Shane: Finally, we get to the beers I had on hand for our Beercation. Before I say anything else, do you guys know how painful it is to have three bottles of Mott the Lesser staring you in the face for over a month? Well let me tell you right now: it sucks. Mott the Lesser is probably the best stout and one of the best overall beers I’ve had in my entire life, and I had to save it for over a month until you guys were here. It hurt me. It hurt me DEEPLY. And that’s in addition to the rest of these beers. Two Tree House beers (if you read my post on Tree House, you know it’s one of my favorite breweries in the country), two Foundation beers, another Bissell Brothers beer, and a few selections from two other regional powerhouses, Liquid Riot and Grimm. Saving these beers has been brutal, but the result is almost certainly the single best lineup of beers I’ve put together yet.
York: So Pete and I figured we’d each bring a couple cool beers to kick off our New England trip with a taste of home. Heading into the trip, we’ve learned that Shane has a stockpile of beers from his favorite breweries waiting for us. He has been fawning over Tree House since we’ve started this project, so I’m pretty excited to try that, and we have had great experiences with both Foundation and Bissell thus far. Probably the most intriguing is the Mott the Lesser (not sure why, but I had been assuming this was an IPA until this trip) and the Grimm beers. This collection alone represents some of the most renowned beers and breweries in the country--what a way to kick things off.
Pete: Shane deserves all the credit in the world for amassing this collection of beers. I was taking a bus up to Boston, so, I chose wisely with the beers I was putting together for space constraints. Shane took it upon himself (with no prompting) to get a huge haul. He saintly saved some Tree House and managed to find beer from Grimm Artisanal Ales, the uber-hyped gypsy brewer from Brooklyn. I could not have been happier because every day leading up to the trip, I felt like I was getting an update from Shane because he had found another unbelievable beer. Also saving Mott the Lesser for us? Come on. Amazing. This was an epic bottle opening.
Shane's Thoughts: I’m serious, staring at these bottles for a month almost killed me. Thankfully I was able to get a glass in the tasting room before I left Tributary, but it’s painful to have a beer of this quality sitting in your house. For those unaware (or who missed my Tributary post), Mott the Lesser is brewer Tod Mott’s famous Kate the Great recipe, repurposed for his new brewery. It has an absolutely incredible depth of flavor for a stout, and you can really taste elements of every barrel it was aged in. It’s probably the best stout I’ve ever had, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s rich without being oppressively heavy, it’s got sweet notes without being cloying, and it has just a little bit of that liquor flavor without hitting you over the head. Tod Mott is a legend, and this beer shows you exactly why.
York's Thoughts: The best dark beer I’ve ever had. Ever. At all. Porter, stout, or any dark iteration of any other brew. Much like the Tired Hands saison altered my opinion of that entire genre, Mott the Lesser has raised the bar for all stouts to come in my book. I won’t lie, my tendency to pull away from stouts that are too boozy had me a bit nervous when reading that this includes aging in bourbon, brandy, and rum barrels, but WOW does this blend make for good flavors. You can find all of those elements without them competing or leaving a harsh bite. Phrases like "the most" and "the best" are unavoidable with this beer.
Pete's Thoughts: This beer is really incredible because I have heard so many things about it, and sometimes darker beers can miss the mark when they are overhyped. Kate the Great was a beer that people would wait outside for at 3 a.m., in New Hampshire...in winter. Enough said, that’s about the most hype a beer can get. This beer uses a blend of barrels from different sources which really makes it scary because sometimes you can’t taste one barrel, or one barrel will dominate the rest. This beer is like a perfectly executed song, all the flavors are in the right place and they all sing together to create a harmony greater than the sum of the parts. You get oak, vanilla, port, everything just keeps hitting you. Waves of flavor wash over you even after you have finished a sip. This beer is first class and deservedly one of the best stout recipes out there.
