Shane: There are nine beers in this post, but there's no debating that Swish is the center of attention. Bissell Brothers' most beloved creation, Swish is a beer that people line up for hours just to taste. Which is exactly what I did. I'll talk more about it later on, but suffice it to say that Swish is one of my all-time favorite beers, so I'm curious what you guys will have to say about it. Other highlights from this group are the well-respected Calcutta Cutter (which sits at 92% on BeerAdvocate and 98% on RateBeer), the Lil' Heaven session IPA from Two Roads, and G-String from upstart Maine brewery Funky Bow. I also included two more Garrison City beers (although my personal favorite, Khaos, continues to elude me), as well as some goodies from Foundation Brewing's first ever canning run of Blaze. I tried to vary the selection a little more than last time, but in New England the IPA is still king.
York: So Shane's first set of beers had the most highly rated beers in it, and he has promised an even better collection this time. It seems that my excitement about the Almanac beer I included is matched or even outdone by Shane's enthusiasm for the Swish from Bissell Brothers. There are a whole bunch that I am really looking forward to here, and think this a perfect spectrum to have samples of back-to-back. Good variation across the light end of the beer spectrum and a ton of variety in the hop combos and ABVs. The Calcutta Cutter is probably the most exciting to me outside of Swish and its hype, and I'm really pumped about how many of these are dry-hopped too! The Hop Swap is an intriguing beer--keeping the backbone of the recipe the same each year but switching the hop type(s). I'd love to be able to try more than one year of this in the same tasting to see how much is controlled by the hops vs the rest of the beer. That’s a really cool concept to me. Maybe a visit to Sebago will provide something on that vein one day.
Pete: Shane set the bar very high for the first post. Realistically, I wasn't sure if he could top himself because he said he wanted to mix in fewer IPAs. Thankfully he did not do that, and instead stuck to the beer style that has New England as the top IPA destination in the United States (and also the world). Bissell has been dialed in with everything we have tried, so Swish has the highest of expectations. I like that there are a few Garrison City beers too, because they really exceeded my expectations last time. This is just a cornucopia of hop goodness and I expect everything to be top notch. Not sure how Shane tops himself after this. P.S. the Amber Apparition has one of the creepiest can designs that I have ever seen. Looking forward to digging into all of these. Cheers!
Shane's Thoughts: I've heard a lot about Two Roads. People seem to like their beer quite a bit, and Lawson's Finest Liquids (makers of the famous Sip of Sunshine IPA) is even brewing out of Two Roads' Connecticut location. But to be honest, I hadn’t had any of their beers completely blow me away. Until Lil' Heaven, that is. Lil' Heaven is everything I look for in a session beer--it's crisp, it's light, it's flavorful, and it's just plain drinkable. I could easily see myself crushing a dozen of these on the beach. The grapefruit and apricot flavors come through really well, with the apricot offering a slightly different take on the orange/tangerine notes that you usually find in this type of beer. To me, the one knock against Lil' Heaven is that I found it significantly better on tap. I'm not sure I could tell you what the difference is. But while the canned version of the beer is still very, very good, if I could recapture the experience of tasting it on tap for the first time this beer could easily be a 9.
Pete’s Thoughts: Whoa, this has some aroma for a session ale. The aroma fills the nostrils after cracking the can which usually something reserved for stronger IPAs. Great hazy session ale with an inviting aroma of stone fruit and citrus. The flavor really matches the aroma. It is citrusy with a little peach in there, but the major plus is the mouthfeel. Most session ales are a little watery because they cannot use enough malt for body without going over the sub-5% alcohol level that most people expect from a session IPA. This can also has some age on it which had me a little worried, but you really can't tell. This beer is bright and full of flavor. I personally reject the label of session ales (they are pale ales used for marketing) but I will happily drink this.
York’s Thoughts: Crushable really is the best word I can come up with to describe my impression of this beer. I've got to say, probably the most impressive hop flavor I've ever had in something labeled as a session IPA. This beer is much closer to a West Coast style IPA than most of what Shane has selected so far, which is totally fine in my book. I'll admit that I don't really understand the session IPA genre, though this one disguises itself well. I get all the hops and crispness that I’m looking for and it isn't a noticeable difference in taste despite the low ABV. It's an ideal brew to bring a six-pack of to the beach or barbecue, and I'd love to have access to it to make it a staple fridge beer. I was looking for something to pick on this beer for, but the only thing I'm not crazy about is the ABV, which I totally understand is actually a good thing when viewed through the session IPA lens.
