPA the way Epiphany is, but it exemplifies how good a regular American IPA can be. It has a little dankness to it that works very well with the citrus and berry flavors, and at 7% you might find yourself accidentally drinking way too many of these.
York's Thoughts: Awesome warm weather beer. Just hoppy enough and has a good amount of fruitiness behind it. A bit toward the chewy-wheaty end of the spectrum for me but the flavor is spot on. Definitely a beer you drink a lot faster than you realize.
Pete's Thoughts: I really enjoy this, it has that nice nexus of juicy citrus fruit, dank/earthy/piney, and some weird berry note after that. I am not sure how they are able to pull off this flavor. Its really nice, crushable, and has a great aroma. I love the color, that nice burnt orange opaque New England IPA is what I love.
York: Great taste, excellent balance, a bit wheaty for my liking. 8/10.
Pete: A really good balanced single IPA, great flavor and easy to drink without being too bitter. 7/10.
Shane: Extremely well balanced. Great flavors that really shine through. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: Forge is such a strange beer. It defies my expectations every step of the way. It’s an imperial stout...but it’s not particularly aromatic. It’s rich...but also has citrus on the back end. It’s heavy...but it has more IBUs than both Epiphany and Afterglow. I don’t know what to make of it, but I know I like it. It’s probably hoppier than any stout I’ve ever had, but thanks to the heaviness and depth of flavor that it carries, it doesn’t feel overhopped. It’s just a very interesting blend of styles, which is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Foundation. I may take their suggestion and try aging some next time.
York's Thoughts: So I had to re-check the can thinking I read it wrong the first time. It says imperial stout--but it doesn’t have the harsh components of that imperial profile at all. I say that in a positive way for this beer. The flavor is a great chocolate malt combo and I’d say that this beer is the absolute perfect weight. It's heavy on your tongue but drinks extremely smooth and light--so much so that this seems like a nitro brew even a few weeks after purchase.
Pete's Thoughts: This beer was confusing to me because I was not sure if it was going to be an inky engine oil roasty stout or a hoppy stout. This one was closer to the hoppy variety which isn’t my speed as much. It is a little thin, but has some nice roast and the hops create a subtle blueberry flavor with the malt. I would want some more sweetness in this one, but overall it is a solid beer.
York: Excellent beer. Definitely one I’d love to have around consistently. 8/10
Pete: Really good stout, just a little off for my taste. 7/10
Shane: Russian Imperials are some of my favorite beers. Forge does not disappoint. 7/10
Shanes Thoughts: At the moment, Lord Hobo makes three IPAs. Boom Sauce is a blend of all three, which actually works better than I would have expected. I get the feeling that Lord Hobo is pushing Boom Sauce to become their big ticket item, but it’s not quite there yet. Still, the brewery has only been in existence for a year or so, and they’re already making a splash. And frankly, the value of an imperial IPA of this caliber that is available year-round cannot be overstated.
Pete's Thoughts: This is actually a beer that has some politics behind it, so, I was excited to try it. The owner of Lord Hobo, a popular beer bar in the Boston area, decided to start a brewery. This is always a cause for concern because many bar owners have had the hubris to think because they know how to serve great beer, they know how to make it. Churchkey (in DC), for example, started a brewery and it has been going for a while but still makes some off beers that don’t impress. The stress got ratcheted up when the owner of Lord Hobo laid down the gauntlet to challenge the great New England style IPAs of Treehouse and Trillium. When you say you are going to make a beer that tastes like a carbonated juice blanket, you are stepping into highly scrutinized territory. People have shit on this beer because it is still a work in progress. Did the owner ask for it? Kinda. Should we burn him at the stake and badmouth his brand? I personally don’t think so, if you don’t like the beer, vote with your dollars and go somewhere else. I think this beer is a very nice IPA. It has great citrus notes, some passion fruit, little bitterness mid palate and some nice dank hoppiness at the end. I would absolutely get this beer again to see how they progress with perfecting it. Heady Topper wasn’t built in a day. Is the blending of IPAs a little strange? Maybe. But I respect innovation.
York's Thoughts: Easy there Pete. The beer is good. It didn’t live up to my expectations, but it is good. The Lord Hobo guys clearly know what they are doing. I had this one after the Steal this Can, and would rate this one a touch lower. Definitely has a great citrusy vibe going but is missing the body it needs. A bit more of a bite maybe, or a bit more body--can’t quite put my finger on it but there’s something missing that creates a gap between good and great.