York: Unabashedly in love with this beer. 10/10
Pete: Hype met. 10/10
Shane: I don’t really know how to give this anything but a 10. 10/10
Shane's Thoughts: I guess I knew this was classified as a “wild ale,” but for some reason in my head it was a stout. It’s definitely not a stout. It’s filled with caramel and malt flavor. Advertised as a chocolate and coffee-forward beer. And aged for over a year. All of those things scream rich, heavy, stout...but it’s not. It’s an ale, and it has fruity and floral notes that assert themselves VERY strongly over the chocolate and caramel flavors. It’s got some carbonation to it, and something that’s almost sour. I’m not even sure I know what to compare this beer to, because I’ve never had anything like it. I hope to have the chance to drink it again.
Pete's Thoughts: There are a lot of awesome fruit notes from the wild ale but it is a dark beer so you still get some nice cocoa and coffee undertones too. It’s not quite got the level of funk that I expect in a wild ale. It doesn’t have all the fruit character I expect either. Definitely would like to see future versions of this.
York's Thoughts: First I was confused, but I'm pretty sure it's actually the beer that is confused here. It's begging to be either a sour or a stout and definitely gives off a bit of each. The nose would lead you toward a style like a Flanders Red or even a wild ended Gruit, but the body is full of caramel and cocoa tones that put you right in the drinking experience of a good porter or stout. It ends with a bit of a confused combination of both that I don't really prefer but earns the high rating because of the deep layers and distinct beginning middle and end. A true must try for all beer fans.
York: Incredibly complex and layered. Must try in my book for sure. 9/10
Pete: Really crazy beer that I can’t really place in a lot of ways, not in a bad way. 7/10
Shane: Unique, with a lot of different flavor elements. A very solid beer. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: A quick bit of background: Foundation has their standard roster of beers that they offer on tap and in cans, and then they have their “Prototype” series. The Prototype beers are new beers that they are considering adding to their regular rotation, but aren’t quite sure about yet. This latest batch (canned on 5/3/16) is a double IPA. I had high hopes for this beer--another double IPA from the brewery that makes Epiphany--what could go wrong? But ultimately, it just doesn’t quite live up to Foundation’s high standards. For me, I think the inclusion of Chinook hopes is a mistake (Chinook hops tend to add an almost earthy bitterness), and without it the fruitiness of the beer might be allowed to speak for itself a little more. I don’t have the answer (God knows I’m not a brewer), but that’s my best guess about what holds this one back in my mind. That’s not to say that this is a bad beer! I’ve been drinking these quite happily for a few weeks now. But Foundation makes so many beers that I absolutely love that it puts this particular Prototype a bit far down the ladder.
York's Thoughts: Have to disagree with Shane on this in part. Whether or not it is solely owed to the Chinook hops, I think the bit of earth that this has compared to the Epiphany is a welcome addition. More similar to Afterglow, this one is extremely well balanced between bitter and fruity. I love a big juicy fruit forward DIPA any day, but this one is much more balanced and has a more interesting difference between the smell and taste to me. As expected based on my experience with Foundation, this beer is a bit sticky on the palate and drinks a bit heavy, but overall probably my favorite Foundation brew so far!
Pete's Thoughts: This beer had high expectations from me because Epiphany was the first New England IPA that really blew my mind. This beer had me all ramped up for something awesome and didn’t really deliver. There is a little fruity juiciness, some earthiness, and some bitterness on the back end. Don’t get me wrong, those things are great on their own, I just was expecting a juice bomb and got a muted version of 3 different IPAs. Good just not for me.
York: Seems I’m on the opposite side of the coin from the others on Foundation brews. This one is a great drink and I enjoyed it more than the esteemed Epiphany. 8/10
Pete: I had a lot higher expectations of this given the hops and the brewery. 6/10
Shane: I wish I could rate it higher, but Epiphany set the bar way too high for Foundation DIPAs. 6/10
Shane's Thoughts: It’s a beautiful pour, with a bright, hazy, yellow glow. It has a great aroma to it that’ll make you salivate the moment you open the can. And the taste comes complete with all of the subtlety that I’ve come to expect from Bissell Brothers. But is it a session beer? I’m just not sure. Bissell markets it as one, and at just 4.0% ABV, it almost has to be. But like many of New England’s famous hazy IPAs, Baby Genius drinks a little heavy, and it’s hard to imagine crushing a bunch of these at a time. It’s a delicious beer, and if the ABV was up at 6 or 7%, I would be immensely satisfied with it. But as a session IPA, I expected something a little more crushable. I don't want to take anything away from it, though: it’s still a delicious and satisfying beer, and I've been drinking them like candy for weeks now.