Pete: Really impressed with the punch of flavor in such a small beer. 8/10
York: I dig it. I don't understand why the low ABV is attractive on a beer that tastes like a true form IPA, but it's not nearly enough to dock it points for. 8/10
Shane: One of the better session beers I've had. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: Sebago is one of my favorite New England breweries. They aren't a boutique brewery like Bissell or Foundation, but they consistently churn out good, creative beers that I like to drink. When I tried the 2015 edition of Hop Swap, I admit that I was a little disappointed. It was too harsh and bitter for my palate, and I didn’t feel like it was up to Sebago's usual quality. This year’s version, however...wow. I like it a lot. The aroma coming off this beer is fantastic, and it feels almost tropical. The bitterness of the hops is still slightly harsher that I would like, but overall I have few complaints about this beer.
Pete’s Thoughts: Amazing nose on this beer. Juice fruit gum, citrus, papaya, ginger, and a bunch of complex aromas that really make the beer very inviting. The flavor starts with some nice citrus and does not have much lingering bitterness. It reminds me a little of iced tea on the end. It's smooth, and has some peach notes, too. A lot of stuff going on, but nothing really overwhelms. The look on the beer is good and I could see sessioning a bunch of these.
York’s Thoughts: Wow does this have a great nose! Perfect hop combo and amazing fruit/hop smell. It drinks very differently than it smells--very good, but different. The taste is a little more on the pine side of the spectrum to me than fruit, but good hops throughout. Tons and tons of props to Sebago for the complexity of this beer, couldn’t ask for a more interesting drink. The finish is a little boring compared to the nose and the drink, but still a really neat beer.
Pete: This has some characters of a great New England style IPA but doesn’t have the finish I wanted. 6/10
York: Really interesting brew. Would love to try a couple years’ versions at a time. 8/10
Shane: Fruity and tropical, a huge improvement over last year's version. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: Is it just "Cutter" now? These cans used to say "Calcutta Cutter" on the side, but now they just say "Cutter." I don’t know. But what I do know is that this is a very well respected imperial IPA out of Portland, Maine, where there is no shortage of competition in that category. I like Rising Tide. They've never let me down. But they also haven’t really wowed me. Calcutta Cutter is a bit of a mystery to me. It has an incredibly full body, so much so that it feels much heavier than it actually is. I have a hard time deciding if this is a plus or a minus for me, but it’s definitely something different from the juice bomb IPAs that most of New England is generating. There's definitely something to be said for that, and I think this beer accomplishes exactly what they set out to accomplish. It's not my personal favorite, but hey, not every beer can be. I wish I had some fresher cans for you guys to taste, but even though these were a little older than I'd have liked, the flavor still shines.
Pete's Thoughts: So this is a lot more malt forward than I expect from a New England IPA. Almost reminds me more of an English IPA. Very earthy and piney and the malt body reminds me more of an amber ale than the lighter style IPAs that I have come to expect.
York's Thoughts: A bit of a departure from expectations. As a relatively new convert to the world of double/imperial IPAs, I always go in expecting to get smacked with hops and end very crisply. This beer does neither of those things, but it doesn’t make it a bad beer by any means. It pours less hazy (especially for an unfiltered New England IPA) than most of the IPAs that Shane has chosen thus far, but somehow it still drinks just as round. It has a tough-to-describe sweet maltiness to it that reminds me of the beers I have trouble pinning down like "Strong Ales" or "English Bitter Ales." This was one of the most intriguing beers to me when I checked out Shane's list, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn’t just a little bit let down by it. Definitely not what I’m looking for in a DIPA, and it's a bit outside my preference spectrum, but it's a very good drink that I could certainly see myself drinking a few pints of at a go-to bar anytime.