Pete: A nice New England style IPA with some good bitterness at the end. 7/10
York: I dig it. Perhaps a bit spoiled by having LH’s other beer first. 6/10
Shane: A very balanced IPA with a kick. I like it, but it doesn’t really set itself apart. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: I actually think I like this one slightly better than Boom Sauce. It’s a little more coppery and it feels more intentional--they knew what they wanted this beer to be and they accomplished it. It still doesn’t really set itself apart for me, but the flavor is a little more rich than the Boom Sauce, and I like that.
Pete's Thoughts: This beer has a lot of the citrus tropical notes of the Boom Sauce with more of a mid bitterness and some nice dankness. This does not reach the peak that I get out of the Boom Sauce, but this is a single IPA and a very good one at that.
York's Thoughts: Looks like I’m the only one to try this before the Boom Sauce, and I have to say, if that one is as good or even better, we may need to change the rating scale. This beer is excellent. I’d call it 'earthy' but not really know how to describe it beyond that. The type of beer you have to taste to understand. That alone makes me like this and I think It’s a great multi session beer on top of that. Similar to "The Substance" from Bissell Brothers, this beer could benefit from being a tad stronger.
Pete: Very good just feels a little muted after having the big blended double using this beer. 6/10
York: Huge fan, the last point could be given if this came in closer to the 8%ers. 9/10
Shane: The best Lord Hobo brew I’ve had. I look forward to their continued growth. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: In another post, Anomalous might rise right to the top, but it isn’t my favorite beer for reasons that are decidedly not its fault--there are just other Garrison City beers that I personally like better. That said, it’s still excellent. The color is a little cloudy and the fruit flavor isn’t as seamlessly incorporated as you might like, but Anomalous highlights the citrusy, hoppy goodness that Garrison City has become known for in the area. And I’ll say this: what Pete says below is 100% right. Garrison City has spoiled me. I was almost afraid that I had talked Garrison City up so much that they couldn’t possibly live up to my praise, so I am thrilled that Anomalous has been such a hit. The fact is, I got nervous. I psyched myself out. I need to learn to trust my own palate, and I hope to write about some of my other favorite Garrison City offerings (like Proserpine) in the future. If Garrison City can keep coaxing flavors like this out of beers like Anomalous, I think in a few years’ time we might be talking about them alongside some of New England's other great small brewers.
Pete's Thoughts: To sum up what Shane has told me about this beer as concisely as I can: it is not their best beer, I am sorry this is going to not be a good example of their ability. Shane is a spoiled man. This beer is wonderful and he is able to say it is good not great. New England is insane right now. This beer has a nice amber hue and has a very very subtle amber malt backbone that gives the beer a nice body. The hops are really great, punch of passion fruit and rich orange juice. Slight bitter finish but overall a great beer.
York's Thoughts: Everything I want in a DIPA. Layers and layers of hops at the front and a great fruity nose to it. Drinks about as smooth as I’d expect at the ABV, and finishes nicely without sticking near as much as I thought it would based on the cloudiness. Much like the Substance and the Steal This Can, I think an IPA with this much going on would benefit from coming in a touch stronger, but regardless, this is definitely one of my favorite beers of the bunch. Really looking forward to trying some more from them, especially reading the other descriptions above.
Pete: Bad unless you like passionfruit citrus hop bombs. 8/10
York: Exactly what I was hoping for. Great DIPA with lots of layers. 9/10
Shane: It’s a very, very good beer, and highly representative of what Garrison City can do. 7/10
Best of the Bunch
York's Pick: Steal this Can and Anomalous both garnered my highest rating in this batch. I’d give a slight edge to Anomalous just because I think the finish on the Steal this Can takes a very small hit being at a lower ABV than I’d like for that beer.
Pete's Pick: Lux. That beer really surprised me because of what I was expecting based on the rye component. Also, it is not shocking that I enjoyed it because of the mosaic hops.
Shane's Pick: Epiphany. Foundation has struck gold with Epiphany as far as I am concerned. It’s hugely flavorful, eminently drinkable, and strikes just right balance of citrus and bitterness to speak directly to my personal palate.
Drink With Us
Three friends. Three corners of the country. One passion for beer.
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