York's Thoughts: Another partial disagreement with the host for me on this. I found Baby Genius to be much lighter than the typical NE IPA’s, especially compared to some of the other Bissell beers we’ve had. I’m the only one that didn’t give Swish a perfect 10 and that last point was lost because of the hazy stickiness that comes with this style of beer. While I struggle to fully endorse a beer with this low of an ABV, I was extremely happy with this being part of our rotation. I think this beer rates right alongside the Two Roads session that Shane found last round and the Golden Road session that I have coming their way soon.
Pete's Thoughts: Session beers are fickle thing for me overall, because when they started out, all but a couple were watery and had no body. I like that the session IPA game has started to shift, but I guess technically this is a blonde. I count it as a session because it’s really just a blonde canvass for a hop forward brewery to paint on. This beer is an awesome punch of grapefruit and sweetness while still only being 4%. For me, I prefer lower ABV beers that have the flavor of big beers for my everyday drinking, so this beer is on top of that list for me. This is a session beer I can get behind. Shane, you must crush this.
York: Still don’t understand striving for low ABV, but I do see the allure of this as a sessionable brew. 8/10
Pete: I love this beer, it was the first Bissell beer I ever had and I haven’t looked back. 9/10
Shane: Delicious and flavorful, although heavy for a session beer and low-ABV for a standard beer. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: Ah, Bright. A beer that truly lives up to its name. It almost glows in the glass when you pour it, and it tastes like a fruit explosion. New England is the land of IPAs and double IPAs at the moment, and Bright fully delivers in both flavor and ABV. While Bright isn’t Tree House’s flagship DIPA (that would be Haze), it still fulfills the expectations that go along with the Tree House name. And really, the only place Bright suffers is in relation to those other Tree House beers. Beers like Julius, Haze, and Green have made such incredible waves in the beer world that people have come to expect everything Tree House does to be revolutionary. That isn’t a reasonable expectation, and sometimes you just want a brewery to groove you a fastball straight down the middle. That’s what Bright is, and it’s damn tasty.
York's Thoughts: I fear that my rating of this beer may have been the product of how it was tried. We included this in a blind sampling of some other Mosaic single hopped beers, some of which were on our list of highest rated all week. Bright didn’t quite measure up to the complexity of the others but did fully delivery on the bright citrusy look and smell. Every part of the description and all of the stats for this beer sound like something right up my alley so I look forward to trying it again in the future. I find myself rating this beer in sections with the drink flavor rating high and the finish flavor rating pretty low.
Pete's Thoughts: Tree House Mosaic, what could be better? Well, this beer was unfortunately paired with a bunch of other mosaic beers so it didn’t get the chance to shine that it might have being the first or second beer of the night. It is very light and clean with a neutral yeast profile and a clearish (for Tree House) pour. This really lets the subtlety of mosaic come through. You get finer notes besides the familiar tropical fruit notes, you get berries and a hint of honeydew melon at the end. It is also very restrained on the dankness that can come with mosaic, which as a preference thing I tend to like. Overall, a solid IPA with my favorite hop, and I can see why this has been a regular in their rotation.