Shane: A full, flavorful body. A nice departure from the current New England trend. 7/10
Pete: Very different but interesting to see what other people are producing in the region. 6/10
York: Not what I was expecting and a bit outside my preferences but still very cool. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: Swish. It’s the sound a basketball makes when it sails through the hoop hitting nothing but net, which is an accurate metaphor for just how completely Bissell Brothers nailed this beer. It has a beautiful hazy-orange color, and a fresh, citrusy aroma. The flavor is fantastic. Rich, deep, and complex. Grapefruit is the easiest flavor to pick out, but there are definite notes of pineapple and maybe even tangerine or mango (I’m not going to sit her and pretend my palate is that finely-tuned--the point is, there’s a lot going on here). I’ve even heard others describe the flavor as having a sort of vidalia onion element to it, and for some reason that resonates with me. Bissell uses a surprisingly deft hand with their hops, too: the bitter bite is there, but it’s very much on the back of the tongue. It’s just enough to add the slightest bit of pine to the flavor, giving Swish the sort of balance that you crave in a double IPA. There's a reason people wait in line for hours to get their hands on this beer. In order to get my hands on a few four-packs, I got to the brewery and hour early and was greeted by this line:
I can't say enough good things about Swish. Bissell Brothers will soon be expanding their operation to a substantially larger base of operations. To say I'm excited would be a drastic understatement.
Pete's Thoughts: Shane has hounded me to try this beer for so long, I was worried he would oversell it. I was wrong. This is that fix that I want and need so badly from a New England IPA. Pours like orange juice. That bright hazy orange that, once you have had one New England IPA, you start to look for and see as a mark of good things to come. Aroma is just Bam! fruit on the nose. Juicy fruit gum, pineapple, tang-type acidic orange, almost a fresca like grapefruit soda character. Sour, sweet, juicy and delicate. The flavor is a beautiful balance of peach, passion fruit, juicy pineapple, orange, and no bitterness to speak of. Gets your mouth watering and you cannot sense a hint of alcohol, which makes this a dangerous 8% beer. Fruit juice beer, perfect example.
York’s Thoughts: I dig it. Shane made a point to pump this up and even went as far as to suggest when we should try this in relation to the other beers he chose. Bissell Brothers gave us several good brews in the first batch, and this is even better than both of those. When we had The Substance, I said that a bit more ABV would benefit it--Swish does that. When I had the Lux, though, I commented that it was a bit heavy, and this one suffers slightly from that as well. I see from the other guys that they are not only okay with the heavy, hazy feel, but actually seek it out. That isn’t quite where my preferences lie, so this one drinks just a little bit sticky to me. It stays on the tongue for a long time and I think that that takes away from the crisp hop bite I want at the end just a touch. I'm really splitting hairs on this one, only because it's such a high rated beer for me. Perhaps tastes will change for my analysis over time and the haze will be more of a plus than it is now. Well done again, Bissell Brothers, well done.
Pete: I can't even pretend to hate on this, it’s just that good. 10/10
York: Excellent beer. Still finding my palate for the haze of the New England beers, but damn good. 9/10
Shane: Oh boy. Oh, boy. I don’t have much to say. 10/10
Shane's Thoughts: I've hyped Garrison City before, and I am again a little disappointed that I haven’t been able to get my hands on any cans of Khaos recently. That said, Citra is a delicious beer, and probably the best representative of their single-hop beers. It has a great, citrusy aroma, and the power of those citra hops really shines through. The flavor of the beer is nice and refreshing, although it isn’t particularly complex--but I'm not looking for complexity here. The result is successful beer with a nice sweetness to it that I would be happy to pluck off the shelf on a regular basis.
Pete's Thoughts: Yup, that's the stuff. Really dank citrus aroma that has robust sweetness that reminds me of cotton candy. I love how pungent and aromatic the dry hopping makes this. The flavor is nice tangerine, pineapple, and citrus fruit, with no detectable bitterness. It's not overly sweet, and it has a nice mouth-watering element when you sip it. There is also a nice peach aftertaste, with dry pineapple notes too. Really great flavorful pale ale for the weight of the beer. I could drink this all day.