York: The dankness of the finish is a really subjective component in such a fruit forward brew. 7/10
Pete: Solid hitting for Tree House which is better than most breweries on their best day. 8/10
Shane: Bright is a solid beer that definitely doesn’t last long in my fridge. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: Chinook is what it is--a bitter, piney hop that can be difficult to work with. I haven’t been a huge fan of Chinook in the past, but if there’s one brewery I trust to get the most out of it, it’s Tree House. Sap is an interesting beer. When they say it’s a “Christmas beer,” I assume they’re simply referring to the piney flavor. It’s interesting, and a little unusual. Very earthy, but light at the same time. I admit that I’m sort of at a loss with this beer. I like it, and I enjoyed it for what it is, but it’s not a flavor I think I would crave very often. Tree House has had so much success with their fruit-bomb IPAs and DIPAs that I respect them for going a little off the beaten path here. While it isn’t my favorite Tree House beer, I did enjoy it a lot.
York's Thoughts: Unlike Bright, this beer goes back toward the earthy, piney flavor profile. I have to admit that Tree House hasn’t blown me out of the water with this one either though. I feel like the crisp finish to this beer is exactly what Bright was missing, and that the lively body and flavor is what Bright had and this is missing. Definitely don’t get the ‘Christmas’ beer notion from this beer and certainly agree that it could become a go-to brew for when you aren’t looking for an overly bold or complex drink.
Pete's Thoughts: This beer was a special request by me for Shane to save. It interested me from day one because of its story. This was originally Tree House’s “Christmas beer”, which really sums up the brewery for me. Most brewers make a thick spiced ale or heavy stout to celebrate Christmas. Tree House? They make an IPA with Chinook hops to taste like pine, a la a pine tree. That’s how you know they are different and also ridiculously hop forward. This beer is piney and earthy as it should be. There is some reserved fruitiness at the end but mostly you just get that crisp punch of pine.
York: Stuck in that dangerous middle for me between a dark full body and a light crisp one. 6/10
Pete: Drinking an earthy pine tree, exactly what I expected. 7/10
Shane: Not my favorite thing Tree House has ever done, but a tasty, piney success. 7/10
Shane's Thoughts: Is this the first Triple IPA we’ve reviewed? I kinda think it might be, and that’s a little surprising to me. I grabbed this beer because I know York to be a devotee of two things: sour beers and dry-hopped beers. When I saw that this beer was dry-hopped not once, not twice, but FOUR separate times, I knew I had to have it on hand for our Beercation. And it did not disappoint! It’s nicely crisp, and although I would have liked a little more fruit-forwardness, I can’t exactly complain. The Mosaic hops shine through really well, and you can really tell that the dry-hopping makes a big difference here. This is a 10% beer that drinks like a 6% or 7% beer. It goes down easy, without that alcohol bite that some strong beers tend to have. It wasn’t my favorite beer of the bunch, but it was damn fine.
York's Thoughts: This was definitely the hop highlight of Shane’s stockpile. My first experience with a crowler beer and it was a great one. Hops at every layer--least at the nose, most in the drink, and tapered out very smoothly at the finish. I am a huge fan of the sharpness (I mean 'sharpness' in a very different connotation than a 'bite' that might be associated with something like bourbon aging) that comes with big double and triple IPAs, and this one delivers on that for damn sure. This is a beer I could see myself drinking slowly but surely watching a game or relaxing after work.
Pete's Thoughts: Triple IPAs are tough because eventually the booziness of the alcohol level just takes the beer over. This one is good and keeps that reserved on the front end. It reminds me of an orange creamsicle, with some reserved peach, orange and tropical notes at the end. I get crushed by the alcohol at the end which should be expected. The more breweries that try to keep pushing this style will only make it better.
York: Right up my alley! Huge hops without any discernible stick to it. 9/10
Pete: Really boozy, but has some great fruity hop notes in there as well. 7/10
Shane: I dig it. The dry-hopping added a ton of flavor here. 8/10
Shane's Thoughts: Maybe this is unfair, but in my mind any beer being marketed as a maple beer should make a good breakfast beer. We cracked this beer very early in the day towards the end of our beercation, with the theory that it would help us kick the day off right. And while it was definitely a tasty beer, the overwhelming power of the bourbon was unexpected (and at that particular hour, a little unwelcome). I’ll back up and say that I do love a good, bourbon-forward stout. When you’re an imperial stout, I almost expect it. But...I don’t know, I just expected the maple to play a more prominent role. As we drank this beer, I kept searching for the maple, and it just never really came through. If Grimm’s goal was to make a strong, heavy, bourbon stout, then they succeeded in spades. But I have a hard time calling this a maple beer, even while acknowledging that we are idiots for drinking it when we did.
York's Thoughts: I really respect what Grimm did with this beer. They packed an unreal amount of flavor into this - mainly bourbon. With all of that due respect, this beer is just too much for me. The bourbon is so prominent that the bite on this beer leaves a finish closer to a mixed drink than it does to a beer. We followed the suggestion of drinking at cellar/room temp and I think that didn’t help me either. I typically like beer very carbonated and very cold, neither of which was this experience. Again, huge props for the complexity and clearly some really impressive brewing talent, but it’s just so far outside my preferences that it’s hard to even give a fair shake.
Pete's Thoughts: Grimm, Grimm, Grimm, Grimm, Grimm, Grimm, Grimm, Grimm, Grimm, Grimm, Grimm, GRIMM. I have heard so many things about this brewery, they have become so popular for their IPAs and dark beers that I was floored when Shane was able to snag a bottle of their maple bourbon Double Negative. Double Negative is considered one of the best stouts in the world, adding maple AND bourbon? Ching ching, can’t be bad right? Well it’s not bad, but it doesn’t hit a home run either. It has a nice stout base, there is definitely bourbon. So much so that it kinda gets boozy in an unattractive way. The maple is also really lost in the beer which means it most likely fermented out which would also increase the booziness that is a little off putting. I would definitely give them more chances, this one just didn’t hit the mark.
York: So intense and so bold that it’s hard for me to even rate as a beer. 6/10
Pete: REALLY boozy. Not much maple. 6/10.
Shane: Strong. Bourbony. Heavy. All good things in a stout. But the bourbon was overwhelming to the point that it entirely drowned out the maple. 6/10
Shane's Thoughts: I don’t tend to love beers brewed with cherries, but boy did this beer set out to change my mind. I’m not quite the sour enthusiast that York is, but I’m also not nearly as averse to them as I have been in the past. As far as introductions to the legendary Grimm Artisanal Ales goes, I doubt we could have chosen a more perfect beer. It has a little of the rounded flavor that you expect from a red ale, but rather than fade out into that wheat/barley malt, it puckers up very nicely with a blast of tart cherry flavor. The cherry flavor isn’t overwhelming--just enough to let you know it’s there--and it really goes down easy. This might be my favorite beer in the batch not named Mott the Lesser.
York's Thoughts: So happy that Shane finally got on the sours train with me and boy did he deliver. This beer is drinkable enough to have a few of, complex enough to be impressed with only one of, and unique enough to keep on hand to share with any friends who appreciate an odd brew. The tartness of the cherries really stands out as a highlight and the lingering sweetness makes for an amazing drink-to-finish transition.
Pete's Thoughts: I really love a good cherry sour. Give me anything with either cherry, vanilla, or maple and I am most likely all over it (last rating not withstanding). This is a great, tart, light, refreshing, mouth-puckering glass of awesome. So much cherry and tart funk while not being too funky or acidic to keep you from enjoying it. Really great balance for the ABV. This was the Grimm I expected.
York: I didn’t even know that a sour red was an option and now I want more. 10/10
Pete: It has cherries in it and is well balanced with the abv. 8/10.
Shane: A damn fine sour, and a fantastic introduction to Grimm as a brewery. 9/10
Best of the Bunch
York's Tip Pick: I suspect we’ll all choose Mott the Lesser here (which I am) but the Subliminal Message from Grimm may have won most other batches otherwise.
Pete's Top Pick: Mott the Lesser. Because it really is that good.
Shane's Top Pick: The answer is Mott the Lesser. It really can’t be anything else. But I am a huge fan of both Subliminal Message and Bright.
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Three friends. Three corners of the country. One passion for beer.
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