York's Thoughts: Three for three on the Garrison brews! This is another great, crisp, flavorful beer with excellent bookends. It starts with a very hoppy nose and finishes especially crisp (likely due to that lovely dry hopping I tend to love). I drank the Illusion first (see below), and this one is noticeably less layered, but it seems that that was the intent with the single-hop style. I think this one stacks nicely with the Illusion and offers the same light-despite-the-haze drinking experience. I tend to not get as enthusiastic about the hazy New England-style brews, but Garrison City seems to have it figured out. As usual with the New England pale ales, I'd love the body of this beer to pop a little more with a higher ABV, but I don't have it in me to dock any points for that this time around.
Pete: This is a flavor-packed, dry-hopped pale ale that drinks really easily. 7/10
York: Another wonderful brew from these guys. Simple in the best sort of way. 7/10
Shane: It’s a simple, straightforward beer that successfully captures the essence of citra hops. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: Illusion is a nice IPA that's a little different from most of Garrison City's offerings. Garrison City is known for its double IPAs (like Khaos and Anomalous) and its single-hopped beers (like Citra--see above--and Mosaic), so Illusion is one of their few standard hop blend IPAs. It's very light and very drinkable, and, although it has a little more sweetness to it than I usually prefer, that has become a Garrison City trademark and I find that I don't mind it here. Illusion naturally has a little more complexity to it than the brewery's single-hopped offerings, and I regularly find myself coming back for more.
Pete's Thoughts: Very good dark burnt orange color. The aroma is very citrusy with some slight malty character. The beer is a very good blend of citrus fruit: tangerine, orange, and grapefruit, with some pineapple mixed in there. The beer is very light and refreshing on the palate. This brewery has really impressed me with their IPAs, and I am interested to keep trying their specialty IPAs as well as some of their dark beers.
York's Thoughts: I like this beer a lot! Definitely a bit different than the other Garrison City brews Shane has included so far, but great in its own right. Anomalous was one of my favorite beers that we’ve rated to date, and this comes in fairly close to it. I don't pick up the sweetness that Shane mentions, but I'm not sure I'd mind it even if it were more apparent. Tons of fruit up front and a perfect crisp finish. Looks great in a glass and drinks very smooth. The finish is actually so smooth that it feels like it's lacking in ABV. I suppose it's more of a good thing than bad that it's actually stronger than it tastes, but there is something about that bite of a good IPA that I like a lot--perhaps I was spoiled by having the Anomalous first.
Pete: Very solid take on the New England IPA with great fruit character. 7/10
York: Great beer with great beginning and end. Smoothness cuts right through that New England haze. 8/10
Shane: Fruity and light. On the sweet side for me, but very drinkable. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: It's very clear that this is a saison/IPA blend, and while I'm not usually a big saison fan, in this case it works extremely well. The spice of the saison balances out well against the IPA, and isn't particularly overpowering. Instead, you’re left with a little extra flavor on top of an already excellent IPA. These beers are actually from the first batch of Blaze ever canned by Foundation, and, given the opportunity, I'd add it to my regular rotation.
Pete's Thoughts: I love a good saison. I love a good IPA. This blends the character of the two very well for me. I like the bright peachiness from the hops blended with subtle gamey funk from the saison yeast at the end. I could drink a ton of these on a nice hot day. It's refreshing, and lets you sense the change of flavor from the hops to more a citrus twang. It is hard to tell if the spiciness comes from the hops or if is just the yeast. Great interplay and balance for this beer.
York's Thoughts: I couldn't agree more that Foundation has done an amazing job blending two very distinct beer types into one well-balanced combination. I differ from Shane and Pete here on the excitement about the resulting profile though. I give it tons of props for uniqueness, ingenuity, and overall impressiveness, it just falls outside my preferences. This beer reminds me of the Flat Tail Saison I included in the last set of beers, but that one was dry-hopped at the end instead and didn't include quite as much of the wild saison yeast flavor. Blaze is very farmy, and has a lot of stick on the end from the IPA portion of the blend. It drinks a little heavier than what I’d associate as an IPA (more toward a Belgian), but still prominently hopped. As I'm writing this I'm realizing all the different components of this beer and how they all come through as separate entities. Nothing but respect for this brew and if it were in my wheelhouse, this would be a no-brainer 9 or 10 for me.
Pete: Really great balance between the styles to create a really refreshing beer. 8/10
York: Damn impressive beer. Definitely shows off that these guys are the real deal. 7/10
Shane: I’m very satisfied with Blaze. Good IPA with a great hint of saison spiciness. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: Funky Bow is an interesting brewery. Based out of Lyman, ME, their base of operations is a farm. And I don’t mean that it’s a farm-turned-brewery: it's a literal farm. Funky Bow regularly hosts huge events on their farm, featuring both food and beer made from locally sourced ingredients. It's a pretty cool setup, and people have really responded well. That said, I'm not totally sure what to make of G-String. It's their flagship beer (or at least the one that has drawn the most local acclaim), and I was expecting yet another beer trying to replicate the Heady Topper method of pale ale success. That’s not what this is at all. G-String is very malty, and the dominant flavor is definitely caramel. In fact I would say it tastes almost nutty. I'm not even sure how to judge this beer because it is so far from what I was expecting. Overall, it's a beer that I'd drink again, although for a low-ABV pale ale I would have expected something much more crushable. Still, I love what Funky Bow represents, and this is a decent beer that sits very far off the beaten path.
York's Thoughts: Pretty unobjectionable on each level. I don't have any complaints about it, and could definitely see it being a great go-to beer for end of the day, dinner, or really any time when you just want a beer and aren't interested in being wowed by complexity or blown away by the brew. I really don't mean that in any negative light--a lot of times a good solid beer is exactly that, and nothing else is necessary.
Pete's Thoughts: Very malt forward with some nice herbal hoppiness. Not overly bitter, but there is not very much aroma. Overall, it is a nice, well made pale ale, but it doesn't really distinguish itself compared the the rest of these beers. I get a flavor that reminds me of an iced tea, and that makes it slightly refreshing.
York: Not a lot to distinguish and got put into a great set of beers that overshadow it a bit. 6/10
Pete: Decent, but has more of the earthy herbal notes than I prefer. 5/10
Shane: Funky Bow definitely tried something different here. It isn’t a resounding success, but it's still pretty good. 6/10
Shane's Thoughts: Amber Apparition isn’t my favorite beer ever, but I've always been a big fan of amber ales and I wanted to give Henniker Brewing Company a little love this time around. Henniker's most popular beers tend to be their stouts and their Belgians (which is kind of an odd dichotomy), but Amber Apparition is one of their regular offerings. It's just what you want in an amber: a little bit of spice, a little toffee flavor, and a really nice aroma. I do feel like this beer could benefit from a higher ABV, because amber ales aren't particularly sessionable to me. But all in all, Amber Apparition is a solid beer that I'll often order a draft of when I see it in a bar.
Pete's Thoughts: It's tough, because I feel like this is a style that has a very low ceiling. A good amber to me has a little spicy hop bitterness up front, some nice caramel roasted malt character in the mid palate, and finishes with a pleasant toasty malt character at the end. I don't want this to be too much like an IPA, I want a smooth drinking beer with maybe some additional citrus notes. This is a really solid interpretation. I have had this beer before and loved it. I will have this beer again and love it. It's just not going to blow me away on the beer geek meter.
York's Thoughts: This is a fun beer. While I'd probably only want one or two at a time, it's a really great drink. TONS of caramel flavor--really roasty. I crave ambers once in a while, and this one fits the bill perfectly. I drank this right after the Cutter Imperial IPA, which was a significant departure from expectations. This one hits the nail right on the head with what I expect and want from an amber. It isn’t the most exciting, crazy flavored, super complex, or hop-layered beer, but it isn't supposed to be. Well done, Henniker. Props for picking a niche and doing it right. If this is not even the best you've got, I can’t wait to try some more.
Pete: Really solid amber, creepy can design. 5/10
York: Everything I want from an Amber. Well done, Henniker. 7/10
Shane: The ceiling for amber ales isn’t super high, but Henniker definitely hits it. 7/10
Best of the Bunch
York: So I rated Swish the highest and have to acknowledge it as Best of the Bunch, but I REALLY enjoyed a lot of these beers. Huge props to Garrison City, Two Roads, and Sebago for beers that definitely could have been the top rated if they weren’t part of the Swish set.
Pete: I want to not say Swish, but it’s Swish.
Shane: Swish. It has to be. Frankly, up to this point Swish may be my favorite beer I’ve ever had.
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